NEW YORK — Dax Riggs has a few demons chasing him: John Merrick, God and Axl Rose. As strange a triumvirate as they form, they all play a pretty significant part in Riggs’ band, Deadboy & the Elephantmen, who close out fashion week on Feb. 10 at Northsix and Feb. 11 at Mercury Lounge.
First, there’s the name of his band — he plays thrashing lead guitar to Tessie Brunet’s stripped-down drums — based on his ongoing fascination with Merrick, the tragic, disfigured hero of the 19th century. “As a child, I was obsessed with the Elephant Man,” he says. “It still kind of affects me, like I’ll roll over in bed and he’ll be there.
“People thought that he was the devil or the Leviathan and really he was just a gentle, artistic person,” Riggs adds. He draws a parallel with his music — a gritty sound masking painfully sincere lyrics.
Riggs’ childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness rounds out the band’s moniker. “‘Deadboy’ is just a person born in this time frame with the apocalyptic mind-set that from the day we’re born — at least I was — that the world is not going to last.” And yet, Riggs, 28, is strangely optimistic. “I see God every day,” he says. “Just in the beauty of my surroundings.” Especially in that of his Katrina-ravaged home state, Louisiana, which is in the middle of reconstruction.
It was while growing up in Louisiana that Riggs discovered music and, more specifically, heavy metal, which caused his break from institutionalized religion. “There was a point, around 10 years ago, when you wanted Iron Maiden records,” he recalls. “And you couldn’t have them because God didn’t want you to.” So he dropped out of eighth grade, moved to Florida and tried making it in a band. By 17, he was back in Louisiana fronting a thrash metal outfit called Acid Bath.
Eventually, he tapped into his love of David Bowie, John Lennon and the like and hooked up with drummer Brunet. She was exactly what he needed after years in metal — “someone who didn’t overplay, someone who liked Buddy Holly as much as I do and could play simplistically on the drums and not go nuts.” (The two start a capsule American tour, opening for the Fiery Furnaces, this Monday.)
This story first appeared in the February 4, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But once a metalhead, always a metalhead. Riggs still gives bands like P.O.D. (Payable on Death) a spin, as well as Guns N’ Roses. And he’s keeping tabs on Guns’ lead singer Axl Rose, the once sexy, svelte singer who’s fallen from grace since the early Nineties. “This is one of the great stories of the future — what kind of madness is going on in Axl’s bunker,” says Riggs. “I would hate to say anything bad, though. He might send some people to rough me up.”