Signs of a Vacant Soul (Atlantic)
An interview with guitarist Marchant
by Scott Hefflon
First off, what’s the band name mean?
I’ve always thought Virgos was a cool word, and it’s the astrological sign for the Virgin. To me, it’s purity. And Merlot is a blended wine, so I thought Virgos Merlot would be the pure blend of musical influences of the five of us.
And I can kinda tell by your accent, you still live in Alabama, don’t you?
Sure do. We all grew up in Alabama, but Chris (bass), JD (drums), and Brett (vocals) recently relocated to Orlando, Florida. Deacon (guitar) and I still live in Birmingham, Alabama. Considering were about to hop into a tour bus, it didn’t make sense to move to a more expensive city.
What’s Birmingham like?
I think it’s really starting to develop. It’s different than the surrounding states in that there are no famous people anywhere, there’s no hope of going to see a local band and later seeing them on MTV. There’s not really a scene, so it’s really frustrating trying to build a fan base. We’ve gone many, many years of frustration only to realize it’s not the area’s fault. In Orlando, you go see a band called Matchbox 20 one week, and the next they’re all over the radio. That brings the people out to the clubs.
Marilyn Manson is from that area as well.
And he suffered for years, and we have a lot of respect for him because he’s bringing the show back to rock’n’roll.
Your press kit mentions the theatrics of your live show as well.
We do a lot with contrast in our light show, in a Tool sense – lots of shadows.
A couple obvious musical references I hear, aside from Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, are Alice in Chains and early God Lives Underwater.
Alice in Chains is a band we all love, but we try to steer away from that as much as possible. Our music and lyrical content is very positive and motivational, it’s about digging your way out of the hole, not why you’re in the hole. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum, really, even though the big guitars, big melodies, and groovin’ riffs are similar. We had a record out locally, under a different name, and that was so Alice in Chains-ish it was ridiculous. So we made it a point to steer away from that as much as possible this time out. And the God Lives Underwater comparison is probably due to the technology and guitar effects we use. Difference is we don’t use samples or digital effects – everything’s analog and we can play it all live.
Tell me about the image you present and what it represents.
Platform shoes, big jackets, and the white contacts… Those come from the title of the record, Signs of a Vacant Soul. I think everyone has an empty space inside them, and that’s what our music is about: pulling yourself out of that place. It’s self-realization. If you just listen to the melodies and bob along, you won’t pick up on that, but if you read the lyrics, they’re really on the positive side of things. Even just the prettiness of the melody, aside from the roaring of the big guitar sound, there’s a lot of soaring and rising above.
Just out of curiosity, Marchant is your last name, right?
And you don’t have a first name?
Not really. Everyone’s always called me Marchant (pronounced mar-shont).
How’d you get signed to Atlantic?
We played a show in Columbia, South Carolina, and Creed were playing some outdoor show that got canceled because it rained. We were playing a club called Rockafellas, and they asked if they could please play in front of us so they could make enough money to get home. We all hung out after the show and really got along. Their management was really impressed with our show, and it kinda snowballed from there. We did some songs for their management, and they set up a showcase for us in Orlando. Twelve labels showed up, and Atlantic was the best thing happening.
You aren’t worried about being a new band, signed to a major, and basically being the first to go if things shuffle around?
The industry is so crazy right now, I’m really glad we did go with Atlantic. They’re pretty much the only label that isn’t switching and changing and hiring and firing. Atlantic had lost their big rock band, Stone Temple Pilots, so they were really looking for a new rock act. Now I hear Stone Temple Pilots may be doing another record due out this summer…
Kinda funny that all those bands – Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains – they’re all fractionalizing and the singers are doing solo albums.
Yeah, I know. Actually, I’d have to say we’re affected by Superunknown-era Soundgarden more than any of the others you’ve mentioned. I hear The Beatles in all that. I think when Chris Cornell started having a heavier hand in the writing and overall sound, that’s when the band really started to shine.
Chris Cornell helped pulled rock out of the funk it was in. He has the presence, not to mention the looks and talent, to be a rock star in a time when we’re suspicious of rock stars.
I can’t believe he hasn’t won an award for best voice of the ’90s or something. He’s killed everyone out there as far as having the most distinguishable voice.
And it helps that he’s not a total cock.
That may stem from him being comfortably married. He has nothing to prove but his music.
Are you looking into doing any movie soundtracks or anything?
Actually, that’s what we’re working on in the little time we have off. We’re doing a Til Tuesday cover, “Voices Carry,” that I think they’re putting in some soundtrack.
That’s an influence I wouldn’t’ve though of.
Oh yeah, we’re big Til Tuesday fans. And Duran Duran. And Bryan Adams and Don Henley. I think that’s the root that a lot of our melodies, and lots of other bands’ melodies, stem from.
I still can’t hear “Boys of Summer” without dropping what I’m doing and just soaking in the vibe of that song…
And “Sunset Grille,” too. That song just eats me up. And there’s a song on the Singles soundtrack by Mother Love Bone that gets me every time I hear it.
Anything else you wanna mention?
Just that Lars Ulrich came to our show last night and we hung out until 6 o’clock this morning. That was so cool. And we met Robert Plant at CBGB’s, our first show in New York. We have the same attorney, and they were out to dinner, so they stopped by.
And maybe years from now, people’ll run into you and they’ll tell everyone that they just hung out with you.
We hope, we hope. Rock’n’roll is on a big comeback, and we’re just glad to be a part of it.