Interview with Dax Riggs: The Ghost & His Guitar

I recall a little while ago, while venturing down the streets of San Salvador, El Salvador, a friend of mine told me that she didn’t put all that much faith in science or how science explains our universe. “I feel like it’s just the way of explaining things that has the most support, right now,” she said. “At one point in time it was religion or myths…now it’s science. In one thousands years from now, who knows how we’ll explain the world around us or what we’ll think of as real or not real.”

I hadn’t thought about this discussion in several months, but my interview with Dax Riggs, formerly of Deadboy & the Elephantmen, brought my thoughts back to this issue. Dax’s latest solo album, Say Goodnight To The World, is riddled with fuzzy, sweat and dirt soaked rock tracks and dark, hazy atmospherics inspired by ghost-ridden memories of the Louisiana bayou. The main sentiment however behind the ominous title is not death or suicide, but instead, a farewell to conventional world-views. We live in a reality riddled with intricacies and perceptional subtleties. Boding farewell to convention, and allowing oneself to become a stranger in their native land, opens the mind to a myriad of others; other ideas, other emotions, other comprehension.

Riggs began his career as the guitarist/vocalist in the seminal southern swamp metal outfit, Acid Bath, which he fronted throughout the 1990’s. After Acid Bath’s break-up in 1997, Riggs floated between projects until finally settling on Deadboy & The Elephantmen, a guitar and drum duo, which Riggs fronted from 2000-2007. Since his departure from Deadboy & The Elephantmen, Riggs has released two solo albums, the aforementioned, Say Goodnight To The World and the 2007 release, We Sing Of Only Blood or Love, as well as reissuing Deadboy & The Elephantmen’s If This Is Hell, Then I’m Lucky under his own name.

Dax Riggs recently caught up with The Aquarian Weekly to discuss his latest album, as well as the sound of the Louisiana swamplands.

How did you record this album? Did you write and record all the material yourself or did you collaborate with anyone else at all?

Yeah, a drummer and a bass player from Austin. We worked out all the songs. And then my friend Robbie Lee came from New York and that was for a week or two and we recorded the tracks at the house and then mixed it here in Austin. We recorded at home.

And did you write all of the music and lyrics?

The basis of it.

There is a pretty dominant bass sound on this album. I had to listen to it with the bass turned all the way up. Was it your goal to really utilize the low-end on this album?

Yeah definitely. Kind of like a little Funkadelic and Proto-metal, kind of folk…. it was definitely the plan.

Was there any effort to create a cohesive album with relevant conceptual and thematic imagery throughout?

I believe it’s a theme of an underlying spirituality and my view of it. It’s another way of seeing reality and other forms of reality being real. That’s kind of what “Say Goodnight to the World” is. Say goodnight to our reality and hello to another dimension of reality. It’s kind of a shamanistic stepping out where there are no floor boards, kind of thing; the idea of dreams being real and the magic and the power of the human mind to dream and make dreams reality.

You have some very evocative lyric writing and story telling. Is there any literature or any writers that you really look up to or you feel have had a big influence on your work?

[Henry Charles] Bukowski, Peter Hammill. Roky Erickson. These are little things that weight in on my thinking. Early Dr. John. What I like to think of this record is kind of a transcendental proto-metal record with kind of a dreamier vibe than the usual. That’s kind of how I see it. Kind of a Stoogey transcendentalist vibe…

Do your lyrics ever affect the instrumental writing process or the other way around?

That was really my main inspiration for this record. To try to make sure the lyrical vibe was matched with the music to it, but I do believe that there are some slower, more melodramatic sounding changes on here than I had ever done before. I was definitely trying to do that. I think I kind of lost sight of it in some ways in getting caught up in a dirty rock thing, which I’m glad it did.

I see the words “voodoo” and “black magic” tossed around by other music journalists when trying to describe your sound, and I’ve also read that you are a practicing magician? Does your interest in magic affect your music at all?

I guess just the idea of it…a theme that runs through a lot of the music that I write is kind of like the imagination being our shining weapon or tool. I believe that a theme that runs through a lot of it is a cosmic vibe of everything being the same thing but also the human life form being the consciousness of the universe that kind of sits up and becomes aware of itself. I think the themes to a lot of the songs and just the ability to focus your energy on something and make it reality. Just basically all I’m trying to say is possible.

It’s a subtle little concept I guess, just empowering people with belief in that knowledge. You can change everything if you want to. If you dream hard enough, if you play hard enough, if you make it blast in that direction, I believe.

Another thing I notice is that terms like swamp, bayou, and southern are almost always attached to your music. Do you feel like this is a fair characterization of the music you make because of the sound, or is it more influenced by you being from Louisiana?

I think it’s a subtle quality of the place. I think it has some weight. And I do believe that when you go there, there is a spiritual element to that city, to New Orleans. And I think that it’s definitely affected me and it’s always been the place to be. I do believe it’s definitely affected me. I have a great love for New Orleans rock n’ roll. I like to think that there’s something there that retains some vibe of that place. More of the ghostly side of that place…

I understand that you now live in Austin. Do you find the new environment has had any influence on your songwriting?

Not really. I think it kind of makes me a little nostalgic for it in a way.

What images come to your mind when you listen to your albums?

I see an escape from darkness maybe…waking up to a different kind of reality. Something better. I guess it’s kind of complicated. That’s a tough question.