Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stan Ridgway interview

My interview appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed here:

Ridgway's Southern California tour dates include the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Feb. 3; the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Feb. 10; McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Feb. 12. For more info, go to

Back in 1986, during a San Diego-area gig to promote his solo bow “The Big Heat,” Stan Ridgway made an explosive impression.

At the old Spirit Club in Mission Beach, “about two songs into the set, the PA blew up really loud, like a cherry bomb. Smoke came out of the monitors. It was really spectacular and scared everybody. The whole room went quiet,” recalled the singer/guitarist, from his home studio in Los Angeles.

“We had to stop; it wasn’t to be fixed. I guess it really wasn’t a show at all.”

Next week, Ridgway returns to SoCal with several full band electric performances (though McCabe's is likely to include acoustic material). “Maybe that’ll happen again,” he joked. “Come on down and get blown up!”

Ninth studio album “Neon Mirage” was released last year and finds the alt-rock veteran in a more reflective mood than usual following the deaths of his father, uncle and “Mirage” session woodwind player Amy Faris.

Ridgway took inspiration from Tom Rush, Country Joe & the Fish and Bob Dylan --- acts that made introspective records he grew up listening to in the late ‘60s. “It’s not really shouting to be heard…but is just something I needed to do. Even if it’s sad, there’s a healing process that goes on with music.”

An acoustic guitar, violin and organ-enriched “Halfway There” and “Day Up in the Sun” (imagine a modernized Gene Autry cowboy tune) ponder mortality, yet have an upbeat tone. Was it hard to find the right balance?

“Yeah, but after awhile, you learn how to realistically reflect what life is about. It’s not all dark or light.” Ridgway is continually drawn to Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen’s works because they often achieve that equanimity of “life, love, sex, fun and tragedy…I’m just a link in a chain to those songwriters.”
On “Lenny Bruce,” about the controversial 1950s and ‘60s standup comedian convicted of obscenity charges, he pays homage to both Zimmy (who wrote and recorded it for “Shot of Love”) and Young (with a laid back folk arrangement evoking “Harvest Moon”).

Blasters co-founder Dave Alvin initially saw Ridgway perform the cover at a benefit concert for Peter Case in L.A. and decided to produce it, along with another track. 

Like Bruce, Ridgway has defied the entertainment biz status quo (minus the profanity) since leading Wall of Voodoo for a brief period in the early ‘80s. The unusual L.A. band was best known for their warped “Ring of Fire” remake and bizarre modern rock hit “Mexican Radio.” Over the next decade, the vocalist went onto garner more minor radio and MTV airplay (“Don’t Box Me In” with Stewart Copeland, “Goin’ Southbound,” “Calling Out to Carol,” “I Wanna Be a Boss”).  

Drywall, including longtime keyboardist/vocalist (and wife) Pietra Wexstun and guitarist Rick King, has sporadically served as an outlet for his more experimental noise side. Ridgway and Wexstun put out “Silly Songs for Kids” in 2009, described as “an art record in disguise. Parents can hypnotize their kids with it.”

“I just follow my intuition. If it tells me to go in a certain direction, I go there. I don’t think I’m pushing a boundary. Maybe I find out later. When music and songs are channeled properly, they’re born from silence in musicians’ heads. There isn’t any biased information in silence.”

Elsewhere on “Neon Mirage” is “Wandering Star,” a nod to Owen Bradley’s classic country productions of Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee and others.

While Ridgway admitted to not really being a country guy (“I like folk music”), he would “hear them all the time because my dad had those records. So I grew to appreciate them.

“Bradley used to record in a big room with a big Quonset hut (an octagonal-shaped enclosure) and put all the musicians in there. We didn’t have one, but we were close.”

The latest album also finds Ridgway subtly tackling politics (the dark, lurching “Flag Up on a Pole”), delving into jazz/rock crooner mode (“Desert of Dreams,” an ode to Los Angeles) and revisiting his trademark sonic film noir style (“Turn a Blind Eye”). The latter pair feature crazed sax work by frequent Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

“We’re in a post-modern world. The only fresh aspect you can build is a hybrid,” said the singer, not easily slotted into a particular genre. “I’m probably eclectic to a fault…if I had been pinned down in some way, I’d probably have a bigger career. But I like to surprise myself.”

Photo courtesy of Conqueroo publicity

1 comment:

matt said...

From your interview...
“I’m probably eclectic to a fault…if I had been pinned down in some way, I’d probably have a bigger career. But I like to surprise myself.”
Aint that the truth and thank God Mr Ridgway likes a surprise.
Sierra Madre