Scarlet Sails Talk Influence, Debut Album Future From the Past, and Writing Through Stream of Consciousness

There are so many things you could say about alternative indie rock collective Scarlet Sails. (We have said a few already.) Their unique music has propelled their debut album Future from the Past into the hearts of many, with its robust, clean, and beautiful sound. With Olya Viglione steadily placed at the helm as lead vocalist and her incredible drummer husband Brian Viglione – a staple in the music community, best known for his work with The Dresden Dolls and Violent Femmes, among many others – driving the instrumentals with his powerful percussion, there’s nothing this band can’t do. With Mark Kohut on guitar and Edward Goldson on bass, this band is meant to do great things.
And they have been. They have been playing a host of shows with Radiator King, supporting their new album while Brian showcases his drumming skills for both. In honor of Brian’s birthday, which just so happens to be the day we chose to publish this, here’s a fun interview that was recently conducted with both Brian and Olya of Scarlet Sails.
What was the first album or song you ever heard, and who introduced it to you?
BRIAN: Lui Collins “Made In New England”
My mother used to play this all the time when I was very young and it’s the earliest “album” I can remember in my life.
OLYA: Oh wow, hard to remember now. It was definitely classical music. Also french singers Joe Dassin and Edith Piaf were a couple of my first musical encounters. My mom loves french music and french-pretty-much-everything, haha.
Do you believe that first encounter with music has any bearing on what you create now?
BRIAN: Very possibly. If it was at all something that attuned my ear to women songwriters/storytellers, that’s been a theme in my career for sure.
OLYA: It’s hard to tell now, but jumping ahead I think that’s probably where the romantic part of my music comes from.
I guess to go straight into the mythology of this project, I’m wondering about the name you guys chose for the band, Scarlet Sails. I know that it is related to a festival that happens in Russia every year. What the significance of that sense of tradition in your music?
BRIAN: It’s actually a reference to the 1923 Russian adventure novel by Alexander Grin, in which a misunderstood girl in a small village fights the odds to pursue her dreams. But the festival in St. Petersburg is a very beautiful way to celebrate this as well. Many of the songs are about having the courage to believe in yourself even when other people may not, and finding the courage to follow your passion, that is very much reflected in the novel, so it seemed a fitting name for the band.
One thing I really love about this record is the style of songwriting, it feels really unique and genuine to me. I know that Olya mentioned in a video I saw of you guys that she is really interested in stream of conscious songwriting. Did you try to do that on the album? Could you give me an example of a particular song where that really pulled through?
OLYA: Thank you! Yes, there’s a few songs where stream of consciousness is incorporated. One of them is One, Two, especially the third part of that song. I was in a pretty dark place in my life when I wrote it and dealing with a lot pain after loosing someone I loved and going through a rough breakup. I was unable to move myself to the next stage of life. So I would sit down at a piano and start roaring with those chords, to me that sounded magnetic and almost destiny-like. They would hypnotize me to start riffing off some words on top of them and I would record myself doing that and that listen back to put together lines that I felt were the most in line of what I felt I needed to get out of my chest, to overcome fear and stagnation brought by it.
I’m saying, “I’m not running around anymore, I’m not running away anymore” here I’m battling with my desire to hide and I’m making myself face it. Doubts like, “I’m no good for that” eliminated by speaking it out loud. “I can’t find my place in this world, God, let me replace my soul, just let me replace my soul” I guess these are the hardest and most real feelings I was able to put in words, moving to a new place that felt like home, and feeling like I didn’t belong where home used to be, and not knowing who I am anymore. That whole experience of writing through stream of consciousness is really cathartic to me, it helps me break free, and I hope it feel the same way to whoever listens to this to feel freer and not afraid to face life and yell in an act of rebellion.
What kinds of music and aesthetics were you hoping to achieve with this record? It feels really romantic in like an almost goth/victorian way to me. What were you listening to when you were deciding how this album was going to sound?
OLYA: I think we weren’t going for anything in particular, we wanted songs to dictate how they wanted to sound.
This record is very personal to me. It speaks about my adventurous journey from Moscow to New York, about the hardships of being an alien, “at home among strangers”, about external obstacles and internal fight to overcome fears and doubts and become a person that I knew I wanted to become. It’s also about identity crisis and not being able to associate myself with my peers or where I came from, and not being able to fit in. All these songs are written in a 7 year period, from when I left Russia being a student and working in advertising to now, when I’m fronting a rock band in New York and not looking back. I think that’s why the album sounds romantic. The plot dictates the sound.
And going off of that, were there any specific narratives you were trying to present on this album? Any stories you were trying to tell? There is so much here lyrically to dig into.
OLYA: I answered this question in the previous one, haha. It’s very much about the adventure. About learning to survive on your own in a foreign country where people speak a different language and have different cultural background. It’s like when you’re giving a new life and you start everything from zero. Only you don’t know anyone and you have to carve your path yourself and learn how to make decisions based on only your judgement. It’s the purest way of staying true to yourself. There were predators in my way, there were times when I fell down and it was hard to get up. But then there were amazing people I met along the way that helped bring me up and get in touch with my truest self again. One of them is Brian. And hence, the love songs, haha.
I know you guys are a couple! What is it like to do something as collaborative as writing an album with someone you are married to? What are some of your favorite dynamics you encountered while putting this album out?
BRIAN: One of the most gratifying parts is seeing Olya achieve the things she’s been aiming for. We both have helped better each other through the writing and recording process and that’s fulfilling on a musical level, as well as a personal level. You feel your musicianship strengthening, as well as your confidence and trust in each other.
What is exciting to you about using instruments like piano and strings on a rock record? What kinds of things about orchestral rock music are special to you?
BRIAN: The sheer range of mood and texture you can achieve to encapsulate the feeling of the song is the best part. When you play with musicians who know how to scratch the right itch and hit the parts as you hear them in your head, or even better surprised you with something totally new, that is very inspiring.
I know that there was a huge crowdfunding effort made to make this album happen. What was it like to have that kind of fan support on your first album? What kinds of goals do you have for tour?
BRIAN: It was absolutely incredible and of course, very encouraging! The whole process was very educational as well and helped us focus in on building a special kind of schedule and work flow that has helped sharpen up the whole operation. You get the team-sense of other people’s hopes and expectations, and that can be a certain kind of positive fuel all its own. We are working to book shorter, more focused tours in sections of the country where we can really promote and try to reach out to local bands directly who want to put a bill together with us, and that is more like community building than just casting the net far and wide and raking in whatever you get. So we are looking at an 8 show run on the west coat in mid-July, as that was part of the Kickstarter goal, and also another run out to Chicago in August. From there, we’ll re-hit the Northeast in the fall and move to the South when we can establish some good contacts there first. We’d love to play with a band called The Starbenders from Atlanta, that’s first on the list. So anyone out there interested in putting a solid show together with us, hit us up!
Anything else you’d like to add?
OLYA: We’re working on editing a video for our second single “Butterfly” and that is our first stretch goal on Kickstarter. It’s going to be really cool, so stay tuned for the premier!
Thank you for having us!!
Keep up with the band here.