It’s nightfall and one of New York City’s newest buzz bands is not, as you might imagine, pre-partying at a Lower East Side dive. Instead, the Virgins sit around a table at the only restaurant near their rehearsal space they aren’t sick of — a T.G.I. Friday’s close to Penn Station. The scene inside the deep-fryer-friendly chain — lots of bloated tourists, a few unshaven drunks — is a far cry from the quartet’s celeb-studded gigs, where Chloë Sevigny and “it” model Agyness Deyn have been spotted shaking their skinny asses.
Together for barely a year, the Virgins have had the kind of out-of-the-ether rise that causes bloggers to gush and their peers to curse. Raised in New York, 25-year-old singer Donald Cumming left home at 15, dropped out of high school, and then stumbled into acting and modeling. He became a muse of photographer Ryan McGinley — they met (where else?) at a party — best known for his shots of carousing, naked twentysomethings. (McGinley’s 2003 exhibit at the Whitney Museum included a snap of Cumming’s naughty bits.) The Virgins emerged out of pure frustration. “No one would read any of my writing or poetry,” Cumming says. “So I figured I could put it to music.” After recording a demo, he burned 25 copies for pals, then recruited guitarist Wade Oates, bassist Nick Zarin-Ackerman, and drummer Erik Ratensperger. Atlantic Records signed the band before catching a single performance.
So they’re lucky, well connected, and attractive, in that unwashed, just-got-home-at-5 A.M. sort of way. But are they any good? Definitely. The drowsy disco rock of “Rich Girls” and the slow-burning shuffle “Fernando Pando” (from their self-titled 2007 EP) offer vignettes that would make for a perfect Larry Clark movie — stories of socialites, street urchins, drug binges, and sex romps — all held together by Cumming’s languid drawl. “Their lyrics are really poetic and very much about New York and the life that we live,” says McGinley.
Already famous below 14th Street, the Virgins are working on their major-label debut, due in April. There’s just one problem. “I can barely play the guitar,” says Cumming. “But if I’m gonna be in a band and have the opportunity to be signed to Atlantic, I’m gonna figure out a way to pull it off.”