Q & A With Riggs of 'Scum of the Earth'
I read that you learned to play the guitar before ever listening to any music.
Yeah, that's why I suck so bad.
(laughs) But how did you learn how to play guitar, then?
I grew up with my grandparents and they had old guitars lying around in a closet, which interested me. So I just started messing around with it. And it was an old guitar. It had all kinds of switches and knobs. I had no idea what the hell any of them were for 'cause I didn't have an amp. I played on it for four years before I even realized that you had to tune it. I was like a caveman finding a piano--"What is this?!"
Were you playing songs?
No. I just beat on it. I probably should have been a drummer.
And once you started listening to music, what did you think?
I thought, "Holy shit, you can beat on this thing and make money?!" I think the first music I heard was like Frank Zappa, Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog", and Alice Cooper.
What sort of effect did that have on learning to play guitar? Especially after listening to Zappa?
I thought "Oh, that's how you're supposed to play guitar? Then I'd better give it up." The Zappa stuff was nuts. I was more into Alice Cooper--"Schools Out"-because I thought "Yeah, I can figure this out." But I was really young at that point. I was like 9 years old. Just trying to figure out those songs. And that's really all there was to listen to. And then, a few years later, I heard Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" and I was like, "F-ck yeah! This speaks to me." That was the only band I liked. I heard that, and I thought "Everybody sucks except for Metallica!" Then I heard Slayer and I'm like, "Slayer's good. Everybody sucks except for Slayer and Metallica!"
Photo by Karen Jerzyk
Did you start taking formal lessons after that?
No. I just tried to play those songs. As you can imagine, being 12 years old and trying to play these crazy Slayer songs-- it's impossible. I probably still can't even play 'em. Metallica had easier songs. They had "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which I could kind of figure out. And that's all I did for years, was just noodle around with that stuff. I was locked in my bedroom for half my life, just listening to those two bands.
How did that effect you?
When I got older I realized I could do it for a job--"f-ck working at WalMart, I'm gonna be in a band." That's still how I think. If there's money to be made in music, then count me in. Unfortunately, I live in the middle of Arkansas and I can't get together with a group of people and write music. So I gotta sit here and do it myself. It would probably be a lot different if I had some help, some contributing parts and ideas.
Do you think that that sort of isolation can be helpful?
Maybe. I keep churning out the same style of stuff. A lot of people bitch about it and a lot of people like it--"Hey, I like what you do. Don't change." It's either , win-win, lose-lose, every time. Doesn't matter what you do. So I just keep doing whatever I know how to do. That's probably why I play guitar the way I do, from the way I learned. That simple stuff. Not knowing how to play guitar, I could sit around and noodle on one string--the top string--and be like "do do do do do." And hey, that's a frickin' song, y'know.
It's weird--I was never interested in playing guitar leads, either. Even after listening to Metallica and Slayer--especially Slayer with all the crazy whammy bar and feedback they use. It just never interested me. I was more interested in pounding on the guitar--the "chun chun chun chun." The more aggressive shit. I'm still like that now. In Zombie, or whatever band I've ever been in, I've never played guitar leads. Well, at least until this new record. And that was just out of pure boredom. Sitting back at my studio, thinking "Yeah, I think I'll put a couple leads on here and see if I can play one. A real one!"
In one interview of yours, you said "I've been a scumbag ever since I was a little kid in school. I think I've made it work to my advantage." I was wondering, what does a little kid have to do to be a scumbag?
Live in a little town and be poor. That's it. Like, go to school wearing the same shirt two days in a row. And all the other kids make fun of you because you're a scumbag. Having long, shaggy hair, y'know? Being a kid in a small town, there are kids' parents that own stuff in town: the shoe store, the McDonalds, the furniture store. Very well-to-do, types. So they have all their fancy little Abercrombie and Gap clothes and what not, and I come to school wearing the same shirt with a spider on it all week, which doesn't go over very well in a small town. And that's what they'd call me--"scumbag." It pissed me off. Like, I'm a scumbag because I don't have 50 Panama Jack t-shirts? f-ck off. So, when I got hooked up with Fernandes Guitars, and they were making a special signature series guitar for me, I had to put that on there. 12th fret, chrome inlay--"Scumbag." Now the scumbag's got his own guitar, motherf-cker!
That's where you learn to grow up and be a asshole: in school. Or to grow up and be cool. They'd give me shit about the kind of socks I'd wear in the summertime, when I'd be wearing cut-off shorts, y'know. And they got their little cargo shorts and their little sandals. (sigh) Whatever. Seriously, I'd say I got in a fight at least once a day the entire time I was in school. It was just a nightmare.
Did you win a lot of the fights?
Probably about half of 'em. Sometimes there were a lot of people against me and I'd just pop out and they'd thump my head in. Now they can all suck my dick--every time I get an order from them at Taco Bell! It's just small town politics. Its like "You're nobody, you're a piece of shit. Oh, you've gone out into the world and people have heard of you, so now I wanna be your best friend." It's the same way everywhere, I'm sure, but in a small town, it's worse. I still live here. I hate it.
Why haven't you left?
I did leave, once. Twice. That's how I got started in the music business, was by leaving here when I was 17. I quit school when I was 15 and moved down to Texas when I was 17 and got in that band, Screw. We went on tour with and I got in that band, and from that band I got into Zombie and from that band I got into this band. Then I had a kid, and there was no way to take care of my son, so I had to move back to this piece of shit town. My Grandparents watch him whenever I go on tour.
So when you came back did they treat you like a hero and give you the key to the city?
Oh dude, yeah. I got invited to some high school reunion thing, where I was the honorary speaker. I didn't even get past the ninth grade! They all hated me. I told them to f-ck off and I never did it. They wanted me to do stuff with the newspaper, which is a big deal. But, I never did any of it. The churches welcomed me back, saying God was keeping me from going back to California.
Were a lot of people you went to school with still living in the same town when you came back?
I don't know. I only have one friend here. I don't ever leave my house. I'll go out on tour or I'll fly somewhere If I want to leave, then I'll come back, hang out and work on songs. I'm very antisocial. It's what I've been told, anyways.
If you wanted to, could you channel your success into becoming, say, the mayor of your town?
No. It'd never happen. There are too many churches. A bunch of racist, backwards-thinking, backwoods, holier-than-thou Bible thumpers. They gave me an option: I can A) leave town, or B ) come to our church and be saved from the Devil. I didn't realize the Devil was after me, but apparently he is. They've tried to give me money to go to church. One church in this town offered me $10,000 a month to go to their church. I still turned it down.
I don't think the church would want their parishioners to find out about that.
That's what I said! This church is huge--probably about half the town goes to this church. I'm like, "What would your parishioners say if they found out you're giving me all this money to go to church?" and he said, "They'd be happy because we're saving your soul." Whatever. It's all a bullshit scam, this religion shit. 'Cause all these preachers, they talk to me. They know it's all bullshit, it's all an act, it's all a gimmick, it's all a way to make money. Then they start this whole bidding war to see who can get me to go to their church, because it would be like big news in their church scene. "Hey, we got this Devil-worshipping, blood drinking whatever to come to our church! Our church is the best! Your church sucks!" That's the mentality around here.
What did you do to make the churches so angry with you?
It wasn't when I was growing up, it was after I'd grown up. Mainly the Zombie thing that got all the notoriety; having the guitar full of clear blood, then I'd pour a little on myself and spit it out at people. They considered that Satanic blood drinking, apparently. Unfortunately, if they make a bigger deal out of it, it might help me sell more records.
How did you discover the effect blood in the guitar would have?
When we first put blood in it, there wasn't any set level of blood, so anytime I'd dump it out--I never really noticed until we went on tour that there was that big a difference--but, you dump it out, and whenever you fill it back up, it would sound a little different. So we just pour a little in and play it, then pour a little more in and play it till it got a really good sound. Believe it or not, that guitar sounded really good. I've used it to record on every record since I've had that guitar. It kinda makes sense 'cause it's Plexiglas and liquid, which are good conductors of sound.
Do other guitarists use this design as well?
No. It's just something I thought up. Originally, it wasn't gonna have blood in it, it was gonna have gnarly crap in it that would gross everyone out.
Do you feel that blood works better than other things to fill the guitar with to affect the sound?
I dunno, I've never put anything else in it. I thought about filling it with Jagermeister, but then I wouldn't want to spit it out. I'd just be drinking it all the time.
Photo by Karen Jerzyk
So, what sort of effect does the town have on your son?
Not much, 'cause I keep him out of it. This town is so small, dude. There's a Wal Mart and a gas station. We go to Wal Mart and people come up running, with 8X10's of Jesus in their hands, screaming at us that we're going to burn in hell. Screaming at him that he's gonna burn in hell! He's 3 years old! The things these crazy people make up to make you give them money. Then, whenever we go to Wal Mart, they have the security dude following us around and keeping these church people at bay. They want to make money--they don't care if you drink blood or if you go to church.
How'd you keep yourself busy growing up there?
Sit in the yard and play in the dirt. That's what I did my whole life until I left here. Y'know, sit in my room and play guitar. There's nothing to do.
Was it when you moved to Austin that you developed an interest in industrial music?
I'd never heard it before. And then when I moved down there and heard it, it was like "This is more like the guitar riffs that I play." The more rhythmic, dancier guitar stuff. I think Ministry was the first band I heard like that. Really simple guitar riffs, but it's cool. Then the band Screw was starting up, and I heard some of the songs that they were working on, and I'm like "This is my thing, right here." So I got in the band, and I played more like a robot than a person, I guess. Just more simple, repetitive, groovy shit.
If you were having a party, what would you play?
Metallica and Slayer. (laughs) I still love those bands. They stuck with me all this time. Those bands can do no wrong by me. When I was a kid, those were my heroes. And they were so underground back then--you couldn't even find them in a magazine, or on a t-shirt, nothin'. And nobody ever played a show in Arkansas. So when I turned 16 I drove 700 miles to do see Slayer in Austin. The "Seasons of the Abyss Tour", I think it was. Before that, I had to drive about that far to see Metallica at Monsters of Rock. I went there and was shocked that Metallica was the second band. To me, Metallica was the biggest band in the universe. They had their two t-shirts, a blue one and a green one. They played for 30 minutes and got offstage. I bought both their shirts and drove all the way back home. I wasn't sticking around to watch any of those other bands.
Did you ever try to meet anyone from the bands?
Once I did. Metallica played in Little Rock. I got backstage and this dickhead from Queensryche--the bass player--called security on me and had me thrown out. I'm still pissed and it was a million years ago. I made it all the way back there, and I had a ticket, and I'm pleading with this guy from Queensryche--"I gotta meet Metallica." I saw Metallica's tour bus on MTV news, and it said "Guess Who?" on the front of it. One of those Old Eagle tour buses. When I got behind the venue, I saw that bus there. I was pounding on the door. If they would've answered it, I probably would have had a heart attack and died. So I went backstage, and the f*%&ing bass player from Queensryche threw me out! I'm like "One day. You wait. I'm gonna let everybody backstage." And I always do, to this day, because of that prick.
Did you ever get the chance to meet them again?
No. That'd be pretty funny, though.
I read a description of "Scum of the Earth" on allmusic.com that read, "In contrast to such groups as Slayer, who take their death metal outlook quite seriously, Scum of the Earth's lyrics are very tongue-in cheek." Do you agree with this comment?
No, I think the lyrics are very serious. Maybe I'm just a tongue in cheek dumbass, but I think all our songs are like "f-ck you" and "Eat shit". I don't see how that can be tongue in cheek. We have songs like "Murder Song" and "Hate x 13" and "Get Your Dead On." Maybe they think that's tongue in cheek, but Get Your Dead On's about dead chicks. Maybe that is tongue in cheek, I dunno. I mean, "Get Your Dead On" means get dead, obviously. The whole Love, American Style, Manson thing. It's all over the radio and I'm like, "Heh! I don't think anyone knows what this song is about."
What do you think it is that attracted you to the horror aesthetic that you've cultivated?
Church. I used to go to church, when I was a kid. I used to go to Sunday school. I rode this Sunday school bus to Sunday school. The Snuffleuppagus bus. They had Sesame Street characters on each bus. Then I'd come home and have nightmares about the devil. I had those my whole life because of what I heard in church. It was Nazi Southern Baptist bullshit, I found out later. Then I went to a different church, and it was worse. It was horrifying, the stuff they were talking about to little kids in Sunday school, like burning in hell for using God's name in vain. Godammit godammit. There's no lightning bolts hitting me. Every night I couldn't sleep, I had nightmares. Then I got wise to their bullshit. And that was when I was, like, 8 years old! Y'know, putting money in this plate and its going down every row. "This place is makin' bank!" Then I get older and find out they don't have to pay taxes and they like to f-ck little boys, apparently. That's what made me want to do shit to piss them off: "You gave me nightmares, now I'm gonna give you nightmares."
In terms of religion, was there a particular incident that made you turn around, and say "That's it, I'm done with this completely"?
Yeah, there was one incident in particular. It was always bad when they had these guest preachers. This dude comes in, and he just starts talking about how God hates bikers. I'm like "Whaaa?" When I was growing up, my parents were a bunch of dirty bikers. Well, God hates my parents. And he told this story about these bikers coming in to church, and interrupting this Sunday mass, flirting with chicks, cursing, and using God's name in vain. Nobody could get rid of them, so God killed them all. And he went into this great detail of how when they left, God steered all their motorcycles into oncoming traffic. He went into these gory details about their insides flying all over the motors, and I'm like "This is bullshit! There's no way that happened! And even if it did, how did this guy know? Did he get a phone call from God's secretary--'Hey, God killed those people that were in your service.'" Like a bunch of dirty bikers are even up early enough to go to church. Give me a break. That's the last time I ever went. 'Cause everything they talked about that was bad was all stuff that I liked. I was like, "I'm doomed. I like to say cuss words." They're like sentence enhancers. (laughs) if it wasn't for the word "f-ck" I would barely know how to talk.
Did you start getting into trouble at a relatively young age?
Yeah, dude. From the time I was born. I was born bad, apparently. To this day, they say that. They had a big sermon a couple years ago after one of those big school shootings. They're like "Forget Columbine, forget Jonesboro, we got a bigger problem right here in our own backyard: Riggs." You motherf-ckers! I sat in my room, minding my own business, never got into any trouble, learned how to play guitar, left here, did something with myself, and then I come back and you wanna burn me at the stake?
And which church is it specifically that you're talking about?
When I say "the church" I'm not talking about the Vatican or anything like that, I'm just talking about local, dumbshit Midwest churches. It seems like the Vatican is more interested in science than these yokels around here. They don't believe that dinosaurs are real. They're like, "Oh, that's a scam to get you not to believe in God Because there's nothing about dinosaurs in the bible. The world's only 10,000 years old. read the bible." Which version of it?
My favorite part is the stories they've taken out over the years. You can probably look them up on the Internet. Like, the first Adam and Eve. Eve was the second chick that God made. They took it out because it's so ridiculous and silly that no one would ever believe it. It was Adam and Lilith. You can look it up online.
In the bonus DVD that came with what is it that was going on with a Christian band of some sort interrupting your record?
Oh, God. It happened several times, but it's only on there once. That was in Springfield, Missouri, right in the middle of the bible belt. They would just open the door to the studio, scream, "Jesus loves you!" and run off. Like we're gonna chase them down and beat em' up or something. One day, the guy who owns the studio said, "Hey, these college chicks wanna come down and record some songs." There were, like, 20 of these college chicks. We're like "f-ck yeah." And we took the night off and let them have the studio. Then there's all these Jesus bullshit songs. So then I had them sign waivers to appear on the DVD. They're like, "Sweet!" And as soon as they signed them I just let em have it (laughs).
So, you're recording, and people run in, say "Jesus loves you!" and then run out?
It probably happened about 20 times. People would leave cards all over the studio. They showed a picture of Jesus holding some bloody dude. It looked like Jesus was murdering somebody, but I guess he was saving him. Even the dude who ran the studio couldn't come in on Sunday because he went to church. Why the f-ck are you doing this "Scum of the Earth" record, Mr. Holy Man? He was like, "Well, I prayed to Jesus before letting you use my studio. He said it was ok. I'm doing it for my family, so I can make some money." Oh, Jesus apparently cares about his money.
So, what sort of plans do you have now for your third release? Have you been working on that?
Not really. A little bit. I've been sitting at home for a month, two months. I started messing around with some ideas for the next one. I already got a bunch of ideas.
I'll make this the last question for you. What sort of message would you like to leave the readers with?
I never have a message for anybody. Check out our new shit and I hope you dig it.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer
Photo credits: Metal Sanchez and Karen Jerzyk.
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