Return Of The King

The long, strange musical trip of King Black Acid's Daniel Riddle.

Daniel Riddle claims he isn't wearing any pants. Over the phone, he says he's more comfortable this way.

Born on a hippie commune in the 1960s—he says he doesn't know the actual date—Riddle grew up in the company of rockers; his mother's boyfriend worked for the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Santana and the Allman Brothers. He moved to Portland from San Francisco in the late '80s, becoming a recognizable face in the local rock scene as both a nine-year employee of Satyricon and as a member of world-renowned alt-rock band Hitting Birth. But it was in the early '90s that he found his voice in King Black Acid.

Technically speaking, KBA is more a persona that exists to channel Riddle's muse than a proper band—the musically experimental Mr. Hyde to Riddle's Dr. Jekyll. And like a mad scientist, Riddle's two KBA-fronted bands, the Starseed Transmission and Womb Star Orchestra, have crafted guitar-fueled, effects-heavy sonic free-for-alls that draw inspiration from a wide range of sources: Hendrix, Bowie, Pink Floyd—whatever strikes Riddle's fancy. Both were known for ethereal, melancholy grooves and a hypnotic rock sound, and both went through multiple lineup changes and extended breaks. This most recent hiatus, as near as the flighty singer can tell, lasted about three years, but "other people keep better track of those things."

Nowadays, Riddle is more concerned with simply "rocking out," as well as enjoying his new role as father to daughter Emmi, "an angel of light" who was born last month. His latest musical incarnation is King Black Acid and the Sacred Heart, which played a "beta" show several months back so Riddle could try out new material and find just the right lineup of musicians. Joined by Jeff Trapp on guitars, Joseph Trump on drums, Thom Rusnak on bass and Rich Landar on keys, he's finally ready to unleash the Sacred Heart—which, with it's heavier, more super-charged sound, is poised to bring the rock in an epic way.

WW: What was the reason for this last hiatus?

Daniel Riddle: I kind of stopped doing KBA to work with [New York-via-Portland songwriter] James Angell. But I've been writing and rehearsing KBA stuff for about a year. Honestly, I took a break to become a high-level wizard, which I am now. Now I'm fuckin' ready to rock.

What's the difference between the Sacred Heart and your earlier bands?

Each has had their own individuality and has been different. With the Sacred Heart, there was a very conscious effort to distill the music of KBA. That's what's great about being a wizard. You can use mystical alchemy to cook down, condense and distill the sonic message. Now the music is heavy like a Chevy, with more hooks than a fuckin' pirate convention.

Did you just describe your music as "heavy like a Chevy, with more hooks than a pirate convention"?

It's epic, man. Like punching an evil vampire unicorn in the face—just punching it in the face and watching his vampire fangs get knocked out of his ass. Musically speaking, of course.

How has domestic life changed KBA?

I don't know that it has. I don't think it has. I might have to put my pants on to answer that question.

How about this: Have aspects of your life as a father made it into any of the new music?

Not really. It's just sexy stuff. It's about rockin' out. The stories that come to mind are not domestic. It's epic. The songs are epic tales of adventure.

Like punching an evil unicorn in the face?

Like punching an evil vampire unicorn in the face.

Will Sacred Heart be performing any old KBA songs, or is this all new material?

Right now I'm just doing one song from Loves a Long Song, everything else is all new material. At this point I'm so excited about the new stuff that I just don't want to go backwards, or go slow. This new stuff is not about going slow. It's like peeling out.

Peeling out? Like in a car?

It's just like peeling out. You're in the car, one hand hanging outside the window, and you just peel out. Previous KBA songs were forlorn and haunted. The new territory is glorious and feel good. And epic—like punching an evil vampire unicorn in the face. And sexy. Put that in the interview.


King Black Acid and the Sacred Heart plays Saturday, July 19, with the Upsidedown and New York Rifles at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $10. 21+.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW’s journalism through our Give!Guide Fundraising page.