Sensitive ex-model Donald Cumming dishes on girls, glam and growing up in New York. The mouthpiece for the slick nu-rave rock quartet released a self-titled debut earlier this year with his mates from Manhattan. The Virgins will continue to engage in the pop rock idealism frenzy when they embark on a European tour with Pigeon Detectives in this week.
San Francisco Foghorn: What is it like to be a newer band in the American and European rock scene? Is it everything you’ve hoped it could be?
Donald Cumming: So far yeah, I mean we started making songs in my bedroom on an 8-track and we would take them out to parties at night so we could hear them. Then other DJs that we didn’t know started playing our songs so we got [really] inspired to keep writing and keep playing together. For about two years now we’ve toured the States and Europe and it’s been the time of my life.
SFF: You’re called the Virgins and you’re all good-looking guys, so the band name is a bit mysterious. You’ve said in other interviews that it just refers to your “sound.” I’m not totally sold on that.
DC: I came up with the name. I wanted us to have a name that’s basic. At the time that we started the band a lot of new bands had really long names so we wanted a short name and I liked ‘The Virgins’ because it’s got an optimism to it which is light and fun. That’s what our music is about and the name is a little bit sexy as well. You know, it just makes you think about sex, and I like that, too.
SFF: So it does not just refer to the sound; it’s also about your personality.
DC: We’re definitely a party band and a rock n’ roll band. We like to have a really good time and wanted our name to be fun – fun to say.
SFF: Are any of the band members virgins?
DC: No. Not even close.
SFF: Okay. Good. I needed to clear that up! To me, your self-titled debut is about New York girls, girl problems, living with girls and living without girls. What is it about for you?
DC: (chuckles) We really wanted to make a pop album that reflected our actual lives, a pop record that has intimacy to it that I think we hadn’t heard [as a band] in a while. We really wanted to make this pop record but we wanted it to have things in it that resonated for us personally and emotionally. It’s a celebration of life and life experience which is sometimes sad and sometimes bittersweet.
SFF: Right now we are living in this hyper hipster culture, especially for ages 17-25. This genre that you guys subscribe to is so hot right now and it lends itself to fashion and the way music videos are shot, and I’m wondering if you ever consciously have to avoid falling into being ‘Strokes band number five’ or the Hives? How do you stay honest?
DC: We try and just make music for each other. That’s how we started and that’s what we’ve stuck to. We try to challenge ourselves and try and make music that inspires us. We don’t think about it too much; we just think about our work and what we want to hear and how we want to present it. It would be distracting to think about other groups and trends. All of our aesthetics are direct extensions of us. There’s no one designing for us, there’s no one shooting things that we don’t come up with the ideas for. It’s all us. I’d have to be really introspective to give you an answer that’s objective. I can’t separate myself from what we do. I can’t have an objective view because I’m in it.
SFF: As far as production and distribution and being a part of a major label, where do you find yourselves standing as a band? With the kind of pressure that bands like Radiohead are putting on startup bands to release material for free, how do you feel about the new distribution model?
DC: We’re definitely happy to have people download our music and happy to have people hear it in any venue and any capacity. We consider that to be a wonderful thing so any kind of interaction is really positive. But I don’t think too much about business plans or marketing or stuff like that. We were never signed to an indie label. We signed directly to Atlantic so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it’s been a wonderful experience so far and everyone at the label pretty much just let’s us do our thing which we’re really grateful for. We got really lucky to have Atlantic believe in us and give us an opportunity to make our music.
SFF: In your single “Rich Girls” and on your album, the content is so heavily about the interaction with [the] opposite sex and the New York scene. Is there something inherently attractive about a girl who appears to be rich or wealthy for you or anyone else in your band ?
DC: (chuckles) No, no. I think she’s beautiful if she’s attractive, but no, that song is actually about growing up in the city and how it gave us a really unique opportunity to have friends from all different backgrounds. Growing up in the city, kids base all their judgments on actions and behavior and not on their parents or their money or where they come from. The song is about people from different economic backgrounds sharing the same point of view.
The album is about the times when you get really intimate with somebody and I’ve definitely had relationships that have changed me and have taught me so many things about who I am and what I’m looking for. It finds its way into my work but it often can give metaphors for anything. When you’re setting up a song sometimes you want to convey an emotion and a feeling and can get to that place a lot faster with a fundamental scenario like: boy meets girl, boy loses girl. It’s a backdrop [for] a specific story.
SFF: Is it difficult to date while you’re on tour?
DC: Yeah, it is. It’s hard because you’re not home. I haven’t been home for any significant amount of time in two years. I had a girlfriend and we just broke up actually.
DC: It was just before this tour started. We weren’t getting any time to spend together. But we’re still friends.
SFF: Good, I’m glad to hear that. You’re doing alright?
DC: It’s okay. Thank you. I’m okay. I mean we’re still friends. It’s better for both of us because we were just trying to be together but we just weren’t together. It was getting really complicated, so I think we made the right decision.