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A rebel rocker
By Corrinne Hess | Daily Herald Staff

lcreilly_ot1207unk .Libertyville native Ike Reilly just finished touring for his most recent album, "We Belong to the Staggering Evening,... and is busy working on his next two full-length albums due out next year.


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Published: 2/5/2008 12:16 AM

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Ike Reilly sits at Firkin in Libertyville on a recent Wednesday drinking Appleton rum and Coke.

Everyone in the upscale bar seems to know him and Reilly asks a young waiter passing by if he knows what he does for a living.

"Um, have a good time?" said Travis, the waiter.

Reilly laughs.

Travis isn't far from the truth.

Since 2000, when he was signed to Universal Records, the Libertyville native has made a career as a rock musician, putting out four full-length albums and touring the country along the way.

"A year from now, I'll have seven records out," said the 1980 Libertyville High School graduate. "I never thought I would have one released."

First paying gig

Reilly's first paying musical gig was playing the harmonica on the boardwalk in Providence, R.I. when he was 13, but it wasn't until he was 22 that he picked up a guitar and got serious about making music.

It was in his first band, the Eisenhowers, that Reilly dropped the "M" from his given name and transformed from Mike to Ike.

Over the next 20 years, Reilly, 46, continued writing songs and playing in various bands, while working as a grave digger at Ascension Catholic Cemetery near Libertyville and later as a doorman for 13 years at the Park Hyatt in Chicago.

And then, in 2000, Universal came calling and signed Reilly and his band, the Ike Reilly Assassination.

After hearing the news, Reilly drank a bottle of alcohol at a bar stool in Libertyville and signed his contract in a party room at the Hyatt with his family and fellow doormen and bellhops by his side.

Not mainstream

In 2001, "Salesmen and Racists" was released by Universal. The album received favorable reviews with Blender magazine, comparing Reilly to Paul Westerberg, Bob Dylan and Beck.

But commercial radio didn't -- and still doesn't -- pay much attention to the band. This fact bothers Reilly, mostly because, according to him, he wouldn't mind making more money. But Reilly has come to accept the fact that unless he sells out, the Ike Reilly Assassination isn't going to be the next Goo Goo Dolls.

"It would piss me off more if I was one of these people and 20 years from now I had to listen to my (expletive)," he said. "We're not hugely popular, but we do it. I'm not ashamed of any of the records, but at the same time, I don't wear them as a badge of honor either."

The Ike Reilly Assassination was dropped by Universal in 2002, following poor sales of "Salesman and Racists." Soon, Rock Ridge Music, a division of Warner Brothers, signed the band.

Since then, I.R.A released "Sparkle in the Finish," in 2004; "Junkie Faithful," in 2005; and "We Belong to the Staggering Evening" in May.

Touching a chord

Reilly is routinely surprised when fans approach him and say one of his songs has some sentimental value to them.

In fact, while Reilly was quick to name Elvis Presley's version of "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy," as his all-time favorite song , he had a much harder time choosing which one of his songs tops his list.

"I can name 50 I hate," he said. "I mean, I know my songs are as good as anyone's, but it astounds me in a way to know they affect people."

Reilly just wrapped up a tour for "We Belong to the Staggering Evening," an album where, according to a New York Times review, Reilly "saddles up his unparalleled muse and one of the best working bands in America and takes (listeners) to a new place. Again."

Reilly calls touring, "A suspension of reality; a traveling men's club with occasional performances."

"America is mostly truck stops and strip malls. I make an effort to seek out things mostly local," he said. "I love playing music on the bus with the guys, traveling and playing cards. And I love bars."

While he is influenced by other musicians and aspires to be like his favorite band, The Clash, Reilly's real inspiration comes from books and movies.

His favorite book, John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," is passed around on the tour bus and read almost daily by him or his band mates.

Brando's influence

Another constant inspiration is fellow Libertyville native Marlon Brando, particularly his movies dealing with the complexities of class, the labor movement and violence as a means to an end, Reilly said.

"I associated with those characters much more than any of the teachers I ever had," Reilly said. "Brando was able to escape the small-town mentality through art. I've done the same."

During an interview with National Public Radio in July, Reilly was asked to describe Libertyville, where he still lives with his wife, Kara Dean, also a Libertyville native, and their four children.

"It's kind of Middle America," he said. "It used to be more middle class, but has become affluent over last 15 years. But there is still a seedy underbelly and I'm allowed to prowl from the depths of the slime to the upper echelon of the community now."

Reilly didn't remember the quote, but appreciated his own wit.

"I'm pretty funny, aren't I?" he said.

Reilly's cockiness is obvious, but accompanied by charm that allows him to move effortlessly from offensive to engaging.

While playing at the famous Continental Club in Austin, Texas, Reilly met Lance Armstrong and later partied with him on the tour bus.

During the show, Armstrong asked if he could sing a song with the band.

Not a chance.

"I don't ride on his handlebars, why would I let him get up on stage with me," he said. "That guy's got enough exposure."