BIG BIG TRAIN Issue New Live Set – “The Band Was Just On Fire That Night!”
November 24, 2020, 2 months ago
There was no way of knowing that when proggers Big Big Train completed their show at Hackney Empire, London, on November 2, 2019, that it would be their last show to feature not only several key members…but also their last show for the foreseeable future. Which is unfortunate – as the group was planning on becoming an honest-to-goodness touring band this year, before…well, you know the rest. But luckily, the band had the aforementioned show professionally recorded and filmed, and on November 27, the 2-CD/Blu-ray set, Empire, fans will be able to witness the group pulling off their challenging material on a concert stage…from the comfort of their home! Big Big Train’s drummer, Nick D'Virgilio, spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the release, their recent line-up shake-up, and what to expect from their next studio offering.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the new live album, Empire.
Nick D'Virgilio: “We did our first proper tour last year. And it was all based in the UK – we went up to Scotland and then made our way down the country. It was the first time we had a good stretch of gigs in a row. Usually, we did these little residency things. And building up to do something like that – because we definitely want to play live a lot more, coming up in the future. So, this our first big major tour. Lots of great venues and things like that. A bunch of rehearsals – the band was really excited about going out there. And Tim Sidwell – who did a couple of our videos – offered to come and film the show at the Hackney Empire. Now, we didn’t plan on originally putting this out. He was there, he offered to come film it…what the heck – let’s see what we get out of it. Well, the band was just ON FIRE that night. It was the last show of the tour, we were really excited, and it was this gorgeous venue – it has three or four levels in it – and it was a sold out show. So, we really felt the love, y’know? And he is an amazing filmmaker – it just turned out really well. The look of the video, the way they edited it, the way the band played – we were really tight. And thank goodness it was the last show of the tour – we had all those other gigs under our belt. It just turned out so well, we said, ‘Well, gosh…let’s put it out’!”
BraveWords: Favorite tracks?
Nick D'Virgilio: “‘Hedgerow’ is a great one that’s on there. ‘Winkie’ – they released it as a promo video for it. That one was a blast to record, and play live. Really powerful. ‘East Coast Racer’ is just a gas – I hope we never stop playing that song live, because it is just so much fun. Some of the bigger epics from the new record – ‘Voyager.’ Just all of it, really – I don’t know if I have a favorite, because we’re just getting our legs as far as a live band is concerned. We’ve done a number of gigs now, but we’re just getting over that hump to where we’re becoming a really cool live band – with the visuals and the horn section. Really, all of them. But ‘East Coast Racer’ is definitely a highlight for me – for sure.”
BraveWords: At this point in your career, do you put any extra pressure on yourself when you know a show is being recorded and/or filmed?
Nick D'Virgilio: “No, not really. You just do the same thing – trying to forget those guys are even there. Because if you put pressure on yourself, then it just sort of…it’s un-needed, in my opinion. Just act like they’re not even there – and do your same show. You’re there to entertain the people in the seats – not to really make a movie. That’s just sort of a by-product of it, in my opinion. So, as long as you do that and put on your best effort to entertain the crowd – it will come across on camera.”
BraveWords: Recently, the band experienced departures from three members – Dave Gregory, Rachel Hall and Danny Manners.
Nick D'Virgilio: “Well, it’s sad. It’s a huge bummer – for sure. But, we understand where they’re coming from, and we wish them all the best. I love each and every one of those people. It will definitely be different, but it’s the growth of the band that sort of happens. It’s sort of the way of the world when you’re in a band. Not every band stays together forever, unfortunately. They’re all extremely talented people and have a great sound and killer vibe and they’re just wonderful people in general. So, they’ll definitely be missed – no doubt about it.”
BraveWords: Has there been any thought as to who will be replacing those members in the band?
Nick D'Virgilio: “We have some things in the works, yeah. We’re definitely making plans now, because we don’t want to mess around and we’ve been planning for the future gigs when they come back again. We’re already planning on those. And we’re making a new record, so we’re working on getting some new players to fill their roles. But there hasn’t been any announcements, yet.”
BraveWords: Which Big Big Train song is the trickiest for you to play?
Nick D'Virgilio: “Man, they all have their moments. It just depends on the tune. ‘East Coast Racer’ is pretty tricky. We didn’t do it on the last tour, but the song ‘Victorian Brickwork’ has some really head-tilting moments, where I have to count and make sure I’m on and don’t trip over an eighth-note or something like that. The song ‘Voyager’ has some crazy moments in it. There’s a number of them that you have to close your eyes and think for a little bit. It’s hard. Because I really want to internalize all those hard parts, so it flows better. I try to make it sound not as hard as it might be. But sometimes, you just can’t help it.”
BraveWords: What do you think of modern day prog music?
Nick D'Virgilio: “I like a lot of it. I’m just happy that this kind of music is standing the test of time. There were those years in the ‘90s where prog was sort of dying out. And people weren’t really into it. But really…they were. Especially when Spock’s Beard had just started – we thought there was no scene at all. But there really was quite a scene – especially in Europe. People still digging that music. Modern prog music, there is a lot of great musicians and artists out there – making music that they love. It makes for a nice swath of different styles out there – and just adds to the whole music thing. I’m glad people are making it. And I like that there is a wide variety of if you want to put it all in the ‘prog realm’ – you’ve got prog metal bands, your more art-rock bands, more mellower Pink Floyd-style things. There’s a nice swath of style under the prog umbrella. I think it’s really good and a lot of artistic stuff is happening.”
BraveWords: What can fans expect from the next Big Big Train studio album?
Nick D'Virgilio: “We’re working hard on the record. We want to have a record out before we start gigging again next year. So, maybe the first half of next year. There’s no exact date set, but somewhere around the June/July time. We really want to keep the momentum going, so we’re all writing hard and we’ve got some recording sessions planned. We were all supposed to be together in the UK at Real World to record as a group – which would have been one of the first times we had done that. But COVID is screwing that up – as well as a lot of other things. So, we’re going to do it the old fashioned way, the way we’ve been doing it – send tracks around and do things like that. Lots of cool material coming on this record. Some things that are similar to what we’ve done within the Big Big Train sound, some things are a little bit of a departure – because we want to grow as musicians and writers and as a group. I think it’s a nice next step in the band’s progression. I think a lot of people will dig what’s coming.”