“Dax Riggs is a combination of metal and magic.”

By Julia Barr

I arrived at the Picador to see Dax Riggs in concert, curious and excited, a fan of their newest album, “We Sing Only of Blood or Love.” The bar was dimly lit by red lanterns and cigarette smoke hung thick in the air like anticipation. I sat in the bar taking in the atmosphere and the crowd, which could be summed up by the graffiti that decorated the Picador’s bathroom walls. “If I took this cigarette and put it out on you, would you love me?” was on one wall, in angry red letters. Across from a grinning stick figure on the opposite wall was accompanied by the message “Always be happy.”

A man in a black cowboy hat with a bushy beard stepped up to order a Jack and Coke. “You ever seen these guys?” I asked. He chuckled deep in his throat and said “I’m the drummer.” He introduced himself as Andy Macleod, as we struck up a conversation, and he and Dax Riggs, the lead singer, guitarist, and namesake for the band, gave me some insight into their artistic process.

Dax Riggs was a thin, elfin figure with expressive features and hands that seemed to always be moving. We bonded quickly over the fact that we’d unknowingly been onstage together with Iggy Pop at Lollapalooza last summer when Iggy invited the crowd to rush the stage. Riggs cited Iggy as one of his greatest influences when it came to performance. Riggs had similar passion and intensity in his physical movement, and the ability to captivate the crowd with a single look. Riggs also confessed a secret adoration for glam rock like New York Dolls and Roxymusic. Both Macleod and Riggs had been around the block musically speaking. “I started playing drums at age three, as soon as I was old enough to hold the sticks,” McCloud said.

Stylistically, they’d evolved from heavy metal to psychedelic rock to blues. Their show encompassed elements of all of these genres. Riggs said that his vocal style had also developed over the years, as he progressed from mere screaming to confident singing. It was his early love of singing that prompted him to get into music in the first place. He never fancied himself a musician or a poet.

“I just wanted to sing and realized I needed words to sing and melodies to back them up,” Riggs said. For all their experience, Dax Riggs had yet to reach critical acclaim, yet according to their documentarian, Sloan Incosis, the band had a dedicated and cult-like following. Their poetic lyrics and ability to authentically play a diverse array of styles had led fans to call Riggs “the Jim Morrison of our generation.”

The story of how the band came to be called Dax Riggs was bittersweet. Originally, the band was a trio called Acid Bath, but the bass player died tragically in a car accident, and the remaining members “didn’t feel (they) could go on as the same band with him gone.”

The pain they’d been through showed in their music. They captured feelings of melancholy and darkness without seeming overly negative. The first song on the new album, “Demon Tied to a Chair in my Brain,” upon first listen, seemed to be a parody of gothic melodrama, but was actually a sincere expression of self reflection. Of all the songs on the new album, Riggs felt that this one most exemplified him as a person.

“It’s about sitting at home, staring at the walls and going crazy. It taps into that Jekyll and Hyde side of my personality, the side that everyone sees versus the one that comes out when you’re alone,” he said.

An art school dropout, Macleod believed that the thought processes of creating visual art were similar to those of making music. When describing “Night is the Notion,” his favorite song on the new album, he said, “The difference between that song and other songs is that every beat is calculated. It’s a minimalist approach, like in art school when you only can use so many lines to draw that potato, but you still manage to communicate that it is a potato.”

This decisiveness defined Dax Riggs’ music. Every note, every drumbeat, and every movement had a purpose. When recording “Night is the Notion,” they recorded more than forty takes, with no editing, because they wanted it to sound live, but still be perfect.

“We’re both constantly writing lyrics,” Macleod said. “I think of them when I’m driving and put them in my Blackberry. So we just have this stockpile of words and phrases, like a collage.” The two musicians seemed continuously to be on the same wavelength, to the point of finishing each other’s sentences. Although Riggs was the front-man, the songwriting was collaborative. When I asked Riggs which of their songs was his favorite, he replied with the same one.

It was easy to see why “Night is the Notion,” a calypso explosion, full of atmospheric reverb from a KROG synthesizer, was their favorite to play. One lyric within the song about a “black balloon” embodied the music and attitude of Dax Riggs perfectly.

“Above all, I believe that the imagination is the most powerful weapon a human being can have. Above all, I believe in magic. That’s what it’s about,” Riggs said. “Our music comes from a dark place, but it’s meant to be uplifting.”

This pretty much summed up their music; a journey through an uncharted fantasy world; dark yet whimsical; at times bleak, yet open to all the possibilities the universe had to offer.


Julia Barr is a creative writing major at University of Iowa who is obsessed with music of almost all genres. Check out her Facebook or shoot her an e-mail.

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