It’s a night of kicks. Up on stage, the lead singer grips the microphone as he kicks its stand out from under it and, in the same fluid motion, kicks the stand back up straight into his other hand. Leaning off the edge of the stage toward the gathering crowd, he finishes the song with a cathartic, raw, primal scream of “revolution!”
I knew nothing of The Delta Riggs when I wandered into their Taix Champagne Room set on the final night of LA’s Culture Collide. They had arrived from Australia that morning, already played a set that afternoon, and released their latest album only nine days earlier. Now here they were, filled with fire and exigency, and Elliott Hammond, their vocalist and front man whose stage presence is one part spontaneous spectacle, one part performance art, was jumping in front of our photographer, looking right at him for that final scream into the microphone.
The Delta Riggs’ music is pure rock. Not merely its redux, but innovation within a musical space that should by this point in time be exhausted. Their current album, Dipz Zebazios, shows R&B influence in the DNA of every track, its funky beats recorded in a studio with images of New York on the walls for inspiration. Yet, the result can only be called rock and roll.Yet, live is where they shine brightest, and parts of that night at the Taix play out like a small frenetic rampages. Hammond dances in an ostensibly haphazard fashion, falling out of his beat up white converse at every turn like a drunk perpetually in the moment of giving himself over. And yet, here and there are moments of coordinated purpose that belie a holistic lawlessness and intimate a more deliberate performance.
He bungees the mic stand away from himself and pulls it back with the cord at the final moment, catching it in his hand and continuing straight on into the twist. He picks up what looks like an old radio microphone from the floor and he sings into it, leaning obsessively over the buttons of a mixer, distorting the sound of his voice. He drops the microphone on the ground from shoulder height and runs off to the wings of the stage to return with stars and stripes maracas, which he plays for a few beats before flying across the stage to a keyboard. Bassist Michael Tramonte addresses the riled-up crowd, whose energy (and size) has been growing exponentially with each song. “We played earlier today—” “—who gives a fuck where we played today?” interrupts Hammond, who during the brief pause between songs put on a hat and got a guitar. “We just saw bloody Elvis from Sons of Anarchy outside, he was wearing a vest and track pants.”
They begin playing “Bobby’s Flowers,” a funky, infectious song that culminates in a drum solo so furious that at some point one starts to feel like an unintended witness to drummer Simon McConnell taking all life’s frustrations out on the kit, wondering how the snares aren’t ripping and the cymbals aren’t flying off.
“He was really nasty, just looked at me and scowled. I wanted to say hi but I don’t think he would have enjoyed that,” says Hammond once it’s over, seamlessly continuing his story about Sons of Anarchy’s Elvis.
A beer appears in his hand as the next song heats up, and he hops around the stage despite it, sloshing liquid out of the sides of the can with every bounce. Next comes the night’s drama. He leaps off the stage and gets in face of a long-haired guy in the front row, a friend of his, who laughs and takes a mock-assertive step toward him in response. As Hammond turns to get back on stage, a tall red-clad woman with an afro emerges from the crowd at a run, hot on his trail. Just as he has one foot back on the stage, she grabs him by the back of his T-shirt and pulls him back down towards the ground – hard – before disappearing as quickly as she had appeared. Tramonte would later describe her from his vantage point onstage as appearing “out of nowhere, like a Cheetah.” Catching his breath, Hammond finally made it back onstage and finished the song. “I got a bit roughed up,” he noted at the end of the song. “You’re a strong lady.”
For the last song of the night, “From Above,” the soft final note on Dipz Zebazios, Tramonte switches to an acoustic guitar. “If the darkness could change your mind/ I’d fall asleep for days…” Hammond sings over the keyboard. As the final spectacular drum solo begins, he picks up his beer and, with a final gesture to the crowd, is already off the stage, high-fiving a fan over the barricade, as the applause erupts.
A week later, I’ve caught up with Tramonte, who goes by “Monte,” and Hammond to talk about that night, their new album, their onstage energy, and why maracas aren’t a prop. They have just gotten back from New York, where Elliott chipped his tooth while performing at CMJ Music Marathon. We’re less than a mile and a half from the Taix, sitting in their tour van in the parking lot of The Satellite in Silver Lake, where they’re about to go on stage.
MIP: How was New York?
Monte: It was nice. It’s the city that ever sleeps, and it’s the city you go to to never sleep. It was a pretty grueling schedule for bands though, CMJ, you’d be playing at like 2 pm and then 1:30 at night, but it’s super fun at the same time because you’re always on the go.
MIP: Last week your Culture Collide set at the Taix got crazy. What was that show like from your perspective on the stage?
Monte: That was my favorite show of this whole tour, I reckon.
Elliott: We were pretty wired because we just flew in that morning, and we’d already played another show. We got in at 8 in the morning, played a showcase at like 1 pm and then that was like 11 pm.
Monte: The thing that I liked about it was it started off with a smaller crowd, but as it went on, the crowd grew and it seemed like they were really engaged. That stuff, you notice.
Elliott: I read a review on that show and it said we were like the bad boys of the night, but we are so… we have like the best manners. We’re so nice! I don’t get why they always make us out to be the bad boys of rock and roll, when we’re not even bad. People just… I don’t know why they say that.
Monte: Maybe because we carry on.
Elliott: We’ve got feelings too.
Monte: Maybe because you’ve chipped your tooth, you’re walking around with it, they think you’re a badass.
Elliott: Punk rock.
MIP: That is pretty punk rock, if you chipped your tooth on stage.
Monte: With a microphone.
Elliott: I’m secretly liking it, I look fucking a bit more dangerous.
Monte: The bad boy of rock and roll.
MIP: What were you doing when you chipped it?
Elliott: Just singing. We’ve got this massive mic with a delay on it, and I threw it up and my hand must have slipped and just smashed in so hard. I was spitting shit out and the tooth went just down my throat, but it didn’t hurt at all.
Monte: It was the nighttime show, I think Pianos on Ludlow Street.
Elliott: It was the only solid that had passed through my lips in like two days or something.
Monte: It was kind of nutritional.
Elliott: It was better than nothing.
Monte: it was a nutritional tooth.
MIP: During that Culture Collide show, some lady attacked you as you were getting back on the stage – what was that?
Elliott: She was so strong. I tried to jump away from her and when I was mid-flight into the air, she just snapped me back. Like you know when you come off a wave and you’re just getting pummeled?
Monte: And the thing swoops you up again.
Elliott: And it gets you again and you’re just like stopped and pulled back. It was like that. I was a bit rattled, actually, by that.
Monte: He got manhandled.
Elliott: She was fucking… like if a guy did that to a girl, if there was a girl singer and a guy did that, that would be a big problem, but everyone thought it was just –
Monte: – hilarious. But poor little Elliott was all upset.
Elliott: I wasn’t upset by it, but after the show I was a little, like – she was so fucking strong. She fully had me. She could have just thrown me down.
Monte: Like a bear to the salmon… I was just watching Attenborough earlier.
Elliott: At least it added some excitement to the show.
Monte: See, that’s something you can’t replicate. That never happened again, in any of our shows. Hence why it was also one of the better shows.
MIP: You guys are consistently praised for your fantastic stage presence. Did that evolve somehow or was it intentional – how did that come together?
Monte: That’s a good question. It wasn’t really a conscious thing, was it, El?
Elliott: We kind of all came out of the punk scene.
Monte: We all love punk, it’s that urgency.
Elliott: Like when you go see AFI or Refused or the best kind of punk bands, like At the Drive-In and shit, it’s all just so dangerous. It’s that urgency in the performance, I think is where it comes from. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition: we’re playing rock and roll and appear kind of like a punk band. But it’s very natural. We would do that just in jams by ourselves if we felt like it. It’s never like getting all psyched up to go do it.
Monte: At the same time, you’re there to entertain people. It helps people in the crowd feel more comfortable. You know what I mean? If you’re loosened up, they’re loosened up. It’s good for everybody.
MIP: How conscious of the crowd are you? Do you feed off of that energy too, or is it more that you would be doing this whether they were there or not?
Monte: I have this thing that says play the same to ten people as you would to ten thousand. Because they’re still there.
Elliott: I think when they get on board and start to go nuts it makes jamming fire up. There used to be times back in the day when we would play to no one, and you’d play more as just rebelling against it – fuck you guys! – the sound guys just reading the paper and two dudes having a conversation with their backs to us.
MIP: So then what are your recording sessions like?
Elliott: We don’t have that much money, so we have to do like a full album in three days. Like three twenty-four hour days.
Monte: We go at it, we do a lot of it live.
Elliott: We do most of it live. We usually spend like a day before we go it like sourcing all the sounds and production, because we produce it ourselves. We get a palate of sounds that we’re trying to chase, so we spend the first day like setting up all this stuff. We use a lot of double drum kits and we’ve developed a lot of our own recording techniques. We spend that first day just getting all that shit sorted out, and then also kind of theming the studio some way. This time we were going for a kind of R&B influence, Monte got all these A0-sized posters of like…
Monte: People playing basketball on the street and the New York City skyline.
Elliott: These massive things that just cover the whole studio and then the next two days we just recorded the album.
Monte: It’s fun, we’re all in there together. A lot of bands go in, they do their parts and then they leave. It’s like we’re all in there for the whole time together. It’s not this, “No part is done, I’m leaving. You will not redo them. And I am very pompous, my parts are the best parts.”
Elliott: “My parts are the only parts.”
MIP: Elliott, you seem to have collected a lot of mic stand tricks. You did at least like five different things with a mic stand that I’ve seen almost no one else do.
Elliott: That’s bullshit!
Monte: He’s ripped almost every one of them off.
MIP: Where do you get them from?
Elliott: I ripped ’em off, mainly. From all the people you’d expect, like James Brown. Fuck, now everyone’s gonna go do this shit. But all you have to do is go on YouTube and find James Brown dancing lessons and you can watch this shit over and over and over again. I guess like most of them I ripped off of him, some of them from Derek from Refused, and Cedric. But they’re the best, still far superior to me. I don’t put myself up there as an…
Monte: Elitist of the mic stand.
Elliott: It’s like amazing every time I fucking catch the thing. I’m still surprised when it falls in my hand. Sometimes I just punch it and I’m like, I’ll throw it even further this time, as if I’ll catch this, and it just lands in my hand. Very rarely does it not.
MIP: You also have a lot of props, like those maracas.
Monte: Bells and whistles – we used to have a harmonica.
Elliott: Props? That’s a prop? When did an instrument become a prop? [Laughing] It’s not like a fucking smoke machine!
MIP: You played them for like thirty seconds!
Elliott: Yeah, cuz I forgot about them! It’s just whatever strikes me.
Monte: He sometimes forgets they’re there. He’s like a bird, you know when a bird’s nesting and just picks things up? Something shiny, hello!
MIP: Sorry; not a prop, an instrument. That’s my bad. That’s on me.
Monte: Yes, you should rescind that comment.
MIP: I do. I formally rescind it.
Elliott: Yes, we really owe that to the set designer. [Laughter] Jessica in Wardrobe, she’s really gonna cop it! Didn’t make that maraca prop subtle enough. They knew it was a prop!
MIP: You said this one had a bit more an R&B vibe. What R&B artists inspire you, who do you listen to?
Elliott: The Fujis.
Monte: N.E.R.D, Outkast… [the influence is] more groove-based and about vocal delivery. People can misconstrue a lot when we say we’re doing a hip-hop record. It’s like, “are you rapping?” No, we’re not rapping. “Rap-rock?” No, we’re not Lincoln Park. Not Kid Rock. Just the groove, the actual beat and the production, is that hip hop influence we went for. And you can actually really hear it. We’ve had some really cool reviews of the record back home, and we’d been really concerned that people wouldn’t understand it or like wouldn’t get the progression, but everyone’s really taken it. It’s almost spelled out for you.
Elliott: It’s like peeling an apple. Some people want to have it with the skin on, but we’re like, “No, you’re not having it with the skin on. We’ve peeled it.” They might be resistant at the start because they like the texture of the skin, but once they feel – hear – the sweetness, that’s soft, crunchy, doesn’t take as long to chew. This record, you can absorb it and swallow it quickly.
Monte: Now, there is a metaphor. The headline for this interview: “Delta Riggs say their New Album is Like an Unpeeled Apple.”
Elliott: Like a peeled apple… the metaphor is questionable.
MIP: What are some other places you guys find inspiration?
Elliott: We like Carl Sagan.
Monte: Carl Sagan is, subtly. Just the way he looks at the world, he’s quite inspirational. New York last time was quite inspirational, this time not so much. I guess it’s whenever you are in your headspace. Music, when you find a really good band, that’s always fun, and you feel inspired by that.
Elliott: That’s still exciting, finding new albums and finding new bands.
MIP: What’s next for you guys?
Monte: We go home tomorrow and then we’ve got our album tour in a month, which will be good fun. Then we’ve got some festivals over the summer. We’re probably going to go to Europe at some point, or come back here. We’ll be back here soon.
MIP: Is there anywhere you’d like to tour that you haven’t?
Monte: Iceland, and Japan. I’d love to go to Japan. I just feel like a Japanese audience would really love our band, because they’re into exciting things and I think we’re exciting.
Elliott: We’re so exciting.
Valet at The Satellite: [Approaching the open door of the van] Hello, hi, how are you?
[Gestures at the van] You need to move it.
Monte: Oh, we’re playing next door.
Valet: This is valet parking only, and tonight is busy. In one hour, it’ll be busy.
Elliott: Well that’s a shame, because we’ll almost be off stage in an hour.
Valet: You need to move it.
After getting the van moved, playing a heated set at The Satellite to a swaying sea of people in Halloween costumes, partying into the night with their LA-based friends, and taking a fourteen- hour flight home the following day, The Delta Riggs officially announced upon touchdown that they will be opening for Foo Fighters on the Australian leg of their Sonic Highways tour early next year. Which is pretty fucking punk rock.
Dipz Zebazios is available for listen and download at http://thedeltariggs.bandcamp.com/releases
Interview by Bojana Sandic
Photography by David Reeve