Interview with Richard Christy, Charred Walls of the Damned (December 2009)

For the past five years, Richard Christy has been one of Howard Stern's sidekicks. Richard won the contest "Get John's Job" in 2004 and was initially hired to be a writer for three months. It turned into a full-time gig, creating all kinds of comedy bits and shenanigans for American radio shock jock’s satellite radio show.

What much of Howard Stern's audience isn’t aware of, however, is that behind the redheaded boyish All-American look and Southern drawl, lies a monster of a drummer. The good-natured kid with big dreams from Kansas has been behind the kit for such influential bands as Death, Control Denied and Iced Earth. With his newly formed Charred Walls of the Damned, Richard is ready to pound the skins again, all for the love of metal.

Calling from the Metal Blade Records office in Los Angeles, Richard talked about comedy, his love for metal and his new band.

Tell me about Charred Walls of the Damned, what the name means and how you came up with it?

How I got the name is really a funny story. It came about from working on the Howard Stern Show. I do a lot of crank calls on the show and one day Sal (Governale) and I crank called a Christian radio station in a Southern state. We'd also send fake e-mails to them with goofy headlines like "Blumpkin pie for sale" and "Fudgepacking kit." So after a few days of constant pranking, someone told the station they were being pranked by these two guys. So a woman at the station got on the air and claimed that we were going to go to hell for pranking them, and if we didn't repent our sins for crank calling, we would be "charring on the walls of the damned." Sal and I just looked at each other and he said that would be an awesome name for a band, and I said I was just thinking the same thing! So I googled the name to see if it was out there already and nothing came up, so I was really excited.

There were band names like The Damned and Legion of the Damned, but this one was original enough and was such a cool band name. So I checked with friends and threw the name out there, and everybody thought it was a great name, so it stuck.

The new song "Ghost Town," which is featured on your MySpace page, sounds killer. How did you go about writing it?

Thanks so much. Well, I have a guitar and I just come up with some riffs, and I have a drum machine and I use Pro Tools to write music with. The drummer of Meshuggah, Thomas Haake, has a program out called Drumkit From Hell to use with Pro Tools and I just write riffs in my apartment. It's really amazing to be able to do that sort of thing now. I can write the whole song right there in my apartment and then take the song to my rehearsal space at the Howard Stern Show. So I just took a cool opening riff and built on it from there.

What a great lineup. Tell me about how you got Tim "Ripper" Owens, Steve DiGiorgio and Jason Suecof to form with you?

Jason and I have been friends since 1997, when I was living in Orlando. He's really talented. He's an amazing guitar player, but he's mostly known for his producing skills and writing. In 1999, he started Audio Hammer Studios. I was working as an electrician and I helped with the studio and laid down the flooring in the drum room. I'll tell you, it's the best drum room flooring you'll find in any studio! So my band Burning Inside was the first band to record there for our second album "Apparition." He's really busy with other bands he's producing, but he's a great guitar player and songwriter and I just talked to him about the band and he was really into it. Steve and I have been friends since '98, and I'm a huge fan of his playing. He's just a fun guy to hang out with. And of course I knew Tim from our time together in Iced Earth. When I was putting this band together I thought of each of them right away. I wanted a band that was real easy-going and painless as possible. I wanted people that know their parts, to go into the studio and have a fun time and make a killer metal album, and I knew that these guys could do that.

How great is it to put out Charred's first album on such a well- respected label as Metal Blade?

I am so psyched! I'm friends with Brian (Slagel) and have been a huge fan of the label for a long time. When I was 10, I'd get these catalogs of Metal Blade releases and I'd get the "Metal Massacre" releases in the '80s. I was a huge Lizzy Borden fan and Slayer fan, so I was just a huge fan of the label. They've done so much for metal, they've stayed faithful to metal, and it's an honor to sign with them.

Everyone who works there is so nice, it's just comfortable. I'm so psyched to be part of the Metal Blade family.

I've always been a fan of Powermad since I saw their video for "Terminator" from their first demo on MTV. Explain why you chose to cover their song "Nice Dreams."

I was a huge Powermad fan in ’88-89 when I saw "Nice Dreams" on Headbangers Ball and it was just killer. The singing, the drumming … so I went out and got "Absolute Power." Tt's a very great album that not a lot of people know about it. I think it's out of print, but it was a huge opportunity to play a song I love and have a new take on one of the songs. I love ’80s thrash metal, and I just wanted to play a song that I love and make it for people to maybe check out Powermad after hearing our song.

What do you hope to achieve with the official release of Charred Walls of the Damned in February?

What I hope to achieve is, making a great metal album. I'm a huge metal fan, and as a fan, I just want to make something that I would want to listen to. I had the feeling passing inside me to write songs, they were in my head, I wanted to get back into the metal scene to make something people can enjoy and to just play. I want to give back to the metal community because it has given so much to me.

Since Howard Stern went to Sirius XM Radio in 2006, I haven't had the chance to listen to him. Explain when and how you got the gig with Howard.

In 2004, Stuttering John left, and I was touring in bands and worked as an electrician for eight to 18 hours a day, and I would listen to Howard. It was a cool job, but got monotonous. You just want to listen to something that will make you laugh in the morning, so I’d listen to Howard to get through the day. So I started writing bits for songs and started sending them to Howard, and he started playing them on the air. It was the greatest feeling in the world to hear my songs on the radio. I just really wanted to work for him. So I heard about the contest for a job on the Stern show and thought it was the perfect opportunity. I was in Iced Earth at the time and there was a lot going on, and there was a conflict for the rehearsal for the tour and the Stern audition. I wanted to stay with Iced Earth but I quit to try out for Howard. It was a tough decision, but this was my dream job, to have a day job where you go have fun all day. So I was friends with Bobby (Jarzombek) and I got him to rehearse and join Iced Earth in my place. So I had the audition and the audience voted. I was one of the 10 finalists out of thousands for the weeklong audition on the show and I won. It was supposed to be a three-month job, but they liked what I did in that time and hired me permanently.

You’re 35 and you landed the Howard gig. Do you feel that you're finally making a decent living?

When I joined Howard, I was 30 and I played music and was an electrician, but I never made much money off music. People think that if you have a CD in the stores and you're touring, you should be making lots of money. Even after tours I would still have to have a day job. Music was pretty much my life. I used to live in a metal storage unit in Florida that didn't even have a shower. The good thing was, I could play the drums all day and it was cheap rent. I made a lot of sacrifices to be able to live in New York, and I'm very thankful. I have a good job and a nice apartment in New York City.

It's the greatest place to be. I'm very fortunate, but it's a lot of hard work at the same time. But at even 29 years old, I always knew I was doing it for a reason, playing drums and touring the world. To me it wasn't work, but I was very fortunate and always loved doing it.

For readers who haven't heard Howard's show recently, can you explain some of the stuff you do on the show?

Sal and I go to the recording studio/office and create crank calls, song parodies and comedy bits that Howard plays every day. I do crazy stunts; I've gotten a full Brazilian bikini wax, I've held my balls over a lit candle and burnt my balls on the air. It's the coolest job.

I'm expected to write funny stuff and I get paid for it. I'm a very happy person. Howard is the nicest boss; he's a down-to-earth guy who cares about his employees. Everyone who works there is nice. It's a cool and stress-free job. It is a lot of work, though. I mean, Howard is on the radio for five hours a day. He's a genius, and he's making people laugh for five hours a day. Sal and I work eight to 12 hours a day recording and having fun. It doesn't seem like work. Sirius satellite radio is great; they have Liquid Metal station. I'm into horror movies and they have Fangoria radio channel. It's a cool job. I get to work at Rockefeller Center in NYC every day, it's just so surreal, coming from Kansas and now working in NYC.

Did you feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she said, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"?

Yeah! (laughing) It's definitely different from Kansas!

Do you write your own material and come up with your own characters?

Yeah, or if someone else has an idea, we'll go with it. Sal and I go in a room and come up with bits. I have a character named Ethel Mertz and another named Nervous Mark who calls public access stations and acts all nervous. It started back in grade school, and even high school I would make prank calls and record them. I think it's a rite of passage. And now to be able to do it for a living at age 35 … I never dreamed that it could be a real job, but I'm lucky it is.

You also do standup, correct? How do you develop your act? What topics do you mainly joke about?

Sal and I did a standup comedy tour every weekend all over the country. Most were sold out because of our association with the Stern show. We'd each do 30 minutes and then both of us would do our act together, sing and stuff. I loved it, but it's scary as hell.

It's not like being a drummer behind the kit where, if you messed up, another band member could cover it up. When it's just you and a mic.

It's very intimidating. The first time I did standup, I was scared as hell. It's a lot of fun, I want to keep doing it. It's a lot of work writing material. I always admired comedians like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock, their material was consistently funny. The traveling takes a toll on you, though. We were flying every weekend. We'd end the Stern show on Friday and then fly out to our standup gig.

Seems like you've been away from the scene for a while. Are you jumping in full force, touring and all?

We'll tour as much as we can, but my priority is the Howard Stern Show. I won't be able to do full monthlong tours. Jason is booked four to five months in advance, and Tim is busy with his solo band and his new cover band, Hail! Steve has lots of music projects and a family and a day job. So everyone has their own things going on, and I do too. We'll have to check our schedules, but I definitely want to do some shows. Maybe some festivals and some mini tours, but I definitely want to play live.

Most of my friends know who you are because of Howard's show, but not as an awesome metal drummer. Are people surprised when they find out you played drums in Death and Iced Earth?

Yeah! I get a lot of e-mails from fans of the Howard Stern Show saying they didn't know I was the same guy that played in Iced Earth and Death, that they never made that connection. I'm very flattered when people know me from both. If I can turn Howard fans into metal heads, then that's cool.

Are you a workaholic? From music to acting to standup and radio, you must keep pretty busy. How do you balance it all out?

I just love being involved, getting my hands on everything. I love acting, music, radio and comedy. There's times I feel like a workaholic, especially when I was doing the standup with Sal, traveling and working with no time off. I try to make free time for my girlfriend. We live in Long Island City and we try to see a lot. I love New York so much but no matter how long you've been here, there's always new things to do in the city.

Why did you feel that now was the time to start up Charred Walls of the Damned? Is it all for the love of metal?

Because I had written enough riffs for an album, it felt right to put something together. The metal scene is strong again and I found the time to do it. There wasn't one particular thing to think that now is the time to do it. Just seeing friends play live and wanting to be on stage and play.

Who are your influences? Can you explain your technical drumming abilities and why you still love playing the drums?

I've always loved the drums. Peter Criss was a big influence, I had his solo album when I was 5 years old. I started playing along to Quite Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize" on pillows and cow-feed buckets.

When I first heard Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher," it's just the greatest drum intro of all time. 1984, I turned 10 growing up in Kansas. I joined the school band and I was listening to Iron Maiden's "Live After Death." The song "Iron Maiden," I figured it out when I was 11 years old. Wrathchild America and Rage from Germany I loved. I was a big fan of Shannon Larkin's drumming from Wrathchild America; he was one of my biggest drumming influences. He plays in Godsmack now.

Bobby (Jarzombek) on Riot's Thundersteel album, Mickey Dee from King Diamond, Malevolent Creation's Alex Marquez off "Retribution."

Dismember was a huge influence on me as well. I like death metal, ’80s metal, Coheed and Cambria … bands blend together to influence me. The first reviews of "Ghost Town" came out and they were calling it Iron Maiden mixed with Incarnate; those are two of my favorite bands. I didn't think of what the band would sound like when I put it together.

I just wanted a mix of all the bands I love. It could be death, power metal … I don't really want to categorize it. It's just something that every kind of metal fan would be into.

Thanks Richard, I hope Charred Walls of the Damned really catches on.

Any last words or comments for your fans?

Thanks, man. I hope everybody enjoys the debut of Charred Walls of the Damned. Make sure you listen to Howard Stern, Liquid Metal and Eddie Trunk on the Boneyard. Hope to see you out on tour.

Interviewed by Kelley Simms
Charred Walls of the Damned - Charred Walls of the Damned

Album available on Metal Blade Records.

Website: www.richardchristy.com and www.myspace.com/charredwallsofthedamned.