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Stan Ridgway Sets His Declaration of Independence to Music

February 29, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Stan Ridgway has always been a conscious individualist. Whether as a solo artist, as leader of '80s New Wave hit makers Wall of Voodoo, or as the mad genius behind the industrial mayhem of his current group, Drywall, Ridgway's vision has always been keenly his own, acutely focused in his own skewed fashion.

Now Ridgway, who performs Friday at the Coach House, has taken his autonomous ambitions to a new level. Liberating himself from major label constraints, he has teamed with former Dread Zeppelin guitarist Joe Ramsey to helm Birdcage Records, an artist-oriented label where creativity comes before commerce in the musical dictionary. Ridgway's first solo album for Birdcage, "Black Diamond," was released in December, with projects by Drywall and a number of others slated for release later this year.

"I met Joe, and we started talking, and incredibly enough, we had shared a similar nightmare about the business and so decided to join forces," Ridgway said in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles home. "It's working out really great because you don't have to be that big to get things going. The great thing about being independent is that the line from coming up with creative ideas and then getting it to the street is pretty straight. There isn't any middleman going, 'Hmmm . . . do you think this will sell?'

"See, when money gets involved, a project becomes racked with fear and expectations. People start wringing their hands and scratching their heads and wondering if you have the right snare sound. Then you finish it up and it takes months for them to even plan when to put it out because they want to be able to maximize their profit margin.

"Birdcage orients itself purely toward the artistic process, and then anything that comes after that is a plus. In fact, I came up with a slogan last night: 'Birdcage Records--The Place Where Artists Come Home to Roost.' "

"Black Diamond" shows the immediate fruits of Ridgway's efforts and newfound freedom. A minimalist, almost purely acoustic record, it's unlike anything the notoriously off-the-beaten-path Ridgway has yet produced.

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In particularly stark contrast to last year's debut by Drywall, "Black Diamond" is a stripped-down, more personal album filled with earnest to eerie ballads, many of which are about as close as Ridgway will ever get to playing folk music.

"It took a lot of discipline to make it," Ridgway said. "I'm known for piling it on. Between this and Drywall, I like the exchange of ideas between the two projects. I really felt like I wanted to make something quiet and introspective and minimal. It's taken me awhile to throw off feelings of always having to be unique or different. As I grow and mature, I enjoy the feeling of 'there's nothing new under the sun, so why don't I just go ahead and write some good old songs?' "

Ridgway, 40, seemed to genuinely revel in his sovereignty, apparently unconcerned with top-level sales potential, distribution, promotion or other perks which the big labels provide.

"All I ever wanted to do was play jazz in a smoky nightclub anyway," he said. "That was it. I always loved that idea. When I had 'Mexican Radio' [Wall of Voodoo's 1981 hit single] and a lot of other things happen, there were a lot of expectations placed on me. I know that if I had presented 'Black Diamond' to anyone at any major label, they would have gone, 'Interesting. Now why don't we call up the flavor-of-the-month producer and see if he can flesh it out.' "

Ridgway will continue to perform and record both under his own name and with Drywall, whose next project will be a CD-ROM. He said he enjoys the yin-yang relationship between Drywall and his solo work.

"I look at Drywall as my mad-scientist angle," he said. "There's a part of me that really does love to get old electronic junk and plug it in wrong and see what it sounds like when it explodes. Then there's another side of me that just wants to take the acoustic guitar to the beach and have a beer and see what happens."

Other projects in the works for Birdcage Records are albums by Hecate's Angels (a group which features Drywall keyboardist Pietra Wexstun), G.E. Stinson (formerly with Shadowfax) and a Stinson-produced album by a group called A Thousand Other Names.

"We're going to do things of quality and see where we can go artistically," Ridgway said. "We're itty-bitty small Birdcage, but we're going to be having a good time. There's an old Italian saying: 'When it's your thing, one does the work of three.' "

* Who: Stan Ridgway.

* When: Friday at 8 p.m. With Lee Adams opening.

* Where: Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

* Whereabouts: Exit Interstate 5 at Camino Capistrano; turn left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza.

* Wherewithal: $13.50.

* Where to call: (714) 496-8930.

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