20 Minutes with Kiley Moore of Wild Earp & the Free For Alls

NOW: With a big Howdy from Peoria, Illinois, I am so glad to begin this interview with Kiley Moore, a member of Wild Earp and the Free For Alls. They are scheduled to perform at the Contemporary Art Center on Friday, March 30, 5:30-7:30. As this is a band that is new to our weekly Friday music event called Live at the Five Spot, I thought I would interview one of the members. Since Kiley Moore is originally from Peoria, I chose her. For those of you who don’t know about the band, Wild Earp and The Free for Alls play a particular brand of country that is equally nostalgic and innovative. The overall sound is primarily 60’s and 70’s country western, reminiscent of Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and duets from the likes of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. They incorporate the sounds of the past with other elements of Americana, such as rockabilly, folk, and classic rock and roll. The music has lyrical depth, while staying familiar, danceable and very fun. Check out their excellent website www.wildearp.com to hear recordings, watch videos and lots more!

Kiley, Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed via email. We want to know all about you and the band. Feel free to elaborate, go down a rabbit hole, tell embarrassing stories about the others, etc. We want all the juicy details. As I mentioned before, you are the only member hailing from Peoria. Were you born and raised here? What was your Peoria experience like? When did you leave and what happened then? When did you begin singing?

KILEY: That’s right- I was born at Methodist Hospital and grew up near Bartonville. My Peoria experience was pretty traditional. I grew up with two sisters and a golden retriever in a quiet subdivision with two very hardworking parents. We were very active at our church and stayed busy with piano lessons, choir and plenty of other extra-curriculars over the years. I couldn’t wait to leave when I was 19, which is when I left for college in Chicago, and now I go back every chance I get.

NOW: Can you share a little history about the band? How long has the band existed and when did you join the band?

KILEY: Thanks for asking, I’m super excited to tell you about this band! It’s my creative lifeblood and the other members are like family, so I’ve got a lot to say. A long, long time ago, in another life, a few of us were in an art rock band together called New World Ancients. We played far out music with ol’ Wild Earp before he was Earp, and he might have rocked a loin cloth once or twice. We had fun and let that band run its course. We said our goodbyes in 2014 or so. Shortly after, Andrew (Wild Earp) called me up and said he had some country songs that he wanted to try out. He’s the type of songwriter that seems to have an endless supply of new songs constantly brewing, spanning so many genres, and he wants to share them with people. For that, we can all be thankful.

NOW: Wow! That is a big leap from Art Rock to old Country and Western. But you weren’t surprised because you were already familiar with Andrew’s songwriting range. Were you the only one retained from the former group? Was it difficult for you to so abruptly switch gears?

KILEY: Myself (Sweet Sassy Molassy) and our drummer, Alan (Alan-bama), both joined Wild Earp right away. We gathered together some of our friends who happened to be incredibly talented musicians and put together the first iteration of Wild Earp and The Free For Alls, which I believe at the time we were trying out names like “Wild Earp and the Wilderness” and “Wild Earp and the Hoofbeats”. It took us a while to land on “Free For Alls”, but it was a good choice and the band has really grown into that moniker. Although it was very different than what we were doing in our last project, we all knew pretty quickly that we had something special here. As I’ve told Earp, my role as Sweet Sassy Molassy feels so right and comfortable for me it’s like sittin’ in my bathrobe drinking a glass of bourbon. Right where I want to be. We all dove in head first and haven’t looked back. Now we’re in our third year of a residency in Chicago- we play once a month at The California Clipper, which is a nostalgic cocktail lounge draped in red. The residency has really kept us sharp and allowed us to meld as a band and refine our sound.

NOW: Glad to hear that the Wild part of the performance was retained. What is it like touring with the band? Is The California Clipper your favorite place to perform?

KILEY: Touring with this band has been an adventure. We’ve been to Canada, New York, Colorado and Kansas to name a few, and we’re headed southeast next- making our pilgrimage to Nashville. Touring is hard and traveling with a new group of people is a crapshoot. Luckily, we work well together! I walk away from every tour wanting to work harder for this band and loving each of these people even more. This is a band of genuinely good people wanting to do good work, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.

NOW: You are very fortunate to enjoy being with everyone.

KILEY: Here’s a fun fact: You have some very late nights on the road, and sometimes early mornings (ouch). When all of us are crawling out of bed and begging for coffee, miraculously Gorgeous George, our dashing banjo/mandolin/guitar player, pops out of bed or off the floor or out from under a table (wherever he’s sleeping that night) with his hair PERFECTLY coiffed. I don’t know how he does it, maybe he gets up before all of us to run a comb through it and then gets back in bed. Who knows? But it is a sight to see!

NOW: Ugh! I hate people like that. Does the band always dress up in traditional country western attire?

KILEY: Naw, George is a lovely human. Couldn’t hate that guy if I tried. We always wear country western gear to varying extents. We’ll ramp it up or tone it down when appropriate. You should see how these boys travel! There are garment bags, boot bags, and hat boxes everywhere! We also like to outdo each other with our bolo ties and belt buckles. Here’s a photo of me and the guys in Dodge City, Kansas.

NOW: That is a fine lookin’ bunch. I admire the attention to detail and showmanship displayed in wearing traditional country western attire for your performances. And it probably is a lot of fun also.

KILEY: It really is. It’s hard not to feel good when you’re looking so sharp with your friends. We all really enjoy going above and beyond with our aesthetic. We get very excited when someone finds a great new shirt or boots. Even better if you found ‘em half price! I like to remind myself that our audience deserves 110%. If you’re having an off-night and you can’t dazzle them with your performance, ramp up your style (or sass). Shoot for that every time and you should land somewhere pretty decent.

NOW: I imagine that a member of such a group would have to possess a serious funny bone. Just how big of a funny bone do you have? Who in the group wins the prize for being the silliest?

KILEY: That’s a good question! Our lead guitarist, Jed (aka Valentine), is quick with the quips. He keeps me on my toes and keeps that fun stage energy going. And our keyboardist, Sean (aka Pony Boy), can keep any situation easy-going and lighthearted. If you need proof of how much fun we’re having, check out our Outtakes episode of our YouTube series called Hair of the Dog. (Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/BbtfQGpwIjY)

NOW: What is your main function during a performance?
KILEY: During a performance my main function is to sing. It’s my favorite thing to do, so it’s working out well for me. I’m also there to throw sass and keep the band in line. Don’t let ‘em fool you, they love it.

NOW: Most males are like big dogs that never really grow up; sometimes females have to show them who’s boss. Most musicians believe just singing is not enough. (I think such attitude is a bunch of baloney) Have you ever been pressured in other bands to play an instrument?

KILEY: There was a time when I might have felt that way, but I respect singers way too much to believe they need to do anything other than what they do best. My voice is my first instrument (I started singing in my church choir when I was about 5 or so) and I’ve worked long and hard to get to where I am. I’ve had great training and continue to study my instrument with daily practice and exercises.

NOW: So are you mostly doing harmonies to Earp’s melodies or do you sing all by your lonesome also? If so, what is your favorite solo song and why?

KILEY: We do a little bit of everything. Plenty of harmonies, duets, solos. One of my favorite songs to sing is called When I’m Old. It’s a beautiful country soul song that Earp wrote. It’ll be included on our first full-length album that is in the works and should be released this spring/summer. We’ve been working hard on this album and can’t wait to share it!

NOW: One of my favorite songs featuring you, Kasey Foster and Tara Smith is The Path of Righteousness https://wildearp.bandcamp.com/track/the-path-of-righteousness-feat-babe-alon-5 It could easily have been included with the best songs in O Brother, Where Art Thou? What is the story behind that hilarious and engaging tune?

KILEY: That’s a good one! It’s basically about how Earp is always gettin’ himself into trouble at night and then repenting in the morning. Me and the ladies are there to give him a little reality check; telling him that it’s going to be a lot of work and he’s all talk. That group of ladies is called Babe-alon 5. The three of us, along with our pianist, Pianu Reeves, do covers of old songs by bands like The Andrews Sisters, The Chordettes and Les Paul and Mary Ford. My character, Sassy Molassy, was born out of my Babe-alon 5 character, but has since morphed and they’ve become two very different women.

NOW: Sometimes members of bands do more than just perform. Do you have a ‘job’ off stage that you do for the band? (Website updates, contributing to writing music, taking photos, marketing, roadie functions, planning the routes, checking the tire pressure on the bus, etc.)

KILEY: Offstage I sometimes help with booking and tour managing, but really Earp shoulders most of that load. He’s working his butt off to keep us moving forward, and I think he’s doing a mighty fine job. We each have a unique place in the band. I couldn’t imagine performing without all 100 of us. Just kidding, there’s 8. It just feels like a hundred when we’re all onstage. 😉

NOW: That is a lot of members. I imagine that most stages are designed for smaller groups. I bet the touring vehicle is tight also. Do y’all ever fantasize about touring in a large bus with a bathroom?

KILEY: It is rare that we find a stage that feels roomy enough to house us all, but we make it work. So far we’ve only ever traveled with 7 of us, which doesn’t feel too cramped, but might be on the verge. A bus with a bathroom would save so much time! Rest stops really add up. Ya know what, now I’m picturing us in a big tour bus with my face on it. What do you think?

NOW: Sometimes dreaming about something is the first step to realizing our ambitions. What big goals are on the horizon for the group?

KILEY: We’re shooting for the stars. We’ve got ideas for future albums and more international touring!

NOW: That all sounds super! Thanks to Kiley for taking the time to chat with me. I welcome everyone to experience a very special Live at the Five Spot featuring Wild Earp and the Free For Alls on Friday, March 30, 5:30-7:30.

20 Minutes with Brandon Thornton

book 2Brandon Thornton is September’s featured poet for Whisper & Shout: Open Mic for Poetry, Contemporary Art Center’s very popular monthly poetry event. He was the original host and feature poet curator of the event, serving in that role from February 2011-2014. Peoria is also on his latest tour in which he is sharing his spoken word poetry and plugging his newest project, Male-Nourished: Food for Thought from a Man’s Perspective, a collection of eclectic writings. Check out one of his many YouTube videos https://youtu.be/BZoJ206MGmo. Executive Director William Butler interviewed Brandon via email for this article.

20: You have produced four poetry cds and a dvd. Please share your complete discography.

BT: 2008 – Realize and Relax CD

2009 – SouLive CD

2010 – SouLive DVD

2011- Spoken Acid CD

2012- Life After Poetry CD

2016 – Male-Nourished Book

20: That is an impressive output. What was the impetus to begin writing poetry?

BT: I had written poetry when I was younger but didn’t take much interest in it. I began watching Def Poetry on HBO in 2007 and this started my love for poetry. The intensity and passion the poets spoke with gave me a spark I had not felt before in any other genre.  I started writing shortly after watching.

20: Describe your first experience performing.

BT: I had never been to a live poetry event and researched ones that were in my area in St. Louis. I built up the courage after a week to go and perform. I had memorized my poem but I became so nervous I went to the car and wrote it down just in case I forgot. They called my name to go on stage. I got through the poem just fine but I remember my hand and the paper was shaking the entire time.

20: How did you come to travel and tour?

BT: I met other poets from Kansas City and Chicago and they invited me to come to their city and perform. But it wasn’t till 2009 that I went full-time.

20: You have performed in 30 States and in over 100 colleges and universities. Can you share some of the schools/locations/events at which you have performed?

BT: Open for R&B Carl Thomas, Jaheim, University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Bradley University, Eastern Illinois University, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa.

20: Why do suppose that you sought a degree in math when the path of writing and English would seem more likely? How does mathematics play a role in your poetry?

BT: Most people have the same reaction when I tell them I teach math. A common reaction is, “Better you then me; that was my worst subject in school.” So there is definitely a high demand for math people.

I always enjoyed the challenge of mathematics, problem solving. I do have a love for reading and writing but that didn’t come until after undergrad. Plus, teaching math is a means to support my projects , traveling and sharing my poetry.

Math and poetry have similarities. They both are somewhat formulaic and critical thinking is involved.  Higher level math involves creativity and piecing together complicated ideas to come up with a solution and I feel I do the same in creating my spoken word pieces.

20: When did you first teach math and where was that?

BT: I began teaching at St. Louis Community College in 2006. I liked it so I continued teaching off and on various places. At some point, I decided to get serious about a career. In 2016, I graduated with an M.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Dayton while teaching part-time at Sinclair Community College and Clark State Community College.

20: What school do you teach at now? Do you teach mathematics only? What is your exact title?

BT: I am now an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, where I teach Mathematics and Statistics courses.

20: Thanks for your time. I look forward to checking out your book and seeing you perform at the Contemporary Art Center’s event, Whisper & Shout: Open Mic for Poetry at 305 SW Water Street, Peoria, Illinois 61602 on September 1, 8-10:00pm.


An Interview with Jennifer Hall

siging hardCAC: Hi Jennifer. I was wondering if we could chat on-line for a bit about your performance on Friday, July 15, 5:30-7:30 at Live at the Five Spot, Contemporary Art Center’s Friday night music event?

JH: Hi! Let’s do it. Ready to rock!

CAC: First off, I want to say thanks for contacting me in Peoria of you interest in coming down to perform.

JH: Thank you for having us!

CAC: How did you learn about our venue?

JH: Just a Google search

CAC: I see. You will be bringing a full band. What can people expect to experience at your concert?

JH: So when we tour we come with guitar drums and vocals! People can expect a full band sound. The set will be powerful but still intimate and personal like an acoustic show! Best of both worlds 🙂 We’ll be performing our original materials as well as some covers by artists we are influenced by!

CAC: sounds good. I have listened to your recordings on-line. Trying to think who to compare you to. The songs are very dramatic. How would you complete this sentence? If you like ‘blank’ you will like Jennifer Hall

JH: Mmmm. I get comparisons to Janis Joplin for the vocals

Cover_2048CAC: I actually hate to do that to you…compare you to someone else. But it helps people to connect

JH: And St Vincent for some our production choices

CAC: This may answer it, Randy Nieto of Minimal Beat wrote “I have met the lovechild of Neko Case and Norah Jones, and her name is Jennifer Hall.” I would interpret that as something old and something new. How would you unpack that statement?

JH: Totally! Down with that description !

CAC: You also have listed Edith Piaf, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles and Rufus Wainwright as influences…what are some common threads there?

JH: The most common ones are Janis, Norah jones, and St Vincent

CAC: Chess Hubbard of UR Chicago compared you to Katy Perry and Ke$ha. What do you think of that? I think that could be closer considering the way the music is produced. But St. Vincent, I can see that.

JH: Oh, I think Chess was saying the opposite in that article! I think she may have been saying that our music was different than Kesha and Katy Perry I think! Patsy Cline, Rufus Wainwright, all folks I grew up listening to! Rufus was a big influence, how he mapped out his songs, what we was willing to reveal about himself personally, huge game changer! And Ray Charles had such sorrow and joy in his songs, all at once. That was so inspiring!

CAC: So was that an influence via your parents, your access to and listening to those older artists?

JH: Not my parents, songs I must have found online! My mom was a mega Elvis and Beatles, fan! Ray Charles has an incredible stylistic vocal moves that have definitely influenced me! Nice! Yeah it feels like I know every Beatles song out there ha!

CAC: I have heard a bit of the Beatles in your music in places! The internet has been a major influence on us all. A major way to be receive new influence is via radio still for me. I used to live in Aurora and enjoyed WXRT and admired how they operated….that the music was curated by the DJs just like the old days. You must be pleased with an endorsement from them. “She has been named as ‘an artist to watch’ by Chicagoist and a ‘phenomenal singer’ by Lin Brehmer of 93WXRT

JH: Oh, Lin is an incredible person, so kind and so nice to give such a warm “review” so to speak, such a nice person.

CAC: A similar radio station has cropped up in Peoria 99.9 WWCT. It is, of course, what I listen to the most for music.

JH: Totally, my friend Marc Alghini is the program director! He knows every song that’s ever existed, has such an inspiring passion for discovering new music and has incredible taste! Marc used to work at XRT!

CAC:  Yes, I know he used to work there. So that is the radio station that you mentioned that you had a connection with? I have sent stuff to them before with no reply. I hope they have you on.

JH: Oh, yeah! I still have to reach out! But will make sure to!

CAC: Please try. It would be so great to have them promote the show!

JH: Absolutely!

12961750_1059988730706028_4380441925953748324_nCAC: Considering your influences and in reading some of the other quotes you sent me, like these two: “Jennifer Hall is wise beyond her years..She sings like she’s been around a lot longer” -Mark Bazer, WBEZ and “Chicagoan Jennifer Hall writes music that combines youthful exuberance with old-fashioned sincerity.” Sarah Terez-Rosenblum, Chicago Sun Times. Sounds like you could be a bit of an old soul.

JH: That’s what i hear ha! That seems like a fair analysis

CAC: So others have said that to you?!

JH: Yep!

CAC: Did you study music or voice formally? If so, where?

JH: No formal training I did have an incredible choir teacher my freshman year, huge influence for me

CAC: What about for songwriting…also no formal training?

JH: Correct. Winging it if you will

CAC: What came first songwriting or singing?

JH: Definitely singing! I was singing in choirs starting around 10 years of age.

CAC: When did you write your first song?

JH: Maybe 17? And it was horrible! Haha

CAC: Happily is got better!

JH: Haha totally!

CAC: Well, I am thrilled that you and the others are coming to Peoria. Thanks for sharing today.

JH: For sure, first time! We’ve played down state before, Bloomington and Champaign but never Peoria!

CAC: I hope you have a great reception!

JH: Thank you!! We are excited.

20 Minutes with Chris Holbrook

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If you have ever strolled in through the rear entrance of the Contemporary Art Center, chances are you’ve met eyes with an aproned, serious-looking man quietly gouging away at metal plates. Perhaps he was lugging tubs of cloudy acid, or arrays of gleaming picks. These seemingly harsh tools fill the laboratory of etcher Chris Holbrook as he creates images intaglio, to be later printed onto paper. Chris best personifies the artist as mad scientist, as ceaseless searcher of experience, as alchemist. read more…

20 Minutes With Craig Stocks

Craig Stocks Headshot

If you’re a central Illinois creative and don’t know Craig Stocks, you should. The onetime engineer and lifelong photographer has been profiling Peorian artists, entertainers, chefs and the like for over two years on his outstanding personal blog, Playing Peoria. read more…

20 Minutes With Clark Rians

clark and ken

NOW is thankful to sit down with local artistic dynamo Clark Rians, hot on the heels of his lauded run of Red at the Corn Stock Theater. An unforgettable excavation of Rothko’s inward character, the stage play Red depicts his struggle completing a series of paintings for the new Four Seasons restaurant while enduring the blistering honesty of a fictional assistant, Ken. read more…

20 Minutes With Preston Jackson

preston jackson

For our first edition of 20 Minutes With, it seemed inevitable that we begin with our foremost resident artist and local Renaissance Man Preston Jackson. In addition to founding the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, Preston has been playing guitar, sculpting, and painting in the Midwest for decades. read more…