Dax Riggs Discusses Dark & Diverse Musical Outlook
Band Photo: Dax Riggs (?)
Dax Riggs doesn’t worry about how others perceive his art. He makes art that is true to his self. The grinding sludge of Acid Bath, a group that has gained a large, post-posthumously cult following since disbanding in the late ‘90s, was something special for Riggs, but he felt confined within the definition of how that band should sound. Sure, the band broke up after the death of its bassist, Audie Pitre in 1997. However, even before that tragic accident, Riggs yearned to create music of a much more diverse nature.
Having lived in New Orleans for much of his life (he’s originally from Indiana) surely instilled an appreciation for the blues. The blues are a major facet of each of his post-Acid Bath bands. Agents of Oblivion, the first band to release an album after Acid Bath, delved into the blues. Agents featured doom-laden movements, but not to the point of his prior band. Deadboy and the Elephantmen emerged after dissolving Agents of Oblivion.
Deadboy eventually morphed into Riggs’ current, solo-dubbed band. This era of Riggs’ music, including his most recent recording “Say Goodnight to the World,” features Riggs’ trademark crooning, darkly profound lyrics and definitive musical similarities. It is merely an extension of his time with Deadboy and the Elephantmen. The Dax Riggs band is a rock band, but with obvious nods to folk, punk, pop, doom, psychedelic, indie rock, blues and other forms of music. His rhythms have such a great appeal that may lead a man to head bang and a woman to dance.
Read on to find out more about Dax Riggs’ career, what motivates him to create such varied music and his plans for the future.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): When did you move to Austin and what spurred this move?
Dax Riggs: It’s been about five years since I moved here. It was one or two years after Hurricane Katrina. The police drove me out of Louisiana. I never really did anything. There were several small towns I lived in, Tibado and Homneo, Louisiana, which were about an hour south of New Orleans. It was only a matter of time. I wouldn’t really do anything there; I’d stay at my house, work on music and maybe go to the grocery story.
Cops would knock on my door about noise, but they would want to search me. It was hard to live there. I got in trouble for doing nothing. I’d be in my house, playing music and the cops would come, smell dope and go nuts! There would be cops in my house giving me felony charges. I lived here, but still had to go there for probation. It happened twice. The second time it happened I was fed up. I had to get the fuck out of there because they wouldn’t leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to deserve this…I stuck out like a sore thumb to those small-town cops. I still feel like I live there. I’m still very-much a part of New Orleans. I go there a lot, and I feel like I’m home when I’m there. I love the place, but after that last raid, I knew I had to leave.
DC: Did you start your solo project when you moved to Austin?
Riggs: No, I started it in Louisiana, although I wasn’t sure it was going to be a solo project at that point. It really isn’t much different from what I did with Deadboy and the Elephantmen. It’s all been a solo project, but with a different name. I kind of got talked into it by some people that had my ear. I’m glad I did because people know my name just as well, probably better, than other bands I’ve been in. That way, I could play acoustically or play with my band. If I tried to do that with Deadboy and the Elephantmen, it was billed as “Dax Riggs with Deadboy and the Elephantmen,” which was a complication.
DC: Did the press billing it as “Dax Riggs with Deadboy and the Elephantmen” get to the other musicians in your band? Did it piss them off?
Riggs: I don’t know. I think they were cool and understood it. It didn’t bring a lot of baggage. It was weird because it wasn’t even one band on that first solo record that I made. It was like two bands. One band recorded half the record in Louisiana, and then the other half was done with people from New York. Then we mixed it all in New York. If it had been one band, I probably would have named it. However, I felt it wasn’t Deadboy and the Elephantmen anymore—it was just me, even though I played with twice as many people on that record than other records. There were two camps. That had a lot to do with it. It really was just my creation. I felt like it was a good time for me to do that.
Then the next record was all the same people. The last record was with the band I have now, Charley [Siess] the drummer and Kevin [Fitzsimmons] (bass). A good friend of mine came down from New York to help us work it out and record it. He played guitar and keyboards, pump organ and lots of ancient and medieval instruments. The music is so different; when you listen to it, you might think you’re listening to a keyboard. The song “See You All in Hell or New Orleans” has me playing an autoharp. On top of that, it contains a pump organ. It’s like a bunch of little flutes. You pump it and it kind of sounds like a keyboard. We put instruments like that into it.
I love English ballads. I’m kind of obsessed with folk music and have been for a long time. I find it to be really doom-y and dark. It’s great music containing tragedy—everything you could ask for, the supernatural, broken-hearted songs. Everything is in there. I love the history of these songs. These songs were passed down from generation to generation, changed a little bit and made new. “The Unquiet Grave,” cool songs like that about grief and people grieving so long that their tears go down into the ground and overflow the River Styx, so the dead cannot go where they are supposed to go. They have to come back up and say: “Cut this shit out! You need to go on with your life so I can go on with my afterlife.”
That’s the kind of beauty these songs have. These songs are morbid and dark, gloom and doom. I love all kinds of music, but English folk is my favorite. I really want to reinvent and record some of these old songs. I play a lot of them for my own entertainment. When I reinvent them, I hope that people will listen to these songs and be as moved as I am.
DC: Are you going to record an album of English ballads?
Riggs: Not a whole one, but I’m definitely going to drop some in there. I don’t want to make it a big deal. I just want them to sit next to my songs in a natural way.
DC: Sort of like your covers?
Riggs: Exactly. When you hear it, you’ll kind of feel like it’s my song. In my opinion, that’s the way I like it to think. If you hear me doing something and you’re not familiar with that song, then I believe it’s close enough to my heart that it seems like it’s mine. It definitely has to be there and has to be real. It won’t be a whole record. I just want to drop these songs in between my original songs.
DC: Do you study medieval languages?
Riggs: Just a little bit. I kind of have to understand what they are saying sometimes. I really dig that. I’m a big fan of Shirley Collins, June Tabor and Abbey Prior. These are the finest people who play English traditional music today. They sometimes use the old English language, which to me is more mysterious and more interesting. When I do it, I won’t go there. I want to make it embraceable by punk rockers, space cadets and metal heads: The people who listen to music today.
DC: The music you play encompasses many forms. Let’s take the blues. Once you got out of Acid Bath, you incorporated the blues much more into your sound. There is even some David Bowie in you sound. Were you listening to all of those styles when you were in Acid Bath?
DC: Was this part of your upbringing?
Riggs: Yes, as a child I loved Twisted Sister and John Lennon. For David Bowie, I was into “Rebel Rebel,” which was played on the radio when I was first coming around. They still played that in the ‘80s in Indiana where I am from. When I was a little kid around ten, I got obsessed with music. I used to carry around a radio and record all of these songs. I’m sure everybody that loves music does that. When I was in Acid Bath, there were people in the band that loved Simon & Garfunkel, The Stones—all of that stuff. Some of us loved that stuff. Some of us hated it. Quite often, there was a battle in that band. In the beginning, it was elemental. It just happened. There were no battles. I would sing a part and everybody would be cool.
But yeah, I’ve always dug all kinds of music—Iggy Pop, early Van Morrison greatly influenced me after we had already done the first record. Somewhere in there, I got really tired of rehashing the same little things. I wanted to broaden and do more things. I wanted to write real songs, like a real song you’d hear from any world band. I wanted to be in the stature with dudes that can write great songs. I wanted to be part of that club. I wanted to make songs that move you and make you feel something, but still make something from where I come from—sludgy, punk kind of vibe. I wanted to make psychedelic, folk and all the beautiful things, too, and smash it all together. It felt real natural to me. It wasn’t anything weird. It was just my music. To me, I feel like everything has it’s place.
DC: I had mentioned your new material. Can you give us more details about your new creations?
Riggs: In my opinion, it’s reverting back a little bit. For a long time, I wanted to be roots-y sounding, kind of fucked up sounding like a Velvet Underground/Hasil Adkins kind of vibe. Now I feel I want it to be bigger. I guess some of the things you get bored with become special again. I’m very much into doom-y kinds of things. I really feel like that’s what I need to do. That’s where my head is at. There is definitely a change coming in the future. Vocally, I feel that the way I sing is the way I’m going to sing.
Musically, I really dig early Funkadelic, Blue Cheer. I’m really obsessed with all the proto-metal bands. I’m talking everybody before heavy metal was real. Bands that preceded Black Sabbath like Iron Butterfly, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, and MC5. Jim Morrison touched me very early on. I was around twelve, and I didn’t really hear all of their music, just words, so it was more like I fell in love with the ideas. Then, the music came in and I was like “wow,” I didn’t think it would be so spectacular.
DC: I heard a rumor that you and Sammy are recording a new Acid Bath record.
Riggs: That’s not true. We’ve never really gotten together since the shit hit the fan. He might have come to an Agents of Oblivion practice early on, and he wasn’t into it. It’s just not his thing. He needs to do what he’s into. There were some problems on the second record. The Iggy Pop-ish kind of vibes that I was sending out there weren’t fully taken in by some members of the band.
DC: I have a friend who saw Sammy at a show and asked what he thought of Agents of Oblivion. Sammy told him he thought what you were doing sucked.
Riggs: I’m sure that’s what he said back then. Lately, I think he’s been digging it. I don’t think he liked Agents very much because it was just too soon. Now that he can look back, he can see the value of what we were doing. He comes to our New Orleans show. I think he digs it now, and would like to do something together. I’m not opposed to it, but I’d like to do it for the right reason. I can’t jump at the first person who waves a bunch of money at me. I’m just not interested in it anymore. I’d love to have a bunch of money, but it needs to be for the right reasons.
DC: Some bands won’t make another album, like Black Sabbath, they just tour.
Riggs: I’m not in that place anymore. That was a very hard thing to do. That was something I had to work on regularly to do that. Now, I don’t do that anymore. My head is somewhere else. I’m working daily on trying to get closer to my spirit, what I should truly sound like, what I should truly be. It’s hard for me to move back. It’s almost impossible. I can get drunk sometimes and say, “Maybe so,” but I know I can’t pull off the vocals. I’d do that and be hoarse for a week. It’s something you have to build up and keep going with. I made that music years and years ago, and I have no problem with it. I helped build that up and am proud of it, but I don’t want to keep doing the same thing.
I’ve had some promoters that have approached us. I wouldn’t mind overseeing it. I could get someone to do my part, while I sit out in the audience and direct. I just don’t think it will be possible. I think it would be cool if it sounded right. I wouldn’t want to rip people off. The guys have said, “We can do whatever you want. We can just do like ‘Tranquilized.’ We can just do the slow songs.” So all that you want to do is cash in. We could get people in there and they won’t be able to hear the songs that they want to hear. Fuck that!
If I were going to do the songs that I can still sing, I would do that at my shows. I just can’t go back and do stuff that I’ve already done. I have lots of new pieces that I’m working on. That’s why I’m still in this business and will always be. There is always a new tomorrow. There is always something new that inspires me that I can move into my music and make it part of me. That’s what is beautiful about it.
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