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He may blush at being reminded these days but we first saw a teenage Virgil Donati behind the drum kit in satin pants on ABC TV’s Countdown in glam rock/pop band Taste in the 70s. Stints followed in commercial rock bands like Southern Sons and The State in the 90s but Virgil’s heart always laid in more complex rhythms, such as that played by local fusion band Changes, whom Virgil had a spell with in the 80s. However there wasn’t much of a market for such music in Australia at the time and eventually Virgil moved to LA to follow that stream in more progressive bands such as Planet X, a band formed by ex Dream Theatre keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Since the mid-nineties, Donati has made a name for himself as a highly sought after drummer performing and touring with the likes of Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Vai and Allan Holdsworth, while also maintaining a busy schedule as a band leader and member of numerous recording and touring bands. At the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show on Saturday May 27th Virgil, along with Austrian-born, US-based drummer Thomas Lang, will begin their national DW TV tour, in which they’ll share the stage together. AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with Virgil to chat about the upcoming tour.

How did the idea come about of you and Thomas playing together on a tour?
I believe it was DW who came up with the idea and approached Thomas and I about doing something special as a two drummer event. We were looking for an opportunity for it to happen and this tour came up and we thought this was our chance. I have never really done a serious drum duet tour with anyone so it is very new to me. Of course I have played and jammed with drummers at various festivals around the world but never a specific show where we are going to work out specific parts and come up with some interesting rhythmic explorations.

ThomasVirgilcomboWhat do you hope the audience get out of it?
They’ll get to see us expressing ourselves musically. For me, it’s a new vehicle to do that in and I hope that they can find some inspiration and some musical highlights. Let’s hope that a wave of rhythmic delight will overwhelm them!

Do you like mixing it with other drummers at drum shows? Do you think there are characteristics unique to drummers?
Drummers and bass players have a certain fraternity amongst themselves. Realistically, it is not without some healthy competition as well. We’re friends but in human nature I think there is an element of competition in any field. We try to avoid the subject but there is always an element of that. As long as it is directed in a creative manner, it’s all good.

How far back do you and DW Drums go?
Not too far back actually. I made the change to DW Drums about two and a half years ago now and it is one of the best moves I have made. I’ve really enjoyed working with the company and playing the drums primarily, that’s what it is all about. I found that when I moved I hadn’t really played DW that much and when i did I was very pleased with the new timbre, the tone I was hearing from my drums and it gave me a fresh and renewed  inspiration to play and record. It was a real change, an eye opener.

You’re just back from a tour to China and Taipei. How was that?
That was fabulous. China is really an emerging musical market and finding their feet right now. I was amazed at the amount of kids getting onto drums and their parents were really encouraging them. There were so many more of them than I have seen at events at any western country. A lot of kids and I think there is a bright future for them and a surprising number of girls and they all really play well. They play with attitude and charisma, it is quite amazing to see. They have so many competitions and they are really encouraged to play. Almost every show, I had a band of kids playing.

Another thing you did recently was release the Dawn Of Time album, an ambitious symphonic work. How long was that in planning?
About ten years. It took a long time. I started working on the concept when I was on an extensive European tour in 2007. I spent a lot to time writing on the road. I came up with the core idea and music on that tour and then it was on the back burner all those years. I worked on it when I could and eventually decided a couple of years that I had to complete it and record it. I am really proud of that work, it’s a monumental work and every note  was written and scored and I worked really hard on it. I am really pleased with the result and I hope i get to play it live at some stage.

You also play piano on the album. Do you think you play piano percussively?
No, I don’t think. Obviously I will always have a certain rhythmic awareness with everything that I do but when you sit at a piano you are playing it as the instrument that it is. It’s harmonic and it’s melodic and yes it will be infused with the rhythmic elements that i am feeling but certainly not always the overriding factor.

Another project you are working on is Icefish. Tell me about that.
That’s really exciting. We’re progressing well with that. The plan was to have it out at the end of June but we may have to postpone that by a month. We want it to be as good as we can. It’s very a progressive rock band, all Italian guys, all living in Italy. We are excited about the potential of the band and now it’s all coming together in the writing and recording and we’re starting to really hear the sound of the band and I think it has so much potential. We are releasing the record and then hitting the road at some point and taking the music to the people.

Photo taken in North Hollywood  on  07/29/15.

Another person you were working with earlier this year was Allan Holdsworth. His death must have been a huge shock for you?
Yes we are still mourning the passing of one of the greatest musicians of the last century. I mean literally … anyone who is not aware of him or may not understand how great he was, you need to listen to his music. it is so sublime. His music, his sound, his playing he was so unique. You can put him in the company of greats like John Coltrane and Brecker. There are only a handful of those guys and he was one of them and I had the pleasure of working with him for a number of years. Unfortunately we had worked on a new record which he never finished and Jimmy Johnson and I finished all of our parts but he didn’t get to finish his but hopefully we can release that posthumously at some stage somehow.

We look forward to seeing you and Thomas on tour and at the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show.
I’m really looking forward to it too.

Sydney Drum & Percussion Show

DW TV Show national dates

27 May: Sydney Drum & Percussion Show* – Rosehill Gardens Grand Pavillion

30 May: Brisbane, Australia – The Princess Theatre

01 June: Melbourne, Australia – Union House Theater, Melbourne University

03 June: Adelaide, Australia – Century Theatre, Immanuel College

06 June: Perth, Australia – Red Door Auditorium

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