The Vivacious Viragoes of Virago
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Virago’? “A lot of people know the name because Yamaha used to make a Virago motorcycle. That’s how I first became aware of the word. I love motorcycles,” reports Amy Schindler, the guitarist of the dynamic musical duo, Virago. Schindler even owns a Harley-Davidson telephone that makes a satisfying engine purr when it rings. Maire Tashjian, a percussion enthusiast who is well-versed in the styles of conga and bossa nova, makes up the other half of this successful band and couple. Their name, Virago, is inspired in part by Boudica, a queen from C.E. 60, best known for putting up a vicious fight against the Roman Empire, as well as other courageous women in history who were pejoratively called viragoes because of their willful spirits.
Schindler and Tashjian are wonderfully spirited women and their band’s eclectic sound has been highly praised for mixing elements of blues and rock with Latin American instruments like the surdo, a Brazilian bass drum with a deep booming quality. Both women have studied various forms of percussion and have spent some time in Brazil together learning new techniques and even a little Portuguese.
Since they began playing together in 2000, Virago has amassed a dedicated following. Despite being just two people on stage, they can create a very large sound. “Our motto is: anywhere they’ll let us come and make noise, we’ll play. We love to play live. We have a very devoted following out here on the East Coast and it’s getting bigger and better. And they travel too!” say Tashjian. “One of the fans just started to show up at all our concerts. She became a friend, a great friend. Sharon is her name and she’s our roadie now. She’ll do everything, she’s our one-woman street team.”
So how did these two skilled musicians come to find themselves sharing the stage as well as their lives? “We happened to meet through some mutual friends. I was already scheduled to do a gig for a women’s shelter…solo. And they said, ‘Oh, Maire plays percussion, why don’t you do it with her,’” explains Schindler. “She agreed to do the gig with me and it was like ‘Wow that was amazing we should do this more.’” And that is how the singular sound of Virago was born. From there they recorded their 2005 album, Here Be Dragons, played more shows together and decided to become a band.
“We were strictly doing music for, like, three months,” says Tashjian. “I didn’t want a relationship or anything and neither did she,” but eventually the sparks started flying and it seems they haven’t stopped. “From my point of view, on just about every count, it’s all been very amazing, the whole journey, and I can’t imagine it any other way,” Schindler says of their relationship. “The thing about Amy is that she’s very real,” adds Tashjian. “And she hasn’t changed, she’s still crazy.”
These two women do seem to have their crazy streaks and they’re always joking around. After they had been dating for a few months (“We’re getting into the personal, now,” Schindler warns me), Schindler discovered a photo of Tashjian posing like a stud in front of her 1970 Chevelle Malibu convertible. “When she showed me that picture of her, that frickin’ attitude in front of that car, I looked at her and thought ‘Damn, she thinks she’s all that in front of that car.’” Tashjian admits that the car got her into “all kinds of trouble,” but just laughs when I try to get her to share some stories. This mysterious “wild side” of Tashjian is what inspired their song “She’s All That.” But it wasn’t until they had played the song for the first time that Schindler, who had written the lyrics, told Tashjian that the song was about her and they both have a good laugh remembering Tashjian’s shock.
When Virago is not making music of their own, they are busy cultivating it in others. They teach percussion classes through their program, Joy of Rhythm, which caters to kids as well as to older folks and they even have a women’s group. The whole idea is to introduce percussion to anyone and everyone because they believe it can be a very healing, spiritual experience. “It’s your spirit that comes out when you play. It’s inside of you. You might get a few tools here and there that you learn, but when it’s really coming, it’s just you being open and free, having an open heart and an open mind and that’s a really beautiful thing,” says Tashjian. It’s this attitude towards percussion that gives Virago’s music its depth and power.
For more information, visit Virago’s website at viragomusic.com. And some advice from the band: “Don’t go to virago.com or you might see somebody who does their make-up maybe better than Amy,” Maire jokes. “I want to ask that guy to join the band,” Amy adds. I guess we’ll have to go see for ourselves.
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