XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
Hi, Bobby! Pleased to make your acquaintance. It has been an incredibly eventful period, to be sure; this year, I signed to New Vine Records, a stellar independent label in New York.
And my very first single on New Vine, FTR SHK, was just released in October. It is the very first release in my latest thematic phase, and there has been effusive praise for it across the board.
XS ROCK: So how long has the band been together?
I’ve been operating as a solo artist for over a decade, billed simply as Kurt Riley. During this time, I’ve had the good fortune to perform and record with a litany of magnificent musicians, and the current lineup is amongst the finest I’ve ever been blessed with. The current lineup has been together for about six months, and features Charlie Jones on synthesizer, Tyler Flewelling on drums, and John Carter on bass. We’re now billed as kurt.riley+praxis.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for originally starting or being in a band?
When I was a little boy, I was obsessed with superheroes. Thought about pursuing a career as a comic book penciller, at one point. (DC or Marvel, if you’re reading this, the offer is still on the table.) There were several aspects of superheroic stories which, in retrospect, directly informed my musical aspirations – the duality of a set of heroic/everyday identities; a superpower which allows one to accomplish great things; the use of costumes and disguises to manifest a new “self”. For my money, Batman was just as influential to me as Bo Diddley.
Music gave life to the identity I had living within. That shadow inside each of us – the true version of ourselves that we know we could be, had we the courage to just do so. Every time I put on the powder, paint, and costume, strap on the guitar and walk onstage…it is that very transformation which takes place. Kurt Riley is given life again, for an hour or two. (laughs)
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
As a child, there were gems in the ether – classical, The Beach Boys, Phildelphia soul on the AM radio…one of the first things that truly moved me was “Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites. Heard it in the car as a toddler, and even then, there was a serious poignancy to it which registered with my little brain.
My upbringing was very strict – 1990s American Christian conservatism. Youth groups, Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, hymns and all that. (Luckily, I aged out of the bracket right before VeggieTales. Ha ha.) I was desperate to forge my own identity beyond the indoctrination – from the outset, I saw how cultish and arcane the whole practice was, no matter how beautiful “Oh Holy Night” sounded at Christmastime.
So I had my teenage rebellion. And music was my truest, dearest, only friend. The Rolling Stones were the first group I truly fell in love with, and the romance continues to this day. Brian Jones was an influence who loomed especially large – I taught myself how to play several instruments and developed my keen sartorial sense thanks to that man. Singing and composing quickly became passions, as well. I knew from the start that I’d need to learn to do it all myself – there was always a feeling that a long-term band, a gang of brothers like The Beatles or The Who, wasn’t in the cards for me.
But the maudlin origin story notwithstanding, I’ve had an incredible journey thus far. Recorded my first album in a converted garage-cum-studio with Beyoncé/Run The Jewels collaborator BOOTS and his brilliant father, Steve Cruz. Produced my second album while a student at Cornell University – a sci-fi concept album which earned huge accolades from the press. The New York State Council on the Arts awarded me a grant to record my third record, and the 4 singles I’ve released since then have each become fast favourites amongst my fans.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
Glamour, darkness, and fearlessness.
XS ROCK: What are your current music career goals?
The new thematic phase I’ve begun, called Chrome Empire, will see me release 9 more singles with New Vine Records, through February 2021. I’m thrilled to be working with them; this futuristic sound is something I’ve had cooking on the back burner for years. FTR SHK was the very first step on this path.
We’re also expanding our live performance reach across The United States in 2020, and I’m eager to perform in Europe, where there is a demonstrable appetite for the Chrome Empire material.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Can I say both? Ha ha. Yes – both. I cannot live without either.
XS ROCK: What are your songs’ lyrics about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Heretofore, my writing has addressed the beauty of love, senescence, defiance in the face of detractors, and a fundamental regret that I was born forty years too late. (laughs)
The new Chrome Empire material addresses the future I see on the horizon – ecological and societal collapse, the continued rise of automation, human/machine relationships, the birth of AI, and megacities. (Very light subject matter. Ideal for crowded dance floors.)
XS ROCK: What is the single most important thing to you as a musician?
To be remembered.
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road?
Still working on those.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
To a man who regularly removes items of clothing while performing, no request is strange. (laughs)
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
Certainly not at the outset. But a combination of my obstinance and a modicum of success has managed to convince them that they might as well relinquish the fight. Ha ha.
That being said, my family & friends are the dearest group of people I’ve ever known; if there is a god, they blessed me beyond comprehension with the people who call me friend, lover, or blood. They have made me rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
XS ROCK: What advice do you have for new bands trying to get started?
- Never give up.
- When flaky bandmates quit or relationships break your heart, still refuse to give up.
- When shady promoters or black-hearted journalists discourage you – nope, don’t give up then, either.
- When you are alone in the night and there is nothing but your song and the tears on your face – still, even then in that dark night of the soul, refuse to give up.
- No matter what happens – never give up.
- P.S. Do cardio.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
The newest ones, for sure. There are a few numbers we haven’t even released yet which everyone is loving – Evergreen and Free high amongst them – and we’re doing updated versions of previous fan favorites, such as Century and Love Is In My Heart.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
My Olympian pantheon is chock full, but foremost amongst its inhabitants are T.Rex, Gary Numan, The Beatles, Muddy Waters, Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music, Prince, Iggy Pop, and The Rolling Stones.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
It would be an absolute honor to perform with the living members of the aforementioned list. Especially Bryan Ferry – I’d die happy if we opened for him.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Survival. And staying thin. (laughs)
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
I don’t think I’d be here at all.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Since I first took up guitar, I’ve been a Vox man – have a lovely little amp of theirs which does the job quite nicely. I utilize an array of guitar and vocal effects pedals which help me craft the sleek, futuristic sound we’re using for the Chrome Empire phase.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
In the mainstream, it’s garbage.
Underground, it is beautiful.
We need to create a better world for creatives. Somewhere out there is today’s Lennon, tomorrow’s Billie Holiday. And they’re being overlooked simply because they don’t have enough Instagram followers, enough YouTube views.
It is a cultural injustice – history will not look back upon the evisceration of music’s healthy middle class with any mercy.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
My longboxes contain the entire collected run of Guy Gardner: Warrior.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
Absolutely! Firstly – thank you so much for being with us on this journey.
Secondly – the Chrome Empire chapter is poised to be the most fascinating yet – so keep your eyes peeled. (And visit www.ftrshk.com to watch the music video.)
XS ROCK: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS ROCK!
A pleasure – thank you for having us on!