Dax Riggs Follows His Own Contrarian Impulses

There's a searching quality to Dax Riggs' music—from the doomy grunge of his teenage years to the heavy, psychedelic folk rock he's made for the last decade, Riggs always seems to be after something that's just out of reach: a cosmic, universal supermusic that holds all other music within itself.

"I'm a person who's not really musical in the normal sense, but I'm very musical in my spirit," the Louisiana singer and songwriter says. "All these things speak to me, whether it's psychedelic music from Zambia or the music I really dig from the '70s. I feel like all these things belong to me because I'm a citizen of the planet Earth. I don't consider that this is music for these people or those people, but I believe that all music belongs to me, and all of us, because we're citizens of the Earth, and that's our music, all of it."

It's a earnest, even drippy sentiment, but one that the 40-year-old Riggs has turned into an appealing creative principle. Even as a teenager in the early 1990s, when he fronted the cult art-metal band Acid Bath, he helped shape that band's unconventional blend of aural aggression, experimental songwriting, and offbeat humor.

"We had half the band that loved Simon and Garfunkel and then the other half was into, like, Venom," Riggs says. "A bunch of us were in the middle, like me—I could vibe on all these things."

After the demise of Acid Bath in 1997 and a couple of subsequent short-lived projects, Riggs formed Deadboy and the Elephantmen in 2000. The new group, which reflected Riggs' interest in folk, country, the blues, and '90s indie and classic '70s rock, fit nicely alongside the White Stripes, the Strokes, and any number of other bands whose name started with "the" in the retro-rock revival of the early '00s. With a Fat Possum contract for three albums, Deadboy and the Elephantmen seemed poised to lift Riggs into minor indie stardom. After just one album for Fat Possum, though, Riggs was straining under the pressure of the band.

"At first I was like, I like having this name that's not mine that I can kind of hide behind," he says. "But if I'm playing by myself, am I Deadboy or … ? If I'm Dax Riggs, it frees me up to be freer in getting the songs across. That was my main thing—that I be able to jump back and forth between kind of a solo thing and a band, and I wouldn't be locked into one. I thought this would be a good way to not get tied up in a box."

So since 2007, Riggs has performed under his own name, with two solo albums (2007's We Sing of Only Blood or Love and 2010's Say Goodnight to the World) and the 2002 Deadboy album If This Is Hell, Then I'm Lucky re-released as a Dax Riggs disc in 2008. After his current tour, he'll start work on a new album; he says it will be "more personal" than his previous records. From his description, it sounds like it might be the album he's wanted to make for 20 years.

"It's kind of hard to say until its done, but its definitely more of a folk/country/blues vibe, in a way," he says. "Every time I've ever made a record, the songs have started out that way. Then, by the time you're done with the process, they seem to have become something else. Every song I've ever written starts on acoustic guitar, and I'm definitely going to try to keep it tied to where it starts.

"It's a big process, and sometimes, at the end, I'm like, was this really the best thing for this song? I just want to keep it tied to the original feeling that was there when it was born. Sometimes you try to push them into shapes that they're not meant to be, exactly. I'm trying not to get locked into that."

But don't think Riggs' vision for his new work is as simple as a solo unplugged album or a showcase for his sensitive singer/songwriter side. He mentions Turkish psychedelic rock, Jimmy Scott, Jerry Jeff Walker, and old English ballads as his most recent obsessions, all of which he expects to influence what comes out of his creative meditations.

"It's all about the music I'm obsessed with at the time, and me trying to make my music a little bit like that," he says. "Even though I'm doing more of a folk kind of thing at the moment, I have great interest in Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly—those types of bands are the way I like metal to be. It's just otherworldly, it's exciting. I'm sure that will come up in the next record, even though that's contrary to what I was saying. It's very contrary things that I want to put together. So it's hard to say exactly how it's going to be when I'm done."