Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bonus Q&A with Stan Ridgway

It was great to chat again with Ridgway, who often gives thought-provoking answers to questions. There was plenty of good material that didn't make it into my main feature story. Read below for more.

Q: What can you tell me about the current tour?
There’s Pietra on keyboards and vocals. Me on blab and laundry and vocals. Rick King on guitar.

Q: So all the usual suspects, then?
Yeah and Bruce Zelesnik on drums. Bruce is an old friend of mine who actually played on ‘The Big Heat.’ We hooked up together again and we’re trying out some stuff. What’s new is that maybe we’ll get another album out in the summer.

Q: Would you say ‘Neon Mirage’ is an album that reveals more upon repeated listening?
Everything starts to sound like an overused cliché phrase after awhile, but yes – repeated listening will probably benefit the listener. Maybe we should have stickers on records that say, ‘listen to it just once and then toss it.’ You know, the world as it is now, with everything being pretty much available at everyone’s fingertips – playlists, iPhones and everything else…I could give a damn whether they listen to it or not.

Q: Even though the album is informed by loss, it’s not too dark in tone.
At the end of the day, [you think],  ‘what is life all about?’ It’s about the people and the things that you love and your involvement in those things. So it’s not really money or badges or prizes. That’s no great revelation from me.

Q: You’re an admirer of Leonard Cohen’s work. He expertly balances light and dark in his music.
People tend to get the wrong idea, but some of his songs are just a crack up. He’s not literally dour or depressed. It’s almost like a string of gags on what life really is.

Q: What prompted you to revisit “Big Green Tree,” which was originally on 1995’s ‘Black Diamond’ album?
When we started recording with Amy Faris. We had gone into a studio to cut “Lenny Bruce”…she said, ‘we’ve got to play “Big Green Tree”…We changed the key and I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it. It came out so great, it was like ‘this is certainly a new way to do it with all her string parts on there.’ As the timeline marched on and we lost Amy, I was left with these tracks. I suddenly felt this was going to be on the record.

Q: Dave Alvin produced those songs. Had you both worked together in that capacity before?
No, but we’ve hung together a lot and played some shows together over time. He’s a long time friend.

Q: While growing up, your dad used to always play records by people like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. What did you enjoy about them?
Just the production, musicians and everybody involved. Back then, it was called the “New Nashville Sound.” Now of course, it’s the “retro old sound that no one plays anymore.” They’re too busy playing some bad song from Brooks & Dunn…American music encompasses so much. I think that period of time was really creative for a lot of musicians in that type of music. What you were getting with country music then was a hybrid. A lot of jazz players gravitated toward the studios. They added some things to the mix that weren’t there before. Not to discount the Hank Williams style of rural recording or songwriting, but they added a few things. I think Sinatra actually influenced a lot of people in that regard. He was really out in front then making concept records – things like [1958’s] ‘Only the Lonely’ and songs that were all supposed to be tied together. I think Owen Bradley definitely emulated that. He was listening to what Sinatra and Nelson Riddle were doing and saying, ‘hey, we can do that here.’ He did that with Patsy Cline and other people. He brought in strings and it became more sophisticated.

Q: What is your creative process? Going back to your days in Wall of Voodoo, have you always tried to expand the parameters of what was acceptable in your songwriting?
It’s kind of a mystery and that’s what keeps people interested. All the writers and songwriters I know, we talk and we don’t know what the [hell] we’re doing at all. It’s what keeps you coming back. You think you’ve got a handle on it, that you can lasso it, direct it in a certain way: ‘I’m going to push the envelope here.’ If you do that, sometimes it can come off self-consciously.

Q: Have you found your fans will follow you into whatever stylistic road you take?
It’s funny. You do a lot of things and people get an impression of who you are in their head from having seen you at a certain time. First impressions are hard to beat. I’m grateful for the audience I do have. I think of them in the abstract as friends of mine that know me pretty well. Some will get an impression in their head that you should be how you were in the early ‘80s. They come to a show and they find out differently. They’re usually pleasantly surprised. In shows now, I [basically] play everything. It’s hard to choose which songs to play because there’s so many of them. It’s not bad.

Q: Was “Desert of Dreams” meant as an ode to living in LA, with references to earthquakes, malls, etc.?
Yes, there’s definitely some LA in there. It’s here where we reside without unpacking the song completely.

Q:  How about “Scavenger Hunt?” Did you ever go on those at parties?
Yeah, but I also had a stint in the Boy Scouts. For my friends in the mid-to-late 1960s, the scouts were an excuse to have a gang. We didn’t try to get any medals. The troop was so embarrassed with us after awhile they gave us first class. I think I was a tenderfoot for three years. We used to have a snipe hunt. Any new guys in the troop, you’d take them on a camping trip and look for snipe. In a way, that’s a bit of a scavenger hunt. The song is more about the relationships and people in that song than about the object they’re trying to find.

Q: Which of your solo albums would you say still stand the test of time?
I think ‘Mosquitoes’ stands up. There’s some sounds on it I think are certainly of its time. I don’t think it’s really dated. I do sometimes think about these things - what it would be like listening to them 20 years from now? It’s something you’re informed of in songwriting school right away: ‘it may sound good today, but will it sound good tomorrow? Are you following a trendy bus or really riding something here?’

Q: You did a tour in ’07 commemorating the 25th anniversary of Wall of Voodoo’s ‘Call of the West.’ What was the reaction like?
Those things are fine to do. When I did it, it was great. There were people who came out that maybe hadn’t been out of their houses in 25 years.

Q: Who put together the simple music video for the title track to ‘Neon Mirage?’
I think with videos, my impression of them now is that they’re better when they’re simple and homemade. When I see a big costly video now, I think of all the people that could be fed with whatever money was spent. There really isn’t a channel to play them. They’re always on YouTube. In a way, that’s kind of the new MTV, but not like it used to be. Everything is on YouTube. It’s spectacular and amazing…we’re all sharing this information and everyone’s got their little moment in the sun there.

Q: Are you active on Facebook?
I have 5,000 friends. I don’t know who they are. As it creeps more into privacy issues, I’m sure in a couple years, people will be bailing on it and there will be some new thing. Any way you can get the word out, if you’re playing someplace or some activity is going on in your world, that’s a good thing.

Q: Do you keep up with new music?
I’m kind of late to the party, but I think the Broken Bells record is great. I like a lot of the production on that and what they’ve done. It’s an interesting combination of melody and rhythm. It’s not aggressive, but it’s not wimpy. They’ve reached a certain balance with their songs and the lyrics are ambiguous.

Q: In 2009, you took part in a four-day railroad caravan. How was that experience?
It was a drunken bacchanal. We had a great time. It turned into the punk rock train. We had 50 people on that train. We’re probably going to do that again this year. It was a load of fun. You travel in four vintage railroad cars. Took off from Union Station in LA to Albuquerque, New Mexico overnight. The first night, everyone hit the dining car, which has an open bar. It just blew wide open. We played a lot of music with Jill Sobule, the Handsome Family.

Q: Any plans on doing a sequel to your ‘Crooning the Classics’ album which came out several years ago and can be purchased on your website?
Yes, there’s one in the works. It’s slowly coming together. There’s a part of me that says, ‘should I repeat this and do another one?’ But there are songs I hadn’t sung on the first one that I’d like to sing. We’re getting it together.

Ridgway's albums are available at most major music retail outlets online, while several live albums/DVDs and side projects can be found at and 

No comments: