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Deadboy and the Elephantmen | If This Is Hell Then I Am Lucky | interview | Dax Rigg | blues | rock | Lollipop
Deadboy and the Elephantmen
If This Is Hell Then I Am Lucky
by Pia Schachter
Underground vocal god Dax Riggs sits on his porch in the swamps of Louisiana. The birds are casually chirping away while his newest band, Deadboy and the Elephantmen, are practicing in the background. To think that this sublimely peaceful moment is the life's dream of the lad who once sang for Acid Bath, the masters of sludgy, Southern death metal.
Yup, that's Dax, playing Power Rangers with his two-and-a-half year old son, Sy, his stunning face, a mixed hatchling of a young Elvis and Angelina Jolie. But it's his voice, his crooning baritone, that has people melting and record labels offering him the silver spoon of stardom.
Who are your favorite songwriters at the moment?
Nick Lowe, Johnny Thunders, Syd Barrett, and Nick Drake.
You didn't mention Marc Bolan...
Oh yeah, I'm sorry. How could I forget? Definitely Marc Bolan.
I really thought you'd have a Southern accent, or the Bayou lilt to your speaking voice, but there's none.
Oh, I'm not from here... I'm from Indiana and I moved here when I was twelve. I used to come here to visit a lot when I was a little kid. My dad moved down here. He was kinda running from the law.
What's up with dad?
Nothing major, just always in trouble with the law. Lots of drinking and driving and stuff.
My dad was this gun-totting Ted Nugent wanna-be.
(laughs) My dad was more like Elvis, James Dean, and Bobby Darin.
Do you look like your pops?
Yeah! I kinda think so. But he had James Dean hair.
Are there any visual artists that you're into?
JK Potter does some images that I like a lot.
Is he is the horror photographer who does art for Stephen King books and Ray Bradbury?
Yeah, he's really out there. I'm also really, really into Dave Mckean and a lot of other comic book artists. I'm a tremendous comic book fan. Anything by Alan Moore I like: The Watchmen. He did From Hell, but they ruined that as a movie. He does a comic book now called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It has Mr. Hyde and Captain Nemo. It's like the Justice League of 1988, or whatever. It's for little fan boys like me.
It's created so "fan boys" like you can escape and get away from life for a few moments?
That's where I like to be! I love things like that!
That's what your music is like for so many. It's an escape hatch. A lush world where you can leave your troubles behind.
That's really what it means to me. It's about using the imagination - that's the power and engine of it. That's what most of the songs are about, directly or indirectly. They're about turning off the outside and turning on the inside - making your own dream and your own story.
Do you use your music to escape?
I don't think of it as escaping. To me it's just a normal place that I live in and I want to stay there. I guess the world is dreadful.
Really? To me, your music sees the glass as being half full, not half empty. When you sing, "If this is hell, well then I'm lucky," that illustrates a deep hope for humanity. Dude, all your songs have that sad hopefulness.
(laughs) Maybe I'm saying that because I think I'm supposed to say that. When I think of certain things that have happened (long pause)... I don't dwell on things like that...
Do you use Tarot cards?
Not really. But I'm definitely intrigued by all forms of magic and anything connected to energy.
If I was going to read your cards, I'd choose the Fool card to represent you - that's not an insult, by the way.
It's funny you say that, because I call myself "the idiot" all the time. I am the fool.
The Fool has the balls to try it all, because he only listens to his heart, not to the laws of others. His lot in life is to find the beauty in everything. Fuck fear. The fool is a seeker of truth.
Whoa, that's really striking. I am the fool! In my own mind. That's the way I feel toward things. All this stuff about death is really about life. That's why I was calling the band Liveboy and the Death Worshippers (it's a joke).
Your voice... you're a crooner. There's a melancholy, dreamy tone to your voice.
Yeah, that's the kind of music I like. Nick Cave. Iggy Pop's solo stuff. I love Stooges, too, but mostly Iggy's solo stuff, when he started crooning about this decadent world. "Tiny Girls," the horn arrangements on "Tiny Girls," yeah, that was cool. (Dax sings, sounding like a compassionate Iggy) "So you turn around to the tiny girls, who have got no tricks, got no past." Iggy, now he's the idiot.
I've noticed that you only play in your area.
Right now, we're treading water and playing around here so we can write more stuff. For the next record we'll go out of state more, we'll coordinate things on our own. Our tours'll still be pretty simple, because to us, we just want to make records and play where we can play. We don't want to kill ourselves.
You don't want to work and die for "the man"...
Exactly! The record companies, they'll tour you to death just to sell a couple extra records.
What's the next step for Deadboy and the Elephantmen?
Right now, we're reforming the group. It'll basically be the same people, but I'm not going to play guitar live anymore, just sing. I've found I can control the effects and lose myself more when I'm just singing. I'm still gonna write on the guitar, but we have another guitar player who's going to play my parts. He's really good, but still punk, and a great singer, too.
We're working on harmonies and all kinds of new songs, too. We don't do this to sell records for someone else to go to Japan on our money. We don't do it for money! But the record companies take the creativity away from you. Then you're never at home to write, you're just playing all the time. We're looking into distributing this next record ourselves. Plus, I'm having a good time being with my son during the days.
It seems to me that everyone is after your ass. You're this underground cult hero who could easily be packaged and sold up-stream as the next rock god - the next Kurt Cobain.
Don't worry. I don't live in that world. That's why I live in the swamps. I love it here. I've been to the city, and it's a nightmare. It has its exciting moments, for sure. But I'm my happiest when I'm here - where I can't get into so much trouble. I just want to make music and be surrounded by creative people.
Have you ever felt as lost as Kurt must've felt?
I don't understand what happened with him. I've never felt like that. Well, maybe slightly... Then I listened to this Nick Lowe song called "Endless Sleep" over and over again until it went away.
The absolute healing powers of music, huh? I can't believe you're mentioning Nick Lowe... I grew up in the early punk days and kinda laughed at his music.
That's what I'm into. Like, Roxy Music meets all the glam punk operatic stuff. Brian Eno, the Stooges. I'm into a mixture of these things with soul, like, Van Morrison and Them.
The old stuff really inspires you, doesn't it?
I feel like I'm writing better songs, using more imagination. Like this new song called "Perfect Dreaming Skull." It's kinda like a curse against people who try to kill others' imaginations... You'll never be able to touch it, this perfect dreaming skull is all I have and it can't be taken away.
In "Other Worldly Dreamer," there's a part where you sing, "a Roman lion at the door, and how the mouths they cry for more, more." The singing style is not of this time...
It's the little hiccups, stuff that Buddy Holly would do. That's interesting to me! It's about exuding something that's inside. I try to show it. I'm into new stuff too - like Will Oldham and his other project, Bonnie Prince Billy. Oh my god, it's so good. His first album, I See a Darkness, is slightly Countrified music, but it's really weird and somber. Great, great stuff. I cover a bunch of his songs.
People have said that your music transports them to the Bayou. How does your environment affect your music?
It's a place that helps you create your own private world. There's all this country out here with all these Cajun people. It's really hillbilly out here. I think I see it more than people who are from here.
What are the guilty pleasures you've been listening to? You know, like the soundtrack to Annie or something unexpected like that.
I've been listening to Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Lots of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Belle and Sebastian, and Bright Eyes. I'm mainly into Johnny Thunders and Leonard Cohen. I'm into getting every record Leonard Cohen ever made.
Would you say your lyrics are mythological?
I'm certainly into a weird study of myths and the Bible, the perversions of what it was originally thought to be.
Are you aware of the international following that you have?
I can feel the love when we play live, but being famous... it isn't what I'm into. I just want to make music, I just want to do that. Maybe I am being a baby. If I can just be the Fool, I'll be happy. The further I get away from creating... well... it's just bad.
So it's OK with you to create without your work ever getting recognized?
That's not important - all that matters is that you're using that muscle that you can't control unless you're creating. It's exercising your most important asset as a human being.
When you were a kid, what did you listen to?
When I was about ten, it was John Lennon, Duran Duran, and Twisted Sister. Then it was Godflesh, Iron Maiden, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and all kinds of thrash stuff.
What are some jobs you've had in the past?
I worked in a meat department at a grocery store. I also worked in a crawfish grader. They bring these sacks of crawfish in and you dump them in this machine and it goes through and puts them in small, medium, and large bins. Your hands swell up from getting stuck by all these little dirty bugs.
What are your feelings about the Internet in regards to the music industry? Do you think it will help your career?
I think it will actually give me a career. It's a cool thing for people to be able to trade and do all the illegal things that they do. You're more likely to browse around and try new stuff and find something that you like, hopefully.
What is beauty to you?