Since forming in Boston in 2001, The Dresden Dolls have continually blurred the lines between rock and cabaret in their music, and between concert performances and live theater onstage.
The duo of Amanda Palmer (vocals, piano) and Brian Viglione (drums, vocals) describe their unusual style as “Brechtian punk cabaret.” The music is dredged from the depths by piano and drums and polished with guitar, harmonica, ukelele and percussion. The show is full of dress-up, defiance, fluid sexuality, loneliness, camaraderie and scorched-earth passion.
Following the release of their second album, 2006’s “Yes, Virginia,” the band practically lived on the road, touring alone or with the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Cyndi Lauper and The Gossip. Along the way they assembled the mischievously titled “No, Virginia,” an album of new songs, old demos and b-sides that hit stores back in May.
Later this year the Dolls will play select shows in support of the new release. Concert-goers shouldn’t be surprised if ultra-gay-affirming Viglione is performing in a dress, stockings and full make-up. He says he looks hottest when he’s all dolled up, so why not?
In this empowering interview, Viglione talks about the rush of looking fab in drag and the importance of Gay Pride.
You’re not gay, but you have many gay fans who look up to you for the fearless way you live your life. Can you tell them what Gay Pride means to you?
It means living every day of your life with dignity, self-respect, compassion and courage in the face of discrimination. It’s about celebrating love, regardless of gender.
Gay Pride is also a celebration of individuality, isn’t it?
Yes. We’re all taught from a very young age lessons on how to conform and what is right and wrong. Gay Pride to me is about celebrating people loving each other and loving themselves for who they are, not what society or a religion deems morally appropriate. Too often, fear and shame keep people locked inside themselves because they’re taught that how they feel is wrong.
Pride is all about wiping that bullshit from the mirror, so that when you stand there and look at yourself, you feel good about what you see. Then, when you can love and believe in who you are, no one can take that from you.
What do you think about the recent ruling in California that allows gays and lesbians to marry?
I think its wonderful and long overdue. Hopefully the rest of the country and the world get the message and eventually catch up. My hope is that people still take their time to cultivate and nurture their relationships and don’t rush into marriage just because they can. The most important thing is that people are taking care of each other, married or not.
Tell me about dressing in drag. What does that mean to you?
For me, it’s about expressing a very uncomplicated side of who I am physically. I was nine years old when I first discovered I had a feminine side. I was with a cousin in a pool, and I had a mullet. When I got out of the pool, my hair was wrapped around my head. He said I looked like a girl and I couldn’t deny it. I felt empowered by it. I never possessed that brute masculinity that a man’s supposed to have. I just decided to embrace my natural physique, which was sort of feminine.
When I was 14, I discovered “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It had everything: rock and roll, sexuality, humor — all the things that seemed so vital. To me, Frankenfurter was self-evolved and empowered, a model for individualism. That was right in line with all the things I wanted.
And how did your parents feel?
They were supportive, but they urged me to be cautious. It was the kind of thing where I might have wanted to go out in a garter belt for Halloween, but they didn’t want me to get beat up. They said, “Don’t live in fear, but have your head about you.”
I grew up in the mid ’90s, which was a pretty progressive era. I had grown up thinking that high school was going to be like “The Breakfast Club,” that people were going to beat me up all the time. But when I was in high school, it was cool to dress weird. Even before high school, I went in drag to one of my eighth grade dances, and the other kids were like, “Oh, man, you look awesome.” They thought it was cool. They knew I was having a good time.
It’s a stereotype that all men who dress in drag are gay. Have you gotten that?
That happens to me all the time anyway. Dressing in drag hasn’t increased the amount of times that people have asked me if I’m gay. Mostly, people are curious about the ways in which I’m able to uncover different parts of myself. People have said, “I thought you were a punk rocker” or “I thought you were a transvestite freak.” I am! I’m both! I like what I like and I do what I want.
You dress in drag onstage as well.
Yes, but I’m not a drag queen. When I get dressed up for the band, it’s because I feel like looking hot. I could wear a boring suit, but why not dress in an awesome gown and stockings? It’s what I look better in.
— Publicist Peter Galvin contributed to this piece.