RICHARD CHRISTY: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
If all Richard Christy ever did was play drums on Death’s phenomenal final album The Sound of Perseverance, it would be enough to secure his place in heavy metal Valhalla. That death metal classic gained so much from Christy’s nuanced performance that it’s almost criminal that he isn’t mentioned alongside your Lombardos, Reinerts and Dailors as one of the most creative drummers in extreme music. But you won’t find Christy complaining about lack of recognition, especially since he’s been so busy in the decade since Death’s demise. To fill in the gaps between his film directing and acting gigs (Christy played a Ku Klux Klansman in Harold and Kumar Go To Guantanamo), Christy has drummed for Iced Earth, Incantation, Acheron and Demons and Wizards. Of course that was all before he began his tenure as the resident prank caller on The Howard Stern Show. In fact, the only thing missing on Christy’s CV is a successful musical project of his own. That’s all looking to change with the forthcoming debut album by Charred Walls of the Damned, his new metal band with the ridiculous lineup of guitarist Jason Suecof (member of Capharnaum; producer/mixer for The Black Dahlia Murder/Trivium/All That Remains), bass god Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus/Death/Autopsy) and caterwauling vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest/Iced Earth). Christy took some time to yak with MetalSucks about his many career paths and the truly bizarre genesis of that band name.
So tell me, you’re one of the most trusted drummers in metal, but this Charred Walls of the Damned album is really the first time you’ve released an album with your own band. How did it feel to be at the helm for once?
It’s exciting, but it’s a lot of work also. When I was in Death and Iced Earth, I saw how much work Chuck (Schuldiner) did for the band and Jon (Schaffer) did for Iced Earth. I knew it was a big undertaking, but I love that side of it, too. I’m very interested in the kind of business side of music. I’ve had these riffs for years and always wanted to do something with them. I figured the best thing to do was to put my own thing together. It’s very exciting, it’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it.
Do you think of it as a solo record?
No, because Jason (Suecof) had a huge amount of input on it, too. He’s a killer producer. Jason and I have been writing songs together for about ten years now. When I lived down in Florida, I met Jason in 1999 and right away we became good friends. I knew he was a good songwriter. I wrote all the music, and I knew I would take it to Florida and get together with Jason and really fine tune everything. He rearranged a lot of stuff and did an amazing job producing the songs. He came up with a lot of the vocal melodies and vocal lines for the songs. He probably came up with sixty or seventy percent of that. I really wanted it to be a band effort. I pretty much wrote everything, but I was open to everybody’s ideas after that. Any ideas that Steve (DiGiorgio), Tim (Owens), and Jason had, I was open to. I didn’t want this to be a solo album where pretty much everything I wrote had to stay the way I wanted it. I was very open to everybody’s ideas.
That’s interesting to hear you say that, because I hear a lot of your past bands in “Voices Within the Walls” and “Ghost Town” – both terrific songs, by the way. How would you say that you developed your songwriting style over the years if this is really the first time that your stuff has been recorded?
Well, in a lot of the bands that I’ve been in – Burning Inside and some of the first bands that I played in back when I lived in Kansas and Missouri, I was very heavily involved in songwriting. Even in Death and Iced Earth, they were real cool about letting me come up with a lot of my own drum parts. Plus, working with Chuck from Death and Jon from Iced Earth, watching those guys write music was definitely inspiring for me. I’ve always loved writing music since I was a kid. I wrote music as far back as when I was in high school. It’s something that you always kind of improve upon. It’s just like learning an instrument – you get better as you do it more. I finally got to a point in the last year or two where I felt comfortable. I felt that my songwriting skills were good enough where I could maybe put a whole album together. It’s something that’s a blast to do. I love writing music. I love listening back and improving on songs. I’ll write a song and then change it 5 or 6 times before I’m satisfied with all the parts. I’m pretty much a guy that loves creating stuff, no matter what it is. I love creating music, I love creating comedy where I work for The Howard Stern Show. Songwriting is just a way of getting out all of your feelings and basically I just wanted to write music that I felt in my soul and that I hope other people will love too.
You mentioned the comedy track that your career has taken also. I know you’ve been an electrician, a horror actor and director. Do you consider all of these different avenues as different paths of your creativity or are they completely different parts of you?
I would definitely say that they’re all tied in together as far as loving to create things. I love creating characters in the phone calls that I do on Howard Stern. I love creating characters in the movies that I’ve written, the low budget movies that I’ve done, and also the movies that I’ve acted in. I love creating different aspects of myself as far as characters in movies and on radio. Even when I was an electrician, I loved creating and helping to build on construction sites. I love seeing the finished product and even turning on the lights in a room. It was such a satisfying feeling, knowing that is something that I created. Because of me, this building has electricity. It’s just all about creating and having something that will hopefully be around after I’m gone. A lot of it is that everybody wants to leave some kind of legacy, and I’m hoping that some of the things that I’m doing now, people will enjoy long after I’m gone.
Looking back at all the different strains of your professional life, is there one thing, one tour, or one statement that you’re most proud of accomplishing?
I’m proud of every different thing that I’ve done. Everything that I love, I have been lucky enough where I’ve been able to achieve something in that field. With music, I would say playing on Death’s album The Sound of Perseverance, as far as the drumming accomplishment. That is definitely my proudest drumming accomplishment because I was a huge Death fan from when I was in high school. I was always a big admirer of Chuck. He was a musical genius. To listen back to that album and to think about the great times we had recording and how proud I am of the drumming that I did on that album, it makes me very proud to think about that. In the comedy aspect of my life, being able to work for the greatest radio show, in my opinion, the funniest person that ever lived Howard Stern is just the ultimate dream. It blows my mind to think that I actually work there because it’s something that I was a huge fan of growing up. When I was an electrician, I would listen to Howard’s show every morning religiously. To think that I work there now is crazy. Even as far as doing the movie aspect of my career, I got to be in a movie that I’m a huge fan of. I was a huge fan of the Harold and Kumar movie, and I got to be in the sequel. That was another thing that I’m so proud of. Being a horror fan, I was recently in a movie called Albino Farm. It’s a really cool horror movie, and I’m really proud of that. It seems like a lot of aspects of my life – things that I’m a fan of, I’ve actually got to do. I’m very lucky, and it’s been a lot of hard work but worth every second of it.
No, it’s a funny story behind that name, and I love telling the story. It took me about three months to come up with a band name. Every good band name has been taken by now [laughs]. I was almost to the point of just throwing all the letters of the alphabet, you know, getting little letters of the alphabet that I could hold and throw them down on the ground and see what word comes up [laughs]. Because everything has been done. I had about two-hundred different possible band names written down, none of them really kind of caught me. When something would catch my ear, I’d Google it, and there was already a band that had it. It was getting very frustrating. The hardest part of being in a band nowadays is every cool name has been taken. I was trying to find a name while working on the Howard Stern Show. Myself and Sal Governale, who I work with, he’s kind of my comedy partner on there, we do a lot of prank calls for Howard’s show. We were prank calling this Christian radio station down in the southern part of the U.S. We were prank calling them over and over and we got some really funny prank calls. They do these shows called “tradio” where you can call up and sell your items on their radio show, or you can also e-mail items that you want to sell. We were e-mailing this crazy stuff like we had a golden shower and a fudge packing kit [laughs]. All this crazy stuff that weren’t real items. We just wanted to hear them. We even e-mailed a birthday message where they said, “We want to give a happy birthday shout out to curly pubes.” We would submit these goofy names, and we got these Christian radio people to say all this crazy stuff on the radio. A few days later they found out that we had pranked them. We were listening one day, and these two Christian radio hosts started saying how they didn’t know who we were, but they said that these two guys that had been prank calling them are going straight to hell because prank calling is a sin. We were laughing our asses off that we were getting a talking to from these Christian radio hosts. One of the hosts said that if we don’t change our ways and stop prank calling, that we’re going to be scratching our nails on the charred walls of the damned in hell. Sal and I heard that, and we looked at each other and were like, “That is a killer band name.” Charred Walls of the Damned, that this Christian radio host was admonishing us telling us that we’re going to go to hell. He said this name that I was blown away by. So right away I Googled the name, and nobody had the band name. That was it. I was like “Oh, that’s killer.” I ran the name by all my friends and asked them what they thought of it, and they really liked it. They said it’s a little bit long for a band name, but it’s cool. It’s something that’s different and hopefully the name will stick in people’s heads.
It’s a really poetic band name, and you wouldn’t think that this guy would just come up with that.
Yeah, I don’t know how the guy came up with it, if he was just saying something off the top of his head or if that’s an actual religious term. I don’t think it is because I Googled it and nothing came up. I’m thinking that this guy was just so angry about us prank calling him that he blurted out some word that happened to be a great band name.
You’ve got to thank him in the liner notes.
I think I did. I can’t remember. He probably doesn’t even know. They’re on this Christian, religious radio station, and I’m sure they’ve forgotten all about us by now. Little does he know that he came up with my band name.
I wonder if you can actually try and sell your CD on that tradio show.
Something tells me that they wouldn’t be willing to do that [laughs]. After all the pranking we did to them, I don’t think they’d be very happy about that. The thing is with prank calls with Sal and I, once we prank somebody a few times, we’ll leave them alone. We won’t persistently keep pranking them. We’ll let them be after a couple of times. We stopped after they gave us that talking to.
Back to the band: Charred Walls of the Damned truly has an all-star metal lineup with guys that I’ve been listening to for years. Did the band go through different iterations before you settled on this one?
No, these were all definitely my first choices. Jason and I have worked together for years, and he was an easy, definite first choice for producer and to record in his studio. Also, a lot of people might know because he’s mostly known as a producer now, but he’s an amazing guitar player. He’s a shredder.
Yeah that Capharnaum album, the most recent one, Fractured was it?
Yeah, that’s crazy stuff.
It’s so good.
And his brother is a massive drummer too. His brother is a killer drummer. That’s how I first came to know Jason was that he played me his band, Capharnaum, and I was like “this is crazy stuff.” He was definitely an easy choice for the first person that I would contact to be in the band. I talked to Steve, and I was a huge fan of Steve’s playing ever since Sadus and the Death Human album and especially Individual Thought Patterns. The bass is mixed very loud on that album, and it sounds incredible. When I heard the bass playing on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, I was like “that is the most amazing bass playing I have ever heard.” So he was a definite first choice, and I had worked with Steve before too. He actually played on the Death The Sound of Perseverance Demos but wasn’t able to play on the album unfortunately. He also played on the Control Denied album that I was on [The Fragile Art of Existence]. I had worked with Steve and was really good friends with him, and the same with Tim. I worked with Tim with Iced Earth, and we had a blast. We went out tour together, and he’s just a real down to earth nice guy who’s a lot of fun. All three of those guys have the same exact sense of humor as me, so we just had a blast in the studio. I know a ton of musicians, and there are a lot of guys who I would eventually love to work with, but these were all the first guys that I thought of and luckily all of our schedules worked out and we were able to put it all together.
Did you ever think about hiring a death metal growler before you brought Ripper on board?
Not really. I love death metal vocals, especially bands like Amon Amarth where it’s death metal singing but still has a sort of melody to it where it’s catchy. I love that, but when I was writing these lyrics, my thing was that I really wanted people to be able to hear the lyrics and for the lyrics to come out. I wanted it to be something that people could kind of sing along to. I loved Tim’s vocals, and he was just a natural choice for the band because I also wanted to do a lot of stuff with vocal harmonies. I love bands that do killer vocal harmonies, and I knew that Tim would be the perfect guy for that. I pretty much wanted to get a melodic singer where you could really hear the lyrics for this band.
Got it. So ever since the days of your joke band Bung Dizeez back in the early ’90s . . .
Oh this is the first interview that I’ve done where somebody mentioned Bung Dizeez. I’m honored.
[Laughs] I win! I do my research. MetalSucks is a classy publication.
Yeah, I was going to say “Man, you went way back in the day. I remember my band Bung Dizeez… ” me and two other guys – Paul Brewer and Gary White. Our first gig was on a hay wagon at a keg party.
We all wore jockstraps on the outside of our clothes and sang songs like “My Anus” and.. oh shit, I can’t remember exactly all the songs, but they were all goofy. They were mostly about drinking beer. We did a few covers like Judas Priest songs. There was another guy that would jam with us once in awhile, Les Henderson, and he knew a lot of Judas Priest stuff. We would do “Heading Out to the Highway” and “Living After Midnight.” That was kind of a joke band, but I learned a lot about songwriting in that band, believe it or not. We all would just get together and have fun, but we would write songs. I also played in another band at the time called Syzygy. I don’t know if that one came up in your research or not.
Yeah, they were kind of my first legitimate band, but then again, they were a cover band. I didn’t learn much about songwriting with them, but I learned a lot about booking gigs and playing live. I did my first ever legitimate gig with them when I was fifteen. It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day in ’89 or ’90. We did a gig in a Am Vet’s hall in Nevada, MO, and I got to see my first set of tits. There were a lot of bikers, and I love biker women because they love to show their boobs. Sure enough, we were playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” and she just had the urge to pull her boobs out and shake them. I was like “You know what? I think music is for me.” [laughs]
It’s really an involuntarily reaction to “Free Bird.”
I think it is. I think there is some subliminal message that if you hear “Free Bird,” you can hear faintly in the background “show your tits.” We might have just put that in our version [laughs].
So yeah, that was my first experience. It was a crazy experience to be a first band because we played a lot of real rough bars in Kansas. There was a place that we played called The Silver Spur in Fort Scott, Kansas, and it was a guaranteed thing that every time we play, somebody would get a pool stick broken over their back.
It was a guaranteed thing. That bar must have paid a fortune in new pool sticks. It was always fun to watch, and luckily my drums never got beat up. That was definitely an experience, and it kind of prepared me for the world of moshing and heavy metal.
I wanted to ask, Bung Dizeez wasn’t the only sort of humorous metal band that you’ve had. There’s Crotch Duster, and of course there was Caninus, the world’s only grindcore band fronted by two actual pitbulls. Ever since the beginning, it seems like metal and comedy have existed side by side for you.
[laughs] Well, yeah. I’ve always been a huge fan of mixing the two. I loved the movie Spinal Tap. I saw that when I was a kid. Spinal Tap is a hilarious movie, but the songs are amazing too. I always thought that metal, comedy and horror always go great together. Ninety percent of metalheads also love horror movies, and a lot of them have great senses of humor. It’s just a natural fit for me. When I was a kid, I was always kind of a goofy kid. As soon as I was able to play in a band, the first thing we thought of was writing funny, goofy lyrics. Then again, with this band I wanted it to be a serious metal thing. I didn’t want this to have any comedy aspect to it. I just wanted to write killer metal music. There’s a place for comedy and metal, but for this I wanted it to be just a serious, straight forward metal band. There are a lot of great comedy metal stuff out now like Metalocalypse, that I love. I love when bands mix that stuff.
You know about Austrian Death Machine too, right?
Of course. We played them on the Howard Stern Show about a month ago. They’re awesome.
What do you think metal and comedy can learn from each other?
Not to take yourself so seriously. Life is about having fun. Some of the most evil seeming metal people that you would think are just down to earth and have a great sense of humor and are normal people. My philosophy is just to have fun. Life is just so short. Whatever you do, no matter what you do, just have fun. I never take myself too seriously. That’s pretty much it.
You seem like a pretty open dude from everything that you’re saying, and also how you’re almost willing to let a male porn star cum on your back on the Howard Stern Show.
Well, thank God that didn’t happen [laughs].
Is there anything that MetalSucks readers might be surprised to find out about you?
I love Christmas music and Christmas lights. There is a lot of un-metal stuff that I do, but believe it or not, there’s probably more metal people than you think that are into that same kind of thing. I appreciate simple, little things like driving through Christmas lights. I love the Elvis Christmas album. I remember when I was on tour with Death, and we had HammerFall opening up for us. Every night, probably 10 times a night, we’d crank up the Elvis Christmas album. When we were on tour, it was December, and we decorated the bus with Christmas lights. We just had such a great time. I love Christmas. I guess another surprising thing that I love is, once in awhile, I’ll crank up some country music. I grew up in Kansas, so I guess that’s not too crazy. A lot of people wouldn’t know that about me. I love George Strait and Alan Jackson and listening to stuff like that because it kind of brings me back to growing up on a farm and that kind of thing. Working on the Howard Stern Show, part of the show is that we reveal everything about ourselves, so there really isn’t much about me that people wouldn’t already know if they listen to Howard Stern. I don’t think there’s anything that I can reveal that I haven’t already revealed on that show.
It’s interesting that you’re talking about growing up. I tend to forget, and I think a lot of people do, that metalheads aren’t necessarily metalheads from birth. They don’t come out wearing a Venom t-shirt.
Unless you’re Cronos’ kid.
Unless you’re Cronos’ kid. There’s something genetic about that. Maybe a lot of the anti-Christian sentiments that some metal bands have are a reaction of the Catholicism or Christianity that they grew up with. There’s plenty of people, at least at one point, appreciated strolling down Christmas tree lane.
Yeah. I was very lucky growing up that my parents were real cool. They never kind of forced me to go to church or anything like that. I’m not a religious person at all. I don’t care what people believe in as long as they’re not trying to shove it down my throat. Different strokes for different folks. Yeah, I think a lot of kids that were forced into going to religious school or forced into doing something that they didn’t want to do, reacted with metal as a good release and related to it more than what other people were trying to force them to do like going to church. For me, I was lucky enough that my aunt was really into Kiss and Meatloaf and some hard rock stuff. She bought me Kiss Alive! and the Peter Criss’ solo album when I was give years old. My neighbor when I was growing up, played me Quiet Riot Metal Health when it came out. For me, metal wasn’t really a reaction to any of my surroundings as far as rebelling or anything. To me, I just loved the music. I had always been attracted to more extreme and heavy music. The first time I heard Iron Maiden when I was about ten years old, I automatically loved it. Everybody has a different story about how they became a metal fan, but mine is pretty much that I was lucky enough to be around other older people that were into metal and they turned me onto it.
I was wondering about your drumming style where you’re clearly playing with some of the great musicians in metal and have in the past as well. It’s very technically demanding stuff. At the same time, I find that there’s a lot more texturally going on with your drumming, especially your percussion and cymbal work than your average metal drummer.
Thank you. I appreciate that. I would say that a lot of my drumming comes from stuff that I learned in high school and grade school – playing in marching bands and doing drum corps. I loved playing in marching band. We used to do a lot of parades when I was a kid and do all the football games. I would play the snare drum. So doing drum corps stuff which is a lot of snare drum work, really influenced me as far as my playing on a drum kit. I still practice a lot of drum corps solos. I take those rudimentary snare drum solos and kind of learn how to transfer those to a full drum kit. I love doing stuff like that. I think it gives you a little bit of a different style if you can take that form of snare drumming and transfer it over to a whole drum kit. So a lot of my influences come from being 10 years old and playing in the school band. I was lucky enough that my band teacher, when I was a kid, was a really good drummer. He really worked with me a lot and taught me a lot of great things. My parents were so cool that they bought me a drum kit when I was ten years old. When I was eleven, they bought me a Terry Bozzio instructional video. That was a huge influence for me – trying to learn his independence, and the way he plays. It’s kind of a mix of everything. When Malevolent Creation’s Retribution album came out, that was a huge influence on my drumming. Alex Marquez’s drum fills on that are insane. That was a big influence on me. It’s kind of all mixed together. It’s a mixture of all the drummers that I loved listening to like Shannon Larkin, Bobby Jarzombek, and Mikkey Dee kind of mixed with my drumming influences from marching band.
I understand that you’ve taken up guitar in the last few years. Would you say that your years as a drummer have sort of colored the way that you play guitar?
Yeah, definitely. I do pretty much approach the guitar in a kind of percussive way. When I’m writing riffs, I’ll think about what the drums would sound like with it. Some of my riffs that I write are real percussive, and I can imagine the drums playing right along with the beat of the riff. I started playing guitar in 1992, and I really never started getting real serious about it until 7 or 8 years ago. I’ve been practicing a lot more in the past several years. Any instrument that you play is going to leak over when you learn another instrument. I know a lot of piano players become drummers because piano is a very percussive instrument too. So yeah, it definitely has influenced the way I play guitar.
Okay, so just a couple of more questions. I heard rumblings that you’re raising money to finish the second Control Denied album that you and Chuck were working on when he passed away. What’s the status of that?
Well, we’re definitely going to finish it. That was one of Chuck’s last wishes that he really wanted people to hear that album. We all want to make sure that that’s going to happen – myself, Shannon (Hamm), Steve and Tim (Aymar). We’re going to do it, it’s just there’s been some things going on with the label that Chuck was signed with at the time. I think they got that all worked out. I’m still really close with Chuck’s family. They’re the nicest people in the world. I really want to do this album for them also. Yeah, we’re going to make it happen. It’s just taking a little bit of time with some legal stuff and also Chuck had recorded all his parts on a hard drive. I’ve been talking with Jim Morris, and the drums have been recorded since December of 2000. We’re talking with Jim Morris about getting Chuck’s parts and the drums together and getting all the other guys in the studio to kind of finish up everything else. Hopefully we’ll be able to make it happen sometime next year. If not next year, it’ll eventually happen, we just kind of got to get everybody’s schedules together. I know Jim Morris is very busy at Morrisound, but we’ll make it happen for sure.
How about Charred Wall of the Damned? Are you guys working on a tour any time soon?
Yeah, well we want to definitely do some stuff next year. In addition to me, it’s going to depend on my schedule with where I work on the Howard Stern Show, but he takes weeks off every now and then, so I might be able to go out and do a few shows or a week long tour. The other guys are also pretty busy. When I was putting this band together, it worked out great because not only am I pretty busy with my day job, but Steve, Tim and Jason also have a lot going on. So we’re not all waiting around for each other to go on tour. We’re very busy, but at the same time, I definitely want to do some shows and make it happen when our schedules do work out. It’ll be a special thing. I don’t think we’ll be able to go on tour for a month straight because we all have so much going on, but when we do do a show or festival, it’ll be a very special thing. We definitely want to make that happen. We’re talking now about scheduling some stuff for next year.
Well fantastic. That’s all I got, Richard. I’m really looking forward to hearing the entire album and seeing you live if you come to Los Angeles.
Thank you very much. I’m sure we will. And somebody just mentioned to me too to let you know that we’re thinking about doing the New England Metal Fest next year in April.
That would be awesome. I don’t think it’s confirmed yet, but we’ve been talking with them. That would be a great way to kind of introduce the band to everybody live.
Definitely thinking about doing that, and I also want to remind everybody that Metal Blade is doing something really cool at MetalBlade.com starting in mid-January or late January, you’ll be able to pre-order the album autographed by the whole band. It’ll be a special thing with about 500 or 1,000 copies. It’ll be a pretty special thing because we’ll have to mail the booklets all over the U.S. because everybody has to sign it. They send it to me in New York. I send it off to Tim in Ohio. Tim is sending the booklets off to Jason in Florida. He sends them off to Steve in San Francisco. It’ll be a pretty special thing, so if fans want a copy autographed by the whole band, they can go to metalblade.com probably starting in mid-January.
You spilled coffee all over them, didn’t you?
You probably don’t want to take a black light to them. You don’t know what you’ll find on them.