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Mixdown December 1999

Virgil Donati & OTV
By Joe Yammouni

When you think of drummers in Australia, it’s not hard to go past one of the industry’s best in Virgil Donati. Virgil has been wowing audiences overseas for a few years now as a Premier/Sabian clinician and has settled in LA and getting the just rewards. His current band On The Virg has a debut album out called Serious Young Insects and is making waves both here and overseas. The album features the amazing talents of Simon Hosford (Guitar), Phil Turcio (Keys) Evripides Evripidou (Bass), who team up with the likes of T.J Helmerich and Ric Fierabracci from the US to create an album of sheer power and execution. Virgil’s songwriting and production skills on this album are testament to the fact that Australian fusion bands can give the big boys a run for their money. The good news is that Virgil and the band will be touring in December (check local guides) and anyine who hasn’t witnessed this amazing band should either buy the album or see the show or both! I managed to speak to Virgil via e-mail during a hectic schedule and began by asking what the fans can expect on the forthcoming tour of Australia...

JY: Congratulations on the new album “Serious Young Insects”. I’ve noticed that the album has a more modern heavier sound. Was this a coscious approach to make the album more accessible to a younger audience or was it something that just evolved in the studio?

VD: This is our debut album, so there’s really no point of reference apart  from our live performances over the past five or six years. I think it took that time for us to evolve into the band you hear on Serious Young Insects. There was no coscious effort made to try and acces a younger audience....If our gigs have been any indication, our audience has always been a young domographic anyway.

JY: You’ve collaborated with the amazing talents of T.J. Helmerich who helped engineer the stuff. How did you hook up with him?

VD: T.J. and I have been friends since I first settled in LA. Brett Garsed introduced us, and follwing that meeting, I played on the Garsed and Helmerich record. Since then we have worked on numerous projects. He is a very unique talent on the guitar, and also a great studio engineer. He lent both talents on the OTV record. I absolutely love the solo he plays on the first track -Native Metal... It’s totally what he’s about. it’s way out there for the first half, and then he bends it back into key when the chords are reintroduced. He’s always looking at approaching music from an odd angle.

JY: How has settling in the US been for you musically. Are you planning to stay based from there?

VD: Moving to the US has greatly enhanced my musical life. As a drummer it has sharpened my sense of participation in the global arena and has given me further meaning to life. Of course, no matter where you are positioned on this planet, it seems you can never be removed from the trials and torments of existence, and LA can be a strong testament to that. But for the first few years I grit my teeth, and very determined to make my contribution to music. I just buried my head in work...the results are just starting to surface. The opportunities and the demand for my abilities is a big incentive to live here. At this stage I’m quite settled, and my tenure here is indefinate.

JY: Do you miss Australia?

VD: My heart is still in Australia, and it’s hard not to miss certain aspects of a place where you spend a major part of your life – particularly friendships, but I do feel like I have a second home now.

JY: Very few Australian drummers have graced the cover of Modern Drummer magazine. How did you feel when you achieved this?

VD: It’s kind of strange. You sometimes think how great it would be to make the feature story of the biggest drummers magazine worldwide, especially when you are tucked away in Australia. Then when you finally arrive at this point, you just take it in your stride, without too much hoopla...The importance of it didn’t really hit home. In a sense, it is a stimulant to life, as is being part of the music industry in general.

JY: In your vast experiences over many years, what has stuck out the most for you?

VD: I would have to say, achieving platinum sales for the fisrt time with Southern Sons. It’s such a great sense of accomplishment to be a part of a band that sticks together, and through years and years of effort finally arrives to ehere it all comes together.

JY: Give me a list of players, dead or alive, that you would choose to form your “Ultimate band”!

VD: It would have to be of ochestral proportions...I’d have to include too many names to do justice to all the great musicians I’d have to include.
However I must say that a large portion of my choices would be Australian musicians whom I have worked with over the years – that’s a fact.

JY: How is the fusion scene overseas. Can Serious Young Insects make money in this style? In other words, will OTV be touring overseas?

VD: I find that there’s a huge interest re-surfacing in progressive music...hopefully we can get on the crest of the wave and have a big influence on the scene. I believe the rewards are out there – you just have to go and fetch them!

JY: What projects are in store for you in the future?

VD: I’m currently in the process of recording the debut Planet X record. The members include Derek Sherinian on keyboards as well as Tony MacAlpine on guitar. I have written a lot of the material, and I’m very excited of the results of the recording so far. I actually go into the studio this week to cut the last three drum tracks. The record should be out in the autumn sometime. The title will be “Universe”. A soon as I return from the OTV tour, I commence working on Derek’s solo record, along with Zakk Wylde on guitar, and I think Tony Franklin will be on bass. That’s going to be very heavy...how could it be anything else with Zakk on guitar?

JY: What music are you currently listening to?

VD: I try to listen to just about anything I can get my hands on – from punk to brazilian...but the most inspiration I find is coing from the classics. I’m currently listening to Sergej Prokofieff’s sonate nr. 7 op. B3. he has some interesting rhythmic concepts – also a bit of Strawinsky –Trois mouvements de Petrouchka.

JY: Will you be doing any clinics for Premier/Sabian while in Australia?

VD: Not this time.

JY: What advice would you offer to musicians aspiring to achieve the succes you have established for yourself?

VD: You have to have “Native Metal” –very strong mind and resolve. Nothing comes easy...perseverance is the key.

JY: You’re bringing a new bass player Ric Fierabracci to tour down under. Will Evri be doing any guest spots on this tour?

VD: Ric is a wonderful player – very exciting, and also played on four tracks on the record. Unfortunately Evri will not be able for any gigs on this tour.

JY: Where was the album recorded, and is the US really that much better to record, or has Australia got the goods?

VD: The technology is the same...it all comes down to the talent. I haven’t recorded in Australia for quite some time so I’ve lost touch, but I do hear some good things come put of there.

JY: How has the response been overseas to the new albun?

VD: The response to the record overseas has been phenomenal. It’s still early days, but thus far, reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

JY: I’d like to thank you for your time and wish you and the album all the succes that you deserve. It is pleasing to see someone that dedicates so much time to an instrument and gives plenty back when it comes to performing

VD: Thanks!