If you don't know Kurt Riley, you'll be well versed with their music by the end of this interview. The Ithaca, NY based act is based within the metapop realm, channeling their innermost influences into some sonic pleasures that are well worth checking out. Kurt took some time out to talk about the group's beginnings, the origin of their sound, their creative process, the recording of their latest release "Be Cool", and what the guys like to do in their spare time. Here is the transcript from our chat:
Give us your name and your roles in the band?
My name is Kurt Riley; I’m a metapop composer, musician, and performer. This band is the latest and greatest in a long line of fantastic groups I’ve led, and you’re catching me just as I close the first chapter of my career and enter a brave new one.
I’m blessed beyond belief to play with the following 3 gentlemen:
Rick Kline: bass guitar, bass synthesizer
Charlie Jones: synthesizer, keyboard
Sesu Coleman: drums, percussion
Take us behind the formation of the group and how you all met?
My musical activity began about fifteen years ago. I first became enamoured with those compelling, proprietary American art forms – rhythm & blues, rock n’ roll. The Rolling Stones, ever my Rosetta stele, introduced me to the might and the magic of Elmore James, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, and so many more. And what an apprenticeship it was.
Given that I was a living anachronism – a teenage boy obsessed with dead men amidst the noxious din of 21st Century pop – I set about inventing myself. Becoming more than just a person – an entity. A machine, capable of executing my vision however I saw fit.
So over the years, I taught myself how to play multiple instruments, how to sing, how to compose. How to multitrack myself and create my own recordings. And I’d always been a massive fan of comic books and science fiction – from birth, it seems – so that iconography was an inspiration, to be sure. Each record I release has a corresponding visual image – and I design the costumes & makeup myself. (It’s great fun, dressing up. Ha ha.)
My first record, Brighthead, was produced by Beyoncé/Run the Jewels collaborator BOOTS and his wonderful father in a South Florida garage-cum-studio. My sophomore release, the sci-fi concept album Kismet, tells the tale of an alien king who travels to Earth in search of his queen – and saves humanity in the process. For my third album, Tabula Rasa, I donned a full head of white makeup, mirrored glasses, and red lipstick. That was a fun look. (laughs) That record contains several songs that have become audience favourites to this day.
And starting in 2018, I adopted a policy of only releasing singles. Neither the market (nor the attention) for albums is present any longer, and I’m working accordingly. But it is quite reminiscent of the 1960s pop heyday – what is old is new again, you know? Last year, I released 3 singles – quite a diverse set.
Love Is In My Heart, a piece of Great American Songbook writing by way of T.Rex, was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Will Russell, who was a joy to work with. The video for this one is a favourite of many of my fans – some have described it as Lynchian, an honour which I must ascribe to the excellent videography team I worked with.
Failure of Imagination is a glam/hip-hop stomp, featuring flick-of-the-chin lyrics dedicated to the minority who’ve sought to take me down a peg. (laughs) And the video was great fun – Green Lantern-esque. (This single was paired with the CD-only b-side “Ordinary Guy.”)
Be Cool was the final release of 2018, and the very last in this first panel of my triptych. It is an ebullient love letter to the misfit. A clarion call to those who don’t belong in society’s predetermined corridors. I’ve been an outsider since my inception, and so this was my offering of comfort and encouragement to others like me. The b-side, “Precious Angel,” is a lovely little thing, and the very last recording from the first phase of my career.
Describe your early musical influences and how they have helped shape and inspire you to this day?
My pantheon contains several heroes to whom I return to time and time again for inspiration and guidance. The Rolling Stones, T.Rex, and Bowie; my Chess, Sun, Motown, and Stax heroes; Gary Numan, Killing Joke, and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Lennon & McCartney, eternally.
How would you describe your band’s sound to those who aren’t familiar with you?
What is the energy and joy you get out of playing and recording music, how big of a rush do you feel?
The act of creation is a singular, beautiful thing. I really understand what it is like to be a parent, in a way. These little songs of mine go from sketches in a DAW, lines of lyrics saved in a notepad, to a fully-fledged demo – and then, in the studio, their final form is etched in audio for eternity.
And when I get to bring my little creations to the stage to show them off for all to see, I’m proud as a papa bear. Just as mean, too. (laughs)
Talk about the recording of your latest release, and what it was like to put it all together?
Be Cool was quite rushed, honestly. Not anyone’s fault but mine – I was developing the demo for some time, in between concerts, press appearances, and all of that jazz. But when it came down to the wire, I think I gave the fellas about two weeks to learn it and get ready for our studio date. I’m such a bastard! (laughs) But they performed magnificently. And it was our inaugural recording at New Vine Records, a stellar label based in Central New York. The experience solidified our working relationship, and just a short while later, we were signed by New Vine, as well.
Besides music, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time? What’s that? I’ve not been there, but the brochure is nice. Ha ha.
The free moments I do have, I spend with my lovely girlfriend, or delving headlong into some nostalgic pursuit. Currently, I’m re-reading Robinson & Harris’ Starman run – stellar stuff. Watched Star Trek III: The Search For Spock this morning. That poor ship. Breaks my heart, every time.
What’s coming up next for you, any future shows or new music you’d like to promote?
Oh yes. My goodness, yes.
This new chapter of my career begins with an artistic phase which I’m calling Chrome Empire. A complete refit and upgrade of the good ship Riley, rebuilt for this chilling new reality. Over the next several years, the fellas and I will be releasing singles which are decidedly futurist both in sound and in subject matter. The songs we will be releasing this year alone address everything from the social credit system to life in a megacity of the future. I’ll be using the artistic medium with which I’m most accustomed – music – to divine a vision of the world to come.
And it will sound cool as hell.
How can fans find out more info about you online?
Follow me at kurtrileymusic on Facebook and Instagram, because I desperately crave validation. (And go to www.kurtriley.com to see lots of photos of me with my shirt off.)
Lastly, what is the one thing you enjoy the most about being in a band together?
Brotherhood, good humour, and the joy of creation in the face of insurmountable odds.
I am proud to ride into the fray with these gentlemen.