Virgil Shaw

Interview: Virgil Shaw on “At the Time I Didn’t Care”


Virgil Shaw:  At the Time I Didn’t Care

Virgil Shaw is a musician located in the Bay Area of California who has a new album, At the Time I Didn’t Care, on Rocks in Your Head records.The album has a raw open quality, especially his vulnerable vocals, which is irresistible to Americana music fans.  We had a chance to chat with Virgil.

Americana Highways:  Your new album At the Time I Didn’t Care seems to have influences from some different corners of Americana. How did your love of the genre begin?

Virgil Shaw: I was raised on the north coast without a T.V., We lived on a dairy farm. My folks had a cabinet of oldies 45s, Country albums and banjo fiddle music. I guess American, Americana music was all I knew about. When I started writing songs in my teens, I was then exposed to much more music. but I unconsciously starting writing in a 3/4 rhythm. I still feel I can get a lot more emotional in writing a slow song, because I write my songs just me on an acoustic guitar. I love country music, for the same reason I like Garage music, it seems closer to the truth to me. Closer to the bone.

AH:  You’ve played in various bay area bands like Brent’s TV and Dieselhed. How did those experiences inform the music would make later in your life?

VS: I loved being in both those bands, it wasn’t “let’s get a practice space, and form a band.” I didn’t even know I was in a band. It was pure survival, a blur of rooms, smoke, rain and washing your socks in the sink. All at a cinematographic driving-through-the-desert clip. These bands tought me the life long lesson of, zero fucks given. Trust the broken speaker head and continue on. The players in those bands have taught me how to play music and write songs.

AH: “The Valley” is quite an observational song, much like the rest of the album. Can you give us some more background on that track in particular?

VS:  “The Valley” is a song about a time when I once was so in love, and how I would do anything for it, and was blinded to the point of taking my own life for it.  And I wonder now, how could this have been real? I fly over that valley we lived in, and now just glance down from above and turn my magazine page. Does anything really matter?

AH:  How did you link up with Rocks In Your Head Records?

VS: I know Sonny and Rocks in Your Head Records from playing music for years in San Francisco, our folks play Old Time banjo fiddle Music togethe.  We have the same birthdays.

AH:  What are you most proud of, about the album?

VS: The melodies and the lyrics. I let them both cook enough. I feel like I put in the hard work, I did all the struggling and head banging it takes for me to marry the images to melodies. I made time to perform most of these songs live, which always helps me when it is recording time.

AH: What is your relationship like with social media?

VS: I use social media to promote my art and my music. It’s fun to be able keep in touch with people from my past. I know people have problems with gettin’ addicted to it. I know there are problems with social media, I just hope I use the tool correctly.

AH: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and feel most insecure about, and how do you overcome those insecurities?

VS: I have been banging away on guitar since I was 12. I am not the best guitar player, although I guess I am a persistent scrapper, and I am always trying to get better. Then I get together and play with my guitar player/ pedal player Henry and comparatively I feel like am playing with baseball gloves on both hands! But I have rhythm, and I got the song. Some times this is an insecurity, but then I can play some mean flat picking runs while playing old time music banjo fiddle tunes with my mom and dad. I guess the key is to know your strengths and keep at them.

AH: What do you hope people take from your music and how would you like it to effect listeners most?

VS: I hope my music comes across like Art not illustration. My songs are like collages, I paste a bunch of found clipping together to try to make sense of all this crazy lovely chaos.

I am starting to believe in ghosts.  I want my songs to be as smoky and full of noise, and danger as a sailors’ bar in the year of 1910, but at the same time as the year of 2022. I hope people learn something new, even if it wasn’t the same thing that I was trying to think through.

Find Virgil Shaw’s music, along with some paintings too, here: 

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