By Brian LeeThanks to Metromix/Connecticut!
May 23, 2008For Rilo Kiley, it’s been a steady, decade-long rise from under-the-radar quartet to indie rock band of the moment to major label stars in waiting. Led by a pair of former child actors—redhead sexpot Jenny Lewis appeared in “Troop Beverly Hills” and “The Wizard,” while Blake Sennett logged time on Nickelodeon’s “Salute Your Shorts” and appeared on “Boy Meets World” —the L.A. band’s infusion of rootsy, country undertones with slickly produced pop has made it a comfortable touring partner with everyone from Bright Eyes to Coldplay.
Metromix caught up with bass player and founding member Pierre de Reeder on an afternoon off in the Grand Canyon as the band eased in to a new round of touring for last year’s “Under the Blacklight,” with conversation turning quickly from tour beards to Rilo Kiley’s unique steadfast embrace of side projects and solo exploration.
On one message board, there’s been a bit of a debate about a beard you were evidently growing recently. Did you have any idea that fans were keeping tabs on you like that?
Well—how did it unfold? What was the debate?
I guess some people had noticed you with it, and it was getting pretty big. And there was a debate about how big was too big, and at what point people would start throwing razors up on stage to you and things like that…
Well, I beat them to it! It was just… whatever, something I didn’t even expect to happen through that last leg of this tour. But it was fun to have, just for a few months. I mean, it wasn’t that big—three months of growing. But it ended up being kind of Grizzly Adams.
How do you guys manage to maintain the same type of connection with an audience that you might have had back when you were playing to 30 people as opposed to 3,000?
That’s a hard thing to answer, ‘cause I don’t know, really, how we do. What’s so fun about when we play is that we are fortunate enough to have that connection and kind of this reciprocal experience with the audience. We can feel them having fun, and we’re having fun. I think the key, for us, is we just choose songs to play that we’re really into, and I think that translates to the audience. But it goes beyond that. I think our music is pretty personal for a lot of people, so it doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience, whether it’s personal to 30 or 300 or 3,000.
Comparisons between Rilo Kiley and Fleetwood Mac seem to be abundant in the media these days. Does the whole Jenny/Blake angle tend to get stale in that respect?
Yeah, whatever—it’s an incredibly flattering comparison if it’s talking about the music, though it obviously leads to more than just the music. But being compared to them is always flattering, so it’s never anything to get tiresome of. But there are certainly things with any band that are those main points that people keep pressing upon, and that stuff can be a little redundant, where you kind of get the sense that like, “Haven’t people heard this before? What’s the point of rehashing this?” But it’s the nature of the beast, I guess.
Early in your career, you did quite a bit of label hopping. Are you guys happy where you are at this point, on a major?
Yeah, we’ve been happy at Warner Brothers. We’ve had a real good experience there. But we had good experiences at our other labels, too. Like some wandering nomad, having a tremendous time in some strange city for a while and then moving on, it didn’t negate the good time we had there.
Most of the members of Rilo Kiley are pretty active with solo and side projects. How do you think that has affected the sound of the band when you guys get back together and write for an album?
It’s hard to know, really, what the effect is. I think it has ultimately broadened our scope a little bit. People just have more experience and have ventured down different avenues, and that all gets brought back to the table. I’ve always been a fan of it. In so many cases, it’s led to the end of a band or whatever—every single band has more than one cook in it. But I’ve always been proud that it’s worked with us. When played right, it can be a really healthy thing. The future for anything is never certain, but it certainly brings different things to the table.
For instance, on Jenny’s last record she did a kind of more pared-down country kind of vibe. Where we’ve always infused that in Rilo Kiley, and still do, but coming right off of that she’s kind of purged it, and we were able to try things that were entirely different and not really have any of that in this latest record. Which was just interesting and different to do, and that was kind of nice.
You’ve been a vegetarian for your entire career as a touring musician. Do you have any pointers or meal tips for someone who’s on a road trip and frustrated by options along the way?
Keep on driving to the next town! You know, it’s amazing—I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 17, but we started touring right on the threshold of a change, kind of nationally and internationally. At first, it was really rough. Town to town, it was just the old-world fading out where there was no vegetarian options whatsoever. But then, a few years ago something happened, and all of a sudden just about everywhere had some sort of option. So that was exciting to see that change and kind of live through that. But it hasn’t really been much of a problem. You can find something just about anywhere, at least to hold you over until the next place.
You’re also pretty ecologically conscious—have you guys really gotten into any aspects of “green” touring at this point?
Yeah, I’m a fan of using things like compostable, biodegradable cups—they work exactly the same as plastic cups but they can decompose in a landfill or you can compost them. We’re unfortunately not green-offsetting, but maybe that’s the next step we can do. I’m one of the few fans of the rising gas prices, because it’s gonna force everyone to become “green,” and companies will be far less resistant to make things that are better for the world just because everybody wants to buy them because of the gas prices.
What’s the musical focus of the band on this tour?
The last tour was more heavily focused on the new record, and this time around we just really wanted to go in and get a good balance between everything and pick out all the things that are fun to us from our whole catalog.
And have any plans been discussed for the next Rilo Kiley album?
There are no plans right now. We’re just doing this tour, and then it gets back into people doing their own thing again. Jenny’s record comes out. My record comes out. Blake, I’m sure, is gonna finish a record, too. So it’s kind of gonna go into that mode for a while, and I think that’s the only plan at this point.
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