• Kurt Riley is the 21stCentury’s first metapop rockstar. Joined by the stellar bassist Rick Kline, synth maestro Charlie Jones, and famed drummer Sesu Coleman, Riley has defined himself with his chameleonic personae and genre-spanning compositions.
  • “Towards the end of his life, David Bowie once characterized himself as a man lost in time, but Kurt Riley is just beginning to find himself in it.” (ECM)
  • “His scintillating brand of punk, New Wave, and glam rock will excite you about the direction of contemporary music.” (WVBR-FM)
  • “Not only does he create concept albums, but Kurt brings it to the stage with the kind of production values that do justice to the music.” (Finger Lakes Music Press)


About The Band:

For any of our readers who are unfamiliar with yourself tell us a little bit about your band / project.

  • Sure! My name is Kurt Riley. I’m a metapop composer, musician, and performer from the United States.

What was your earliest memory of music that peaked your interest?

  • When I was a little boy, I was infatuated with the 1989 Batman film, a fascination which hasn’t abated much since then. The soundtrack to the movie struck me deeply; I adored Danny Elfman’s brilliant theme, as well as his more sensitive moments, such as the “Love Theme” and “Descent Into Mystery.” Additionally, that film was my first brush with the magnificent Prince, and I adored “Partyman”, “Trust”, and “Scandalous” the first time I heard them. One could say that the amalgam of a lush orchestra, innovative pop, and a superheroic persona was the genesis of my own identity.

Who was the first album / single you purchased?

  • The first one I strongly recall was Forty Licks, a 2002 compilation by The Rolling Stones. That damn thing stayed on constant repeat within my stereo; I memorized every flourish, every melody, every lyric. It was a perfect primer, and I’ve been in love with the band ever since. For my money, they will never be surpassed; they were my teachers, and the lessons learned under their tutelage have shaped everything I’ve done.

When did you first pick up your respective instrument ?

  • My family is quite religious, and as a child, Sunday morning attendance at church was mandatory. My grandfather was a Baptist minister, and I sang hymns during every service. Though most of the lyrical content was quite droll to my juvenile ears, I adored the melodies. They are some of the prettiest ever crafted – a testament to how inspirational the idea of unconditional love can be. So that was first – the voice and the melody. That’s still where I begin, every time.
  • Instruments came much later on. During my teenage years, I picked up guitar, harmonica, drums, bass, piano – anything I could get my hands on. My aim was always to be a composer of note, so I figured out how to play well enough on a diverse set of instruments, so I could multitrack myself and create my own fully-realized works. These days, I’ve gotten up to about a dozen instruments. (But I’m only decent at about half of them! Ha ha.)

What route did you take with your music / instrument / lessons / music school / self-taught and any fond memories of that journey?

  • In high school, I used to skip lunch and spend my hour in the band room. Our music teacher was incredibly kind to me – I attended a very conservative Christian institution, and she had short purple hair, taking no mess from any of the draconian staff. I adored her bravery. She recognized a fellow misfit in me, I think. Kindly, she allowed me to stay up there during lunchtime, and I’d practice piano, working out things like Lennon’s “Love” and The Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together.” I’d pound away like a less-gifted Little Richard, and she never complained once! What a kind woman; I owe her a great debt for that. She gave me a place to be myself amidst the Pharisees.

Who were your heroes as a young musician that inspired and pushed you to want to be a musician too?

  • My first musical hero was Brian Jones, the fallen Stone. He intoxicated me; I imagine I was a bit in love with him. The man was a surreal combination of 19thCentury rake, 1930s Delta blues vagabond, and Renaissance-era court minstrel. Hours were spent listening to the works he graced; I learned every piece. He may not have been given a writing credit on “Paint It, Black”, “Ruby Tuesday”, “We Love You”, or “No Expectations”, but without his touch they wouldn’t have been the brilliant pieces we cherish today. He was a brilliant colourist, gifted in contrapuntal melody.
  • The man was no angel, to be sure; as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to pity how short his life was, and became a bit disgusted with how he treated women. I’ve got years on him now, and though a death at twenty-seven seemed glamorous as a youth, from this end of the spectrum it now seems just a waste, a sad waste. I wish he’d had the opportunity to make right with those he damaged, and to find peace in life.

Is there one particular album or song that gave you a “Eureka” moment from your youth that made you want to be a musician?

  • Though I was already on the path, the first time I heard Bo Diddley’s “Mona”, I knew it was for me. That song was recorded in 1957, and the beat shook the ground I stood upon when I first heard it in 2004. To this day, it is one of my favorite songs to play live. Just one chord – and people dance like mad.

What was the best gig you’ve ever attended?

  • Billy Idol’s performance at Memphis in May, 2005. It was a sweltering Tennessee summer day, and I was in my high rockabilly phase – this was when I had hair – the uniform de jeurwas an emerald velvet drape jacket, a pomade-plastered quiff, tight jeans, and thick-soled shoes. So I’m in the audience as night descends, getting familiar with a girl I met that evening while Mr. Idol burns through his greatest releases. At this point, he’s already in his fifties, six-pack and sneer still fully intact. And I take a moment to pull away from the lovely young lady’s charms, and there’s Billy onstage, looking directly at me – catching me in the act, as it were. He looks me dead in the eye, and mouths a raunchy “yeah!” as he sneers and gives me a thumbs up. Ha ha! Kurt-tested, Idol-approved.

Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?

  • Oh, yes. Ha ha. I adore ABBA, and frequently listen to Enya’s “Only Time” without a hint of irony. That’s one of a few songs that will make me misty, on very play. It’s so poignant – almost as if the Grim Reaper is a kind, calming mother figure, welcoming you into her bosom at the end of your days.

About Now:

So any new music in the works currently or just released?

  • In September, my band and I released a single called Failure of Imagination, with a music video that is equal parts Green Lantern and Ridley Scott. We’re about to enter the studio this week to record our next single, called Be Cool. It’s a jovial, ebullient power-pop number, and the very last release in the first chapter of my career. With Be Cool, the first panel of the triptych will be complete.

Where and when did you record it?

  • Failure of Imagination was recorded using a portable Tascam unit, kindly loaned by Mr. Joad Coleman, a great friend to the band. We’ll be cutting Be Cool at New Vine Media in Central New York.

How does the song writing process generally work for you?

  • There’s a recollection of Paul McCartney’s that has always stuck with me. During an interview, he noted that when writing with John, they’d wait to write down the lyrics and melody until the subsequent day, after sleeping on it. If the melody was good enough to remember, it was good enough to release. That has been a guiding principle, for me – the melody is king.
  • Once I’ve got a solid melody and a title, I’ll work on the counterpoint and the structure, building the thing from the ground up with basswork, keys, guitar – whatever it needs. I write in different ways, depending upon what I wish to accomplish; some songs of mine were composed on nothing but a beat-up acoustic dreadnought, whilst others are quite complex, structurally.
  • I never release anything until I feel that the songwriting process is totally complete. Each work is like a child of mine, and I would never bring them out into the world until they were ready to walk on their own; I want everyone to love them as much as I do.

What route have you taken to build up and establish a fan base locally & beyond your local area?

  • My band and I have performed extensively from 2017 onwards. We actually just finalized our lineup this summer; there’ve been many folks who have come and gone over the fifteen years that I’ve been active as a solo artist. This band is the one for me, though; I adore ‘em, and so do audiences – rightly so. They’re incredibly gifted, and great fellows, to boot.
  • We’ve performed across much of New York state, and we’ve established a strong social media presence to boot. The nice thing about being very strange is that it makes one difficult to forget.
  • Additionally, we’ve been very fortunate to receive radio airplay both domestically and internationally; my music has been broadcast on radio stations in areas as disparate as New York, Tennessee, Oregon, and Canada. I’ve also been featured on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a Sirius/XM Radio program which is near and dear to my heart.

What is the music scene like locally to you and where do you fit in?

  • The scene in Ithaca, New York is defined by its diversity. And in keeping with that ethos, we don’t fit in too well. Ha ha. But I’ve been an outsider as long as I can recall, so this feels natural. However, from a strictly economic perspective, differentiation is quite advantageous. There’s not anyone like us around here,

Do you feel there are enough venues around you to help promote and establish up and coming bands like yourself?

  • Though the appetite for live music has only grown during the past decade, much of the attention (and money) has been sent to artists at the top, or those being pushed by monied interests, such as the majors. So while the festivals and the arena tours are regularly packed, the smaller venues have struggled in many localities. Central New York does have many wonderful concert halls and venues, several of which we’ve been fortunate to perform at. The tough thing is getting a foot in the door; no one wants you until you’re a sure thing. That’s kind of a catch-22, however; how does one cultivate a following if you can’t get out there to build one?
  • That being said, we’ve been very blessed to play at lots of lovely places in the past two years. There are several venues in particular where the management and staff have treated us wonderfully, and we cannot wait to return again in the new year!

What would you like to see ideally to help hard working bands/artists get better exposure and opportunities to make a living form their craft?

  • Equitable coverage in news media and music journalism, regardless of prestige (or more accurately, how much PR they can afford to pay for). There are so many brilliant musicians out there going unheard simply because they don’t have proper management or connections in the press – it’s criminal.
  • A less insular music industry. The old game may be to keep the doors shut and ignore the demo discs that sit in the mailbox, but what good does that do? Sure, it cultivates a sense of elite superiority, but that’s not too impressive to anyone with half a brain. YouTube is full of thousands of comments from people asking where the next Queen are, the next Pixies, the next Killers. Chances are their demo is sitting in the dumpster outside a label’s office. We need people with vision – people who will take chances on something besides clones of Taylor Swift. History does not respect cowards.

What is the best piece of advice you have received on your journey thus far?

  • After a performance in late 2017, a young woman came up to me and said, “Never stop being yourself. It makes me feel like I can, too.”
    That is one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me.

What would you say has been the biggest lesson you have learnt on your journey to date?

  • The classic maxim from Galaxy Quest is spot on. Never give up; never surrender.

With the music industry always constantly changing – how have you had to adapt to the ever-changing landscape?

  • I came of age just as the compact disc was enjoying its Icarian day in the sun. It was really mad – folks like Shania Twain and Alanis Morrissette sold so many records that a new RIAA certification had to be created – diamond– for over 12 million copies sold. Immediately afterwards, my generation was the first to use the file-sharing P2P networks which decimated that entire business model, permanently decoupling the purchase of physical media with the listener’s enjoyment of music. These days, it only takes sales of a few thousand copies to earn an entry in the Billboard Top 100.
  • That being said, the Internet democratized music in a way heretofore unseen. Pioneers like Daniel Johnston had to physically mail handcrafted cassette tapes to fans one at a time. Now, I can work with digital distributors for a modest sum and have my music placed on Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play, making it available to an international audience within a heartbeat.
  • The key thing now is to rise out of the sea of content. The cost of recording equipment and self-promotion has dropped so dramatically that there are millions of prosumer musicians – such as myself – and to stand out, one must really do something special. Luckily, being weird is second nature to me. Ha ha.

Does the introduction of New Technology / Digital Age / Social Media etc enhance your life as a musician or do you feel it can be more of a hindrance?

  • I’d say it has acted as both a hindrance and a blessing. The brass ring is gone, to be sure; one must really have a fire burning within to keep pushing. However, we have the ability to create our own worlds and cultivate our own fanbases like never before. The innovator does not bemoan the foul winds of history – they use them to billow their sails and speed onwards.

The Future:

So moving forward what’s next for you?

  • As noted above, the very first phase of my career is about to come to a close. My first three records, Brighthead, Kismet, and Tabula Rasa, as well as the singles Love Is In My Heart, Failure of Imagination,and the upcoming Be Cool– these all belong to that first chapter. It has been an utter joy, and now it is time for something brand new.
  • Ever since I first fell in love with rock and roll, I’ve wanted to remake and remodel the art form for the 21st It’s become a bit like jazz or classical, insofar as that it is regarded as an antiquated style, in which most innovation has been accomplished. Be it either true, or simply my stubborn impudence, I refuse to believe that. There is a reckless, joyful abandon – a human energyin rock and roll – that is unlike anything one can find in the beat-matched, pre-programmed Top 40 we’re currently being subjected to.
  • Starting in January 2019, the Chrome Empirephase of my career begins. This will be a stylistic and conceptual departure for me – very futuristic. Blade Runnerrock and roll, if one had to draw a comparison. The sound will be radically different than my previous releases, and the subject matter shall, too.

How do you see the evolution of the band / yourself as an artist?

  • There’s years’ worth of material in my vault, and I’m writing constantly. My main goal is to maintain a high level of quality across all of my releases – if it doesn’t have a hook, it isn’t worth writing, in my opinion. Two more panels left in my triptych; I’ve got a few years left.
  • People draw frequent comparisons to David Bowie, an honor which never fails to astound me. If I can leave behind one-quarter of his oeuvre, I’d consider myself a lucky son of a bitch.

Do you have any short-term or long-term goals in mind?

  • The fellas in the band & I have come an incredibly great distance in a short time. In the new year, we aim to perform twice as many times as we did in 2018, and we intend to play at the festivals and larger venues we’re familiar with, also. We’re also seeking a sync licensing arrangement for television and film, and representation by a talent management agency.

If you could tour with any band or artists who would that be?

  • Bryan Ferry. What I would give to be able to open for that man on tour; Avalon is one of my desert island discs.

  • Kurt Riley is the 21stCentury’s first metapop rockstar. Joined by the stellar bassist Rick Kline, synth maestro Charlie Jones, and famed drummer Sesu Coleman, Riley has defined himself with his chameleonic personae and genre-spanning compositions.
  • “Towards the end of his life, David Bowie once characterized himself as a man lost in time, but Kurt Riley is just beginning to find himself in it.” (ECM)
  • “His scintillating brand of punk, New Wave, and glam rock will excite you about the direction of contemporary music.” (WVBR-FM)
  • “Not only does he create concept albums, but Kurt brings it to the stage with the kind of production values that do justice to the music.” (Finger Lakes Music Press)

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