Richard Christy of Charred Walls of the Damned (Iced Earth, Death, Howard Stern Show) talks Stern, metal and haunted houses with us
In heavy metal and drum magazine circles, Richard Christy is considered one of the greatest modern drummers around due to his work in Death, Iced Earth, Control Denied and now, his new band Charred Walls of the Damned. On Sirius Satellite Radio and the Howard Stern Show he is known as one of the funniest sons of bitches alive which is only reinforced by his Killers of Comedy tours with folks like labelmate and fellow metalhead Don Jamieson. Charred Walls of the Damned have recently released their second album “Cold Winds On Timeless Days” which is the follow-up to their acclaimed debut. The band plans on touring this new year and continuing to turn heads with a truly unique sound, blending ultra-heavy music with the melodic vocals of Tim “Ripper” Owens. I am a fan of the band, the show, and Richard personally so it was an absolute blast to catch up with him recently for this conversation. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: You’ve got a long history of playing drums prior to forming Charred Walls of the Damned and a long history of being a metalhead going back to your growing up. I love hearing your stories of being a kid in Kansas, probably cause I also grew up BORED in the middle of nowhere in Illinois.
Richard Christy: Yeah, you can understand for sure then. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and luckily I had a really cool neighbor named Larry who was two years older than me and was into metal. I remember the very first time he played me Quiet Riot “METAL HEALTH” which came out in 83. He played it for me and I heard those drums and that music and was just blown away. I was new to that whole sound and when I heard it I just thought “This is the coolest sounding stuff I have ever heard.” I was a little bit familiar with hard rock because I loved KISS as a kid since I was like four years old when my aunt got me into them but QUIET RIOT felt like the next step up in terms of heaviness. I still remember saving my allowance for a few weeks and buying the “Metal Health” cassette. Right after that I heard Twisted Sister “Stay Hungry” and that just blew me away and then it was onto even heavier stuff like Iron Maiden “Powerslave” and it just progressed from there. I’ve been a metalhead ever since and I think that if you’re a true metalhead you are a metalhead FOR LIFE. I think anyone that is can remember their first metal album or the first time they got into that music and it really still means something to them. It’s a special thing.
LRI: I grew up in a town of 1200 people where you were considered cool for driving your tractor to high school.
RC: (laughs). That’s so funny. To me, growing up a town that big would be like New York City. The closest town to us had like 30 or so people (laughs). We had a lot of people riding around on their lawn mowers back in Kansas where I grew up, it was a constant thing to have to drive behind someone on the road who was on a lawn mower. That’s so funny John.
LRI: KISS was my gateway drug too and then, like you said, all hell broke loose. Did you hand with other kids like that or were you an outcast in school, like a “metal kid” or “longhair”….Did you stand out or fit in?
RC: You know, it’s funny, back in the 80s growing up, there WAS a small amount of people who were into metal and those few people were the ones that I hung out with, the metalheads. But that’s what I liked about it. If you grew up in those areas at that time and were into Slayer or Megadeth you would definitely get some looks or have people talk about you because you were for sure an outcast. I liked that though, I thought that was really cool to be into something that scared people or people didn’t understand. Metalheads are like a family and you have a special bond with them, especially in a small town where people are close minded about stuff like that. I remember listening to Grim Reaper and King Diamond on my friend Jason LaRue’s boombox in the hallway, all the girls and jocks looked at us like we were freaks but we WANTED them to look at us like we were freaks. We wanted to be the outcasts because we were into that and we knew that there were all kinds of kids like us all over the world even if there weren’t in our little school. It’s something that I latched onto at a very young age, that outcast mentality and still to this day metal is still VERY underground but that’s what makes it cool to me. When you meet someone and you have all these bands and music in common and have all this stuff to bond over and talk about it’s really fun. It’s the coolest thing to meet people you’ve never met and having all that stuff in common, I will always love meeting people and talking metal with them.
LRI: You’ve talked before about how Stryper is one of your favorite bands as well as Slayer and that’s something I was just talking to one of the guys that was in Korn about.
RC: They really are John. I love Stryper, I got into them around the “To Hell With the Devil” album and at the time I was also just discovering King Diamond and Mercyful Fate (laughs). So, out of two of my favorite bands, one of them is Christian and the other one is Satanic, I really don’t judge a band based on their beliefs. I just loved Stryper because of their music and the same with King Diamond. I do remember that same neighbor who introduced me to metal telling me “Oh, Richard you better not tell anyone that you like Stryper because they’re a Christian band and that’s not cool man!” and weirdly enough that just made them that much COOLER to me that they would be considered UNCOOL (laughs). I was just talking to a good friend of mine about this very topic and he told me something that I have always kind of thought and that is that in the 80s, STRYPER was about the most rebellious band out there. Every other band was into the total opposite, evil thing and they really went against the grain in their whole approach which was pretty unheard of.
LRI: I love it when your dad calls into the Stern show. What did your hard working farmer parents think of your becoming a metalhead and getting into music and drumming?
RC: My parents were SO supportive of my music and my choices and my drumming. I could not have asked for MORE supportive parents. When I meet people who are supportive of their kids loving music or playing music it just reminds me so much of my relationship with my parents. They bought me my first drumpad and drumsticks when I was ten and I practiced until they bought me a full kit. I remember they found me a drumset for a hundred bucks in a junkyard in Kansas and I played it constantly. I played it so much and the coolest thing I can tell you when I think back is that they got SO used to me practicing that they were able to take naps while I was in the other room playing. That blows my mind. They could see that it was a positive force in my life, they could see me working at it and that it consumed me in a positive way rather than running around getting into trouble or drugs. It actually kept me doing well in school too because I had to keep my grades up in order to play drums in band. Every Christmas I would get instructional drum videos, like Terry Bozzio videos and they even took me to my first concert when I was fourteen which was Stryper and White Lion in Springfield, Missouri.
LRI: Wow…that tour was one of my first shows too. My sister took me to it when it came through Rockford, Illinois. Both of those bands killed.
RC: They did, both of them. I remember that show because it was my first show ever but also because it was one of the loudest concerts I have ever been to in my entire life. The three loudest shows ever have been Manowar, Stryper and Motorhead. I was sitting pretty close and didn’t have earplugs in and I can honestly say that I went partially deaf at that very show. To this day, I still have ringing in one ear that started with that night. It was so cool that my parents got me a fake doctor’s note and got me out of class so we could drive to Missouri for the show and then the next day was so funny because everyone was asking me where I was the day before and I couldn’t hear a single thing any of them were saying (laughs).
LRI: What was your first experience of actually BEING in a band back then?
RC: The first band that really taught me how to play together in a group was the school band and I still emphasize that to kids who wanna get into music and are just starting out. They wanna go right into rock but it’s really important to have some of that rudimentary experience and learn ALL kinds of music not just metal. School band and music programs are really, really important and can save kids and really be a positive force in their lives. 1984 was the year I heard Alex Van Halen on “Hot For Teacher” and the moment I decided I wanted to be a drummer and also when I started playing music in school. It was a big year for drumming with Motley and Van Halen and I remember there were so many kids trying out for drums that they kind of had to whittle it down with rhythm testing and exams and luckily I passed. I might have ended up on saxophone and I don’t think you would be talking to me right now because I don’t think I would have been the next Kenny G. I thank my band teachers all the time for everything they taught me and there’s a song on the new Charred Walls album called “Forever Marching On” which is about that experience I had in marching band and how much I LOVED it. I still practice to some of that drum corps style music on my snare. My first rock band was a band called Syzygy and I remember there was a guy who lived in the next town over from me and had super, super long hair and even in the 80s he was the ONLY guy around who had really long hair. I would always see him driving around and I thought he was the coolest looking guy but I had no idea who he was (laughs). One day, I found out that he had a band and they were looking for a drummer so I called him and arranged an audition. He came to my parent’s farm and watched me play and I joined the band. We ended up playing a lot of bars in the area and this was back when I was about 15 or so and luckily the rules as far as kids getting into those places were pretty lax so I was able to get quite a few paying gigs in while I was in high school and some of them were pretty crazy. We used to play a place in Kansas called the Silver Spur and on average there were about three or four poolsticks broken over people’s heads and fights breaking out EVERY NIGHT. It is still one of the roughest places I have ever seen or played at but it was entertaining to see and fun to be at. We’d play Metallica “Seek and Destroy” and all these rednecks would get worked up and start beating the shit out of each other (laughs). I would just sit back on my kit and watch it and enjoy the hell out of the free WWF as long as they didn’t bash into my drums it was fine. It was kind of like a mini version of the movie Roadhouse so I got a nice crash course in playing gigs in these rough ass country music bars, where Motorhead and Metallica just seemed to make them go crazy.
LRI: How in the hell did you go from the middle of nowhere to being in established metal bands like ICED EARTH and DEATH?
RC: Well, it was really kind of a slow process. I had a scholarship when I was 18 to go to college for music and the night before I was supposed to start school I get a call from a band who was from Springfield, Missouri that I was a really big fan of. My friends knew I was a big fan and unbeknownst to me kind of set up this meeting between me and this band who cold called me and said, we’re gonna be in your town tomorrow on our way to a show in Lawrence, Kansas. The show was Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Malevolent Creation and Agnostic Front and they said can we swing by your parents house for an audition. I ended up joining that band the next day that I was supposed to start college just because I was such a huge fan of their music. They were called Public Assassin. I was kind of torn because I really wanted to go to college for music but at the same time I really wanted to join this band and move to a big town like Springfield and make that step toward playing in a legitimate band. After that band I moved down to Florida and met Chuck Schuldiner of Death. I had been a DEATH fan since high school and had practiced along to all of their albums and knew their music back and forth. I was very lucky to have told Chuck that and to have gotten an audition and was very prepared and I got the gig. The Iced Earth gig came after that through some friends of mine Jim and Andrew at Century Media records. It’s that old cliché that a lot of things can happen based on relationships and who you know. I tried to prepare myself as best I could and meet as many people in the metal scene as possible.
LRI: It was also a lot of hard work, long drives and difficult conditions as it is for many working musicians. Did it get to be a grind and that’s how you decided to go for the Howard Stern gig?
RC: I really had no intentions of taking a break when the Howard gig came about. It was my dream job to work on the show and I am so, so thankful. I think if I hadn’t gotten the job I would still be plugging along in bands and doing tours and all that like I was because I did love doing it. To me, even being out there and playing places and touring in a van is better than having a job doing something you DON’T wanna do. It was hard sometimes, I lived in a storage unit for years while I was down in Florida. Even back in Missouri I lived in an old warehouse while I was in Public Assassin which wasn’t the best living conditions. Recently, my wife and I went to a storage unit because we live in a small apartment here in New York and we have to have a storage unit for a lot of our stuff like Halloween and Christmas Decorations and stuff. I told my wife “Can you believe I LIVED in one of these things for years, eight years actually”. She just could not believe it because storage units are about one of the most depressing places you could ever be at in your life. It’s funny now when I watch that show “Storage Wars” because I’m always thinking how funny it would be if they opened one of those up and I was standing there naked like I often would have been. That would be funny shit. (laughs). I had to be naked though because I lived there forever and in Florida it would just get sweltering in there, for many years I lived in there without air conditioning and it was insane. I did it all because I was young, I wanted to play drums and I wanted to be with my drums in the storage unit and I wanted to keep practicing. It made it worth it because even if we squeezed into a hot van it was still better than a steel door storage unit that was 110 degrees. It made me feel like I was living in luxury to be in a van and then to be in a tourbus was like REAL luxury to me. If I wasn’t working at Howard I might not be in a storage unit but I can guarantee I would still be grinding it out doing whatever it took to play drums on tour. I really have to give a ton of thanks and credit to Howard for believing in me and giving me a chance, without him I wouldn’t be living in New York City or having an indoor shower. I love both (laughs). I love looking out my window here in New York and I love going to my day job and being able to laugh. I enjoyed being an electrician too which was my “back up plan” in case the music thing never worked out but to be able to wake up now and go into work and get paid to be a goofball and have fun is really something I never dreamed possible. I love working at Sirius.
LRI: Maybe George Takei wouldn’t give you so much shit about your hygiene if he knew the full, detailed story of how accustomed to your own sweat you’ve become….
RC: I think you’re right John. Also, the whole time I was living in Florida I had that day job as an electrician so I’d go to work all day, come home and practice drums for three hours by myself and work with the band for two or three hours, wake up and do it all over again the next day. Really, to be honest with you, my smell was not my top priority at that time because I was never around women (laughs). I would spend all of my time around my electrician buddies and my sweaty metalhead buddies. I never really cared about hygiene until I moved to New York and realized “Ok, I’m around a LOT of people, maybe I need to work on not smelling bad” (laughs).
LRI: I know you’re a huge fan of Halloween and was wondering if it holds the same pleasure for you now that you’re in the big city. One of the only good things about the midwest is the level of fun involved around Halloween, the weather, the creepy locations in the sticks…..
RC: Well, one of the really good things now is that I get to travel around to different places for Halloween. We had a blast this past year doing all these things that I always wanted to do as a kid. I went to New Orleans and we go to Salem, Massachusetts EVERY year. I do get to kind of live out my dreams every year now of really celebrating the holiday EVERY weekend of September and October and it is a blast. You’re right though John about the relationship between the small town midwestern thing and Halloween and that’s one of the reasons I think the holiday is so special to me. There is nothing like those old-fashioned farm type Halloweens and those memories are what makes it all so cool to me. I remember my Uncle Herbie had a Halloween party when I was like 8 years old in 1982 and he showed Evil Dead on VHS and had a Coffin contest and took us on a real haunted hayride to the spooky haunted house out in the middle of nowhere in Kansas at night. It was one of the coolest experiences ever and one of the things I can definitely trace my love for Halloween back to. The neighborhood I live in now in Queens almost has like a small town feel or atmosphere to it and there’s lots of trees everywhere. When the leaves fall and the kids run around it kind of reminds me of those old midwestern Halloweens and I LOVE that feeling.
LRI: Do you get back very often to Kansas?
RC: Yeah! My wife and I went back the first weekend in October and we had a big party that my parents threw for a lot of my family that wasn’t able to make it out to our wedding back in July. It was kind of a second wedding/Halloween party because my Uncle Herbie was there (laughs) and he decorated the whole venue and we had pumpkin beers and fog machines and all kinds of stuff. We even had a Halloween wedding cake which was orange and black and had Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein on it which was really cool. Also, when we went back we went to Kansas City which I’m not sure if everyone knows or not but they have THE best haunted houses in the entire country in Kansas City. There’s an area of town there called the Bottoms and they have a whole series of haunted houses there that take about an hour to get through each one and they are just the most amazing, creative and vast haunted houses I have ever seen. We went to all of those and we went to a Chiefs game where they thankfully won their first game of the season. I just love going back there at that time, like you said there is something magic about the season there. It brings back so many memories.
LRI: Is it true that your partner in crime at the Stern Show, former stockbroker and rapper Sal Governale, was also somewhat responsible for getting you back into music or at least naming the band CHARRED WALLS OF THE DAMNED???
RC: Well yeah, the name comes from one of the prank calls Sal and I made to a Tradio show. For the people who aren’t aware, Tradio is this franchised swap meet show that airs around the country and the reason I know about them is because we had one where I was growing up in Kansas. They’re kind of like a call in swap and shop like EBAY on the radio where you call up and say “Hey, I got an antique clock for sale call Jim at 555-2339” and the people who live in that radio area can call and buy your clock. We’d call and list these ridiculous items like “Fudgepacking kits” or anything that sounded funny like that and now we can even EMAIL them the items and they will actually READ them on the air which can be even funnier. This one Tradio station was reading all of our goofy ass emails and we’d even email birthday announcements and they’d read stuff like “Happy 85th Birthday to Curly Pubes” and all these names like “Sharon Cox” and all these fake things and they’d read them and read until one day when they’d realized they’d been had and came on the air and it was really one of the hardcore Christian versions of a Tradio station and they got on and said “To these people who are out there sending these emails and making these calls……you know who you are and if you don’t repent and stop bothering these good people with these phone calls you’re going to find yourself in hell scratching your nails on the charred walls of the damned”. Sal knew that I had been trying to think of a band name for a while and it’s so hard to think of a good one that hasn’t been used and we just looked at each other right away and said “That’s an awesome friggin band name”. Right away, I googled it and nothing came up thank god and the rest is history. Thank you to the Christian Tradio hosts who got angry at us for pranking them and inadvertently named our band.
LRI: I still can’t believe that you guys continue to get through with the calls.
RC: I think a lot of people don’t realize it’s not just ONE show we’re calling. I think that because the show sounds similar in structure and the hosts sound similar they think that but there are tons of them all over the country in different markets. Eventually they figure us out and stop the phone calls and emails and we have to move on to another one (laughs). It’s getting harder and harder because we’ve called about every one of them in the country. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to keep up with Tradio but it all started with me and my friends in Kansas when we were little kids pranking the Tradio station back there years and years ago. I had no idea that I would later be able to turn that skill into a job and put it to use.
LRI: The show lasts all morning and then some. How did you wind up finding the time to write material for CHARRED WALLS OF THE DAMNED?
RC: Well, I’ll come home from Howard and wind down at 5 or 6 at night and play guitar for an hour and then on the weekends I tend to spend a lot of time writing music so I’m always writing when I have time and I love playing guitar. I started writing the latest album COLD WINDS ON TIMELESS DAYS when we were mixing the self-titled album. I like staying ahead of the game so it was nice that when the first album came out I had already finished some of the writing for the second album. We’re not the type of band that’s able to go out and tour for a year straight like other bands so I am able to spend a lot of my free time working on this band in other ways like writing music.
LRI: When I heard the self-titled album I was really surprised because I knew you as being such a respected drummer in the death metal genre and that’s not really what CHARRED WALLS is at all. There’s a lot of melody and tunefulness from start to finish on both albums, was it kind of your intention to appeal to all metal fans across the board?
RC: Yeah. I mean, I’m a big death metal fan but I like all kinds of metal and I kind of wanted to get it all in there. I remember the first time I heard Morbid Angel “Altars of Madness” and I was just blown away by the drumming. I love death metal music and drumming and I wanted to put a lot of that in this band but with melodic vocals and have it have some of that classic power metal feel but also some punk metal and thrash metal feel and all of that. On my ipod it goes from Helloween to Malevolent Creation to King Diamond to Immortal to Stryper. I like all kinds of metal, I like playing those death metal blast beats on the drums but I also like those really melodic vocalists as well. I hope that we’re a band that appeals to fans of metal period. All genres of metal are cool to me and I think there’s other people who feel the same way.
LRI: Tim “Ripper” Owens seems like the logical choice for the music you wanted to make. How did you wind up finding the right that were all able to be on the same page?
RC: I just thought of musicians that I was friends with and even before Charred Walls I had actually spoken with Tim, Steve (DiGiorgio, bass) and Jason (Suecof, guitars) about starting a band. I knew they were all really cool guys and that was important to me to be working with guys who were really good but also really good guys that weren’t a bunch of drama. They’re totally professional and amazing musicians but they’re also really fun guys who are very easy to get along with. Jason Suecof and I have known each other since the 90s and have written lots of music together over the years prior to this. I had always wanted to do a band with Jason because he’s just such an amazing musician and songwriter. We really gel when we get together to work on music so I knew I wanted him and I wanted Tim because I was a big fan of his when he was in Judas Priest and I was a big fan of Steve when he was in Sadus and Death where he put in one of the greatest bass performances I have ever HEARD on “Individual Thought Patterns”. Some people have called us a “supergroup” but we have never considered ourselves that. We’re just four guys who are friends and fans of each others’ music.
LRI: You guys are all INCREDIBLY busy with other jobs musically and creatively. Does it take on special significance when you’re actually able to get together for appearances or these ten date spurts of shows?
RC: Yeah, definitely. It is a special thing when we play shows. We’ve done some touring and it’s always amazing because of the build-up. People enjoy it because they don’t know when they’re gonna get to see us again so it is kind of a special thing. We are planning on getting out again in 2012 for some new shows so we are looking forward to that right now. Another reason why I wanted these guys in the band is because they understand that I have a day job and can’t go out for three months at a time and they all have steady work doing other things as well. Jason is a really busy producer and Tim has a restaurant in Akron and gigs with Yngwie and Dio Disciples and Steve is busy with his own day job and family and other bands as well so it all works out. It’s kind of an understanding that we’re four busy guys but we’ve put our heart and soul into this and when we get a chance to actually play the songs live it’s a really big deal to all of us and really important to all of us as well as the fans. We have a really cool video for our new song Zerospan which is kind of like a short horror movie and was a lot of fun. People can see that on the Metalblade youtube page or on metalblade.com and keep promoting this new album. Our label president Brian Slagel put it the best when he said “It’s just as important for a record to sell on it’s 50th week as it is to debut on it’s first week.” It’s a marathon not a sprint.
LRI: Being such a big metal fan and King Diamond fan is it amazing to be working with a company like Brian and Metal Blade?
RC: It really is John. I used to order the Metal Blade compilation cassettes through the mail as a kid and now to be able to work so closely with the guy who was behind all of that is pretty mindblowing to me. On top of that he’s just a really cool guy and is there for us whenever there’s anything that needs doing or any questions we might have. It goes without saying how important Brian and everyone at Metal Blade are to the history of this music. It’s an honor and there’s STILL so many legendary acts there like Amon Amorth , Cannibal Corpse, GWAR, King Diamond and this label has had so much staying power that they are still doing this at a high level after all these years. It’s unheard of but it’s because of Brian and everybody who works there, they work very, very hard and deserve everything that comes of it.
LRI: Are you surprised when Howard brings up your music or your drumming during the course of the radio show?
RC: I’m honored whenever he acknowledges that I play music, I really am. I was honored that he played our new album on the air and if he breaks my balls a little about it that’s great too and that’s the nature of the show. Everybody on the show gives each other a hard time about everything and that’s really what keeps it all interesting day after day (laughs). I expect that and I don’t get offended by any of it because I am just so honored that he’d even talk about my band on the show. That’s very cool that he would play our music and he’s very nice about it and very complementary about my drumming which means the world to me.
LRI: Have you or Sal ever had a chance to be starstruck by any of the musicians that come into the studio at Sirius?
RC: Yeah, for sure. I didn’t get a chance to meet him but I did see Paul McCartney when he came into the studio, just being ten feet away from him was pretty surreal and insane. You’re just standing there thinking “Wow, this is probably the most famous person alive right now in the music world and he’s right THERE!!” There’s a lot of non-music people who come in who are just as important to me like Mike Judge came in recently and he’s just the nicest, coolest guy you could ever want to meet. I was blown away by meeting him because I have been such a fan of Beavis and Butthead and all of his work over the years.
LRI: Did Sal ever get a chance to get bitch-slapped by Gene Simmons after getting thrown out of the KISS show?
RC: Yeah, Sal’s a big KISS fan and he could tell you about how he actually got to pull on Gene’s hair and verify that it is in fact REAL. To me, personally, that is one of the funniest moments that has ever happened on the show. Sal Governale grabbing onto Gene Simmons hair and PULLING on it was just hilarious to watch no matter who you are. How many KISS fans are able to say that they pulled on Gene’s hair to make sure it was indeed real? (laughs).