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The American

What’s It All About? Kyle Riabko Re-imagines Bacharach


young musician was introduced to Burt Bacharach. He dreamed up the idea of arranging the legend’s music for a new audience. A previous theatrical show based around Bacharach and David’s songs a dozen years before (The Look of Love) was a critical and commercial failure so the veteran composer was understandably wary, but then he listened to Kyle Riabko’s work... When The American chatted with Kyle he had just flown into London to prepare for his show, What’s It All About? Bacharach Re-imagined, but he looked cool and relaxed. Cool and relaxed? This is all jetlag, baby! I just flew in from LA where I spend a lot of my time now. Is Los Angeles home? I guess. I’m always hesitant to use that word. I’m from Canada so that’s home too. But I’ve come to love LA. And it’s where my work is. You do a lot of things – how do you describe what your work is? My entry point into the world of entertainment was the guitar so it’s always difficult for me to think of myself as anything other than a guitar player. Burt says the same thing about being a piano player. It’s your muse, you keep having to go back. It’s been a wild and interesting journey, being open to inspiration and seeing where it takes you, to strange corners of the music world. This being one of them. Your first band was called Bluesway Express - did you go back to the

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blues for inspiration? Good research! Actually I was in a band before that called 10-11-12 because those were our ages. That didn’t last very long – we didn’t plan that far ahead! But for me the blues is the essence, the core. I look at music through the prism of blues, which was interesting when I started working with Burt, because he doesn’t. He looks at it through bebop jazz and classical composition. How did those cultural differences lead to your new show? I met Burt in a recording studio. I was asked to sing some demos for him, some new music he was writing. I was there just as a singer, a hired gun, but as we started recording it transcended that and became more of a jam session with Burt and myself. I thought it would be amazing to work with him. I knew a lot of his music, not all of it, then I realized this guy was still waking up every morning and writing new, original thoughts, and he needs to do this to stay vibrant and stay alive. I became fascinated by him, not just as a composer but as a person – the fact that he’s still chasing a perfection that he has in his mind. We all know the ‘60s and ‘70s songs, but people sometimes forget he was a vibrant writer in the ‘80s too with songs like ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ and ‘Making Love,’ the stuff he did with Carole Bayer Sager. As a performer/entertainer/writer, one of the things you live with is the constant unknown – how long can I sustain this, what will it look like in ten or twenty years? When you see

someone who has achieved that, it inspires you to forge ahead. After that session, I was talking with the co-conceiver of this show, my friend David Lane Seltzer, about Burt in general, and David had the idea of looking back at Burt’s entire catalog. I made a demo, a 15 minute chunk of music, and took it to Burt’s place. I was lucky enough that he opened the door, and I sat down in his music room across from him. As I pressed play, I got extremely sweaty! He listened, and he liked it. He called his son Oliver, who was about 18 years old, into the room and told me to play it again, then he watched Oliver’s reaction to someone closer to his age playing his dad’s music. It illuminated what this process is all about – taking something indelible, that lives on forever, and introducing it to a younger audience. How have you adapted the songs? I’ve worked hard to not change the melodic and lyrical content. It’s looking through my bluesy prism. Also, because there’s such a large, incredible mass of hits that he created, I’ve smashed some of them together in places – melodies from one song soaring over another, looking at the catalog as a whole, from a new angle. It’s like putting a different filter on the camera. Unlike many writers, the link between Burt’s chords and his melodies are so tight that you really don’t want to change it. When you do it sounds goofy – even when Aretha Franklin covered ‘Say A Little Prayer’ she took a number of liberties and Burt told me when he first heard it he

The American June 2015 Issue 744  

The leading cross-media publication for Americans in the UK - and anyone interested in American culture

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