Rock is so commercially disregarded these days that it's become nearly a cult genre. Staring across that charred landscape which was once a great rock forest, Virginmarys frontman Ally Dickaty imagines a smaller, heartier preserve rising from the ashes.
"It seemed to have become too cliché, and everyone has sort of seen it all before," says Dickaty from across the pond. "Rock and roll should be straight to the point... something you shouldn't have to think, 'Is it good or not?' It should be something you turn on and go, 'What the fuck is that?'"
The UK trio's prepping their second album, Divides, recorded with Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World) for release in May. It's the follow-up to their 2013 debut, King of Conflict, and the band was stoked to be working with Norton, which makes sense given their penchant for loud crunchy alt-rock with a '90s air.
The band's earlier repertoire ranged from the greasy garage psych-rock "Portrait of Red" to the slinky rumble of "Lost Weekend," which bears the dark imprimatur of the Afghan Whigs. Then there was "Just a Ride," whose discordant tangle of guitars owes a heavy debt to Nirvana (and, by extension, the Pixies).
But the first two tracks from the forthcoming Divides showcase a bigger, more filled-in sound. The richly atmospheric "Into the Dust" wallows in a rockabilly-tinged gothic pall reminiscent of the Bad Seeds, while "Motherless Land" fashions an anthemic ring worthy of Idlewild. The lyrics take aim at modern discourse ("A lot of talking when there's nothing to say") and drug-induced escapes ("We grew up with a fear of God / Feeling guilty about the things we're not").
"When you listen to hip hop, whether you like it or not, they seem to have a lot more social commentary run though their stuff," says the singer. "I'm not surprised that's really thriving. I think there needs to be that spirit again in rock. There needs to be that urgency.
"I just get this feeling that stuff is hanging by a thread, and I don't know why it's not being addressed," he continues. "But when you turn on the radio, it's like machines singing about the same old shit."
Not that he has anything implicitly against party up songs, except how they inevitably lead to Peggy Lee's eternal question, "Is That All There Is?"
"It's great to celebrate going out and getting fucked up for the weekend," he says. "But I think the deeper reason you have to do that is because things are so shit, like all you're living for is the weekend."
While the band's live sound is what their debut album strove to catch, producer Norton has helped them create something more.
"We originally recorded live, but then we listened to that live sound and tracked stuff over it," says Dickaty, who feels all the effort was worth the wait. "It was quite a lengthy process, but we really got the best of everything. There's a lot of clarity on this album."