“Mystery and irony are attractive to me but that said, I have no problem with entertainment,” he says. “Orson Welles was a magician as well as a Shakespearean actor. There’s a certain brilliance to that.”
A mad scientist of sound and vision, Ridgway possesses a style unparalleled, at least in our known universe. Making his musical pictures for 30 years now, the singer-songwriter and guitarist has emerged as a singular voice in contemporary song. “It’s a hybrid of all the music I’ve loved and admired,” he says. “There are no boundaries on art and no rules to follow in music. A song is really just a strong point of view.”
Ridgway works in his own unique form of aural and sonic tradition, chronicling all that lies beneath the safe and sane surface. He craftily sets his dark materials to off-kilter and eerie melodies that echo the uneasy action of a cast of characters on the brink. His tales often take place in the microcosmic miasma of L.A. and its outer desert, where his creations try to wrest meaning from the beautiful catastrophe of their lives. The combination makes for a stunning stew of universal provocations.
Ridgway has soaked himself in European soundtrack music, American folk tradition, primitive rock ‘n’ roll, blues, psychedelia, free jazz and all that is avant-garde. All of it has seeped into his musical vocabulary. “Life is absurd. But that doesn’t mean it has to be meaningless,” he says. “Froan early age music centered me in a chaotic world that didn’t make sense.”
Ridgway’s uncanny ability for brushing Old World charm against contemporary disturbances and oddities just might define the disjointed landscape of 21st century life. “I’ve always liked tall tales, urban myths and ghost stories,” he says. “I like a strong protagonist, as well as a story that unfolds with drama, color and detail. A song should take you away for awhile and into another world.” Sounds like the definition of a Stan Ridgway song…
Raised in L.A., Ridgway began his love affair with Southwestern gothic 30 years ago as front man and co-founder of vanguard electro-art punks Wall of Voodoo, who he originally formed with the intention of scoring low-budget horror films. Ridgway sang on the band’s debut EP and first two albums, Dark Continent and Call of the West (which included the accidental MTV hit “Mexican Radio”).
Ridgway is a rare performer and song maker whose enduring sketches nail the human condition down cold while his characterizations of life remain absolutely fresh and alive. The primal urges that drive his creations–whether they’re searching for a home in “Underneath the Big Green Tree,” or acknowledging our collective heritage in his electronic reworking of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”– see Ridgway finding humanity in all stripes, as he celebrates the circus of our lives.
Ridgway’s flair for concise character portraits was first noted by uber critic Greil Marcus, who called The Big Heat “probably the most compelling portrait of American social life to appear on a rock ‘n’ roll record since Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.” Author Mikal Gilmore said it was “the best L.A.-founded record of that year.” Ridgway followed with the existential-humanist Mosquitoes (featuring the anthemic “Mission in Life,” and the Euro-hit, “Calling Out to Carol”). Partyball (1991) explored the outer-limits of Ridgway’s unique world, while 2002’s Black Diamond was a more Spartan and personal statement on love and loss.
“At the end of the day I really consider myself just an inventor, or like a link in a chain to a tradition of song and art,” the artist says. Music and songs and recording are an obsession for me — sound and art. It’s all in there, the ideas and things that influenced me. To see it and tell it your own way is the challenge. That’s the last true, honest place to be. It might even be the new frontier right now.”
Find out more about Stan Ridgway at stanridgway.com
“Ridgway’s post-Wall of Voodoo output has, if anything, cemented his neo-noir rep as one of American music’s greatest storytellers, the wild and wily Steinbeck of sad whiskey railroads and rusted, ramshackle American dreams.” – AUSTIN CHRONICLE
“Stan Ridgway is equal parts Raymond Chandler and John Huston, Johnny Cash and Rod Serling.” – NME
“Probably the most compelling portrait of American social life to appear on a rock ‘n’ roll record since Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.” -ART FORUM