Interview – Ike Reilly – Thankful in Minneapolis

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Rebecca Marx, Photo Credit Crackerfarm Photography

For over a decade The Ike Reilly Assassination has been making a pre-Thanksgiving stop right here in the Twin Cities. This year is no different as The Ike Reilly Assassination will be putting on a show like no other in First Avenue’s Mainroom the night before the holiday. I called up Ike Reilly to chat about the show, Bob Dylan, and a host of other timely topics, including a few questions about his wonderfully “rabid” fans and what he may, or may not owe them.

Is there a specific Minnesota connection that brings you here right before the holidays each year?

IR: No, it’s a fun place to play. We’re doing a VIP meet and greet where you can buy tickets to a two–hour sound check that the brewery (Summit Brewing Company) is helping us with. You can come to our sound check, have a couple beers, listen to the band, meet us and hang out. All of the proceeds benefit the Eastside Neighborhood Services (High Rise Mobile Food Shelf). I’m going to come up, and help deliver with those guys, too.

That’s really cool. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several of your shows. I can’t think of a more passionate performance with a more involved audience! I recall the late David Carr saying that you guys were one of the “best touring acts in the country” and I agree. The Flaming Lips for the festivals, and you guys for venues. You put on a really intimate show no matter what size the venue. Is there a band, or an act that does it for you onstage?

IR: Not really, because I don’t really go out that much. I listen to records all of the time, I don’t really go out. The best band that I’ve seen—I don’t know, I haven’t see the same band enough times to really know.

Is it like a lot of bands where you only have time to see the bands that you perform with?

IR: Not even that.

Sad.

IR: Why sad? We like to sit and play together, get ready to perform, not there to see other bands. We’re pretty self-centered.

When I’ve seen you onstage, it looks like you don’t leave anything on the table. How important is it to you to NOT disappoint your fans?

IR: I hope that no one is disappointed you know, but the goal is not, to not disappoint anybody. The goal is to play the songs as honestly as we can. I mean it’s like I’ve disappointed a lot of people, but I hope that each show is some kind of cathartic connection that we make. I mean if I look out at the crowd, and it seems like they want me to do 25 shots of Jameson, and then puke all over the drummer, I won’t do that…

Because it’s not an act…

IR: Oh, it’s an act, but we can’t worry about not disappointing someone. The whole point is to create some kind of feeling between the audience and us. If we do that then they won’t be disappointed.

I really want to dig a bit into the fans. I have to say it–they are rabid! Seriously committed to you, they know every verse, and aren’t shy to shout them out!

IR: Everywhere we go, they all shout the lines. I can’t even remember them! I’ll go to some town, and think that one going to know this shit, we haven’t sold any records here, and then they know every word! So, maybe they’re stealing records…

You never know these days, does that blow your mind a bit?

IR: I mean you make a record hoping someone will listen, and buy it. It doesn’t really blow my mind–I am just surprised because there are so many words that I can’t even remember them!

Speaking of words, I recall seeing you at Grumpy’s NE, a fan was insistent that you perform “Commie Drives A Nova”, I think that you shot back with a joking: “Get Over It!” Are there any of your songs that you are over?

IR: You know, I’d rather yell for someone to “get over it”, then be over the song. There are songs that I don’t like, but that was meant as a joke. There are songs I don’t play because I don’t know them or remember them, and there’s always songs that I do want to play at a certain place, or time. Sometimes you’re not feeling it, what it meant at the time, or don’t relate to it anymore.

It would seem like you’d be focused on the songs that are more meaningful to you at the time, like songs that you’ve just written, or speak to a place where you’re at.

IR: Yes.

I kid about the fans, calling them “rabid”, but they’re so into it! That feels really special, it must be something that the band feeds off of. You probably remember that ceiling fixture at the Turf Club that people like to hang off of?

IR: Yeah, I know that ceiling fan at the Turf. I’ve seen it a lot. It looks like an upside down crown.

I figured that you’d remember it! Have you heard about a sign that was posted? A performer (AA Bondy) read it at a show of his; it warns to NOT hang from it…

IR: (laughter)

I’m curious to know what you think about that?

IR: Uh–well, I’ll have to break that rule!

I love that. I think that you should!

IR: I like to climb on everything. I’m a climber of things, you know? I’ll climb houses, trees, cars…

Whatever’s there?

IR: Uh huh, I’m a crawler too.

A climber/crawler? I joke about your fans, but I think it is really special–that connectedness. One thing that I’ve seen as a struggle for an artist, is that it can be difficult for fans to accept that an artist can evolve, that they may even change their sound. In your opinion what does an artist owe their fans?

IR: I can’t even answer that. I don’t think that I owe them anything at all. I think you owe them not to get fat; you owe them to do it well if you’re going to do it. People are paying money for me to keep writing, playing and performing with musicians, and to not get fat.

More like a metaphorical “not get fat”?

IR: I owe it to my fans to maintain my fighting weight. You can put 300 lbs., but really it’s 147.

147’s awesome! Must be all that climbing and crawling!

IR: A lot of crawling calories burned.

Did you hear that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature?

IR: I did, my mom called me. It kind of validates everything, it’s strange, and it’s cool. I don’t have a sound bite for you, but I saw people criticizing it today on the computer saying that he isn’t a real poet or writer, and shit–I disagree.

I disagree too, my first job as a kid was in a library, and when I came across a book of Dylan’s lyrics that was the first time that I really fell for his music. I think he is almost first a poet, then a musician—maybe that is wrong, but it’s what I think…

IR: You talk about literature, the first literary things weren’t written down, they were uttered. It’s an oral art as well a written art. Dylan really paved the way.

Your songwriting style has been compared to his, and I have to think it comes down to that you both write songs in a character driven way and reflect upon universal human conditions. Is Dylan an influence of yours?

IR: For sure, I mean–yes absolutely. Not just his songwriting, but him melodically, structurally, emotionally, and humorously–the EVERYTHING! When I was just a little kid and heard the opening chords of “Ballad of a Thin Man” (sings da-da-da-da)…Dylan’s songs really take you away from where you are, and transport you to different times, and places. The same thing that the Clash did for me too, you know hearing them sing about London. I guess that is what I hope that my songs do, you know bring someone to a different place emotionally. Most of my songs are written in a character’s voice.

I get that from your songwriting for sure. Some artists write from what they’ve lived through, whole albums even written entirely out of a love gone badly for example. As a source for inspiration are you more comfortable looking out, and writing about what you observe?

IR: Yeah, whatever the subject is–is colored by what you observe, and what you live. It isn’t like this song is specifically about an experience that I had, or that dude had, or something we all witnessed or a historical experience if you can call it that.

Are you saying that you can’t separate the two?

IR: Well you could, but I’m just saying that I don’t. A song has a purpose, if you want to write a song that speaks of the struggle between management and labor you have to see it from all sides. The workers, the lies…so to answer your question I don’t look outside, or in–I look both ways.

I can only imagine your past work as a gravedigger, and a hotel doorman exposed you to some pretty unique situations. Did the experiences end up in any of your songs?

IR: Yes, when you’ve been to a thousand funerals, and seen the fragility of life…the tragic humor of death has polluted my songwriting a lot.

In particular I really like the song from Born On Fire– “Job Like That (Lasalle & Grand)”…

IR: That was for sure an attitude taken from being an outsider at a Hotel. Seeing people who have more, or better things than you, it’s supposed to be funny…

It is funny, but like that tragic humor—right?

IR: I guess so.

There’s so many story lines going on, the frustrated parent, the lover, the worker…I know that is a real street (Lasalle & Grand) in Chicago. Is Dan from the song real?

IR: Oh, absolutely.

Who is Dan?

IR: Dan was a friend of mine from Ghana. We used to party in a place called the Equator Club where all the Ghanaians used to hang out at, it was a great time.

Are the street sounds from the song’s intro from that actual intersection?

IR: Nah, but they are from the neighborhood.

I don’t want to get too political unless you don’t mind. As you tour, do you get a feel for what a wide cross section of people around the US feel about the election?

IR: I feel like some people are chauvinistic, I don’t understand how women can vote for Trump. How people can adhere to party lines and turn their back on their own country? It must be that people are inherently racist, or chauvinistic? I don’t know. You know I wouldn’t fucking cross the street, or be caught dead having a drink with him (Trump). I’ve got 20 Republican friends, and any of them would be a better president than him. It’s the classic fame and money thing, someone that made their name from a reality show…didn’t some poet say: “The times they are a changing?”

You just brought it back full circle!

IR: That Nobel Prize winning poet! I can’t fathom how disgruntled, or afraid of change you have to be to want that guy to be President. That crazy party ties shit–you think taxes are going to go up? I don’t know. So that is my general opinion, my real opinion is that I can’t wait for the Democrats to take back the Supreme Court, and go back and get the country reunited and fix everything that these fucking people have done to make it so shitty. We all have bias whether we admit it or not, but racial bias is different from discriminatory laws and actions. I was excited when we elected an African American President, and will be thrilled to have a woman as a President. It’s awesome.

Changing topics here, but didn’t you perform at the Seventh Street Entry and introduce a man who had worked on your bus?

IR: Oh yeah! That was the funniest…that was Danny Thomas who worked on the bus about an hour and a half down 94. I think it was Joe from Ghana who worked with Danny. Danny is like this farmer who is like 6 feet plus, and Joe is a guy my size. They were the funniest duo; they came from the shop to see the show. I still talk to them!

So they might be at the show?

IR: I don’t know, they might not share my political views.

Are you planning on recording soon?

IR: I am, I’m working on songs right now. I’m recording some songs next week at Phil Karnat’s studio, my guitarist.

Will you be working with Tom Morello’s (Rage Against the Machine) Firebrand Record Company again?

IR: Yeah, Probably. Tom and I can watch the Cubs win again.

***This interview was done before the Cubs played the World Series. I think Ike Reilly just pretty much foretold the future with the Cubs comment***

You and Tom Morello from the same town (Libertyville, Illinois)?

IR: Tom’s mom was a teacher of mine, but he doesn’t live here anymore, he lives in LA. His first gig was my wife’s 8th grade graduation party.

So you maybe know each other a bit?

IR: Well, we didn’t—you want to know how we really met? Tom was a friend of my wife’s, and then Rick Rubin found me, and Tom was like: “That dudes from Libertyville!”

What a small world moment.

IR: Tom and I have been riding around for like 16, or 17 years.

I’m so glad that you brought up riding around. My husband would kill me if I didn’t ask about the video for “Whatever happened to the Girl in Me” where you are driving around, drinking, and shooting guns in a Crown Vic.

IR: That video is probably 10 years old. We were watching the edit for it, and my son was sitting at the kitchen table and he says: “You’ve got a great job!”

Uh OH!

IR: We weren’t very handy with the guns; we were in Wisconsin in the middle of nowhere fucking around. We could drive as fast as we wanted, drink, and shoot guns!

It certainly looked like you all had a good time, holy cow—who was driving the Crown Vic?

IR: That was me. That was my car. I have a 69 Galaxy now; it’s in the “Hanging Around” video.

You have done the pre-shows around town before the bigger shows. I saw you perform at Grumpy’s Northeast before playing First Avenue, and it was amazing! Do you talk about these “word of mouth” shows beforehand?

IR: I don’t. You could say that it may, or may not happen. I don’t know if, or when.

We’ll have to keep our ears wide open then! Since you are here the day before Thanksgiving at First Avenue, what are you thankful for Ike Reilly?

IR: I’m thankful that I’ve been able to tour a lot.

Buy tickets for The Ike Reilly Assassination First Avenue Mainroom show on 11/23/16 with The Honeydogs, and Rich Mattson and the Northstars (VIP Soundcheck Meet and Greet Package option is $66–$16 portion for GA ticket with a $50 charitable donation): http://first-avenue.com/event/2016/11/ikereilly

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