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Chris Rigney AKA DJ Azrael | Metalmorphosis

31 March 2008 Host Spotlight

by: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

For the last three years, KUCI’s Loud Rock Director Chris Rigney, has hosted Metalmorphosis, currently broadcasting Saturday, midnight to 3 a.m.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett: You’ve been a heavy metal fan since you were, what, 10 years old? Tell me about that…

Chris Rigney: My initial interest in heavy metal can be blamed on a couple of people. The first person who ever introduced me to a metal band was an old friend in the early ’90s named Jody Kaplan, whom I haven’t talked to in ages. That was when I still lived in Florida. He loaned me some Pantera stuff and it was amazing. Shortly thereafter I became interested in other metal bands, especially in the thrash scene. The first CD I ever bought was actually Metallica’s self-titled “Black” album around 1990-91. My sister’s boyfriend at the time (who later became her husband) was a big Metallica fan, so he bought me a copy of nearly their entire catalogue for my birthday one year around ’93-94 I believe. I started hitting the used CD stores after that and found other bands like Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Testament, and Ministry. Since then, I’ve just delved deeper into the underground scene every year looking for great metal.

BDB: Then you had a heavy metal show when you were a student at Vanderbilt, yes?

CR: Indeed! Right around early year 2000 in the second semester of my sophomore year at Vanderbilt, I decided to get involved in their student-run radio station 91.1 FM WRVU in Nashville, TN. I interned/co-hosted with a great guy named Todd for about a semester on his show “Clearvue Mental Ward.” It was on Thursday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight, if I remember correctly. It was more of a hard rock show than metal, but my metal influence on the show soon became pretty apparent. After he graduated at the end of that semester, I took over Todd’s spot with my own show called “Metalmorphosis” just like my current show at KUCI. It wasn’t until I took over his show that I got the moniker “Azrael” as my DJ name. It has nothing to do with Gargamel’s cat from The Smurfs. The name was given to me by Jeremy, station’s general manager, who lived in my dorm. One day he randomly introduced me to a group of new students as “Azrael, Lord of Darkness” as a joke since I was the resident metalhead, and the name kind of stuck. I later changed my time slot to late on Sunday nights, and that’s where it stayed until I graduated. The best thing about WRVU was that the broadcasting radius included the majority of the penitentiaries nearby, so I literally had a captive audience. The inmates loved the show and sent in fan mail constantly. The best piece of fan-mail I ever received was a self-portrait color drawing of an inmate who drew a picture of himself sitting on a stool in a basement with his image tattooing the station ID “91.1 ROCK” on the bare buttocks of a nude girl splayed across a pool table. Needless to say, I still have that one saved in my collection of mail. Sometimes I put it up on my fridge.

BDB: How did you come to be at KUCI?

CR: I moved to Orange County from Milwaukee, WI, back in 2003. Shortly after moving here, I learned that I coincidentally was near a local radio station (KUCI). I had such a blast at WRVU that I figured I would check out KUCI. After sending a huge number of emails badgering Deanne about training dates and other related matters, I was finally able to get into a KUCI training course that fit my schedule in the winter quarter of early 2005. I passed training and became a full-fledged staff member in March 2005. At first I got really discouraged, because my first two applications for a show were denied. However, Jeff worked with me (when he was Program Director) to find a slot that opened up in August 2005 when a DJ had to leave the station for personal reasons. I nabbed the open spot immediately without asking questions. It was a 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. slot on Saturday mornings, but I stuck it out for about six months to pay my dues, so to speak. After that, I successfully applied for my current time slot on Saturday nights from midnight to 3:00 a.m. The rest is history.

BDB: Talk about your show.

CR: It’s pretty much a three-hour extravaganza of underground metal from all around the world. I try to cover pretty much every metal subgenre, but my personal tastes dictate a preference for death metal, thrash, and grindcore. The emphasis of the show is to play both older and newer underground metal to demonstrate just how the genre has changed and evolved, hence, the name of the show. I play bands from all over the place like Canada, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, France, Spain, England, Portugal, Poland, Greece, Germany, Taiwan, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and many more. And, of course, the United States. The show’s other primary purpose (like most shows on KUCI) is simply to introduce listeners to bands who are much better than the typical ones you hear on mainstream radio like Korn, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, Slipknot, etc. Those mainstream bands occasionally have their own merit, but there are many bands out there who are way better and unknown, especially from Europe. However, metal seems to be making a bit of a comeback these days, so people are getting more interested in exploring the genre beyond what they may hear on KROQ.

BDB: You’re also the loud rock director since 2006.

CR: Yes. I originally had inquired about the position in 2005, when I became a staff member, but it was filled by Stephen Sosko at the time. I spoke with him about it, and after he left the station he recommended me in his place. I took the position gleefully around April 2006 and have had it since then. I don’t plan on letting go of it any time soon. It’s given me a great opportunity to know new underground metal bands, develop contacts within the music industry, keep the KUCI staff informed about the current loud rock scene, and interview bands on behalf of the radio station a lot easier. I’ve even had bands who were touring the US contact me out of the blue to see if I could interview them while they’re in town. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to do that, and I look forward to similar opportunities in the future.

BDB: And you promote heavy metal bands in OC.

CR: Absolutely! A personal goal of mine is to help promote the local metal scene in Southern California to the best of my abilities. The Orange County scene is pretty small, but it’s growing steadily. Each day I hear about new bands local to Orange County who are writing music, playing shows, and trying to get noticed. Local bands are always fiending to get any promotion possible, and I help provide them an avenue for radio play and coverage at KUCI. Unless I’m playing a specialty playlist on my show, I usually have a local block filled with good SoCal metal bands. Local metal bands in OC are always welcome to contact me to set up an on-air interview, and if they send me their material (demos and such), I’ll be more than happy to put it on the radio for them. I even stream stuff onto the air off Myspace for bands who don’t have hard copies to send me. I don’t take on any kind of managerial role as far as the bands are concerned due to payola laws, but I’m more than happy to help promote them without some kind of vested financial interest.

BDB: Any happening metal bands in OC?

CR: Definitely. I’ve had a fairly longstanding friendship with the band Nephilim out of Irvine. They’re a bunch of great guys, and they have a pretty unique style unlike most of what you’ll ever hear. In fact, they came in second place at a relatively recent Inland Empire Battle of the Bands that was open to various SoCal acts. I also have a really good friendship with the band Painting In Negative out of Costa Mesa. I’ve known those guys almost since their inception, at this point. I had the pleasure of seeing their very first live show back in 2007, and they’ve been nice enough to include promotional materials for KUCI and my show on all of their flyers and banners. I’ve had both of those bands in the studio with me for interviews. Other bands I’ve been promoting and interviewing on the air are Ill Conceived, Sacrificial Slaughter, and Dying Regret. Ill Conceived are from OC, and they’re starting to get a big fan base. Whenever I have them in the studio, the phone seems to ring off the hook with requests for them. Sacrificial Slaughter are a great melodic death metal band from Orange County, and they’ve played with other bigger acts such as Type O Negative, Arsis, and Goatwhore. Dying Regret, out of San Diego County, are currently on their first regional tour outside California, and they’re also getting a huge following. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing them in the studio, the local act Droid out of Long Beach recently got signed to a label and made their first appearance on the Family Values Tour with Korn in 2007. All of these bands are great, and you can find them in my friends list on my profile on Myspace.com.

BDB: And throughout it all, you’re a lawyer….Please elaborate…

CR: Haha, most people don’t peg me for an attorney when they meet me, and I don’t blame them. Your average attorney doesn’t wear Amon Amarth t-shirts to work functions outside the office or see Rotting Christ on their first US tour. My interest in law began while I was still in college. Originally, I wanted to go into psychiatry, but I soon figured out that med school wouldn’t be for me. Eventually the idea occurred to me that law would be a much better fit for my personality and interests, so I started working summers at law firms and the like. After graduating Vanderbilt with a BA in Psychology and Philosophy, I moved out to California in 2003 to attend Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa. I graduated with my JD in 2006. I’ve always wanted to do transactional contract work, so coincidentally my ties with UCI have grown even tighter with my newfound job as a Senior Contract and Grant Officer in the Office of Research Administration at UCI. I was just hired three weeks ago. I’ve very excited to be working with the University in a more official (and salaried) capacity.

BDB: How did you choose intellectual property as a specialty?

CR: I’m a firm believer in intellectual property rights and helping to protect those rights, and ultimately I’d like to work in the music industry doing transactional work. All of the online piracy issues and their effect on the music industry really affected me in a personal way, since that’s the industry I want to work in. As a result, I took a lot of IP classes in law school to learn how to better protect the rights of artists, and I even worked in the Anti-Piracy Division of the RIAA for nearly a year helping to manage prosecutions against people who were pirating music. I know a lot of people look down on the music industry in this country, but they don’t realize just how much piracy has an effect on things and how much money is lost to the artists. I feel very strongly about the issue, which is another reason why I want to help local bands in Southern California and inform them about the law while promoting their material.

BDB: Back to the music….Do you have a favorite heavy metal band?

CR: I have both a favorite band and favorite musician. My favorite band of all time is easily Opeth. They’re from Stockholm, Sweden, and they’ve been fusing death metal with jazz, folk, and acoustic rock since their formation in 1990. Metal magazines have heralded them as “Metal’s Most Brilliant Band,” and I find that hard to dispute. Most of their songs are 10 minutes long and vacillate between brutal death metal and progressive, jazzy acoustic rock with some heavy folk influences and cleanly sung vocals. I think Mikael Akerfeldt, who is their vocalist, lead guitar player, and composer, is probably one of the best vocalists in the history of the genre. Opeth have an upcoming gig on the Progressive Nation Tour this May with Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, and 3, and I definitely plan on seeing that tour when it comes to Southern California. My favorite musician is Devin Townsend. He’s most widely recognized for fronting the band Strapping Young Lad (SYL) from Vancouver after playing with Steve Vai for a while, but he’s accomplished a lot outside that band as well. Aside from SYL, he’s had a minimum of seven side project acts, established his own record label, and produced records for rock and metal moguls such as The Melvins and Soilwork. He has a unique, identifiable songwriting style, and his live performances are always great.

BDB: Do you remember what initially attracted you to the music?

CR: The sheer talent of the musicians involved. I know a lot of people hear heavy metal and think it sounds like a bunch of noise, but that’s because they really don’t take the time to analyze the music and understand how incredibly skilled the musicians are. Even if you don’t like the music, I think you’ll be awestruck by the sheer virtuosity involved. However, most people are simply too intimidated by the typically ferocious nature of the songwriting to take the time to find out for themselves. Another one of my goals is to find a metal band that every person I know can enjoy. Personally, I think metal has the majority of the most incredibly talented musicians in the world today, and I firmly believe that it has the most depth of any genre. It can seamlessly incorporate any other genre within itself, and yet maintain its own distinct feel and sound.

BDB: Where’s the best place to go listen to heavy metal here?

CR: At this point, that’s somewhat difficult to say. The last 12 months or so have been really rough for the metal scene in Orange County as far as venues are concerned. The House of Blues at Disney in Anaheim was a popular place for big metal acts and tours, but Disney made the decision in 2007 to ban all metal concerts on its property at the House of Blues in both Anaheim and Orlando. I never have been sure what sparked that decision, but it’s had a pretty dramatic impact on the scene. Absent the House of Blues at Disney, I would’ve said that The Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana is the number one venue for metal shows in Orange County. However, once again the scene takes a hit. The Galaxy Theater announced earlier this month (February) that they were closing down at the end of the month in order to convert the venue into a high class nightclub. With that news, Orange County is at somewhat of a loss for metal venues for the time being. Smaller venues such as Chain Reaction (Anaheim), Vault 350 (Long Beach), Hogue Barmichaels (Newport Beach), and The Coach House (San Juan Capistrano) appear to be picking up the slack as best they can, and I’m interested to see how that turns out. The Grove in Anaheim and the Long Beach Arena are also adding more metal shows, but it’s unclear what venue(s) will be the go-to place in Orange County for metal concerts at this point. Outside of Orange County, there are a plethora of venues in Los Angeles such as the House of Blues (on Sunset), The Whiskey A-Go-Go, The Key Club, and the Knitting Factory that constantly have good tours come through.

BDB: What would be surprising for your listeners to know about you?

CR: Hmm, I can think of some random facts for this one. I didn’t grow my hair out until junior year of college, so I’ve only had it long (at least shoulder length) since 2001. I’m 6’8″ but don’t play basketball due to a sports-related knee injury in college; I prefer golf these days. I don’t normally get in the mosh pit because I accidentally elbow people in the face too often due to my height. I like low-impact workouts like swimming. I own a ceramic flat-iron to straighten my hair. I had an ad hoc special role as “Death” to hang Judas in my high school’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I don’t have any tattoos or piercings. I’m not a Viking. I provided backing vokills for a silly band in college called Roger Moore & The Westminster’s Boys’ Choir; we only had one show in my dorm’s basement. My shoe size is 15. I used to play guitar and piano. I prefer tequila over beer. Lastly, I’m considering trying out as a death metal vocalist for any local bands looking for one, but I have virtually no experience.

BDB: And when you’re not working or doing you’re show, how do you spend your time?

CR: I play video games and go to a lot of movies. The dollar theater at the Westfield Main Place Mall in Santa Ana rocks. I’m actually a pretty big geek, too. I spend a lot of my free time playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, that’s right�I’m an old school nerd. Otherwise, I mostly read philosophical treatises and try to go to metal concerts. That pretty much sums it up.

BDB: Anything I should have asked but didn’t?

CR: Am I single? Yes, and I’m totally looking for love. Come and get it, ladies.

— March 31, 2008


Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is host of “Writers on Writing, which airs Wednesday 9 am PT. She’s also author of “Pen on Fire” (Harcourt, 2004). Learn more at www.penonfire.org.