On the record with Virginia Coalition

The alternative rock band's singer, Andy Poliakoff, sat down for a talk with writer Adam Century.
The alternative rock band’s singer, Andy Poliakoff, sat down for a talk with writer Adam Century.

An established and longstanding name in the alternative rock world, Virginia Coalition (VACO) is perhaps most renowned for their frenetic onstage energy and melodious, extended solos that have been infecting crowds without fail since 1997. Unfortunately, the “crowd” assembled in Lasell last Sunday night consisted of roughly two security guards, a dozen or so students and the band members themselves. However, had it not been for unfortunate scheduling (we all know that the library is the hippest place to be on Sunday nights), the show would most probably have been a huge success. Before they hit the stage, I got a chance to sit down and chat with VACO lead singer Andy Poliakoff about coalitions, the Asian pentatonic scale and public regurgitation.

You guys always seem to confound your fans with new, unanticipated arrangements, from rock to soul to funk – how would you describe your musical evolution since coming together in 1997?

As we became more successful, in the late ’90s and ’00s, we got pretty focused on the stage show and thus infused a lot more funk and gogo in the records. Whenever we played, we were like, “Holy cow, there’s a thousand people out there,” so we’d go bananas. Eventually though, we all got tired of spazzing out all the time. As we got working on the new record, we all sat down and decided to put much more emphasis on the songwriting. That was the inspiration for [our new album] Home This Year. All those songs were written as a group, from start to finish, and that was definitely something new.

Few people rock their state pride to the extent that you guys do – are you guys just really proud Virginians?

(spoken with a heavy Southern accent) Yeah, we chew tobacco in the country, No, we’re really not. Back when we named our band, it made sense because we were all from Alexandria, Va. and had grown up together. But then we went away to colleges in different states, from Florida to Louisiana to Virginia. So when we were away, we felt like a coalition of Virginian musicians. When we came back for holidays, we’d always play shows together. We could just have easily called ourselves the Alexandria Holiday Music Club or something.

Are you guys in any way affiliated to the “Virginia Coalition to End Domestic Violence?”

No, we’re not. Damn it, this always happens. We’re not affiliated with any other groups, but a lot of groups try to get affiliated with us, know what I mean?

Not really, but if you guys had to choose one thing for your coalition to stand for – like the Virginia Coalition for 2nd Amendment rights or the Virginia Coalition to End World Peace – what would you guys choose?

We probably wouldn’t want to end world peace, would we? We’d be the Virginia Coalition for, for, for, god damn . . . I have no idea. As the band gets older, I think we realize that we mainly just get together to play shows. So to get away from that and just have a chance to laugh our asses off is our main goal.

The Virginia Coalition for Comedy?

Yeah, that sounds about right.

If you could jam with any musician, past or present, who would you play with?

I’d probably say Peter Gabriel. I don’t necessarily always think of jamming as going wild and playing sweet Santana licks on the guitar. To me, it’s not about that. As is pertains to philosophical, Zen-quality jamming, I’d want to jam with Peter Gabriel. But in terms of complete, utter wickedness and ability on their instrument, I’d have to say Jerry Douglas from Bela Fleck. He’s pretty much the sickest dude on earth. He’s hypermelodic to the point that sometimes I don’t even know what I’m listening to. The way the melodies just start cascading all over each other, I just go, “What is the name of that sound?” You ever see the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War? You know the music that they always play in between scenes? Apparently it’s a Chinese, like an Asian, pentatonic scale, and it was really made popular by Aaron Copeland. That’s what I keep hearing in all of Bela Fleck’s music. You should totally check it out.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you or the band onstage?

I’ve definitely puked off the stage before. I’ve tripped onstage, fallen onstage. In short, it’s all been done.

I imagine that wouldn’t be ideal.

Yeah, but last year we played something like our 1200th show, so I figure if anyone’s on stage that much, babies will eventually get born. The law of statistics indicates that eventually something will happen onstage that is both wonderful and horrible.

Have you ever been on stage and locked eyes with a lady in the crowd, and just been like, “Wow, I think I could spend the rest of my life with her?” Straight up love at first sight?

Sure. Yeah, that happens pretty much every time I’m on stage. That’s just the nature of the human being. If you look in their eyes – if you print my answer to this, definitely say I’m happily married – it’s just human nature. When something catches your eye it’s hard to ignore it . . . I think now that I’m a little older though, all that drama is just too much. It’s definitely not a good idea to go down that road anymore. I’m enriched by a lot of different things now.