Born an Army brat, Kurt Riley has been on the road all his life. Relocating from state to state often as a boy, he turned to art and fiction as solace from the loneliness that life granted. Stemming from a conservative upbringing, he sought an escape from that stifling mindset; the exodus was granted at fourteen years old, when he discovered The Rolling Stones. Further galvanized by Delta blues, Chess Records, and classic R&B, Riley taught himself how to sing and play both the guitar and harmonica a year later.
Please list all of your band members and their roles in the band.
Mr. Kurt Riley:
music video concepts/editing
Mr. Rick Kline:
Mr. Charlie Jones:
Mr. Sesu Coleman:
For starters, what bands were you guys a part of prior to Kurt Riley? How long has the band been around?
I’ve been on my own as an artist since the beginning, really – since about 13. Between 2006-2007, I was part of The Steel Hearts, a punk rock R&B outfit I founded with a dear high school friend, Sean Murphy. (That was an absolute delight.) Since The Steel Hearts, I’ve been strictly solo, starting with my debut album Brighthead, in 2010. But as a solo artist, I’ve been blessed to play with several great bands – and the latest is the greatest.
Rick has performed with many bands in the Central New York area; right now, he performs with The Darts (an Americana group) concurrently.
Charlie studied music in college – he’s got an academic pedigree! He’s performed with a few others, I believe.
Sesu founded the glam/proto-punk troupe The Magic Tramps in the early 1970’s, fronted by Warhol superstar Eric Emerson. They were among the first in NYC to play at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB-OMFUG, and they were on the bill with The New York Dolls the night the Mercer Arts Center collapsed in 1973. Sesu subsequently performed and toured with Suicide founder Alan Vega, as well.
What’s the origin of that name and have you changed the band’s name before?
My given surname is a bit unwieldy – not the easiest thing to pronounce (laughs). Riley appealed to me as a teenager given the connotation – living the life of Riley and all that. Figured that’d be quite a fun life to live. (And I certainly felt lost within a teenage wasteland, so the Who connection was an added bonus.)
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs and do you think these topics will change over time?
Composition and arrangement fall within my job description, and it’s one of the greatest joys I’ve ever known. To my knowledge, a human being can take three broad types of actions within our reality: we can destroy, consume, or create. To create is an absolute blast; each one of my songs is a little gem I’ve pulled out of my heart or my head. I give it the kiss of life and watch it run like a child in the park.
My principal obsession is combining disparate influences or genres to create something new. That’s the genesis of the name I’ve given to my genre – metapop. And these influences need not only be sonic – songs I’ve written have been influenced by ancient Egyptian civilization, DC Comics, and the fin de siècle.
The topics that fascinate me don’t change too often, but they do evolve as history progresses. One overarching subject is the vast shift we’re experiencing in the beginning of the 21st Century across our entire experience as a species – from automation’s supplanting of human labour in the workforce (and what that means for our day-to-day life) to the effects of digital communication on human interactions, such as long-term coupling or simple sex.
Beginning in 2019, the band & I will be entering an entirely new stylistic, conceptual, and sonic phase, called Chrome Empire. This will be purposefully futurist – both in sound and style. Many of the cutting-edge subjects I addressed above will be touched upon in the lyrics.
What bands are currently inspiring the music that you’re making?
I return to drink from the well at the pantheon on a daily basis; The Rolling Stones, T.Rex, Chess Records, Queen, Jimmy Reed, The Beatles – they’re my lodestones. So many giants whose shoulders I’ve been blessed to stand upon time and time again.
As I’ve entered my dotage (laughs), I’ve developed a great affinity for the music my grandparents listened to. As a little boy, I’d hear the strains of the Metropolitan Opera, Sinatra, Nat King Cole…and now they’ve become some of my favorites, right alongside Jagger and Numan. For my money, if Nelson Riddle’s strings in the middle of Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” don’t make you well up with tears, you need to be checked for a soul.
There are also some extremely innovative future pop artists which I adore. One in particular is Sweden’s Jonna Lee, who first garnered global acclaim via a series of brilliant songs and high-concept videos as part of the iamamiwhoami project. “y”, “Kill”, and “Fountain” in particular are sublime and gorgeous. She’s currently touring and recording successfully as ionnalee, and I’m really chuffed that she’s doing it independently – it is an inspiration.
Was there a particular band/artist or concert that inspired you to start a band?
The Rolling Stones. Without a doubt. The first record I became obsessed with was their 2002 compilation Forty Licks; I played it obsessively. Subsequently, I bought every damn release from England’s Newest Hitmakers through Undercover. (And much of what came afterwards was quite beautiful, as well.) Their breadth, power, and groove are unsurpassed. When Father Time finally comes for them, a hole will be left which can never be filled. I count my lucky stars that I was born in a time where I can enjoy Exile on Main Street and Tattoo You.
What do you do to prepare for a show? Any flexing, exercises, ect …
Ah! This is quite an insightful question. Not many folks ask about this one – but it is so important.
My workout routine includes cardio 5 days a week, with alternating bouts of weightlifting and core exercises. I do a great deal of moving about onstage; by the time I come off, my clothes are soaking wet. It’s critical to keep in tip-top condition. (And I’m not unaware that a degree of my appeal has little to do with the music at all. So I’m cognizant of that fact with every M&M I stuff in my gaping maw. Ha ha.)
Backstage, I warm up by singing along to records – Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways”, Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely”, to name a few. It warms up the vocal cords and gets me in the mood. (Plus, with those fellows, I’m in good company.)
What has been the biggest highlight of the band’s career so far?
There’ve been a few – which is a great problem to have! In February 2018, we were the cover story on the most widespread news magazine in Central New York, which was something else; it was surreal, seeing my face on newsstands and at bus stops all over the city. Gave me a little taste of what fame must be like. (So I bought sunglasses and a hat. Ha ha.)
This past summer, Sesu and I went to see Blondie perform in Syracuse; he has been close with Deborah Harry and Chris Stein since the 1970s, and we went backstage to meet them. It was a surreal experience; Debbie held court like a regal punk rock Grace Kelly, and Clem Burke was a gentleman, offering us red wine and smoked salmon as candles wavered around his shrine to Keith Moon, which he sets up in his dressing room each night. They were absolutely wonderful.
If you could tour with any bands, past or present, who would they be and why?
Bryan Ferry. His work, both with Roxy Music and on his own, has been a massive influence upon me; Ferry taught me that power does not necessarily equal volume. Avalon is one of my desert island discs. To be able to open for that man on tour, and then retreat to the wings to hear him perform each night…I would be in my glory.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
YouTube videos of songs from classic artists are replete with comments from people desperately asking “where is music like this today?” Well, it is here. We are here. And the paradigm is about to shift.