Ever since his early days fronting '90s sludge-metal band Acid Bath, Dax Riggs has felt a fire burning at the intersection of perfection and decadence. He's gone on to express that in a number of forms, from the blues-psyche band Age of Oblivion to the coed garage-blues duo Deadboy & the Elephantmen. But by 2007, Riggs had decided to go the solo route, signing to high-profile indie label Fat Possum.
"I believe if you say something over and over, then it starts to make it manifest itself," says the artist from his Lafayette, La., home. "That's one of the reasons why I changed to just my name. I started to get a little uncomfortable with being referred to as a 'dead boy' when I'm a man and I'm alive. I just believe stuff like that, over and over, does have psychic residue."
His three solo albums feel like the culmination of everything Riggs has done to date, combining bruising volume with expansive, churning arrangements. There's a gothic blooze air reflected in the music's earthy graveyard pall, which also creeps into his lyrical approach.
"I Hear Satan," for example, doesn't reveal itself until the final line, which fixes Riggs in the basement of the Pentagon. "Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain" explores our bifurcated impulses à la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while on "High Monster," he climbs "down from my head to haunt the street where my fingers bled."
But while Riggs may traffic in morbid imagery, as often as not it's a vehicle for moving heady thoughts. Like Robyn Hitchcock (whom Riggs really digs), there's a surreal cast to the lyrics that masks some very human stories.
"They have a lot of symbolism," says Riggs of his songs. "It's like a secret magical language, where it's more about what it implies than exactly what it means."
Sonically, Riggs' solo albums are clearly his best work, blending disparate influences into things of thundering rumble and delicate beauty, especially on his last album, Say Goodnight to the World.
"I like things that are pretty, but not too pretty," says Riggs. "It needs to sound desperate." At the same time, he says, "I'm trying to make it seem natural and not 'Oh wow, this is jarring.' I feel like it's getting more soulful or soul-baring. They're gelling more, those different genres. Now it's more like a punk rock Leadbelly."
Riggs grew up in Louisiana but took off for Florida in the mid-'80s at the age of 13 to be in a thrash metal band, Corruption. They also worked as telemarketers, selling timeshares but mostly just making prank calls. "We were just hooligans, you know?" he laughs. "I was kind of a troubled kid at a young age. And it just seemed like what I needed to do."
The band never really went anywhere, but it was the leap that was important. Riggs has evolved into an intriguing artist simply because he's followed his own instincts and been committed to the art, commerce be damned.
"I had this giant trash bag of ideas and I just needed to get them to people's ears and see if any of this would resonate. As time unfolded I was like, wow, people are really connecting with this. I thought it was really just me, but it's not."