To those Americans who harbor the usual culinary prejudices, haggis — a traditional Scottish dish made from the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep minced with onion, suet, oatmeal and seasonings and boiled in the deceased sheep’s stomach — may seem like something to be avoided at all costs.
And thus Bad Haggis, which conjures up images of said sheep’s stomach left green and lonely in the fridge, becomes the stuff of gastronomical nightmares.
But it happens to be just what the doctor ordered for those craving a new experience that doesn’t involve consuming the internal organs of livestock.
More to the point, Bad Haggis is a new band formed by much-in-demand musician Eric Rigler. In just under a decade, Rigler has compiled an impressive array of recording credits thanks to his remarkable artistry with the Great Highland bagpipe, the uilleann pipes, the Scottish small pipes and the low whistle. Rigler has used his talent with these traditional Celtic instruments to enhance recordings by such musical all-stars as Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Barbara Streisand and Tracy Chapman. His celluloid credits include input on the soundtracks of Titanic, Braveheart, The Prince of Egypt, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Negotiator and The Fugitive — plus a host of other films, TV shows and commercials.
But with a name like Bad Haggis, one feels compelled to go straight to the source to get the scoop. Xpress did, getting the dish directly from the piper’s mouth.
Mountain Xpress: Just out of curiosity, have you ever had haggis?
Eric Rigler: Yes I have, many times.
ER: Good haggis is good. Bad haggis is pretty terrible tasting. I’ve had haggis that is just horrible. If it tastes really liver-y, then I don’t consider it good haggis. I’ve eaten it many times in Scotland … and here, a few times — but I’ve rarely had any good [haggis] here in America. Usually you can find some pretty good haggis in fish-and-chip shops in Glasgow. They just kind of deep-fry it, like they do their fish. It’s a very Scottish meal.
MX: How did you become interested in playing the bagpipes?
ER: It was the sound of the pipes that got me interested in wanting to learn them. I was just a baby when I first heard them. I got started when I was about 7 years old and got lessons with a very good Scottish piper who had emigrated here from Scotland, so I got good lessons right from day one.
MX: You’ve done a lot of soundtrack and movie work. What do you like better, studio work or playing live?
ER: Well, I like both. I love doing studio work because it’s a real challenge — you might get called by somebody and you might not have any idea what they want you to do, [and] they might not have any idea what they want you to do … or sometimes they have very specific things for me to play. It might be Phil Collins or something, and he says, “Roll the tape, and go ahead and play” — and there’s no music in front of you or anything, and you’ve got to come up with your part and carve out a little voice for the pipes amongst a bigger picture.
[But] it’s just a great thrill to play your music in front of a lot of people, and I enjoy [that, too]. I also had a whole other career before doing studio work and films and all that stuff, playing traditionally in bagpipe competitions in Scotland for years and years. I lived in Scotland for a couple of years, so that was a big part of my life before all the studio work came along.
MX: Is it fair to call Bad Haggis new?
Rigler: Yeah, it’s fair. … I put the band together right at the start of 1998, so we’ve been together two-and-a-half years now. It was kind of my idea to combine the pipes, all the different pipes I play, the uilleann pipes and the Scottish pipes, the whistles and all that stuff, taking the Celtic element and blending and mixing it with other instruments and the [other] types of music I listen to. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, everything from rock to jazz to fusion to world music to eclectic things, and I just liked the idea of combining the pipes with those and making a new kind of vocabulary out of all those different influences. And that’s kind of what we’re doing with Bad Haggis.
MX: Tell us about your latest work.
Rigler: The newest [album] is called Ark; that one just came out at the beginning of the year. I think it’s a very exciting and very fresh-sounding album for people who are used to listening to things that they’ve heard before, or bands that sound very similar to one another.
MX: Of all the work you’ve done, does anything stand out as your favorite project?
Rigler: Yeah. My all-time-favorite soundtrack that I did was, without a doubt, Braveheart. I thought it was a great movie, and I thought the music that James Horner wrote for the orchestra and for the pipes and everything was a beautiful, beautiful score. And in addition, it was great to be treated really well and flown over to London. We recorded the album at Abbey Road Studios and actually, while we were recording, Mel Gibson was with us the whole time, for about two-and-a-half weeks. It was great to be friends with Mel and hang out with him day in and day out — he’s a very, very nice guy.
And then, during [one of] those recording sessions, the Beatles walked in and wanted to hear some of the music that was being recorded for Braveheart, and they wanted to meet Mel Gibson.
So they walked into the control room one day, out of the blue — George Harrison and Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and their producer, George Martin. It was just an amazing moment. I think if anybody were to witness that, they would never forget it.