"Not just a tired string of random selections; but an album that hangs together alarmingly well as a full length listen and proves beyond a doubt that Ridgway's efforts over the past decade make him deserving of recognition as one of the most consistently imaginative songwriting talents." GOLDMINE
CLEVELAND FREE TIMES
With the art punk group Wall of Voodoo, singer Stan Ridgway released two albums and had a hit with "Mexican Radio." Since the group disbanded in 1983, he's gone on to work on soundtracks and released various solo projects. His latest album, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs , isn't due out until August. But Ridgway's embarked on a short warm-up tour with keyboardist Pietra Wexstun. We spoke to Ridgway via phone from his Los Angeles home, where he was "paddling around" in his home studio.
Does anyone ever call you Stan the Man?
Yeah. I just go "Wow." It's not like I haven't heard it. I don't know if I can live up it. I always think of Stan Musial.
Why is your middle name Q.?
That was kind of a nickname from years ago. I can't even pronounce what it's short for.
Did you really go to jail at the age of 12?
Yeah. Everybody goes to that bio and looks at that. It's just one thing I might have said years ago in an English interview. I don't mind. It's colorful. By 11 or 12, I had it in my mind that there were too many street signs, and me and my gang of juvenile delinquents would take our toolboxes out and monkey-wrench the signs down. One time late at night, a policeman was driving by and followed us. I remember the boot coming around the corner, and there were 30 to 40 signs we had collected. He took us to jail just to show us jail. That was the end of the street-sign collecting.
Did you get into trouble a lot as a kid?
Yeah. I was always vying for attention until music came along, and then that was a reason to get the gang together with a purpose. That's generally how bands start.
You've been called the Nathanael West of rock. How flattering is that?
I don't know. It's funny, because I don't consider myself the bard of bleak. But I'm attracted to stories about the underdog. I think they're the best stories. I'm more inclined to tell those stories than ones about walking on sunshine.
Why is your forthcoming album called Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs .
It's a tip of the hat to Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs . It had "El Paso" on it and songs like "Big Iron." It's a reference to a number of old Johnny Cash albums about lonely trains and Indian reservations too.
You got your start writing soundtrack music for low-budget horror films?
I did stuff before that. Before Wall of Voodoo, I had burned myself out playing in Top 40 bands. Before punk rock, there wasn't a scene at all. It was eaten up by people with large record contracts. There wasn't anything to do but play the hits of the day. I rented an office on Hollywood Boulevard. I had a friend who worked on Harry Novak films. They'd make cheap films and send 'em out to Kentucky or something. They had partial nudity to sell the film. I did excerpts for their trailers and stuff. In my imagination, I had a legitimate business and called the company Wall of Voodoo.
Sounds like the same experience as Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo.
I ended up meeting Mark, and we found it was hard to make the music we were making in a context where it felt right. There was a resistance to anything that was different. In the beginning, punk was anything goes, and then the hammer came down. We were often booed and people would throw things at us and spit at us. I developed my armor on stage. I turned into a punk-rock Don Rickles. We eventually started to attract a core group of like-minded freaks who liked us.
Wall of Voodoo's biggest hit was "Mexican Radio." Have you gotten to play it in Mexico?
We did once. We played Iguana's in Tijuana. It was like Sodom and Gomorrah. There was chicken wire on the stage in case someone jumped up and tried to kill you. There was vomit on the floor, and kids were drunk. I remember loading the equipment, and there were two roadie guys like zombies coming toward the band. One said to the other, "You did all that crack and you didn't leave me any." It was a great place to play "Mexican Radio."
What's your favorite memory of playing Cleveland?
Peabody's. I remember that. The last time we played there, it was not a good night. There was a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers show in the stadium or something. We ate across the street from where we played, and there was a wedding party over there. We pulled this whole party to the club and put them on the list. They came over and we mixed these straight people up with who was there, and it became a succotash of sorts. I remember it was fun.