Interview: Dax Riggs
Wed, 07 Oct 2009 11:27:10
There are all kinds of prophets.
Some of them carry pens. Some of them carry guns. Some of them write books. Some of them craft songs.
Dax Riggs fits into the latter category…
Since his days fronting seminal New Orleans metal outfit Acid Bath, Dax has been making listeners think by writing painfully poetic lyrics that were as gut wrenching as they were beautiful. Dax has bled onto each note that he's recorded, and his blood still flows on classic cuts like "Scream of the Butterfly" and "Venus Blue." Acid Bath served as an immense influence on hard rock, however, after only two albums and the untimely death of their bassist, the band members went their separate ways. Dax never stopped writing or inspiring though—fronting projects ranging from Deadboy and the Elephantmen to Agents of Oblivion.
In 2007, he dropped a solo album entitled, We Sing of Only Blood or Love. It's a dark and swirling cacophony of emotions, and that brought fans closer to the enigmatic songwriter than ever before. He went deep inside for We Sing, but his new solo material goes even farther.
Dax spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about his forthcoming solo album, the Acid Bath days and a whole lot more.
Do you feel like We Sing of Only Blood or Love is your most personal collection of music so far?
I do feel like that—excluding the new songs that I'm working on right now. I feel like the new songs are even more centered in that personal direction, but they're still different than the last record. They're not so "guitar rock." But, the album's not done yet, so it's hard to exactly say. The new stuff is more archaic-sounding, and there's a deeper blues vibe to it.
As you get older, is it easier to channel that archaic and organic sensibility more?
Absolutely! I feel like that really hasn't been put on to a record yet. My main goal this time is to create a feeling that it's really happening as you're listening to it—not like some over-corrected thing. I don't want people to say, "Oh, this all sounds like it's been gone over with a fine tooth comb." That takes all the wrinkles out, and those actually make the music special. I'm trying to record the feeling that I have when it's right. As time passes, the essence of it is distilled more. It becomes harder in a way. I've taken more time working on this record—not really on the recording of it, but working out the songs and changing their direction.
Lyrically, where is the new stuff going?
It's an extension of where it was. It's not a drastic change from what's gone on before. I'm probably more critical of what I'm doing—trying to make it stronger.
Do you tend to read or watch a lot of movies when you're writing?
Both! Alejandro Jodorowsky, Carlos Castaneda, Alan Moore—I'm totally dependent on being inspired by something. It's almost like I have to be inspired to move forward. When that's not happening, I have to dig something up.
What have you been reading or watching while working on the new music?
A lot of Jodorowsky…he did El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. Mainly, it seems like I get into magicians who write or make movies. They seem to hold the most weight for me. I've always been intrigued by world music, and it's inspired me to think of different melodies. I think that's getting into the new music that I'm doing, but it's also got this country, classic vibe. It's all mixed up.
It's all art really, and it will affect you when it's powerful. When the Kite String Pops or Paegan Terrorism Tactics could've served as the soundtrack to Preacher.
[Laughs] Yeah, I like that comic book. It's something I feel connected to. A lot of people have ripped them off, but that's the way it goes. Now we have True Blood or whatever, you know?
Well, we can always go back to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe for inspiration?
I've been reading versions of Lovecraft's stuff lately. It's total madness. There are creatures from other dimensions, and it makes you ask, "Am I insane or are they coming to get me?" There are real monsters in there.
Are some of your English folk influences showing up in the new material?
I think so! I don't know how much of it you'll be able to pick out in the end, but it's definitely what's in my head.
You're always going to put your own spin on everything, and there's a certain poetry in your writing. You told very vivid stories all the way back in "Scream of the Butterfly." Is it hard to tell stories in such a short form or do they just come to you?
It's more like a visual and emotional thing. If I really had to tell a story, that would be very hard for me, but I feel like the songs paint a picture or create an atmosphere for you to exist within, in the music.
When you're writing, do you usually go through a draft process or do all of the lyrics for a song typically happen at once?
Usually, it comes at the beginning pretty heavily. Then I'll edit the lyrics and re-work some words. After that initial creative thrust is over with, then I'm like, "What am I going to do now because that was the whole thing that was given to me like that?" It's hard to put it together afterwards if it doesn't all happen. It usually happens pretty much right off the bat. Melody, to me, is always there. It's almost like an endless river—always going somewhere in my mind. I feel very close to sounds. The words are really what make it real. There's like an ocean of melody that's always there, when I find the right words—that's it. For me, it's a hair-raising experience when it does click. It's like, "Oh shit…"
That's the best way to create…You've got to keep that unbridled and passionate core in tact.
That's pretty much it.
In terms of themes, what are you exploring on the new record?
I believe there will be a touch of enlightenment on this record. It's weird because, in a way, these have truly been some of the darkest times that I've experienced for whatever reason. In the beginning of working on this new album, I feel like my original intent was to make a record where the music and the lyrics were pointed in the same direction. There was a very sorrowful, dark vibe. I've kind of gotten out of that, so some of the album is like that. At the end of that dark period, I got out of it with a new outlook. It's been my growing world view for awhile, but basically we're all parts of the same thing and really the only thing that matters is love. It seems like something funny, but there's really nothing more important. I guess I've had a spiritual birth lately. I don't know how that's going to come out in the songs. I feel really good about everything, but some of the stuff began in a really dark place. I'm trying to be happy with it myself, which I'm not sure what that means [Laughs]. There are dark moments, where I'm not sure about where things are going, but it's all coming together. It feels really good for sure. Some new song titles are "Sleeping with the Witch" and "I Hear a Satan in the Basement of the Pentagon." "Sleeping with the Witch" has a weird Beach Boys, Everly Brothers kind of vibe with these really strange lyrics. They're true, but in a sense they're over-the-top like Lee Hazelwood or something. It makes me laugh, but it's also based in truth and true feeling.
When are you looking to finish this?
We're shooting for the end of the year. It might not happen. I'm trying to get it out, but I'm really concerned with making it happen for its own sake and, if it takes longer, it takes longer. I really feel like I have to do these songs justice and see them through to their resting place [Laughs].
It sound like another evolution.
I want it to sound real and earthy. I guess on the last record, the idea was an organic sounding big band—kind of like a big rock band. This idea is much more sparse and much more raw. Through and through, a lot of what we're doing right now reminds me of these weird field recordings or something. I want it to be real, and I don't want it to be glossed up. I really feel like that's what we're doing that other people aren't. There's a real serious and heavy truth to what we're doing right now. We're just trying to keep it pure.
Do you feel like you're more open now?
I guess I've been wanting that for a long time. I've been striving for that—a true soul. I'll be honest I feel like that's the best goal. That's where we're going to go with that.
Do you have a lot of fond memories of the Acid Bath days?
Oh yeah! Instead of having memories from high school, those are my memories of that age. I have nothing but good memories from those days.
You really grew up in that band too.
We were in California trying to play gigs where I couldn't get in because I wasn't old enough [Laughs]. It was quite an experience.
You should write a book about it.
I've been thinking about it recently, and I've thought about it for a while. I think that would be a good idea to try and document it. We all pretty much lived together back then. We stayed in an abandoned movie theater for a while. There was a trailer church where we would practice—all kinds of weird little stories.
Did you intentionally create some recurring characters in those songs?
Yeah, I've always thought of all this music as one song, you know? It's always from my point of view at the moment, and it changes once I get past that. I've always thought of all this as one long song about love and death in a way.
You guys were very influential. So many bands would not exist without Acid Bath.
I guess…I wish I liked some of the stuff that followed Acid Bath when I really don't, but that's not the point. The point you made is absolutely true. I do feel good about that. Sometimes I feel like we helped create a monster. It's not really our fault that all of these nu-metal type things popped up [Laughs].
Acid Bath was the first band to blend true death metal with melodic singing with some of the darkest and most beautiful lyrics imaginable.
There was nobody that was doing that who I'd heard before we did it. There were no bands in New Orleans doing it or anywhere else.
The greatest art exists in the middle of that chaos—between the melody and brutality and between the beauty and the horror.
That's what I've always loved.
If you had to compare your music to a movie, what would you compare it to?
Wow, I guess I'd say either El Topo or Holy Mountain because they have insights into your own being. There's a philosophical vibe to those movies, but there's also a shock element of violence and sexuality, which I feel like is all part of what it is to be a person—a human. It only make sense that real music would hold all of those things. It's not all, "I love you," and it's not all, "I want to kill you" [Laughs]. It's somewhere in the middle.