In 2022 Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse, and Ross Jennings took the world by storm with their first collaboration Troika. The record saw the three progressive rock titans shifting gears and exploring the glorious three-part harmonies of bands like Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They are back now with a follow-up called Sophomore and Nick D’Virgilio recently took some time to talk about it.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Nick D’Virgilio –
On putting out a second record so quickly – A lot of what it has to do with is everybody’s schedules. The way it turned out and it seemed like people liked it and we definitely liked it as the band, as the three of us, we knew we wanted to make a second record. We just didn’t know when that was going to be necessarily because everybody’s (busy). Haken is just touring like crazy and Neal’s always got a million and one things going on and I’m pretty busy myself. I think Neal was the first one that reached out and said, “Hey, I got some openings in here around this specific time. What do you guys think about trying to knock out the second record?” Inside Out was up for it as well, which is a really good thing. Once we knew that we had this opening of time, we just went for it.
On if they felt pressure while recording Sophomore to live up to Troika – I don’t know about pressure. I think we’re just writing songs to have fun. I don’t know if there’s really a pressure sort of thing. I think we know that and we realize we have a sound and the harmonies are definitely sort of the focal point of this thing that we got going on. We definitely like singing together and our voices are blending well, nicely. We’re sort of still focusing in on that. But I think now that we made the first record, the second one has, this record has a few different twists and turns sound-wise. I think it’s just sort of like a natural progression because these guys, Neal and Ross are amazing artists. So you could really throw anything at them and they’ll make it sound good. It’s kind of freeing knowing that we can kind of just go for stuff and it may not all work, but we’re not afraid to kind of throw stuff into the pot and see what we can kind of build from that.
On bringing in all types of influences – It’s fun to be able to throw those influences out there and see what songs come out. It’s a fun way of writing. I think how you described it is apropos and it really works well and it’s a fun way to kind of be creative.
On the three of them finally singing together in person – It was really nice actually. It makes me want to get out there and play these songs live and go on the road with it. I’m pushing those guys all the time and I think they want to do it and I think it will happen eventually. Again, it’s down to schedules and everything. Ross and Haken are definitely out there working their latest record for a while still. So we got to just figure out when that can happen. But I think they’re up for it and I think it would make a really cool night’s worth of music. We can do all kinds of stuff. When we sang together the first time, it just kind of worked immediately. It fell into place fast.
On what a possible tour would look like, a full run or just special dates – I don’t really know how to answer that. I think it could be all of the above really, just depends on what we can pull together. Ross lives in the UK and we’re over here. So we got to kind of put that into perspective as well. So, there’s a couple of things, hurdles, we got to get over if we want to do that. But it could be pulled together pretty fast, I think.
On upcoming plans for Big Big Train – Well, we’re planning to get out there on the road as much as possible, and the record is coming out. It’s really good. We’re totally excited to have Alberto (Bravin, vocals). The tour that we just did all throughout Europe was maybe financially, it wasn’t that successful because touring is hard, especially with an 11-piece band. But it was incredibly successful for the band overall because it got us out in front of a lot more people and we just needed to do it and Alberto’s great. He’s really a great frontman and the band sounded amazing. It was super fun. We’ve got the cruise coming up for the first time, Cruise to the Edge in March, and planning a few things around that hopefully. Then some, maybe some festivals next year, if we can get something like that lined up there and then more touring. We want to keep building this thing that we got going on and we have a good group of people. It was unfortunate what happened and how we got to this point. It was not expected and wanted by any of us. But now that we’re here, we feel positive and excited about the future of this band, for sure.
On how he became involved with Mr. Big – I’ve known Paul (Gilbert) for a while. He played us on a song on my solo record, Invisible, and I’ve known him since back in the Spock’s Beard days and just over the years, we’ve sort of kept in touch. Here at Sweetwater, where I work while I’m here in town, Paul’s been here many times doing recording master classes and workshops and stuff. Thankfully, I would always be the drummer in his rhythm section. He just, out of the blue, as it’s been a couple of years now, a year ago, August, he sent me an email and said, “Would you be interested in maybe going on the road with us and playing in Japan for our farewell tour?” I responded in three seconds. I said, yes because also I haven’t been on the road like that in quite a while. With Sweetwater and stuff and just different things. I did stuff with Big Big Train and a few smattering of things here and there, but a full-on big rock tour like that, it’s been a while and I’ve been really itching to get back out there. So it came at just the right time after the pandemic and all that baloney that we all had to go through. Paul reached out and then they sent me some songs to play along to and see what I sounded like and sing the high parts like Pat Torpey used to sing and that kind of stuff. They said, “Yeah, man, we’d love to have you come”. I said, “Awesome”.
On being able to sing Pat Torpey’s parts when other drummers couldn’t- Listen, singing has gotten me a lot of work over the years. That did well for me when I played in Tears for Fears back in the day, and other bands along the way, it helped me in getting the gig with Cirque de Soleil. So it’s been good, it’s been a nice tool to have in my back pocket as far as work is concerned throughout my career. It definitely was a good thing to have for the Mr. Big tour.
On when the Mr. Big tour will end – The way they’re talking about it now, it’s up to a certain point. I think it’s around May because there’s still things being booked and, you know, solidified, but somewhere around that time, it’s supposed to be finished. So, they’re really talking about getting to an endpoint and then having that be the last thing.
On if D’Virgilio, Morse, & Jennings will continue past this record – I hope so. I think it’s great, and I think it’s a lot of fun, and I think there’s, there’s a lot of opportunity for all kinds of things we could do. It’s just fun. I mean, it really is just a nice outlet. So I sure hope that it keeps going. I think the guys feel the same way. Especially with the quality of the music that we’ve turned out for the last two records. I think we’ve proven to ourselves if nothing else that we can do it. Neal alone can write enough songs for 400 records. I think we won’t be without having enough material around to try and record. I think it could definitely grow and become a thing and I sure hope it does.
On how they pick the best songs between three strong writers – Well, down to it, we would pick the best songs to fit the thing. But I think what we set out to in the beginning was to have it be sort of like an equal footing of everybody getting their voice out there and having it be an outlet for their songwriting as well. I don’t know if we realized that until we started getting the demos together for the first record, we go, “Wow I had no idea Ross wrote like that”. I know Ross from Haken and from others, a few things back in the past, but I didn’t realize he loves country music and different things that are just, not they’re totally opposite of what Haken is, but it just proves that he’s an amazing musician. He’s a very talented guy. He pulls in things from all around. So, now that we’ve gotten to this point, it’s everybody’s writing styles are working out really well for the other people to lend their voices to. So it’s nice to me. I write a song out and then Neal puts his stamp on it. Ross puts his stamp on, kind of gives it a fresh little flavor that I may not have thought of. Same for me with the other guys as well. I think it’s a nice formula we have going on here. I’m pretty sure it’ll kind of stick to that.