Nick D’Virgilio formed Spock’s Beard with Neal and Alan Morse in 1992. They bravely set out on a progressive rock path at a time when that style of rock music might be described as waning in America. Through hard work and a willingness play wherever they could find an appreciative audience, which often meant traveling to Europe, they’ve built a solid following. Nick was gracious enough to share his thoughts on progressive rock, touring in Europe, and what it takes for a young musician to make it in the incredibly competitive music industry.
The American Culture: Tell me about creating Spock’s Beard.
Nick D’Virgilio: It was a chance meeting that was just meant to be. I guess it depends on what you believe. I think it was meant to be. I was at a blues jam at a bar in Los Angeles. I put my name on the board like all of the other musicians who wanted to play that night. When they called me up on stage they also called Neal and Alan Morse. We played a couple songs (I can’t remember what they were) and then talked. We found out that we liked a lot of the same music and Neal told me about all of this Prog Rock music he had written. I went with my then girlfriend, now wife Tiffany, over to Neal’s house and got the tape of the tunes he had written. The music was very cool and it ended up being all of the songs for the very first Spock’s CD. We got together soon after that and jammed. That was pretty much the start of the band. We all knew it was a good match. We had a different bass player at the very beginning of the band. We did a few shows, changed bass players to Dave Meros, found a small mail order record label who helped up put out the first CD and then went on from there. The crazy thing was that we started the band for fun. Not really planning of making it big. Prog rock was pretty dead in 1992. Music was dominated by grunge rock and pop. Thankfully, underground there was still a lot of people listening to this kind of music.
TAC: Looking at your past tour dates, Spock’s Beard spent a lot of time in Europe. Talk about being known in Europe, but not so much in America. Or am I misreading past tour schedules?
NDV: No, you are right. We’re known in America, but have done much more business in the EU. For a number different reasons. in the 90’s prog rock still had a decent following and towards the later 90’s prog was really coming back strong. Along with other kinds of musician friendly music. We got signed by a German record company that, despite releasing our CD’s in America, sold more in Europe because they knew that market. So we toured there a lot and built a nice following. We have some nice pockets in the US as well. Even in Canada. North America is so big it’s hard to make it everywhere unless you have a big machine behind you and a lot of money. In Europe, you can play in 12 different countries, or more, in a month. We’ve done well on East coast and in California. We have tried to tour the US a few different times and lost a bunch of money each time. The people like when we play in their town for sure but touring is very expensive.
TAC: Do European audiences have a greater appreciation for progressive rock?
NDV: Yes, I think so. Not to put down my own country because there is a lot of great music fans here as well. It is just seems to be more concentrated in the EU.
TAC: Should a young band be open to traveling overseas?
NDV: Absolutely. Tour and play where ever people will come watch and listen. Be open to everything. The world is a big place and people listen to music everywhere.
TAC: I read at your website, NDVMusic.com, that you contracted to tour with Cirque Du Soleil. How did you find this gig?
NDV: I was looking for something different and wanted to go about it in a different way. I was surfing the net, looking for work; everything, from studios needing engineers, tech stuff, music schools, even how to become a professional caddy for a golf pro (that’s about the only thing that might tempt me to quit all this music stuff). I have known Cirque always had great music behind their shows so I went to their website and discovered that they have a whole audition process you can do online. You fill out an application that tells them who you are and where you come from. Things like that. Then you can submit a resume and the biggest thing is that they have music from a lot of there shows up on the site with and without the particular instrument you are auditioning for. They ask you to download the music (they do also have all of the music in written form as well), learn it, and videotape yourself playing at least 3 pieces. I did that for both drumming as well as singing and, since I have my own small recording studio at my home, I was able to make it sound great. It was much better then just using the microphone on the video camera. I think that helped. I sent that all in and just waited. I didn’t hear anything for a while but then I received an email saying they received all of my stuff and I will be inline for the next round of in-person auditions they hold every so often. Not to long after that I received a phone call for the creative director for the show I am now on and he offered me gig without an in-person audition. That made me feel good. That’s the story.
TAC: How is technology changing the price of entry for young musicians?
NDV: It’s much easier to get your own music heard by a lot of people with today’s technology and easier to making decent recordings with today’s technology. But … that doesn’t always make for good music. Along with the ease, there is a lot of poor efforts out there. I think sometimes the technology and made some things worse. Like the sound of recordings. There is a ton of inexpensive recording gear on the market and a lot of inexperienced people using this gear. Their intentions may be well and good but along with learning how to play, you also need to learn how to write and record. Or find the right people to do those other things.
TAC: Is the music industry less interested in a band’s politics as long as the music finds an audience? Or will producers shut out a musician if they know he might have conservative leanings?
NDV: I think it is easier to get the lefts ideas out there rather then the right in popular music. Unless you play country music of course. For some reason Country music speaks to the right more.
I have never been shut out of anything because of my political views and most of everyone I have ever worked with know I am a Replublican. Although I consider myself pretty moderate one, and I never really brought that kind of thing to work unless I was confronted or asked. And when asked I would always be honest. If they didn’t like it, tough beans for them. I think my ability as a musician out-weighed whatever beliefs were in the room. Also whenever I was around for some of the crazy rants I would be lucky (or unlucky) enough to hear some of my friends go on about I would just smile and listen. Or tune it out. And I have heard some crazy ones for sure.
TAC: How important is being an entrepreneur to success or failure as a musician?
NDV: Huge! You have to know how to be a business person. How to create a market and get your product out to your listeners. Music is a product like any other and sometimes there are the few that get big quickly but the majority of us have to know how to sell and market as well as write a good song.
For a musician who doesn’t write and just wants to play it is the same thing. You are the product and you have to know how to sell yourself to potential bands or other artists. You have to have not only great chops as a player but attitude, look, vibe, the ability to adapt to all kinds of situations, and knowledge of you profession. Who your competition is and what you can do to stand out.
TAC: What advice do you have for younger musicians just beginning their careers?
NDV: Practice you brains out and play all kinds of music. You may love a particular style but be open to all of the styles and rhythms out there and do what you can to learn or at the very least understand them. It will help you to become a better player.
And be a sponge. Learn everything you can about what you want to do. Practice, practice, practice! Be willing to go a different direction then you may have planned and get out there. Along with all of the practice and learning you NEED to be out among the people. That is what music is all about. It needs to be heard live.