Fifteen Minutes with... John C. Reilly
Jan 27, 2015 04:32PM ● Published by Becca Newell
Whether he’s playing a loveable goof in comedies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby or a somewhat hopeless schlep in more dramatic films like Cyrus, John C. Reilly is one of the most versatile actors in recent decades. He’s done almost everything. And done it well.
Unbeknown to most, he’s also added professional musician to that list. And though he’s proven his vocal abilities on the big screen – see Chicago and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – his history with music is much deeper than his film credits show.
We recently chatted with Reilly to learn a little more about his musical background, his upcoming American roots show at Rams Head on Stage, and whether or not we can expect to see a follow up to the hilariously epic, albeit explicit, rap video from 2008’s Step Brothers.
Your band, John Reilly & Friends, is performing in Annapolis this month. Have you performed in this area before?
No, I haven’t actually. The band has played all over the world, but we haven’t played the East Coast of America yet. We’re playing a show at the Lincoln Center in New York City on January 30th and we thought “well, if we’re going all that way, we might as well get some shows around it.” There’s a lot of great rooms that we’re going to be playing in and Rams Head is one of them, so I’m excited to check it out.
We’re excited to have you in our neck of the woods! Where did your interest in music begin? Did it stem from your musical theatre background?
Well, that’s when I first started singing publicly. But I actually grew up in a household that had tons of music. My father was really into traditional Irish music, so we listened to a lot of that around the house. And my mom was really into old standards, like Tin Pan Alley kind of music, so she sang a lot of that. My siblings played instruments. I was always someone who just sought out all different kinds of music all the time. I was one of those annoying kids that when you asked them something, I would answer in a song like “John, will you please stop?” [Reilly breaks into song] “Stop, in the name of love…”
Thanks for that little musical interlude. You have a great voice! You also play guitar in your band. When did you pick that up?
I basically learned how to play the guitar because it’s hard to find someone to play it for you. It wasn’t until college that I bought my first guitar. I realized quickly that a guitar is really good company when you’re traveling or when you’re alone. If you’re feeling lonesome, having a guitar with you is pretty great. You always have someone to hug. [laughs] It’s a very soothing companion.
Coming from such a musical household, did you and your parents or siblings ever form any family bands?
Yea, I had a band with my brother called “Shark Fighter” at some point. It was a great hard rock band. We played Rolling Stones songs because those were the only songs I knew at that point. We had one original song called “South Side Boy.” I’m not going to sing it for you. [Laughs] It was literally a garage band. We would play in the garage and the crowd would just hear it and come up to the garage.
Oh, wow. So, you had a following?
Yea, sort of like a four-block radius following.
Nice! We’re curious to know what one of the first albums you bought was?
I would say the first big obsession I had – I was kind of obsessed with one group for periods of time – and the first was Elton John for a couple years. Then it was the Rolling Stones for about four years. Like, exclusively the Rolling Stones. [Laughs] Luckily, they had a lot of records, so there was a lot to listen to there.
So, how did you get into the American roots music you now play?
Well, you know how it is in life where you get into one thing and it leads you to something else. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, blues music was a huge thing and it still is. And I even had a blues band at one point out here in Los Angeles. I really, really loved the blues and I saw myself looking for older and older blues. Like “oh, this is cool - what was he listening to?” and I kept going further and further back in time and the next thing you know, you’re listening to the Carter family and the Stanley brothers and these roots groups that pre-date blues music in some ways.
It seems your band is sort of a collaborative effort between various musicians, was that the intent when you formed the band?
Well, I found myself playing with a bunch of different people. And I realized “wow, why don’t we all meet at the same time?” It ended up being a really great thing. Not only musically did things work out, but the band’s called John Reilly and Friends because everyone gets along and it ended up being this nourishing community that people could keep coming back to. We’ve had some really special experiences on stage with audiences with this band. We’re not selling anything, you know what I mean? We’re not trying to sell our point of view or some new record or whatever. We’re just sharing music that belongs to everybody.
You’re obviously very passionate about music. Did you ever want to pursue that over acting?
I don’t think I could ever do any one thing to the exclusion of others. I love to act, I love to do plays, I love to play music – it’d be a shame if I had to sacrifice one to the other. The way that this really first started to come about was I realized that a lot of actors in between jobs get this kind of anxiety and think “I’d better just take a job and keep working.” And that’s why I think a lot of actors end up in projects that make you think “why’d he do that?” So having the music is a way to keep myself creatively engaged and it keeps me busy and it helps me to focus when I do take an acting job on things I really believe in.
I was a huge fan of Chicago – what about more singing on the silver screen? Can we expect to see you in any more Broadway adaptations?
I hope so. This idea of Guys and Dolls keeps floating around, so I hope something like that comes along. Animated movies is the place where a lot of musicals end up getting done. People say “musicals are corny and people don’t like them,” but Frozen made $8 billion. [Laughs] I’m actually going to have a meeting [today] for another animated movie that is a musical.
How fun! Speaking of combining movies and music, you’re so well known for your comedic roles in films, any chance we might see some of that come into music at some point?
Yea. Acting is like once you admit you can do something, then people start asking you to do it. Will [Ferrell] and I are definitely thinking of stuff to do; some of it involves music. Like I said, if it seems fun and I believe in it, I’m game.
Catch John Reilly and Friends, featuring Becky Stark and Tom Brosseau, on Tuesday, February 3rd at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit ramsheadonstage.com.
-- By Becca Newell