Thursday, May 06, 2010
Ike Reilly Interview... & In Town Saturday!!!
Preparing to hit the road for a short tour to support his excellent new album, we caught up with Ike Reilly to discuss Hard Luck Stories, songwriting, Shooter Jennings and American Idol.
The Ike Reilly Assassination will be appearing this Saturday, May 8, at The Khyber. If you only see one show this year, this is the one to see. Seriously, this is the hands-down club show of the year. If you show, the Ike Reilly Assassination will kill you and I'll buy you a beer (unless your name is Allen, Kurt, Feeney, Scott or Eric - you fuckers can get your own).
Ike will also run you ragged on the basketball court.
Q: The new album is different than Staggering Evening - there's not quite as much guitar but yet it rocks just as hard. Was that a conscious decision to dial back on the guitar?
A: I think, because I was working on it alone a lot, and I'm such a shitty guitar player, that it probably came out that way.
Q: The album seems to start off with a couple of lost love songs..
A: The first song ("Morning Glory") is just a groove. I really like that one. The second song ("7 Come 11") is my old chip on the shoulder doorman song. I worked as a doorman at the Hyatt for years and I found some lyrics on the front seat of a car from this guy that was an actual musician and I read them and I thought they had a real us against them thing. And I thought "those are some shitty lyrics". It's essentially about being judged for being poor and knowing you got more talent than anyone. And it's silly too. I say "sad life in airplanes don't mean that much to me". "Sad Life in Airplanes" was the name of that guy's song. "If I was writing poems they'd be for you" and "if you had pain to take away, I'd lay up on the train tracks and let the wheels cut me to ribbons". And then I say "You'd have to tie the ribbons of my body in your hair and carry me around". Kinda weird.
Q: "Lights Out" seems pretty autobiographical.
A: Absolutely... in a funny kind of way. I was singing that song to my brother, the opening lines (sings "It won't be long till the money's all gone and the trucks roll in and shut the power down") and he was laughing. It's about a guy who loses his family, his kid becomes a hip-hop star, and he shoots him.
Q: I hope that's not totally autobiographical.
A: That's what happens in the song.
Q: "The War on The Terror and The Drugs" doesn't sound like the title reads. It seems to promise something altogether different than what gets delivered. How did you hook up with Shooter Jennings?
A: I was on tour with Tom Morello a couple of years ago and me and Shooter became good friends and I wrote a couple of songs for him - one which I think is going to be a single on his next record. And then I wrote this and thought it would be a great duet for us and he did too. And it is - it's one of my favorite recordings I've ever done.
Q: Who's taking on the terror and who's taking on the drugs?
A: The whole war on terror and drugs is nebulous. It's a joke. These guys and their sloganeering. The song's just about girls and a mythical place and feeling guilty and thinking about your kids and partying. There's a poignant section in there when the girl I'm with asks me to tell her the last dream I had and I dream about my family. On one of the podcasts, I tell a story about playing that song for Shooter. You know he's married to Drea de Matteo, and she was videotaping us and when I sung that verse, she started to cry and it was pretty cool, cause I did too. She was holding their baby and videotaping us as we were rehearsing the song out on their patio. I wanted to do a duet kinda like Louis Armstrong did with Bing Crosby and Waylon and Willie did. And to do it with Shooter - I just love the guy - we are really good friends. I think the friendship comes across on there.
Q: In your writing, you seem to balance the personal and political, the sacred and the profane. Political songwriting is usually deathly boring. You seem to have a real empathy for these characters. Guys like the returning vet in "Girls in the Back Room"
A: I don't think that's political, I think that's just humanistic. I'm not saying stop the war, or fight the war or anything. I agree with you - general political music is fucking boring and grandstanding and it doesn't interest me. [My songwriting] is more of an empathy towards people. I can write a song that has an effective chorus that sounds like it's about girls, but it's really about that one character. That's what that song's about - how he's viewed by the girls in the back room. I guess whether I was a songwriter or not, I would still feel for that person if I saw him.
Q: Is he the same guy from "Broken Parakeet Blues"?
Q: The drug dealer getting busted (in "The Ballad of Jack and Haley") is heartbreaking...
A: It is and yet it was supposed to be funny. It is heartbreaking, I guess. The point of the song - you do what you gotta do. He makes a huge mistake and sacrifice. As a parent, you're trying to make a decision all the time - whether it's selling drugs or going to make money out on tour. While I'm gone, my kid's gonna get wrapped up in shit 'cause I was gone? It's about compromise. What do you do? Do you provide? Do you sacrifice your own success or your own security to be around? It could be anything.
Q: My entry into your music was lyrically but you seem to have an endless supply of inventive melodies. Where does the inspiration come from? Is it a thrill writing a great verse, finding the perfect melody or watching the two come together in the studio? Or is it knocking a crowd on its ass?
A: Not to disappoint you, none of it's that thrilling. It's cathartic and I do it and I like it, but the real thrill for me is getting out there with my friends. It's not on the forefront of my mind all the time, almost never, except when I have to do it. But my favorite thing about it is that I get to travel around with my friends and play and hang out. We talk about touring all the time and we never, ever talk about shows. Never. Never talk about music.
Q: What a lot of folk consider the grind, the time in between shows, is a big thrill for you?
A: Absolutely. We like playing and it's cool but once I write a song and record it, I've pretty much had it with it. I don't have an emotional attachment to any art that I've produced.
Q: That's interesting because much of your writing is emotional, so there must have been some emotional attachment initially?
A: I think that's true. There are times when I'm performing when I will revisit that emotion and I'd say I'm better at that now, but I compartmentalize it. If somebody took my music and destroyed it and I couldn't remember it again, I wouldn't be heartbroken.
Q: That's a different philosophy than most musicians.
A: I'm like that with possessions as well. The only things I really give a fuck about are people, friends and family. I'm not sentimental in that way.
Q: Your debut (Salesmen And Racists) starts off with the line "Last time I couldn't make you cum" and that's a unique view from a rock and roller.
A: That song wasn't even going to be on the record and the label heard it, put it on the record and made it the first single and it never got played and then I got dropped. That was my experience with a record label. I wouldn't even have put that song on a record. There are times when I like to play it but I don't play it much. I didn't know much about marketing and when the guy says "this is the song", I never expected that to be single and I said "Wow... that's going to be on the radio?" We had songs like "Commie Drives A Nova", "Put A little Love in It" and "Hail Hail" and they're gonna put that song on the radio?
Q: So then it was on to Rock Ridge for Sparkle in The Finish?
A: Sparkle in the Finish was the first record that Rock Ridge put out. Rock Ridge was started by an executive who left Universal right after I did and said he'd put out anything I did. His name's Tom Derr. Now they've had about 100 releases out, they're distributed through Warner Brothers. They're not a label that's bound by any one artistic style, but they're a successful label and they're doing a nice job.
Q: What can you tell me about the Spook Brady Sessions?
A: Those were the demos for Salesmen and Racists. Some of those recordings were the same recordings that wound up on Salesmen And Racists. We should have just put that out as it was, it was really cool.
Q: Any interest in writing a novel? Your songs seem to lend themselves to that kind of treatment? Is that something you've thought about?
A: Yeah, kind of. I don't know about a novel, but I'm more interested in film really than books. I think with songs, although this writer dude [Steve Almond] told me this is not true, it's easier to put so much information in such a short amount of time and words. I told him that songs are the easiest, they're the quickest things to write and that I could never write a book. I'd lose interest in a second. For my attention span, songs are good. To answer your question, I write scenes and dialogue a lot. I could probably write a longer piece about every song I ever wrote. I am very interested in film in every capacity, from being a director to being an actor, to writing them. I love film, I love stories.
Q: What movie should have had an Ike Reilly soundtrack?
A: I don't know. I've had plenty of songs in movies but I haven't written any specifically for movies. I would like to do that too.
Q: Joe Strummer leaves an answering machine message that leads into "Hip Hop thighs # 16" on Poison The Hit Parade. Was he a friend of yours? An influence?
A: I love The Clash. They're my favorite band of all time. And I like Joe. I shouldn't say I was good friends with him. I got to play with him and I hung out with him way before I was a musician when he was in Chicago. I was impressed by him and I was jealous that my friend Tom Morello got to induct The Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Q: Any plans yet to follow-up this record?
A: I'm not planning one yet, but I'm sure I'll have one. I got a lot of shit ready to go. If I walked in the studio right now, I'd start a record.
Q: Do you have a home studio?
A: It's not like a home studio, it's a real studio. I live in an old hunting lodge, and so I moved the studio here from the city about six years ago. It's in the part of my house that used to be a bar for the hunters.
Q: You got rid of the bar?
A: No, the bar's still... we didn't get rid of the bar, but we put the recording equipment around it. People make records here. Brendan O'Shea's an Irish singer living in New York - he just recorded here.
Q: Isn't he name dropped in "When Irish Eyes Are Burning"?
A: Yeah, he's a good friend of mine from Ireland and me and him were in this band called The Drovers years ago.
Q: Is he one of the guys pictured in the Staggering Evening booklet?
A: No, that's one of my rugby teams. Did you see (Chris) Farley next to me? There's another guy next to him named Matt Foley who's a priest now. Matt Foley is the character Farley did on Saturday Night Live. Matt Foley is from Libertyville and he and I grew up together and Farley and I met in college and then we played rugby together. When I first started playing music, he would emcee. We had a funny fucking group of dudes, man.
Q: Now "Irish Eyes are Burning"... now there's a movie.
A: A lot of that shit is true. I did get in a fight. I was with my wife, she wasn't my wife then, and I was just about to get the shit kicked out of me and then all these guys came up to the next movie in our hometown and bailed me out.
Q: At the Violent Femmes show?
A: No, that's a different story. Each verse is a different story. This was actually going to the movie theater in Libertyville.
Q: As a veteran musician, what do you think about American Idol?
A: I feel like I'm from another planet when I see it. I can't even really comment because I look at it and have so little interest in it, and it kinda makes me sick. For many different reasons - it exploits all these people that shouldn't be exploited. You get what you want - it celebrates fame instead of talent.
Q: Did you have certain commercial expectations when you made this record?
A: My expectations are all gone now. I expect to make great records and I consider what I do original and I think my band is one of the best bands in the world, in rock and roll, but I have no expectations. I turn on the TV and I see Dancing With the Stars and American Idol and I realize that it is what it is. I mean, I know that I'm going to affect people. I don't know how many. Would I love us to be more successful? Would I like people to have better taste? Fuck yeah. I have expectations. I'm working harder - I'm more involved on this record than I ever have. I've been doing podcasts, radio shows, and getting more feedback from doing them than I ever have.
Ike Reilly (with Shooter Jennings) - The War On the Terror and The Drugs
Ike Reilly Assassination - Hip Hop Thighs # 17