Will Rigby – Not so vain
Will Rigby is “one of a mere handful of rock drummers with a sound of his own beyond mere beat-keeping.” Or so claimed the dB’s write-up in the fourth edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide, published in 1991.
“If that’s true, I’m glad,” offers Rigby after the quote is forced on him. “I could probably see it more on the dB’s records than with the kind of stuff I’m doing now….I think I was a more exciting drummer in the dB’s, but that’s just because I was young.”
Even in those wild early days, however, Rigby considered himself a songwriter’s drummer. “Everything is about developing the song itself,” he continues. “I’ve always thought like a songwriter, and now it’s even become more ‘Just stay out of the way of the song.’ That’s really what I try to do.”
Rigby certainly has played with plenty of songwriters, including Steve Earle, Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Cheri Knight and Freedy Johnston during a professional career that’s creeping up on the 30-year mark. (He started young.) He’s also a bit of a songwriter himself, although he appears to be struggling with the self-promotion aspect of that vocation.
“I’ve always been more a drummer than a songwriter,” he says. “I mean, I like writing songs, and I like my songs. But my career has been more about the drumming than the songwriting. I didn’t really get serious about songwriting until the ’90s. And I’m not that serious, as you can tell from listening to my songs.”
Serious or not, Rigby did put out a solo album when he was a member of the dB’s, the band he formed with fellow expatriate North Carolinians Stamey and Gene Holder in New York City in the late 1970s. (Rigby’s longtime Winston-Salem pal Holsapple migrated north and joined the band four months after its inception.)
The smartly titled Sidekick Phenomenon, released in 1985 on Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s Egon label, is quite literally the sound of Rigby messing around in the dB’s rehearsal studio after hours. Served up are lo-fi, mostly one-man-band versions of Hank Williams’ “Settin’ The Woods On Fire” and Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Hold Myself In Line” alongside reluctant but endearing original tunes such as “Heart’s Expired” and “Two Or Three Things”.
After keeping a low profile for a couple years after the demise of the dB’s — “I sort of was on the daddy track for a while,” he explains — Rigby toured with former Guadalcanal Diary frontman Murray Attaway and then Matthew Sweet. Though he recorded a single titled “Ricky Skaggs Tonight” for Brooklyn-based Diesel Only Records in 1990, he says his ties to the NYC roots scene were only tangential until he started playing with Laura Cantrell in the mid-’90s.
Shortly thereafter, he contributed his trademark sympathetic drumming to both of Cheri Knight’s albums, backed Kelly Willis on a brief tour and on two stellar compilation tracks (Lowell George’s “Truckstop Girl” on Rig Rock Deluxe and “That’s How I Got To Memphis” on the Tom T. Hall tribute Real). He began playing with Earle in 1999 and continues in that role today.
Throughout that busy decade, Rigby was writing and stockpiling songs, a dozen of which (plus a resurrected bonus track of “Ricky Skaggs Tonight”) have ended up on Paradoxaholic, his first full-length album in seventeen years. Like his debut, Paradoxaholic was an off-hours adventure in recording, with Rigby doing sessions in exchange for recording time. However, it was definitely more planned out than its predecessor. “It’s professionally recorded, I’ll say that for it,” says Rigby, still struggling with the marketing side of the business.
On Paradoxaholic, you’ll find echoes of the initially exuberant and ultimately rustic pop of the dB’s. But there’s also shades of NRBQ and the Yayhoos, as well as several songs (most notably the punk-poppy “Midas Beige”) on which Rigby comes off like a Young Fresh Fellow with a North Carolina upbringing.
Rigby’s songwriting philosophy is simple: “I just try to make every one different,” he says. His songs are rooted in reality, and have a disarming “what you hear is what you get” quality. “My songs tend to be about fairly specific things,” he acknowledges. “Even a lot of the more love-oriented songs tend to be on the specific side. ‘Sensible Shoes’ is a pretty good example of that.”
In “Jerks At Work”, Rigby revisits a wretched, immediately post-dB’s job and names names, while “Wheelchair, Drunk” recounts a lost night from the ’70s. “Get Away Get Away” is written from the point of view of a female singing to a cheating partner.
Then there’s “This Song Isn’t Even About You” — a “You’re So Vain” for the new millennium, right? “Everybody says that,” chimes Rigby, simultaneously laughing and dashing my hopes that I’d come up with a unique insight. “I swear to god that never occurred to me. I don’t know why — it seems pretty obvious in retrospect.”