Recording ‘Outrun’ tested musician Sam Riggs’ mettle
Sam Riggs wanted his debut album to be different.
“I wanted to make an album that was different in a way that touches people and reaches people on a different level,” Riggs said. “I didn’t want to make an album that was about blue jeans and beer.”
Not that there isn’t a place in country music for blue jeans and cold beer. It’s just that the Austin musician didn’t see the sense in plowing over spent ground. When Outrun the Sun dropped late last year, Riggs said he felt like the album lived up to the money and time that Nashville-based Vision Entertainment put into it.
Riggs didn’t shy away from calling out Denton producer Erik Herbst (who’s worked with the likes of the Eli Young Band and Bowling for Soup) as a taskmaster.
“I feel lucky to have spent the time with Erik,” Riggs said. “Erik knew how to push me. It might have made me mad at the time, but in hindsight, he was right to push me the way he did.”
Sam Riggs and the Night People cruise into Denton tonight for a date at Rockin’ Rodeo. He and his band will roll into the lot off Avenue C with the fire in their bellies still stoked. Outrun the Sun earned raves from Country Weekly and Texas Music magazines as well as getting love from the indie-loving set, including Daytrotter and The 615, a Billboard blog.
“It’s a collection of stories, and all these stories are part of the same book,” Riggs said. “Erik and I sat down and talked about how country music is about telling a story.”
Outrun the Sun tries to be a little bit of everything, and from the pop-friendly, bass drum-heavy rock anthem “Change” that fades to black at the end of the album, to the country-rock, chart-ready “The Chase,” Riggs presents a polished product.
One track, “Angola’s Lament,” makes you yearn for more of his banjo picking and honest voice. It’s the track that goes down the dirtiest and the best, and betrays the Texas blues soulfulness that mentor Ray Wylie Hubbard taught Riggs to plumb for. (It’s one of those Texas blues-rock numbers that makes you imagine the warping heat hovering on a dirt road and smell the organic musk tapped in the oilfield.)
“We’ve been playing quite a few of these songs on stage for quite a while,” Riggs said. “I felt like they were ready to go, but Erik had other ideas. In the producer-musician relationship, he was ready to grow the songs in a way I wasn’t ready for. But all the changes he made to my songs ended up being right.”
“Collide” took the producer and Riggs down the rabbit hole for a while. “Collide” was probably the most personal for the songwriter, but Riggs said he sat down on the floor of the studio and hammered out the bridge for the tune in about an hour.
“I have a rule of thumb,” Riggs said. “I don’t like to record anything we can’t replicate on stage. At the time, we wanted to be a better band, and I think we rose to the occasion. I mean, we did some overtracking, and vocals were [done] at the end.”
Riggs said he and Herbst “sat there for days” in the studio. Herbst kept demanding more precision from from Riggs.
“Erik doesn’t tune anything,” Riggs said. “Erik is a nazi when it comes to vocals. We worked and worked on it. He’d go over to the piano and bang on it, like, ‘This is the note. This is it. Right here.’ He’d be hitting that note.
“I think he knew what he could pull out of me. I feel like he made me better. I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a singer, as a songwriter.”
Riggs and his band will spend some time on the road wringing as much raw energy and emotion out of Outrun the Sun as they can.
“When you write songs, writing gets you to write more. I’ve got more songs now, and I’m working on more,” he said. “When it comes to making records, I’m of the mind that, you know, we’ll make a record when there’s a record to be made.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
SAM RIGGS & THE NIGHT PEOPLE
When: 10 p.m. today
Where: Rockin’ Rodeo, 1009 Ave. C
Cover: Show is part of Rockin’ Rodeo’s free music series. Get in free with ticket available at any Northstar Bank (400 N. Carroll Blvd. in Denton) or Foster’s Western Wear, 6409 N. Interstate 35. $10 after 10 p.m. $10 without ticket.