Kurt Riley – Interview

We recently had a chance to sit down and chat with all the bands from the Stencil label, which has been interesting indeed! Our next chat was with Kurt Riley – see how we got on below!

By Jane Howkins

How is 2019 treating you so far?

Quite wonderfully! Thank you for asking. The fellas in the band and I have just enjoyed a bit of a respite from the mad schedule we enjoyed during 2018. We performed dozens of times, appeared on radio, TV, in print, and across the Web, and released three knockout singles – Love Is In My Heart, Failure of Imagination, and Be Cool. (plug plug plug)

Have you released any music so far this year? If so, what can you tell us about that?

The three aforementioned singles represent the end of the first phase of my career – which began almost a decade ago, with the release of debut album, Brighthead. Since then, I’ve also released the sci-fi opera Kismet and the zeitgeist-infused Tabula Rasa. But what comes next is unlike anything I’ve done thus far. 2019 is where I begin painting the second panel of my triptych – with the Chrome Empire period.

Chrome Empire is my sonic and stylistic pass at divination. While we’ve seen (and heard) many visions of the future, I’m going to do it in a manner heretofore unseen; the music I release in the next two years will address topics which have gone virtually unaddressed by songwriters the world over. And they are some of the most important matters our species has to face – artificial intelligence, biohacking, environmental decline, increasing authoritarianism and the spectre of societal collapse.

Of course, what fun would any of those topics be without a danceable beat and a catchy melody? That will be my job. To write horrors into nursery rhymes. And that, right there, is the second half of the Chrome Empire goal. The sound.

Are you working on any new music at the moment? What are you working on, and when will it be released?

Absolutely. The Chrome Empire material has been in production for some time. I’ve purposefully deconstructed my own songwriting style, my own proclivities, in an attempt to rewire my brain. When I first fell in love with music, aeons ago, I fell for rock and roll. The Rolling Stones, T.Rex, The Clash. Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, The Beatles. And so many others, so many branches of the family tree – Chess Records in Chicago, Sun and Stax in Memphis; Gary Numan’s coldwave genius, The Killers’ heroic reach for the dead dream of the American Midwest. So many heroes in my pantheon.

But it has become increasingly clear – for years now – that most people under thirty couldn’t care less about anything written before Lady Gaga’s well-manufactured debut. So I am taking rock and roll into spacedock and giving her the refit she needs to survive another five-year mission. That is my new pursuit, as part of Chrome Empire; to fuse the man with the machine, sonically.

Have you got any upcoming tours planned? If so, where are you playing and where are you looking forward to going most?

During the past year we played extensively. It was absolutely magnificent – we made new fans for miles and had an utter ball. In 2019, we’re going to expand that reach into new cities and states – and, using digital means, into new corners of the internet. In the age of Netflix, it is quite curious that live concerts still draw a crowd as they do. Given the constant popularity of convenience, and the technology at our fingertips, I’d like to see if a concert could be broadcast via social media, to thousands of people who could never drive to your show.

Who/what has influenced you the most as musicians?

If I had to narrow down my pantheon to 6 gods, this is who I turn to, again and again: The Rolling Stones, Queen/Freddie Mercury, T.Rex, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, and The Beatles. 

Of course, this unfairly and unjustly cuts out every other deity I adore – from Jimmy Reed to Vangelis, and from Chuck Berry to James Horner. But if I could only pick six, those are the statues you’d see in my temple of worship. Everything began for me with the blues and worship music. I was forced to listen to hymns in church on Sundays as part of a staunchly conservative family. I delved headlong into the blues as a teenager – Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, and so many more. I suppose that makes sense, in a way. When you’re praising the Almighty or crying out with your soul, you’re receiving catharsis, either way. Both are a message to God – except the blues is a plaintive cry for help, rather than shameless adulation.

Why do you think people should pick up one of your records or come and see you live, and what can people expect from one of your shows?

My forefathers are those who reside within my pantheon, and like them, I am the self-invented man. I compose all of my own material, unlike the interchangeable clones on the radio; I play almost a dozen instruments, sing, and give high-concept, theatrical performances. Additionally, my incredible personal charm is only tempered by my deep humility.

Any last words for the fans?

Do no harm and love everyone you meet. For it is very late in the world, and there is no time left for darkness; we must all band together as brothers and sisters in order to survive.