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The Ike Reilly Assassination: Get ready for a Staggering Evening
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
On September 13th, One Lucky Guitar will celebrate seven superb years of graphic design by hosting The Ike Reilly Assassination. I received a copy of Ike's debut album, Salesmen and Racists, from the head of OLG, Matt Kelley, years ago. Press play on the album and you'll be welcomed with, 'Last time I couldn't make you come.' So, you see, to say Reilly is bold would be a perverse understatement. The man calls it as he sees it and he's seen a lot. When the IRA play The Botanical Conservatory, Ike will have four proper albums to cull his setlist from, including his critically hailed and most recent record, We Belong to the Staggering Evening. David Carr of the New York Times said, "No one else in America rocks the common man's experience in such uncommon ways. Modern and ancient, punk and pub, heart-breaking and knife-wielding, Mr. Reilly's new record plays for keeps." With all, some and none of this in mind I spoke with Reilly recently and he was nothing short of gracious, patient, humorous, boisterous, and, most importantly, honest.
Fort Wayne Reader: How's it going, Ike?
Ike Reilly: Sean, I'm sorry I held you up. I ****** up.
FWR: No worries. Are in the midst of a tour?
IR: No. I'm at home right this minute.
FWR: I thought perhaps you were soundchecking.
IR: No, I was in the recording studio.
FWR: You've already got some new songs you're working on?
IR: Oh yeah.
FWR: When it comes to recording, do you do it all at once or as you go?
IR: There's no rhyme or reason. No methodology, whatsoever. If there's time to record, I record. If there's not, there isn't. You know? I usually try to record close to the time I write the song, if I can. It doesn't always work out.
FWR: Try to get it while it's fresh and you have the idea.
IR: Before I hate it.
FWR: How long have you had the studio in the house?
IR: What studio? What do you mean? Did I say I was in the house?
FWR: You mentioned being at home.
IR: Well, I'm home, in Chicago. But, I'm not in a studio that's home.
FWR: Understood. You're home in the city, but not in a studio in your home.
IR: I do have a studio in my home, but that's not where I am. I wish I didn't.
FWR: Since it takes you away from family?
IR: Just because it's a pain in the ass.
FWR: Where did you get your interest in music?
IR: No different than anyone else. Radio, big brothers, and friends. I wasn't really that interested in songs that much then, as I got later. I liked blues music and punk music. I didn't really ever view myself as someone who would participate in it. I just liked what it said.
FWR: Before your debut solo album, 'Salesmen and Racists,' you had been in several bands, among them the Drovers. What were those years like?
IR: I was in the Drovers very briefly. Then, I was in my own band. Which is similar to what I'm doing right now, which is where I write the songs and play with other guys.
FWR: Then it got to a point where you decided to quit. Were you burnt out?
IR: I didn't ever quit playing. Everyone always says that. I just didn't play out anymore. I wasn't burnt out. It wasn't anything I felt I needed to do. Then I wrote some songs and got signed. Once I got signed I thought, "Oh, I better do this."
FWR: That was through a relationship with Mike Simpson.
IR: Yeah, one of the Dust Brother fellas. Yeah. It wasn't a relationship. He got my music and tried to sign me to DreamWorks. Once that happened all the other record companies found out who I was.
FWR: What was it like working with Universal?
IR: I've never really worked with anyone. I gave them a record and that was that. The perception that I had of a record label/artist relationship is probably what you have. But, it's not always. Everything I've done has kind of been an anomaly and it hasn't worked either. In the old days, you'd work with an A&R guy or something, probably. What we did was I just provided a record. I have no interest in collaborating with some record label shithead or anybody else, for that matter. They signed me, gave me a bunch of money and then they dropped me about two years later.
FWR: What led to you signing with Rock Ridge?
IR: Some guys that left Universal started the label. But, I gotta tell you something. Let me tell you something. Your name's Sean? To me, the discussion of record labels is about the most boring ******* thing I could talk about or for you … who the **** wants to read about that? That's my personal opinion and I'm not putting you down one bit, I'm just telling you. If you want to read the business section, read the business section. I have no interest in it at all. I certainly didn't get into this so I could get a ***** record deal and be in the industry. In fact, if I thought for a minute I'd have to deal with anybody in the industry, I would have never done this to begin with. I do it for the images in the songs, for what the songs are about, for the creative, for the expression, for the ability to travel around and meet people and communicate.
FWR: So do you enjoy all of the aspects equally? Writing, recording and touring are all fun for you?
IR: Well, yeah. I don't mind any of it. Fun is a different thing, you know what I mean? But do I find it exciting and fulfilling and interesting? Yeah. Sometimes it's not always fun. But in retrospect the experience either broadens you, makes you stronger, helps your opinions go one way or the other about the world, about hope or about evil. Because you see a lot of different things, you know? But, a lot of it's not strictly about the music, because it's about the journey.
FWR: What was it like touring with Tom Morello?
IR: We did about twenty dates, I think. I'm friends with him. He helped me with this last record, edit some songs. He's a fan of mine and I kind of was with him when he started playing acoustically and we just hadn't been able to work it out yet, so we went out and played this swing of his Nightwatchman tour. It was a fuckin' riot. He played alone, I played alone and then we played together. I went to see Rage the other night, too. It was unbelievable. I took a couple of my kids with me and we sat right on the stage. It was really cool.
FWR: What do your kids think of your music and your band?
IR: They think the songs are better than … you know, I don't even know who to compare it to. They know that I'm in a great band. They know that my songs are maybe more lyrical than the **** they're exposed to through the normal channels of music, like Disney and the internet. I think they're interested in it, but maybe they have some sort of animosity toward it too, because of the time it takes away from us all. But, my kids are well-versed in what they listen to. We're not people who wear the identity of what I do on our sleeves and they don't either. Like, the first time they saw my band was very, very recently. Like this last tour. I mean they've seen us rehearse and they know my bandmates really well, but not as players.
FWR: More like friends of the family or 'uncles'.
IR: Yeah, exactly. They're guys that drift in and out. It's a lot of music going here and its cool, but most of the time they'll see the band playing basketball or drinking. The conversations that my bandmates have with my kids are usually sports related or silly ****. They do know that I've got a great band. They know that its not just some hacks playing Bon Jovi covers up at the bar.
FWR: Do you have any interest in doing something like what Dan Zanes does?
IR: I don't know what that means. Is that a joke? What's Dan Zanes?
FWR: Dan Zanes is a former member of The Del Fuegos and he now writes music that's aimed at families. It's really literate kid's music.
IR: I would never ***** wanna do that. Not a ***** chance. My kids were exposed to music with dark themes since they were six. I have no interest in that at all. My interest is in songs that are cathartic for me, not for ****** twelve year olds. I don't mind sitting with kids and saying, "Hey, listen to this song. It's called, 'A Boy Named Sue,' and it's about a kid who is pissed at his father, who's a ***** bum and they end up getting in a fight and he bites his ear off. It's about revenge and love." No, I don't have any interest in doing anything like that.
FWR: Your lyrics are so sharp and descriptive, I wondered if you might be influenced by any authors.
IR: I'm influenced by not authors but stories. Yeah, I guess. You know, authors and movies. Real relationship situations. I wouldn't say, "Man, I want this to sound like The White Stripes" or something like that. My songs come from that place, more than a musical place. I'm more into that. You are correct.
FWR: I've read that the people you came across while working as a hotel doorman have influenced your songwriting as well.
IR: I think they influenced my whole life, but not specifically this guy or that guy. Just the relationship between workers. The overt class system that I could see at the time. The characters I met. The way I see things and write are so quick and snapshots, because you only get a few minutes with each person, you know? I think that influenced the way I write. Some of the songs that I'm doing aren't narrative, literally. They're not A to B. They're more snapshots and images tied together somehow.
FWR: Regarding the lyric in "Garbage Day" that references Fort Wayne. Do you have any personal ties to this city?
IR: I had a night in Fort Wayne. I played there once. I knew I was playing in Fort Wayne and I play that song all the time. Yeah, we had a ****** riot in Fort Wayne. We were playing with this band called Blues Traveler and then we went back to a hotel and we were really ****** up. My guitar player, Tommy O'Donnell, was playing an open mic at some Holiday Inn with the chief of police, I think. He was off duty. It was either the chief of police or a high ranking cop and his kid. We were just partying and having a good time and then Tommy passed out in the bar. Then, we brought some flags out in the parking lot and we put them back eventually. I remember we had a lot of the hotel flags circling out bus. We made a shrine to ourselves, I think. It was fun though.
Be sure to catch The Ike Reilly Assassination along with Metavari and Some Trainhoppers on September 13th at the Botanical Conservatory. The show begins at 7 p.m. and costs $5. Attendees must be 18+ and there will be food and beverage available for purchase from Joseph Decuis.