The Face of an Aardvark

 A look inside the creative mind of Christopher Jay Rigsbee, the man behind the mask in Plattsburgh band “Adrian Aardvark.”

Story by Nick Will and photo by Meg Risley

Standing around 6 feet tall, Christopher Jay Rigsbee, also known as Adrian Aardvark, is hard to miss in a crowd. Wearing a disheveled brown cardigan over a second hand T-shirt depicting a Native American feather necklace, he holds a look of inner turmoil on his brow. He has chin length hair thrown to one side, in an almost salon tailored look. He sports a pair of black rimmed plastic glasses, held tight on his face by a pair of black croakies. Sipping a Fluffer-Nutter Milkshake from Plattsburgh’s own “Smooth Moves,” Rigsbee began to unravel a tale about a boy who has already seen the world.

Adrian Aardvark has an interesting sound, and with this sound comes a number of instruments. “In my opinion, I can’t play anything well. I half-[expletive] everything I touch, including piano, guitar, bass, drums, violin, didgeridoo, kazoo, and banjo.” His sound can be contributed to all of the places he has spent the last 25 years.

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Christopher Rigsbee shown above in a sunflower patch.

Rigsbee was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1985 to a Navy family. When Rigsbee was in 5th grade, his family moved to Chesapeake, Virginia where they only stayed for a couple of years. That’s when he started playing music. “I played violin in 5th and 6th grade. People would insult me, so I eventually gave it up for guitar,” stated Rigsbee. He didn’t pick up a guitar, his current instrument of choice until his family moved to Guam when he was eleven.  Rigsbee spent his 16th birthday on the beaches of Bali, where he visited Hindu temples and swam with Dolphins. “This is when I started playing and recording. Recording became an addiction.”

Rigsbee’s younger sister Katrina said that she distinctly remembers Rigsbee’s music when they were children in Guam. “Chris liked to mess with electronics a lot in Guam,” she said. She also said that Rigsbee would alter the pitch of his voice in his early recordings. “We grew up with music, our mother used to sing to us all the time when we were little,” said Katrina.

The Rigsbees moved to New Port, Rhode Island in the summer of 2001. They were stuck on the New Port naval base after 9/11, because of the terrorism scare. “Soldiers were walking around with Uzis and stuff. It sucked.” said Rigsbee. “My family was in a long state of depression and culture shock.” Rigsbee attended Rhode Island College in 2003 where he participated in a film studies major. “My father was really behind Chris getting an education,” Katrina said. “You know like full high school and college. He wanted Chris to pursue music as a hobby.”

In the summer of 2004, Rigsbee’s family moved to Morrisonville, N.Y., but Rigsbee stayed behind in Rhode Island. Following a rough break-up in Rhode Island, Rigsbee followed his family and transferred to Clinton Community College. “Clinton was terrible. I lost focus of what I wanted to do with my life,” Rigsbee said. His time in the North Country saw the release of his first two albums: “My Mother Says She was Worried About Me” and “Your Heart Beat is the Only Percussion I Need.” “Recording was all I was doing at the time. I should’ve been touring and playing live shows, but you learn from your mistakes.”  It was during Rigsbee’s time in the North Counrty that he met friend and tour mate, Noah D. LaPoint.

“Iceland is where I started to really get into the arts. I started to understand that I would be poor, but this is what I wanted to do with my life.”

In the summer of 2005, Rigsbee’s father got stationed at a naval base in Keflavik, Iceland. At the age of 20, Rigsbee was looking for direction in his life so he joined his family. “Iceland is where it all came to me,” Rigsbee said. Rigsbee worked as an extra on the set of Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers.”He also recorded and released four albums: “Stop Selling Me Good Looks,” “Good Vibes through the Darkness EP,” “Otter Shambles,” and “Keflavik Krinkle.” According to Rigsbee and house mate Noah D. LaPoint, these are Rigsbee’s most focused albums. “Iceland is where I started to really get into the arts. I started to understand that I would be poor, but this is what I wanted to do with my life,” Rigsbee commented. For Rigsbee, Iceland was the beginning of his musical career.

In 2006, George W. Bush pulled troops out of the bases in Iceland, and Rigsbee and his family moved back to the states in September. When they got back, Rigsbee spent a short time in Farmington, Maine, but then returned to the Plattsburgh area in December of 2006. He got his own place in Plattsburgh with the help of some inheritance money left by an aunt, and began recording again. At this time, Rigsbee ran into the force that he would battle of and on until 2009: drugs and alcohol. “I was drinking a lot at that time, about a bottle of rum to myself per night,” stated Rigsbee.

His destructive lifestyle continued until summer 2007, and Rigsbee wasted his inheritance. “I was living out of my car that summer.”  During this time, he also joined the art crew of 56 Elm, which at the time was an underground music and art hot spot. “We promoted a unity between music and art,” stated Rigsbee, “Towards the end of that summer I had a mental breakdown. I was still using drugs and drinking regularly, and was stuck working odd jobs.” This is the summer that he released “Bones Hurt,” which, according to him, is his deepest album. The album is very ominous, and almost seems like an end.

“And then, my grandmother started dying,” said Rigsbee. In the winter 2007, Rigsbee sat bedside to his grandmother at CVPH medical center in Plattsburgh, and slowly watched the life fade from her body. He sobered up, and in January of 2008, he made his way to San Antonio, Texas to spend more time with his immediate family: his father had recently been stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Rigsbee said “I moved to Texas to get away from the problems and loneliness that I thought would stay in Plattsburgh. Guess I thought I could try to patch things up between my father and me, and get a little more time of being in my mother and sister's immediate life.”

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Chris Rigsbee, again in a sunflower patch.

While in Texas, Rigsbee was stone sober and recorded his recovery album: “In Search of Cold Fire.” Also during this period, he worked as a security officer for Walden Security. “I was outfitted with a 9mm handgun, a shot gun, a can of pepper spray, a baton, handcuffs, and a bullet proof vest,” claimed Rigsbee. He spent the remainder of that winter and spring protecting Fort Sam Huston and Hospital Intrepid in Texas. “That’s where they took a lot of vets from the Middle East,” he said.

In the summer of 2007, Adrian Aardvark returned to Plattsburgh and started playing again. With the music came the drinking, and other subsequent things. Rigsbee recorded “Screaming No to Tuna Tundra” in the winter of 2008, and then went on a tour that stretched from Plattsburgh to South Carolina. “I met a lot of good people on tour, it was a nice experience,” stated Rigsbee. Rigsbee released a series of albums over the period of time between 2008 and 2009, and also played bass guitar in a band called Yo Adrian! in the spring of 2009. “That didn’t work out, I ended up having a dispute with my housemate and vocalist Corey, so I was thrown out of the group,” said Rigsbee.

“The family we grew up with was taught to hide our less favored sides… I worry about Chris, that he is hurting his body. I just want him to be here as long as possible.”

Rigsbee’s most recent album “Adrian Aardvark isn’t Forever” came out at the very end of 2009, and for himself and others, it is being noticed as a turning point in his life. “I’ve started to cut down on my drinking, and because I haven’t been messed up, lately I have been playing some of my older, not drug induced tunes at live shows,” Rigsbee stated. He said the last 4 or 5 years, he had been spending around $400 on alcohol per week. The struggle continues, but he is limiting himself to $50 per month maximum, to have one big party. “Being sober is difficult because the emptiness arises again—dark thoughts, self loathing and loneliness. I realize that I’m working two jobs and I have no time for music, it’s just frustrating,” stated Rigsbee.

Katrina said “The family we grew up with was taught to hide our less favored sides… I worry about Chris, that he is hurting his body. I just want him to be here as long as possible.”

  According to LaPoint, the best description of Adrian Aardvark is in Rigsbee’s own words, in the track “Wanderlust” from Adrian Aardvark’s 6th album, “In Search of Cold Fire”: “That I’m being as genuine as I can be, if I’m being genuine at all.”This is true about Adrian Aardvark and his music—people don’t really understand the two. According to Katrina Rigsbee, Christopher’s younger sister and avid Adrian Aardvark fan “Chris’s style always changes from album to album, which is fun to keep up with.” This goes to show that Rigsbee’s music is a reflection of the life he has led.