Creator of Seriously Good,
Often Misunderstood Music
The dB's Repercussion Interview
|Photo of Will Rigby (drumming for Steve Earle in 2013) by Lewis J. Tezak Jr. for Upstate Live.|
Will Rigby can’t help it.
The guy’s just funny … in a sly, stealthy kinda way.
At the moment, he and I are sitting in a restaurant called Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. Not long thereafter, he will mount the drum stool at a music venue next door and bang away for two hours for Steve Earle and The Dukes (a fantastic show — more about that in a future post). But first, Will graciously sits to be interrogated by yours truly about his own song writing, The dB’s, and other musical pursuits.
When the deluxe brownie he’s ordered for dessert arrives, he references the name of the restaurant and quizzes the waitress: “OK, now I have the brownie. How long before it kicks in?” — prompting snickers from the waitress and interviewer.
As I said: Will Rigby’s a funny guy. But there can be a down side when your humor carries over into your music, as Will notes during our conversation.
I'm wearing a tee shirt with the logo of The dB’s Repercussion blog, including Will’s face, across the front. I wonder out loud if this is the first time he’s ever been interviewed by someone sitting across the table, sporting Will’s own likeness.
|Scene of a great show: drumming for Steve Earle.|
“Yeah; I could probably do without that,” he quips.
At one point, the waitress notices my iPad in audio recording mode and asks what we’re up to. I explain that she happens to be serving the long-standing drummer for Steve Earle’s Dukes. She knows about the show next door and seems impressed to meet him. But Will is quick to suggest that he’s nobody she’s ever heard of.
Which is a real shame, musically speaking. Because Will Rigby is not merely one of the finest drummers to come down the pike in a long time (so say folks who have the credentials to make the claim). He’s also a songwriter with a compellingly unique perspective, and a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Along with his fellow musicians in The dB’s, Mitch Easter, and other luminaries of the early indie rock scene in the Southeast, Will is also part of a great chain of modern musical history, stretching from Big Star to R.E.M. and beyond.
If you don’t yet know Will Rigby's music, do yourself a big favor: hurry over to his BandCamp pages, sample some of his songs, and enjoy some of the most memorable music you may have yet to discover.
Enough of the preamble; on with the interview.
Q: I love the songs you write and wish a lot more people were familiar with your music. I wish I could figure out how to accomplish that!
A: It’s not up to you, it’s up to me [chuckles].
A: I was a real late bloomer in terms of songwriting. I wrote a handful of songs in the 1980s, one of which was “Ricky Skaggs Tonite” — which we’re playing at the show tonight. I wrote that in 1987, and it came out in ’92. I wrote a handful of songs in the 1980s. I didn’t really get into writing songs until the ‘90s.
A lot of the songs on Paradoxaholic were written in a bunch, from 1996 to ’98. “Dave” and “The Room’s Still Spinning” were recorded in the summer of 1987 when we were working on Paris Avenue [The dB’s final set of demos]. And I did the “Red Bra and Panties” / “Ricky Skaggs Tonite” single in 1992 in Philadelphia. Then I wrote a big batch of songs in 2001 and 2002 [that wound up on The Page Turner Diaries], and I really haven’t finished a song since 2002.
You told a writer for No Depression some years ago that you are "not that serious" about song writing. But I think your music is seriously good and often hilarious.
I don’t remember the context in which I said that. Obviously, some of my songs are not that serious, in a literal sense. The whole reason I made the album title Paradoxaholic is that I had some songs that were rather humorous songs and I had some miserable, sad songs and I was trying to think of a word that expressed the fact that there was two very different things going on, and that was the closest I could come.
What would it take for us to be able to hear more of your music than you’ve put out so far?
Money. I can’t afford to pay for it, or I’d have to have my own recording studio. There’s one person who’s expressed interest in recording me, but not lately. I’d have to push him.
When you write humorous songs, people don’t take them very seriously. You kind of damn yourself to being [seen as] superficial. I sent demos in 1994 and ’95 [to a well-known producer at a well-known studio. The producer in question] wrote back to me and said, “Thanks for sending your demos. Nice, but we don’t need any comedy acts.”
When I write a song with humor in it, I aspire for it to be funny and serious at the same time. But it’s disconcerting to people; they don’t really go for it. It’s a very small group of people who go for serious and funny at the same time. For me, I always thought the perfect example of it was “Dr. Strangelove” — and later on, “Roger and Me”, the first Michael Moore movie. It’s funny, but it’s also dead serious.
... that Will likes
Would you like to see your first album, Sidekick Phenomenon, re-released — perhaps on your BandCamp site?
Where are the tapes? I have no idea. But it’s not a priority. Those were literally the very first tapes I ever made. I think there’s a few good cuts on it. I wasn’t even planning on it coming out! It’s certainly not an album’s worth of good material. It’s a little too beginner-ish for my taste.
With The dB’s live shows, you sing lead only once in a blue moon — such as when you sang “Write Back”, your composition that appeared on Falling Off the Sky. Are there other groups in which you’ve been the lead vocalist?
I had a band in the 1990s called The Unmentionables. We played 15 or 20 shows. “The Jerks at Work” and “Get Away Get Away” have the original lineup of The Unmentionables. I only sang lead with The Unmentionables and Wipe Me Mommy. I can’t do both [play drums and sing] and feel good about it.
I heard a recording of Yo La Tengo's Hanukkah show at Maxwell's in 2007 when they had you get up and sing "The Question," and it sounded great. I think you should do stuff like that more often…
I don’t think I sounded that great [Rob says: I respectfully beg to differ!].
Tell me about Wipe Me Mommy. From a bootleg I've heard, it sounds like you and some friends were having a big time playing your favorite cover songs and a few originals.
|Actual band name: Wipe Me Mommy|
Wipe Me Mommy was just one thing. It was The dB’s bass player, Jeff Beninato; The dB’s sound man, Gilbert Nestor on guitar — rest in peace, he’s dead now; and The dB’s manager, Jim Ford, on drums. And I just sang. Occasionally, someone else would sit in on guitar. Probably the most memorable thing that happened with Wipe Me Mommy is that we opened for Bad Brains at the original Ritz in NYC, and they let Gilbert use their stack of Marshalls [laughs at the memory]. There weren’t a lot of people watching. It was a really obscure band. One night, we headlined a Sunday night at CBGB.
Are there any Wipe Me Mommy gigs that stand out in your memory?
We did this tour — and I use the term loosely — in eighty … [hesitates] … five. It was us and Peter opening solo with his then-girlfriend, Ilene Markell, playing as Luscious and Brown. A show on that tour was the genesis of the song “Dave.” Dave was the promoter, and he billed it as The dB’s one night. A bunch of people came expecting to see The dB’s, and were yelling for The dB’s during our show. We were really pissed off at him. He was, like, totally out of it — a really “out there” character. Literally, everything in the song is true. He hadn’t slept for months; he was just completely out of his mind…. The next night, there was a party there. During the party, people started saying, “Dave’s out in the woods.” At the end of the night, he just appeared and handed me a little gift box with two small bottles of Jack Daniels. It was a crazy experience.
Give me your take on The dB’s 2012 reunion album Falling Off the Sky — its recording, its critical reception, and the live tour last year.
It’s a good album. I feel like we made an album that’s not a diminishment of our previous efforts, and I’m glad of that. It got good reviews. But, you know, it really was not a big deal when we went out and played. There’s just not much audience left. We didn’t sell out New York. We sold out Chicago, two nights at The Hideout. At least that’s respectable. But to not sell out the New York shows, it’s like, “Well, okay…” [I point out The dB’s sold out NYC’s Bowery Ballroom for their reunion show there six years ago]. The 2007 reunion show in New York was like the high-point of The dB’s, that show. It was the most thrilling night of The dB’s career to me.
I thought the Revolution of the Mind EP from this year’s Record Store Day was very cool.
Those are extra songs from the recording of the album [“Orange Squeezer” and “Lakefront”]. I’m not sure how many others there are that were finished. I think “Lakefront” is one of the best tracks The dB’s ever did. It’s one of my favorite dB’s tracks, ever. It has something no other dB’s track has. [There’s] a naturalness to it; it’s not really arranged, we just played it. It’s a really, really great song. It’s really sad, and I’m a sucker for a sad song. There’s not too many dB’s tracks I can’t hear anything to improve upon. That’s one of the few. It stands alone as one of my all-time favorite dB’s songs.
Do you have a favorite album from The dB’s catalog?
Repercussion is probably the best overall. It’s a cool record. I mean, I like the fact that all the songs are pretty different. But I’m really not that big a fan of the way it sounds. I can’t separate my feelings about it from the experience of making it, about which I have extremely mixed emotions. Being in London was all right, but we wanted to make it at The Power Station in New York. “From a Window to a Screen”, that’s one of the tracks on which I wouldn’t change a thing. But I can just imagine songs like “Neverland” sounding like an AC/DC record. I can imagine them being a lot louder.
I think it’s our best sounding album, even though it’s really Eighties sounding. I like the way it sounds. “Spy In the House of Love” is a great track.
Do you have other favorite dB’s songs?
“Black & White”, that’s kind of unique. I think “Cycles Per Second” is pretty cool.
“Judy” it’s really a shame about because we hated the way it sounded. It’s a really great song, but if we had just produced it ourselves, it would have been so much better. That was recorded by Roger Bechirian as a single. It’s a great song, but it’s not the way we wanted it to sound. The way we played it [live] was more the way it was supposed to sound.
How do you feel about The Sound of Music?
There are two places where the producer made us change the arrangement that I hate. He made us take out a piece of “Molly Says” so that the lyrics almost don’t make sense. On “Looked at the Sun Too Long”, he made us do “so please excuse me” a second time before it goes to the bridge. If you hear it without that, it makes more sense. That second “please excuse me” should not be there. It wasn’t on the demo and we really didn’t want to do it, but he made us. I think “Bonneville” is one of our best-sounding tracks and “Think Too Hard” is another one. I don’t really have any need to hear “Never Say When” again.
You mentioned an unreleased Wipe Me Mommy album. Are there any unreleased dB’s tracks worth hearing?
There’s a different recording of “Any Old Thing” that’s way superior to [the studio master]. There were actually two recording sessions that were Miller Beer ad recording sessions at The Record Plant. At the first one, we recorded “Suspicious Minds” and a way better recording of “Any Old Thing.” I’d like to hear it again. I think the version of “Suspicious Minds” is not finished. My memory is that it’s missing a solo, or something. We were playing that for years and we were going to record it, but then Fine Young Cannibals covered it. They ruined it for us; that was a bummer. We were going to put it on the next record. Oh well! But those are 24-track recordings. We could put them out now, there’d be nothing to stop us.
|Miller Beer got The dB's as musician-models, but the group got free recording time.|
I'm amazed at the variety of cover songs you guys attempted in your live shows, from classic stuff to very obscure tunes to Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long." Did you have favorite covers or favorite memories of live shows?
There was this crazy night in Madison, Wisconsin. We’d been on tour for a long time, we were burned out, I don’t think there were very many people at the show. We just kind of said “F*#^+ it!” and started playing a lot of covers. That was the only time we played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and a whole bunch of other covers. I forget what all we played.
You can hear the very show in Madison, Wisconsin that Will is talking about in this week’s other blog post — and find out which other songs The dB’s covered.
NEXT THING TO READ:
Part 2 of my interview with Will Rigby focuses on Paradoxaholic — his nearly unheard, but masterful album.