Hometown hubris is a natural instinct. If a leggy supermodel or star athlete hails from your 'hood, you make sure everybody knows it. San Diego has its fair share of famous exports, but every now and again another city goes and claims all the bragging rights.
Take the band Rilo Kiley. They've toured arenas with Coldplay and earned praise from the likes of Elvis Costello. Their most recent album, last year's Under the Blacklight, came in at No. 8 on Rolling Stone's “Top 50 Albums of the Year” list. You could say they're the hipster pride and joy of Los Angeles.
About that, though: Two of the four members of Rilo Kiley grew up here in San Diego. By our estimation, that's exactly half, which makes them our band, too. There's no need for ticker-tape parades or oversized keys to the city, but we should get to revel just a little.
Pierre de Reeder, the band's 34-year-old bassist, was born at Scripps Memorial Hospital and went to La Jolla High. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Blake Sennett, also 34, spent his formative years in La Jolla and later lived in what he calls the “metaphorical monster truck” city of Escondido.
When asked if he was selected “Most likely to play in a hit indie-rock band” by his high-school peers, the soft-spoken De Reeder contemplates the question thoughtfully.
“If there was such a vote, I don't think so,” he muses.
The not-so-soft-spoken Sennett recalls his scholastic years more bluntly.
“I sold pot and mushrooms,” Sennett—born Blake Swendson—claims. “I wore acid-washed jeans and sported kind of a vague mullet. I wore a Bob Marley or Pink Floyd shirt every single day—I had two of each—and I had a big mouth.”Sennett—who's still something of a big mouth, cracking jokes at every turn—whet his appetite for the spotlight as a teen actor playing supporting roles on Salute Your Shorts and Boy Meets World in the early '90s. He later turned his interest to music, joining De Reeder in a gothic band called The Caustic Truth.
“I was the drummer,” Sennett says with a sardonic snort. “We even had a lyric in a song that went, ‘The caustic truth is that there's no truth at all.' Then they kicked me out of the band and kept my drums. So I decided drums sucked. That's why I play guitar.”
During his brief television career, Sennett met (and eventually dated) fellow child actor Jenny Lewis, a petite, spitfire redhead who'd appeared in everything from Roseanne to Troop Beverly Hills. In 1998, the two formed Rilo Kiley with De Reeder and drummer Dave Rock (later replaced by Jason Boesel).
Lewis may be the photogenic face of Rilo Kiley, but Sennett—who splits time with his side project, The Elected—has played an equally active role in the band. He even came up with the name—though he's offered several imaginative accounts about its genesis.
“It's because the real explanation is so boring,” Sennett laughs. “Rilo Kiley was the name of a Scottish guy I had a dream about. I think I've told people that he predicted the date of Jenny's death—that part isn't true.”
Over the past decade, Rilo Kiley has honed its folk-tinged mix of indie-pop and twangy country into a big, defining sound hinted at in the title of 2004's More Adventurous. Their latest, Under the Blacklight, ditches the country and indie preciousness for a sex-fueled romp inspired as much by Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles as '80s new-wave and college rock.
The romantic link between Lewis and Sennett has long since fizzled, but public affection for their band only seems to grow stronger. De Reeder says Rilo Kiley's trajectory from unknown indie rockers to Rolling Stone renown has been relatively smooth.
“It's been such an incremental step-up during our 10 years as a band,” he says, modestly. “There definitely have been great moments. The other day, when we were at Coachella... it was incredible. There were 10,000 people out there for us. But we played shows to 20 people and then to 50 and then to 100. There was a never a slap-in-the-face moment.”
De Reeder says he doesn't think the band has even officially “made it” yet, though he casually mentions the especially warm reception Rilo Kiley gets at their hometown gigs—in Los Angeles. Even though he and Sennett routinely head south to visit family, they both consider themselves fully entrenched Angelenos.
That's forgivable enough, especially since Rilo Kiley recently gave a big career boost to one of San Diego's hottest bands. Grand Ole Party—a trio that, admittedly, originally hails from the Bay Area—caught Sennett's attention after they opened for The Elected. He ended up producing their debut, Humanimals, and GOP opened for Rilo Kiley on the band's 2007 U.S. and U.K. tours. De Reeder's 6-year-old daughter Sophia even played a starring role in GOP's first music video.
“They're all so fun and friendly,” says GOP vocalist/drummer Kristin Gundred, who also lent her powerful pipes to Rilo Kiley as a touring backup singer. “A big part of us wanting to work with [Sennett], and him with us, is that he liked our sound as it was.”
De Reeder and Sennett both praise GOP with the same one-word descriptor: “awesome.”
“They're experiencing acclaim and praise at the same time that they're at their most prolific,” Sennett says. “When that happens to you, it's a really special thing. I think they're my favorite band I've heard in, like, five years.”
As long as they don't forget where they came from—sort of—when they become famous.
Rilo Kiley plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 15, with Nik Freitas at Viejas Concerts in the Park. 619-659-1996. www.rilokiley.com.