In 2005, a young American band formed in New York City that quickly set four local boys on the path to international stardom. Donald Cumming, Erik Ratensperger, Wade Oates and Nick Zarin-Ackerman released their debut album, The Virgins, in 2008 and have spent the last couple of years touring North America and Europe. The boys have played hundreds of cities and shared the stage with some of the biggest musical influences of the past 30 years, but finding out about their lives outside of The Virgins can be a little tricky.
The Virgins at Webster Hall in New York City for the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival [photo by David Shankbone]
Googling the band can be time-consuming – there are a number of reviews and interviews (where the band manages to remain tight-lipped) to sift through, and lots of unreliable sources– but this is the best we have, since even the official Virgins website itself doesn’t provide a biography page. But, there are a few things The Virgins have shared with the media.
Twenty-six year old frontman Donald Cumming grew up in Tribeca, but dropped out of high school and left home when he was 15 years old. It is widely thought that he lived on the streets for many years, but Cumming has said he lived in many different places and always had friends to stay with.
He spent his teen years clubbing in Manhattan, acting and modeling. Cumming worked as the cinematographer on the documentary “Billy the Kid” and also starred in the gay short film, “Bugcrush”, which won the 2006 Sundance Grand Jury Prize in short film-making.
Ryan McGinley, a photographer known for taking striking portraits of naked NYC twenty-somethings, met Cumming at a party and immediately hired the youngster as a model. McGinley’s debut exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art featured photographs of Cumming.
When not acting or modeling, Cumming began writing music alone in his New York apartment.
After recording a demo of the songs he had written, Cumming burned 25 copies to give out to friends and began recruiting band members. Cumming had met guitarist Wade Oates while modeling on a Ryan McGinley shoot in Mexico, and they decided to start a band to play the songs Cumming had been recording in his East Village apartment. Soon, bassist Nick Zarin-Ackerman and drummer Erik Ratensperger joined the mix.
Almost immediately the band produced a five-song EP titled “The Virgins ’07” (picture just below). The EP, which consisted of group recordings and songs Cumming had written, quickly hit the streets and clubs of Manhattan. Atlantic Records signed The Virgins before the band was fully formed and without seeing a single performance.
The next thing they knew, The Virgins were touring the U.S. and Europe, opening for legends.
After playing only two loft party gigs in New York, The Virgins took off to Paris for their monumental third live show, opening for Patti Smith and Sonic Youth at Paris Fashion Week in 2006. Since then, the boys have shared the stage with Jet, Tokyo Police Club, The Pigeon Detectives, The Long Blondes, White Rabbits, Ra Ra Riot, Cold War Kids, Mark Ronson and Tapes ‘n Tapes.
They have also played at the All Points West Festival and SXSW festival, both in 2008. Here’s an interview from SXSW:
Released in June of 2008, The Virgins 10-track recording brought us the single “Rich Girls”, which reached number 68 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Songs of 2008. Rich Girls, along with four other songs, also made an impression with the producers of Gossip Girl, and the songs were featured on the television show.
The Virgins continue to generate buzz through their tours.
pick up their self-titled debut album: THE VIRGINS