It's been 10 years since Ike Reilly took up a four-night residency at the Turf Club to break in his live band and figure out how to translate the songs on his Universal Records debut and breakout album, Salesmen and Racists, to the stage. The gigs were supposed to be casual, under-the-radar affairs, but each night the crowd grew exponentially larger as word of the band's caustic energy spread throughout the Cities.
Over the past 10 years, as nostalgia takes hold and true events are filtered through the hazy, rosy lens of collective memory, those shows have grown into something mythological for fans of Reilly's gravelly, bar-soaked blues rock. But for all the boozy-woozy memories shared between his followers, Ike Reilly tells a different side of the story.
"I don't want to ruin your piece, but I'm just not that nostalgic about anything," he scoffs, his wry voice cracking into a warm laugh as he speaks over the phone from his home in Libertyville, Illinois. "I think we sucked. I thought we weren't ready to play. I remember having fun, and the only thing for me was that I enjoyed being with my band and I enjoyed meeting people. I wouldn't even remember that they were anything special unless people had told me that."
Reilly sighs, apologizing for not being more starry-eyed. "I don't know why, it's not mythological to me. I just can't do that. My super rockstar friends can always put a big spin on something, and I can always put a negative spin on it," he laughs. "You know, nothing negative about it, but I just think we're so much better now. I just don't see what people saw."
Humble to the point of self-deprecation, Reilly says he doesn't see Salesmen and Racists as a flagship album, despite the fact that it was his only album to be released on a major label and was celebrated critically, especially in the Twin Cities. "I'm not sure that's my best record at all," he says. "I'm always thinking about the new ones, I guess—I haven't made a record I'm embarrassed by, and I haven't made a record that I love."
In the years that have passed since Salesmen and Racists, Reilly has released five more full-length albums and a smattering of EPs and rarities, and to this day he remains focused on pushing forward and devoting his energy to new projects—even dropping a cryptic hint that "this time next year, I think you'll be able to see our band every week." Despite all of his resistance, however, Reilly is throwing in a few sentimental surprises for longtime listeners at his 10-year anniversary show: Little Man, whose frontman, Chris Perricelli, worked as a roadie for Reilly's band back in 2001 and has recorded his most recent albums in Reilly's home studio, will open up the show. Reilly says he is still deciding whether to play the record from front to back or surprise his fans by playing it in reverse.
"I have no regrets," Reilly says, wrapping up the interview in his characteristic nonchalant tone. "I guess we're a pretty good band."
IKE REILLY ASSASSINATION performs a "Salesmen and Racists Revisited" show on FRIDAY, JULY 29, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775