His songs are like character sketches of the human condition, and in a career spanning thirty years — first with Wall of Voodoo, the band most known for its 1982 hit, "Mexican Radio," then as a solo artist — Stan Ridgway has produced a string of adventurous works that have endeared him to discerning critics and fans alike.
On his latest, Neon Mirage, Ridgway turns introspective, addressing decidedly personal and, at times, existential themes. No easy task by any means, but Ridgway confronted it infinitely more so when in making the album his father died and his friend and fellow musician, violinist Amy Farris, took her own life. And while being aware of these losses isn't necessary to appreciate the album, listeners who are will find it all the more poignant.
In the songs on the new album, there’s some looking forward. There’s a good deal of looking back. There’s not much certainty in between.
Is anything really definite? I’m not really sure it is. It is for a moment and then things kind of move on. When I put songs together, I don’t really intend, “This is the way it’s all gonna be,” but when you do sequence a record you can bring in a bit of the author’s editorial. You kind of see what starts to balance things for you. Some songwriters will do that. They’ll have a whole album, but maybe there’s some piece missing. In this case I had several pieces missing for a while. And I went back and wrote some more to kind of balance it out for me.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you come up with?
That’s the best place to be, when you can surprise yourself. That’s really the best place to be when you can get removed from yourself.
Is it difficult to get to that point?
I’ve practiced it. It’s what all artists want to do and get to because a level of self-consciousness is always stopping you. It’s the critic on your shoulder, just saying, “Maybe that’s lame. Maybe that’s not interesting.” Is it ever really done? I don’t think so. Most things are simply abandoned. It’s good to have a deadline. And then you just have to get done. Some things take a while and other things come right out.
Is it ever a struggle for you to write?
It’s never painful.
Some songwriters like having written a song — the accomplishment, the finality — but not the actual process, writing lyrics, all that.