Viva Viva: The Unedited and Latest Interview from Boston’s Best Band

Herein lies the unedited and most recent interview with Boston supergroup Viva Viva. The original story was edited and published by the Boston Phoenix on November 9, one week before the Boston Music Awards and two weeks before the band appeared on and in the December edition of Filter Magazine.

With Dave “Cave” Vicini on self-proclaimed “media blackout”, the majority of the interview came from a one-on-one interview with singer/songwriter Chris Warren in the privacy of his own apartment. Our friends Jack and Miller were there as well.

I’ve been lucky enough to follow Viva Viva from the beginning… from the conception, to their many creations and performances. A few weeks ago, the band was (finally) recognized by city superlatives, winning “Best Live Band” at the Boston Music awards. The story is complimented with photos from the awards ceremony, a few live shots, a bonus Chris Warren witticism, and an unreleased video by our friends at Enjoy!

Viva Viva: By Nolan Gawron

Vivas to those who have failed/And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea/And to those themselves who sank in the sea/And to all the generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes/And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known-

“Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

When Officer May and Lot Six both called it quits, Boston lost two of its most promising bands of last decade. Their ships had sailed, and against everyone’s will, had sunk. Formed from the wreckage, however, was a vessel with an all-star crew that brought the captains of both bands to the helm. Viva Viva became Boston’s new supergroup.

Combining the junk-punk delivery of Dave Vicini with Chris Warren’s soulful cigarette-scared snarl, they alternate verses and coexist in eerie harmonies. With the haunting keyboards of Fumika Kano, the deathmarch drums of Dominic Mariano and the doomsday bass of Dan Burke, Viva Viva purvey a gritty, boot-stomping blues. Their songs are sinister, provoking ‘carpe diem’ for those who walk the crooked path and battle cries for the scorned and the scarred– our soundtrack to a city of dead dreams.

Following the band’s D.I.Y. full-length debut, Art, Sex, Death and Time and their growing reputation for decadent live shows, Viva Viva eventually caught the eyes and ears of Fort Point records, who signed the band and released their “official” self-titled, debut early this year. Their follow up EP, What’s the Kim Deal?, is due out January 24.

“Dave came up with the title,” says Chris Warren. “I think Kim Deal is an underdog badass and we think we fit into the ‘underdog badass’ category.”

With six songs, most of which already well-known to their loyal fans, the EP will finally give the proper exposure to the turntables and headphones of their anticipating audience. Straying slightly from blatant expressions of excess, Viva Viva’s upcoming release seems to focus more on the universal struggle, paranoia and loss of innocence. 

“It’s been a long slow process so I don’t even notice,” says Warren. “It’s like when you look in the mirror every day, you don’t see the change because it’s so subtle.  If some of our newer songs sound more positive and optimistic, it’s because I’m trying to fool myself into a more positive outlook. I was born a pessimist, but that doesn’t mean hope and love shouldn’t be part of my future. When I was younger it was ‘we’re all gonna die’. Now it’s, ‘Ok, we’re going to DIE!’ Instead of being depressed knowing this ride comes to an end, let’s embrace it and laugh in the face of death and party with a good soundtrack. Hopefully we’re making a good soundtrack for it.”

The most significant change for Viva Viva, however, is not in the songs, but the absence of commanding frontman, Dave Vicini. While he will still tour and record with the band Vicini, recently relocated to Lexington, Kentucky.

“We all miss him dearly,” says Warren about the loss. “We have played shows as a 3-piece, so we can get away with it– we call it the Viva Viva Express. Not only is the band great, but they are my family. Whoever is around, we will make it work. Are you going to cancel Christmas because your brother can’t make it? You have to continue on with what you have. The biggest difficulty is that Dave isn’t around to sing the songs I wrote with him in mind. There are certain songs that only he can sing.”

Vicini will be back later this month for their upcoming shows, including a performance at this year’s Boston Music Awards where Viva Viva is up for “Best Live Band” and “Best Rock Band”, not to mention finishing unscheduled work on their second LP, Live Free or Die Trying. “We’re not rushing anything,” notes Warren. “We’re going at our own pace which is both unambitious and smart.”

Surrounded by a likely cast of characters at Warren’s apartment: Bud, Jack and Marlboro Reds– a musician’s late-night BLT if you will– Warren ended our interview, grabbed his acoustic guitar and went into an impromtu “Sweet Jane”, an intimate rendition of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” and finished with an unreleased song of his own which fit seamlessly into the quiet kitchen concert.

“As far as songwriting,” Warren concludes, “I don’t know where it comes from and where it goes, but I’m glad people enjoy it. Ultimately I’m doing it for me, which is frustrating because I’m never satisfied.”

Extra adage:

Nolan: What is your idea of success?

Chris Warren: Well, some people want to be rich and famous. We apparently want to be poor and imfamous. I think we should keep doing what we do best—being weird and rocking out. Money wouldn’t hurt.


Smog and The Continued Smokescreen Surrounding Mr. Bill Callahan

I was more than ready to interview Bill Callahan, maybe overly prepared. After his dickish response years and years ago from a fan and rookie writer for a new paper, he had burned me before… and for the first time I had realized that not everyone is going to respect you or care about your story… or care that you care about them and want to promote their show. Thank you Bill for that life lesson. This time I would not be taken advantage of. Callahan, formerly of Smog and, well, (smog) was supposed to do an email interview with me to preview his most recent show at Brighton Music Hall. I’m no stranger to the email interview. As a recluse, I can identify with that option. And I had actually done an email interview with Callahan before—the interview in question was one of the worst, most effortless, meaningless, piece-of-shit correspondences any artist has ever given me in my ten years as a writer. Well, except for Mazzy Star. I am posting the original interview below in case no one caught the Weekly Dig and Skyscraper Magazine pieces that appeared back in 2003.

Despite his lack of respect for the written word or conversation in general, I was still very excited to try and take on the man behind the music once again. Maybe the first attempt was a fluke. We all have off days and maybe that was his… Plus, I also heard that he had recently become more expansive, overt and interested in answering questions in recent years… but that must just be for the New York Times and high-end esoteric bullshit blogs.

The questions were sent, the “interview” was supposedly in the works, and I was very close to, maybe even overdue my deadline with the newspaper, when I received the following email from Drag City Records HQ….

Hi Nolan, I’m very sorry about this but Bill Callahan has decided to PASS on the interview. Perhaps you would like to speak with Ed Askew?

And yes, PASS was capitalized in their email. It is not meant for exaggeration. I inquired as to why he “PASS[ed]” amd received the following response:

He just said he didn’t want to do it after I turned it into him. He might just be burnt out on doing interviews, The questions were fine. So very sorry about this.

Let it be known, I, more than anyone, can understand what it’s like to not want to talk to people and divulge my secrets. Although, on the other hand, I don’t make records and don’t agree to do interviews for writers who have a deadline. So, 0 for 2 in Bill Callahan interviews. And yet I think his decision to PASS is even better than what I got before. Oh yes and oh well. If I were a musician, the constant knocking at my door and ringing of my phone by the inquiring media might bum me out too. I admit we are not changing the world. Just go out and say it… you don’t want to do interviews except for BIG publications, and then when you DO do them, you don’t have to act like a jackass to someone who ACTUALLY likes your music, most PROBABLY UNLIKE the people who you actually grant interviews to. RIGHT? After reading several thoughtful and interesting interviews with Callahan, I went back to the one I had conducted 8 years before. And I want you all to see it as well.

<<THE ORIGINAL BILL CALLAHAN INTERVIEW CIRCA 2003…Looking back I’m still pretty impressed by the Questions—and still mesmerized by the answers.>>

(smog) by Nolan Gawron

So you want to know what goes on in the mind of Bill Callahan of (smog)? Well we thought we did too. After all, (smog), formerly known as Smog, has been making great music for more than a decade. Frequently referred to as one of the finest and most important songwriters and survivors to come out of the lo-fi, 4-trackers home-recording boom, Bill Callahan’s earliest releases could only be found in the sadly extinct medium of cassette tapes. When those signature sounds of an uneasy intimacy found their way into ears of Drag City, Smog found a label to call home and began his great Chicago work ethic by releasing multiple albums per year. Over time, Smog experimented with a bigger sound, but only to return to the stripped down comforts of a more personable style.

Bill Callahan just has a way about him— he’s an irony-soaked minimalist that seems to strike up allusions to traditional American themes, but whose songs also carry with them a dry, mysterious, open-ended element to make sure he doesn’t let you in on his secret. Picture him as a city folks’ country singer who acknowledges the growing relevance of the future. Just don’t expect him to say much outside of his music. You think email interviews were the end of the line in depersonalized communication? Presenting the conversation of the future: the palm pilot email. I helped him with his apostrophes, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna turn his fragments into sentences. One can only hope he’ll give Rolling Stone the same attention span. (smog) has just released a compilation of long lost, rare singles and oddities called Accumulation: None. You should get it; it’ll tell you more than this interview does.

Having a compilation of any kind must seem like a strange experience. I know it’s a rare release collection, but do you in any way see the compilation as proof of standing the test of time?

I didn’t want the compilation to be any reflection of the passing of time, hence the circular timeline included in liner notes.

Is there any significance to the cover art on this new album of old stuff?

The idea that something as unshatterable as the ocean could not be shattered.

Since the early years of releasing records what changes in your songwriting style are you personally conscious of?

It’s not a conscious act. I don’t think anything’s changed.

What spurred the ( )’s around smog?

A way to contain the word.

Your songs seem to have a lot of city vs. country themes. How much of your youth was spent in the country? Do you feel that living in the city has affected your songwriting in any way?

I lived in what were small towns. Bowie, Maryland is not exactly the country nor is it city or suburb. I moved to the city when I was old enough to pick my own destiny.

You also have a couple of songs about horses. Is that just for a more traditional Americana theme? Have you ever owned a horse?

Horses are prehistoric.  That really is all it is that interests me. Same for birds.  They both are from a world that isn’t the one we live in.

Explain the importance of Americana and traditional American symbolism for
songwriters writing from within the city. You sing about things such as breaking horses or traveling and cull the open western feeling. Is that based on any personal significance? Why does it seem that the best music always seem to allude to traditional and mystical American cowboy or open road references? Is it because those things exist less and less in real life?

I just woke up.  Early to call a friend.  She wasn’t home.  So I started taking care of some loose ends.  This interview.  But I haven’t had coffee yet.  I can’t begin to broach
your question about americana w/out coffee.

What inspired the use of the children’s choir on Knock, Knock? Do you think any of those kids have or will turn into indie rockers because of the experience?

I like sound of kid’s choirs. I like to a have wild card when making record.  I think they had a good time so I wouldn’t be surprised to someday see them in bands.

People often refer to you as one of the best things to come out of the lo-fi, home-recording 4 track “movement” or “revolution”. Was there such a thing as this “movement” or “revolution”? Were there a couple of significant people that led to the popularity of 4-tracking or was this a growing phenomenon that just came with the existence of more small labels emerging? Do you find any significance within any sort of connection to a time/scene classification like this?

I never saw it as a revolution.

(more2follow if time permits)

[Time did not permit]