D//E Guest Post: Virgins: nothing hurt and everything was beautiful // Track by Track Breakdown

On April 11th, 2024, up and coming shoegaze band, Virgins, release their new album, nothing hurt and everything was beautiful, via Blowtorch Records. Michael Smyth the band's lead guitarist, examines the album through a detailed track by track breakdown.

s o f t e r

Softer was one of the first tracks written for the new album and definitely helped set the tone and direction the song writing would move in. It’s really based around that looping lead riff and then the whole track is built around that progression. It’s got a kind of dance/Madchester kind of groove to it, which is unique for the album. It pushes and moves and in a nice way and the middle opens it up to another feel entirely. We took a quick video recording in practice the first night we played it, so Rebecca was just singing whatever came to mind. Afterwards I listened back and put lyrics to what I thought I heard her singing, changed up the chorus a bit and so Softer was born. It came together really fast. Originally the lead riff and chorus were meant to be played together but they got split out into two separate parts. In the studio I layered in guitars for the chorus so now it has these long shimmery notes in the chorus. It added some space to the wall of fuzz. Dave plays this cool bend part behind the lead riff, it really adds to the part, its one of my favourite parts.

s l o w l y,  l o n g

This was the first track we wrote as a band all in the room together. It was all based around Brendy’s bass line and then we worked at it until it felt right. I remember we really wanted the chorus to have this euphoric lift to it. The track is very much what we call ‘gaze-pop’ but it’s dark sounding so having the chorus a bit brighter helped add dimension to the track. Again, came together really fast, by a few runs through we had the structure down and then over time sprinkled in effects to add shimmer in the verses. As with a lot of these tracks, there was a version of them right up until we went into record and then the week, the day before or even the day of there was something added that just pushed it even further. James’s drum part in the middle was a day off thing, just adding a little more aggression to the match the guitars. The lead guitars in the chorus weren’t written until the week of recording. That came from the band pushing each other and making sure that we were bringing everything we could to the track. Now I can’t imagine them without it.

c l o s e

This is one of the shorter tracks on the album, which worked out really well in terms of sequencing the record for vinyl! It’s really euphoric and upbeat, I hate comparisons to other artists and it’s even worse when I make one about my own band! That said, to me at least, it really sounds like Ringo Deathstarr jamming with Dinosaur Jr to me; driving, gazey alt rock. One of the things I love about this track is the vocals. Jonny Woods recorded/engineered/produced the album, we had the songs really down by the time we got to the studio but production wise and mix wise he brought a lot. He does a lot of cool things with the vocals in this track, different layers and delays and reverbs, that raise their head and then sink back into the haze! Rebecca is amazing at delivering harmony after harmony, so it gives us all these options to work with. I remember when we were demoing the track we had a lot of harmonies in the chorus that sounded really full and beautiful so we were keen to have those again. I love how the delay tails butterfly out to the end track as well. One of those happy accidents in the studio.

p a l e  f i r e

There are a few songs on the album that I view as sister songs, ‘p a l e  f i r e’ and ‘t e n d’ are one of those pairings. They’re not the same but they share DNA. ‘p a l e  f i r e’ is one of the bigger more expansive songs on the album. We’re not pop band and we’re not confined by those structures and expectations so when there’s an opportunity to allow a song the space to breath I enjoy taking it. I love how the intro builds to this crescendo and then breaks into this beautiful ethereal haze. Like you’ve been climbing and climbing expecting a drop at the peak but instead of falling its this slow caress. It feels like you’re being lured into a trance. Rebecca's vocals are amazing in this track, lots of layers and harmonies that are unpinned by lots of fuzz and reverse reverbs, wailing in the background. The drums really drive the track forward and the bass is a nice melodic counterpart but still has this great groove to it. I love this song, it feels really special to me.

a d o r e

Track one side two! When I was sequencing the album, it was all done with the fact it was going on vinyl in mind, so making the sure the album flowed as a whole and per side was really important. ‘a d o r e’ starts side two with some purple rain-esque chorus guitars and then the drum fill really leads into the song. There’s a pedal builder from Belfast called Heaby Pedals, he made me a custom fuzz based on a Russian Big Muff with a different tone stack and much, much louder. I got to use that on this to add some rhythm parts along side Dave’s. That pedal has a very particular sound that I wanted on the track. The lead guitar on the verses was written the week of recording. We were in the studio and I heard Dave laying down all these cool guitar parts, lots of great picking things and parts that played off each other. It spurred me on to go back and see what else I could do. I think its great we’re able to push each other as a band like that. I love playing this song live, even if it is difficult with all the pedal dancing and pick up switching.

d i s a p p e a r e r

I wrote this whole song in 20 minutes right before we went out for the night. I remember sitting there playing my mustang, not plugged in, and that first chord progression came out and then it seemed like the song wrote itself. I went upstairs plugged into the pedals, took a quick recording of it and went out. I love the way the chord progression moves, it does a lot with very little. It’s another gaze-pop kind of song. The lyrics came together really fast as well, just one of those songs that feels like it’s being given to you. You’re just channeling from whatever esoteric source that is feeling generous that day. After I took it to the band, we changed the middle for what it is today. Weirdly, when we started working on changing it, someone actually meant to change another part but I think the song is better for it. When we came to record Brendy said he had an idea he wanted to try, ‘I wanna tune down to B for the last chorus’. My initial reaction was were not in Sleep, maaaaaaaaaan. But we tried it, and it totally adds something unique to the end and really helps bring the song home. I was worried it’d make the needle jump on the vinyl!

s u n s p o t s

‘s u n s p o t s’ and ‘a d o r e’ are another two of those sister songs, sides of the same coin. Ironically, I think ‘a d o r e’ is the more optimistic lyrically but sounds much more pessimistic. Rebecca and I went through a few different iterations of melodic and lyrical approach to this song. Sometimes I’ll write everything, sometimes Rebecca will, but a lot of time there’s at least some collaboration when it comes to melody. It’s nice being able to work on things together and very often reach a point that neither of us could on our own. I really enjoy demoing vocals with Rebecca, exploring and mining ideas for that little flash of lightning you try and capture, that process is always fun. We were still writing lyrics right up until Jonny hit record for Rebecca’s vocals. This is a fun one to play live for sure, its pretty full on. Dave does some great guitar work on this song, really interesting parts that helped elevated the song beyond the demo I brought in. James’s drums hammer the track forward and he plays this great fill going into the middle. I really love the band Chvrches so the lead guitar in the chorus is me doing my best Chvrches impersonation. It doesn’t really sound like them, but their feel and euphoric sound definitely influenced that part.

t e n d

‘t e n d’ was the last song written for the album, unintentional that it ended up closing out the album but after hearing everything back it seemed like the only option. As a track it really rounds out the journey the album takes you on.  The longer slower songs are always tricky to get right but once this clicked it sounded huge. I brought to this to the band very late in the process before we started recording so we didn’t have time to demo up vocals the way we normally would. When we got to the studio and really heard what Rebecca had come up with it was pretty jawdropping. The chorus and the almost spoken word part towards the end were an in the studio thing as well, just on the spot and that came out. Being in that room, again, felt very special. There are times when you really feel part of something, when were creating or that little spark happens, it’s really exciting. I love the drama of this song, it feels huge, expansive and ethereal. 

Band photo by @ebony_alexander_media

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Michael Smyth
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