For a group that began life as a jam band killing time at the Surfer’s Paradise Hard Rock Cafe, The Delta Riggs have managed to achieve something pretty remarkable.
Elliott Hammond and his crew have crafted their own signature sound while touring almost non-stop and amassing a legion of committed fans, even finding a way to keep friendships from imploding while crammed in the back of a Tarago. The road hasn’t always been kind though, and with the tour for third album Active Galactic about to send the band off around the country, the time seemed right to talk about life, the universe, and socks.
“I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to put up barriers,” Hammond laughs. “My girlfriend got me these socks the other day as a present, and there were all these polka dots on them. I looked at them and said, ‘I don’t think I can wear these, they’re too friendly’. And she said, ‘But you’ll wear stripey socks?’ But to me, stripey socks seem to say, ‘Danger, danger!’ Whereas polka dot socks are more about, ‘Hey come on over and we can talk about crepes.’ Stripes make you formidable. And my girlfriend’s like, ‘You know you’re going crazy, right?’ And I’m like, ‘But am I?’ It makes total sense.”
Indeed. It does makes a certain sense that Hammond would feel the need to keep himself at a slight remove from the distractions of the world. The popularity of the band has been growing massively since things started falling into place back in 2010, and though he hardly seems like a guy ready to lock himself in a room and channel his inner Howard Hughes, Hammond does strike you as someone with his eyes on the prize. That’s perhaps unsurprising, given any chance at success is of course a rare and remarkable thing, but more so because the band itself came about almost by accident.
“We were all playing in different punk bands,” Hammond recalls. “We were all in different circles. At the start Delta Riggs was just this jam band: it was never supposed to be a real thing. We were all in other bands. Alex [Markwell] was living in Sydney engineering, Monte [Tramonte] was working for a label. It was just this thing where we’d get together, book a show at the Hard Rock Cafe, and peacock around. It was always really well received. We’d always get people in, but it was only ever something we did on the side. Then we kind of got some interest from a couple of labels in 2010, and that’s when we had the chat. We were like, ‘Should we actually take this thing a bit more seriously and have a crack?’
“That’s when we decided to move to Peats Ridge, into the house we called the Orange Orchard. That six-month period was where we forged what the band was, and really learned a lot about each other. Being in a band for this long, you’ve got a lot of strong and different personalities in the band. And bands generally breakup because of those conflicts, but we have a deep respect for each other, and I think we learnt that from living in each other’s pockets for those six months being really poor.”
It proved to be a fruitful time for the Riggs. After a handful of EPs, 2013’s Hex.Lover.Killer was followed just a year later by Dipz Zebazios. They found themselves embraced by triple j, invited to tour with Wolfmother… You know, all of the things a bunch of young musos would sell their striped socks for. But hindsight is a hell of a drug, and Hammond is candid about times when the future of the band seemed much more uncertain.
“There were definitely [pessimistic] times. That kind of happened at the end of that [Peats Ridge] period, when Aaron Jackson, who I started the band with and was a pivotal inspiration for me and the band – an excellent musician and songwriter – he just couldn’t handle the pressure of it, mentally and financially. So he bowed out and it was basically just me as the primary songwriter. I had some proper melts,” he laughs.
“I was living in a flat in Melbourne at the time and didn’t know what I was going to do. It got pretty hairy. It’s weird how stuff like that happens though. It got bad, but we said, ‘Let’s just knuckle down and make an EP.’ We released that as quickly as we could, because we didn’t know if the band was about to completely combust, and then we got this call from triple j saying, ‘We love the Delta Riggs!’. They really provided us with a platform to boost off from, and Melbourne really embraced us as well. It all went from there. But it was a hard time to get through. But two things happened at once, really. We had the triple j support, and then we got the call to do the Wolfmother support. I was broke. I had nothing, so getting a call like that lets you think you’re doing something right.”
Active Galactic’s first single, ‘Surgery Of Love’, dropped back in June along with a run of warm-up gigs, but by Hammond’s reckoning if you caught that Back To Earth tour you were seeing around 20 per cent of what their new show has to offer. Every band wants to bring you something memorable when they take to the stage, but the Riggs have poured massive thought and energy into ensuring this album tour will be unlike anything seen from them before.
“It’s shaping up pretty rad!” Hammond enthuses. “I’m super excited to push the live show in a new direction. We have more at our disposal now than last time. On top of that we have a new guy in the band, Gold Fang, who’s from Trinidad. He brings a cool hip hop MC vibe to it. There are so many keyboard parts in this album: it’s really rich with textures so we needed to bring someone else in and Fang is the man. It’s going to be a cool show – we’re diving into the back catalogue a little and going to throw in some surprises for the long-term fans. We’re listening to the feedback we’ve got in the past about certain shows. So this is definitely going to be a new stage vibe with new lighting.”
Even though the album is still fresh, the happy news is that the group are already cobbling together material for what comes next. “We’ve already started exploring some ideas for the next album,” Hammond says, a significant note of pride in his voice.
“As soon as one gets done, we’re always thinking ahead. So we’re talking about songs already, which is super exciting. That’s why I’m thankful to be doing music for a living. I get to have those times in the studio and songwriting, which is the number one thing for me. It didn’t come easily, and there are still times when it’s an up and down industry. It’s not all roses. But I definitely don’t take what we have for granted. We’ve worked super hard, and we’re humbled by the success that we’ve had.”
[The Delta Riggs photo by James Adams]