Richard Christy: The Hellbound Interview
By Justin M. Norton
Richard Christy may be extreme metal’s first big crossover success. The peerless drummer and unrivaled phone prankster moved to Florida in his teens with a dream of becoming part of the death metal scene and ended up drumming for Death and Iced Earth. While living in a warehouse he started sending song parodies and crank calls to The Howard Stern show. In 2004, he won a contest to replace departing staffer “Stuttering” John Melendez and became a fixture on the most successful talk radio show ever.
Since joining the Stern show Christy has participated in countless outrageous stunts that have captivated listeners. He and writing partner Sal Governale embraced and feigned kissing in front of CNN cameras on the morning Lehman Brothers collapsed, a stunt that became the most watched video that day on YouTube. He’s had his private parts waxed on air, been mocked for questionable hygiene and had his rectal temperature taken by longtime Stern co-host Robin Quivers. Christy and Governale have also made some of the funniest prank calls since the Jerky Boys, including a barrage of calls to the regional call-in sales show Tradio.
Christy’s place in death metal history would be secure without his thriving second career. But he hasn’t given up on his first love. His band Charred Walls Of The Damned released their second album Cold Winds On Timeless Days this month. Christy spoke to Hellbound about his journey from Kansas farm to warehouse to tour bus to the biggest radio show in history.
When you started playing death metal you were living in a warehouse. Now you are living in New York City and you are a featured performer on arguably the most popular radio show ever.
If someone had told me fifteen years ago that I would have an indoor shower I would think they were crazy (laughs). I couldn’t imagine I’d be working on the Howard Stern show. When I lived in a storage unit in Florida I showered with a garden hose outside. But I was young and it was for metal and we all need to make sacrifices to do what we love. I kept working on things and plugging away and played drums every day. I’d also send in bits to the Howard Stern shows as a fan because I loved to do it. I’m thankful that now I’m able to do both.
When you lived in the warehouse and played with Death what was your practice schedule? How did that contribute to your growth as a drummer?
I had a very, very rigorous schedule. When I played in both Death and Iced Earth I worked as an electrician. I had a boss who was really cool and let me take time to record and go on tour. When I wasn’t touring from 1992 to 2004 I had the same schedule almost every single day. I’d get up at 6, start listening to the Stern show and get ready for my job. I’d work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m as an electrician. I’d practice by myself from about 4:30 to 7 p.m. From 7 to 9 I’d practice with Burning Inside or Death. I’d have a beer at about 9 or 10 and then I’d go to bed. That was my schedule every day. On Saturday and Sunday I would practice by myself for about five hours and also practice with the band. It was pretty intense.
Later with Iced Earth we’d get together or rehearse before an album or tour. So I’d fly up to Indiana to rehearse. We’d do marathon rehearsals like six to eight hours a day to get ready for a tour. It was a lot of playing drums and not much of a social life for many years. But it was worth it. I got to go on tour a lot and travel. Touring was like a vacation for me because I got to take off as an electrician and play drums.
Was it interesting to see some of these places since you grew up in rural Kansas? All of a sudden you are on the road visiting all of these foreign countries.
I was very thankful but I never forgot my roots. I’d call my parents from Europe and we would talk about what was on King Of The Hill that night. I remember calling from Portugal and they were telling me about a King Of The Hill episode. I still eat at a place called Taco Tico when I go back to Kansas. It was pretty wild to think about growing up in Kansas and playing along to Iron Maiden’s Live After Death when I was twelve. Then, I got to actually play with Maiden when I was in Demons and Wizards in 2000.
The lesson is if you work hard enough and practice hard enough you can get where you want.
Speaking of your roots, what role did Chuck (Schuldiner) and Jon (Schaffer) play in your musical and personal development? You were just a kid when you started playing with Chuck.
They were a massive influence on me as a musician and a songwriter. They showed me what it takes to write a song and put things together. They taught me how to write music and how to construct a song. They were both very inspiring. They both remain my biggest influences as a songwriter. Even now when I write music I use the tools I learned from them. They showed me how things fit together.
I was very young when I started jamming with Chuck. I’d looked up to him since I had been in high school. It was weird that five years later I was in his band. It was the same with Iced Earth. I was a big fan in the early 90s and then I joined the band.
That seems to happen a lot in your life…there’s the hard work but also being in the right place and the right time both in music and your radio career.
It’s just like they say, it’s a lot about people helping you out. I got the audition for Death from a few friends who were in a band called Wicked Ways in Orlando. I heard Chuck was looking for a drummer and they passed it along and things fell into place. I got into Iced Earth through producer Jim Morris and Andrew Sample, who worked at Century Media. They found out Jon was looking for a drummer and mentioned my name. With the Howard Stern show I have to give a big thanks to K.C. Armstrong. I didn’t know him but he was subject of a lot of songs and bits I sent to the show. I owe him thanks for my job now.
If you treat people well people will help you out. I try to do the same thing. I’ve arranged gigs for friends because I knew about an opportunity.
Earlier in your musical career you were brought in to realize someone else’s musical vision. With Charred Walls Of the Damned you are in charge. What’s that like?
I’m a pretty easygoing guy. I write all the music and lyrics. I love what I write but I’m open to other ideas. If Tim, Steve or Jason want to do something I’m open to it. The big thing is I want the band to be fun for all of us and not be set in my ways. I was actually lucky in Death and Iced Earth. The guys in both bands were cool and open to hearing suggestions. In metal, people seem to be open to suggestions.
It is weird to have these amazing musicians play what I write. I didn’t think I’d get to a point where I could write the music and have people play it. But I also want them to put their stamp on it, to be inspired and to contribute.
The band’s name was inspired by a crank call on the Stern show. Where does the title Cold Wind On Timeless Days come from?
I always loved how Morbid Angel would do something like start each album with a different letter in the alphabet. So I thought it might be cool to have an album title that had the same initials as the band (laughs). That was the basic gist. But I came when I was looking out of my window and it was snowing. The wind was blowing the snow on my balcony and I thought it up. It’s open to interpretation. I guess it could mean that time always evolves but life isn’t forever. That’s the closest meaning. But I’d like fans to get out of what they’d like.
Are most people getting interested in your band because of your earlier music or because of your relationship with the Stern show?
It’s a combination. A lot of fans of my older band have checked out the band, people who listened to Death and Control Denied and Iced Earth. There’s also fans that normally aren’t into metal but have been exposed though the Stern show. That’s cool because it might mean I’m able in some small way to turn people on to metal. Maybe they’ll go on to listen to other metal bands. Then there are fans of Tim Owens or Jason or Steve’s band. We’re fortunate that we can draw from lots of different types of fans. The most important thing is that the look at it as separate from anything we’d done before.
I was listening to the Stern show a few years ago and the first time Howard got a sense of your drumming skills was when you came in and played “Hot For Teacher.” Did Howard know anything about your musical background outside of your song parodies and skits?
I was known to only a small aspect to the music world. The bands I’ve played in are very well-known in metal. But for someone who doesn’t listen to metal like Howard I can understand he didn’t know about it. I didn’t expect him to know about my drumming past because I play an extreme type of music for a niche crowd. But that’s what I love about it. Fans of extreme metal are so dedicated. I totally didn’t expect Howard or anyone on the show to know I was a drummer. But it was cool they gave me the opportunity to play on the show.
It’s also allowed me to get metal on the show. Howard has played Cannibal Corpse and Six Feet Under and a lot of cool bands. A lot of times they laugh about it but they still play it and expose it to a mass audience.
Playing Caninus sort of became an ongoing bit on the show.
I love that and they are super cool guys. I played drums for them on a forthcoming album. You would never think you’d hear Caninus outside of the very underground metal world. But here Howard is playing it to millions of people. I know those guys are fans of the Stern show and they got a big kick out of it.
Didn’t the dog pass away?
He did, unfortunately. I was really bummed out. I don’t know what their plans are or if they are going to keep going. But it was cool that the dog had a musical career and had a lot of fans (laughs).
Your old routine was very structured. Does it seem like things have come full circle? Now you are up at 4 a.m., you work on the show, go home, practice, maybe make an appearance and repeat.
Life is all about scheduling and routines. I love my work routine. I’m glad I have a day job and job security and I’m able to pay my bills. Now I don’t have a job where I need to worry about when the next gig is going to be. Maybe one of these days Howard will retire and it will change but as of now I love knowing what’s coming. I like getting up. I try to keep a very tight schedule and it’s fine. The big difference now is that when I was an electrician I wasn’t living my life’s dream. Now, I’m living it. This is a routine that’s very fulfilling.
Not many people get to go to work and get naked and make crank calls and still have health insurance.
It’s pretty crazy. It doesn’t even seem real, that I’m doing something I got in trouble for in high school. Now I get rewarded and paid for it. I’m so lucky to have this job and I’ll probably never do something this fun.
Is there any downside to your day job in that metal fans just think you’re a guy on the Stern show or doesn’t care about his music because of his other career?
Not at all. There are no downsides. A lot of metalheads are big Stern fans and the rest of the fans don’t care. In Europe, they don’t know the show so it doesn’t matter. I did get an email a few years ago from a fan in South America. It said: “I saw a video of you licking a man’s testicles for money! What’s going on with you?” (laughs). It was pretty funny when I tried to explain to him that it’s part of my job. So no one holds it against me. Metalheads have a great sense of humor. Even before I worked for the Stern show I’d run around naked on tour and do crazy stunts just to make the other guys in the band laugh. Contrary to what some people think most metal fans have a really good sense of humor.
What’s crazier, life on the tour bus or life in the studio of the Stern show?
That’s a tough one. They are equally is crazy. When I was in Incantation we played a gig in a strip club in Virginia Beach or Norfolk. There were like two people there and we did a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover with like a 35-minute ending just for the hell of it. Both are very unpredictable. You never know what you’ll get driving in a van with bunch of death metal fans and you’ll never know what you’ll get on the Stern show. It’s the perfect job for me because I was primed to do goofy stunts and be unpredictable by touring with death metal bands.
With Charred Walls of The Damned is it like you were a kid in a sense that you got to hand-pick musicians for your own rock band?
Well, I never thought I would get to have an album in stores on the shelves or do a video. Of course we’re not out there playing arenas so it’s not exactly what I thought. But it’s still amazing. There’s a lot more to it than I thought as a kid. You need to work with budgets and the business side. You need to figure out publishing. But I’m pretty interested in the business side of music as well. There’s a lot to come as well. I’m excited to take the band on tour.
How is married life?
It’s great. My wife will do all these crazy Halloween trips with me where we’ll fly all over the country to go to haunted houses. We have a lot of fun. She’s my best friend. It’s not much different than unmarried life. It’s just as good and even better.
Could you ever go back to where you were before the show…where you just played metal and toured?
I definitely would do it. But as you know it’s hard to make a living in the music business and New York is very expensive. That’s one of the reasons I lived in a warehouse; because my rent was so cheap. Trust me, I’d love to make a living on music if Howard retired. But now I can have a day job and do metal for fun.
You met Lars Ulrich from Metallica recently in the studio. Howard brought you out an introduced you and said ‘here’s a great drummer. You both have the Brian Slagel connection but what was the experience like?
It was incredible. About 20 years ago I snuck backstage at a Metallica show at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. I didn’t get to meet Lars. But Lars and Jason Newsted waved at us when we were getting dragged away by security. So here it was 20 years later and I’m sitting next to Lars on my favorite radio show ever. It was like 8:30 in the morning on a Tuesday so it was very surreal. Lars was super cool. On the next day I saw him playing in front of 50,000 people in front of Yankee stadium.
I understand you didn’t need to wear an adult diaper at Metallica to hear the entire set like you did at Coheed & Cambria.
I did wear an adult diaper because about 100 fans at the show asked if I was wearing a diaper. I wore one just to show them I was wearing the diaper. They got such a kick out of seeing that diaper. It’s so strange to go to a concert and have so many people get excited that I was wearing a diaper. Fortunately I didn’t have to use it because there were Porta Potties. But we are giving away that diaper as part of a contest. I signed the diaper from the big four and it’s part of a prize pack.