Music Interview: Kurt Riley

Today I want to introduce you to American musician Kurt Riley who has given us a detailed, emotive and humorous interview about his life, bandmates and music.


Artist Name: Kurt Riley (vocals/composition/arrangement/vox/guitar/ synthesizer/piano)

Band Members: Rick Kline (bass guitar/bass synthesizer), Charlie Jones (synthesizer/keyboard) & Sesu Coleman (drums/percussion).

Genre: Metapop.

Founded: February 2005.

Originated From: Memphis, Tennessee; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Ithaca, New York.


• Brighthead (2010): power-pop debut album, produced by Beyoncé/Run The Jewels collaborator BOOTS.
• Kismet (2016): sci-fi concept album about an alien king who travels across the galaxy in search of his lost queen, and saves the human race in the process.
• Tabula Rasa (2017): a songwriter’s album, with material inspired by the zeitgeist, senescence, and defiance in the face of peer pressure.
• Love Is In My Heart (February 2018): a 21st Century entry into the Great American Songbook, released for Valentine’s Day, and for lovers. Inspired by Nat King Cole.
• Failure of Imagination (September 2018): an amalgam of dub bass, a hip-hop beat, and a glam chant chorus – my riposte to critics. Backed with the b-side Ordinary Guy.
• Be Cool (December 2018): an ebullient celebration of one’s idiosyncrasies, with a chorus catchier than the common cold, and a slapstick music video. Backed with the b-side Precious Angel.


1. How would you describe your music?

The answer to one YouTube comment, posted hundreds of times on thousands of videos: “why don’t they make music like this anymore?” – I do. Welcome to the resistance.

2. How did the band form?

I’ve been performing, playing, and composing for over fifteen years. However, it has only been within the past three years that things have really taken off – a testament to the virtues of perseverance, folks. (laughs)

From the outset, it was my aim to be a self-created entity – much like Prince. A writer of my own material, a multi-instrumentalist, a dynamic performer. To that end, every album I release has a new sound, and a new visual image; I design my own costumes and makeup looks.

For many years, I threw seed on bleak, broken ground. Nothing took root; nothing grew. Eventually, I decided to do the proper thing and go to college, years after my peers had graduated. Ironically, it was here that my music saw greater critical and commercial success than ever before.

After graduating, I remained in the college town where things were prospering. And it was there that I met the three fellas whom I am blessed to call my band – Rick Kline, Charlie Jones, and Sesu Coleman. In 2018 alone, we performed over three dozen times, released three singles (with accompanying music videos), and did innumerable interviews with radio stations and newspapers.

3. Who influenced you within the music industry?

As a little boy, my heart ached whenever I sat in the backseat of my mother’s crimson 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon, listening to Oh, Girl by the Chi-Lites or If You Don’t Know Me By Now by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. As a teenager, the power and majesty of Elmore James, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Bo Diddley, T.Rex, and Jimmy Reed absolutely slayed me. Time went by, and my pantheon of heroes (and heroines) grew to include Gary Numan, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bowie, and Killing Joke.

The aforementioned, to be sure. So many others – Brian Jones, The Killers, Damon Albarn, George Harrison, Eurythmics, The Kills, Charlie Patton. One of my most modern heroines is ionnalee, the brilliant Swedish artist, and architect of the viral iamamiwhoami project. That woman does not simply create music; she creates art.

4. Have you performed live much and what was your favourite gig to play at?

Live performance is a thrill, and one of my great joys. It is a well-worn cliché amongst my coterie, but an accurate one; performing live affords us a connection with the audience that cannot be duplicated or replicated with recorded music. It is singular, and special.

There have been quite a few thrilling moments; one of the most fascinating was a guest appearance on guitar with a hip-hop crew at Bailey Hall, a massive concert venue on Cornell University’s campus in central New York. In the midst of my Tabula Rasa period, where I wore a stark red three-piece suit, covered my head and face in white paint, and wore lipstick and mirrored sunglasses…I step out in front of thousands of college students there to listen to rappers. The guitar was almost something of a historical artefact; it had the novelty of being so ancient that it was almost new again to many of them. Quite a compelling case study for this anachronist.

5. What is the best thing about being a musician?

The limitless supply of money, illicit substances, and female companionship. (What? What year is it? Oh. Right. 2019…) Umm…the percentages of a cent I receive per play from Spotify. Ha ha.

Mordancy aside, this is the love of my soul. My raison d’être, as the French say. It has cost me many thousands of dollars that will never be repaid; many relationships decimated or damaged by its incessant need for attention; many heartbreaks and crow’s feet caused by callous critics. But what would I be without it? A shell of a man. Plus, rock and roll saved my life. The least I can do is return the favour.

6. What plans have you got coming up this year?

Now, I have drawn that first chapter of my musical career to a close. That first panel of my triptych – 2010-2018 – is over, hung up in the closet. With 2019, I begin an entirely new period, a series of singles in a period I call Chrome Empire. The closest analogy I have for how it will sound is how The Rolling Stones would have sounded, had then formed in a bar down the street from Rick Deckard’s apartment, in the 2019 of Blade Runner. This is a sound I’ve been developing for over a decade, so I’m understandably thrilled about finally releasing this material!

The Chrome Empire period will consume the lion’s share of my time and energies. We’ll be recording at a frenetic pace, working diligently at the fantastic New Vine Records here in central New York. We’ll also be performing extensively, with a new stage setup, costumes, and visual aesthetic.


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