The albums of former Wall of Voodoo ("Mexican Radio") vocalist Stan Ridgway draw on blues, jazz, country/western, 70s art rock, and film scores to constitute original, nuanced music. A gifted songwriter and eccentric, Ridgway's The Big Heat (1986) and Mosquitos (1989) are populated with tortured characters of great pathos, yet the highly praised album Black Diamond (1996) turned introspective. Ridgway remains a fiercely independent artist who has never embraced corporate sponsorships or similar enticements. Recently he joined Dread Zeppelin's Joe Ramsey's indie Birdcage Records. Listen to Black Diamond or the just-released, byzantine The Drywall Incident and chart his stylistic range (both available on Birdcage).
Umland: Your new album, The Drywall Incident, reveals your love of the cinema.
Ridgway: Film and music together have always gotten to me. It's hard not to be influenced by film. I've always seen pictures with music and then a story starts to present itself. I try and follow the clues to what it's about, or what it is that amuses me. I'm more interested in character-driven stuff than anything else. My favorite B-movie is Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. It's a very complex collection of characters who aren't exactly what they appear to be. Welles plays villain and hero at the same time.
Umland: You have a painter's eye, yet you have a keen ear for the rhythm and cadence of ordinary language.
Ridgway: I love language and sound. An early memory is hearing ice cream trucks in my neighborhood mixing with the sounds of lawn-mowers, leaf-blowers and dogs barking. I also got fixed on old radio drama like Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, and people like Lord Buckley who also made you laugh. He was ahead of his time in many ways. Family members also struck me as having a great way with words, especially when the liquor wagon came rolling out. Lots of big pronouncements and exposition. Certain people have also influenced me greatly, like Pietra Wexstun and my older brother Ken. Both are very literate people. I also am an eavesdropper. I listen in on what people are talking about and how they say it. It's a vice of mine. Words are loaded.
Umland: Perhaps your eclecticism derives from guitar lessons taken with David Lindley?
Ridgway: I met Lindley in Pasadena in 1966 and took lessons from him for about a year and a half. He taught me how to finger pick the guitar with an alternating bass pattern, a la John Hurt and turned me on to stuff I wouldn't have found out about otherwise--obscure jazz, lost blues, Indian ragas, ska, and anything weird! He showed me how to get feedback from my amp; showed me bottleneck and barr chords ("Ouch, Dave! These chords hurt"). His band then was Kaleidoscope and they had a couple of records on Epic. Very cool group. They mixed up all kinds of things like blues, country, raga, and Turkish music. If you find anything by them buy it. I'll always be grateful for what Lindley showed me and not to mention "expanding my mind". . . it was the 60s, after all.
Umland: Do you see any continuity between your two recent albums?
Ridgway: One is more abstract and the other is more narrative, and sometimes they intersect. The line is blurry though. I don't consciously think about continuity much, just things that spark my imagination. I don't think I'd be able to stick to one style exclusively. I just make up what's there at the time, write it down and do it.
Umland: What are your future plans?
Ridgway: My goals have been adjusted since I've grown up a little. I want to make music and work at a creative pace I feel comfortable with. World domination is not in my plans. I'm content to build my own little empire of the ants.
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