20 Questions with Nolan Riley

Nolan Riley is the singer/guitarist with Daejeon, South Korea’s Like A Fox.  While Fox is currently on hiatus due to the departure of drummer AJ Martin, Riley continues to hone his craft and work on new material.

1. Why do you play the guitar?
I play because guitar and songwriting is one of the best ways to be in touch with the process of creation. You start with nothing, then you end up with a product: a song. Where did it come from? It’s magical. Writing is like that. Art is like that. Woodworking is like that. That process is something I think modern societies lose touch with; most jobs don’t allow a person to see the beginning and the end of a product. It’s important though. When I first started playing the guitar, really I just wanted girls to like me.

2. What was your first guitar?
When I was 13 I was with my mom at one of those big warehouse Costco-like stores. I think we were stocking up on frozen foods. I saw this guitar/amp combination for sale, and picked up the guitar and started messing around on it. My mom saw me and came over with the shopping cart like, “Put it in the cart, I’ll get it for you.” It wasn’t even my birthday. Sweet! Thanks mom.
It was a cheap Stratocaster copy, sunburst. It was actually a Kramer, a reputable guitar company back in the day, which got bought out. This guitar was not so reputable, but it got me started.

3. Who was your biggest musical influence?
Probably Creedance Clearwater Revival. My dad had their greatest hits album on tape in his truck, and it was all he ever listened to. Like many rural Texans, I spent a lot of time in trucks. The simplicity of CCR’s songwriting, the melodic sense, and their whole ‘less is more’ approach really seeped into my consciousness. I don’t consider myself a great guitarist, but am somewhat proud of my vocal and songwriting abilities. It’s in these two aspects that John Fogerty’s work has influenced me the most. All my songs have a ‘less is more’ type of approach.

4. What was the first concert you ever saw?
Creedance Clearwater Revival in 1996 in Amarillo, Texas. It was all the original members without John Fogerty. It was still a kickass show. It would inspire me for years to come.

5. If you could jam with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
John Frusciante. I think I would learn so much. If I could jam with him and Flea on bass I think I would level up as a guitarist.

6. What’s your dream guitar?
A 1962 Fender Stratocaster.

7. List 5 albums that you think every guitar player should own?
Led Zeppelin 1-4. Howlin’ Wolf: His Best

8. Tell us about the best gig you ever played? Worst gig?

I’ve played a lot of memorable good ones, where the crowd was creaming their jeans over the music and I totally felt like a sweaty, throbbing rock star; but the best show of my life was at Club FF in Hongdae on July 31st, 2010. That was the show where I met the girl who would become my wife.

My worst was a battle of the bands in 2002. My band, called Dirty Virgin Deluxe for some reason, had practiced our asses off getting ready for this show. 15 bands were set to play, and we were prepared to destroy them all. A few days before the gig they announced the lineup. We were playing first. First! At 3:00pm. Damnit. When we took the stage, it was still light outside. Sun was blasting through the windows. Nobody was there. Not even bartenders. Like, the overhead lights were on and I’m pretty sure there was a guy sweeping the floor. No matter, we could still kick ass and win over the judges with our tight chops and charisma, right? The first note of the first song, my A string broke. The song was in A. I really needed that string. I didn’t bring a backup. I would have borrowed one from one of the other bands’ guitarists, but nobody else was there! The show only got worse after the first song.

Like A Fox-(left to right) Saemi Jung, AJ Martin and Nolan Riley

9. How’s the music scene in Korea, compared to back home?
I can only speak from my narrow point of view as a minority here. The scene seems smaller and less diverse than back home, but there are still pockets of rock fury and sparkling brilliance to behold. Is it possible to make a living as a rock band here, though? I doubt it. People like their sterile, shiny pop idols.

10. The Beatles or the Stones? Why?
Led Zeppelin. They just hit me a lot harder. The Beatles or the Stones are great, but neither ever got my loins frothing like Zeppelin.

11. What’s your secret weapon on stage, aside from your guitar?
I can’t play a show without my floor tuner. That and a guitar is really all I need. I have a pretty good ear, but on stage in front of people, weird things happen.

12. What music on your mp3 player would surprise people the most?
I’ve got some pretty embarrassing 1990s boner jams on there. Like “All for Love” by Color Me Badd. “Another Night Another Dream” by LaBouche. These songs are best enjoyed at full volume in my 2004 Hyundai Sonata.

13. Do you like kimchi? Which meal would you recommend for someone who’s visiting Korea for the first time?
I like kimchi, especially if it’s grilled. I would recommend Korean BBQ to a first time visitor. You get the whole experience. Fire. Meat. Sides. Boiling soup. Clear alcohol.

14. Can you play a show drunk?
If the past is any indicator, absolutely.

15. Gibson or Fender? Why?
Fender. Their guitars feel right to me. Maybe it’s because all I ever played growing up are Stratocasters, but I’ve never played a Gibson guitar that felt good in my hands. Les Pauls feel too small and condensed to me. SGs are all weird and long. Give me a strat or a tele any day.

16. If I handed you a guitar and asked you to play the first thing that came to your mind, what would you play?
Probably “Miserlou” by Dick Dale.

17. Name the three most important things a guitar player should know?

1.) The importance of being in tune.
2.) How to turn oneself down in a live setting.
3.) That feel and groove are more important than speedy licks.

18. What’s the greatest guitar song ever recorded?
“Bohemian Rhapsody.” The songwriting is amazing. There’s a whole PhD’s worth of music theory written into it. The changes. The drama. The bravado. Then that guitar solo. Magic.

19. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I chipped my tooth on a microphone at Cantina a couple of years ago. I was saying something to the audience, and trying to lengthen the mic stand at the same time and POW right in the front tooth! It hurt like hell. I don’t know if anyone really noticed, but man it hurt…and I had to finish the set. I couldn’t stop tonguing my broken tooth.

20. What does the future hold for your music?
It’s up in the air at the moment. My goals right now are to improve my skills as a guitarist and to write more songs. I have some amazing gear. I want my skills to be of the same quality. I have so many song ideas that need development. If I can find other people to jam with and play shows, even better.

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