John C. Reilly's Labor of Love: 'You've Got to Keep These Songs Alive'

John C. Reilly and Tom Brosseau perform onstage during 2013 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival held at The Empire Polo Club on April 28, 2013 in Indio, California.

Karl Walter/Getty Images for Stagecoach

John C. Reilly is looking to do some more recording this summer, hopefully resulting in a full album of rootsy folk and Americana covers to follow the two singles he's released so far on Jack White's Third Man Records label.

"We hope to do (an album)," the Academy Award-nominated actor of "Chicago" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" tells Billboard. "We get asked about that a lot, especially at shows. The songs aren't going anywhere. They're as old as the hills. It's almost like borrowing the music from the audience and playing it back for them, and it ends up being like a community experience. I'm not saying I'm as good as the people that came before me, but I'm still alive, and someone's gotta carry the torch."

Reilly's sessions will likely feature members of his & Friends collective that he regularly performs with, including a recent Midwest tour -- primarily Tom Brosseau and Becky Stark (the Living Sisters, the Decemberists) as well as singer-songwriter Dan Bern, former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson and bassist Sebastian Steinberg. 

"It's just kind of a labor of love," explains Reilly, a Chicago native who was introduced to Celtic folk music by his parents. "It's music I was really interested in and have been playing with friends. It's a really rewarding thing to do -- not to make money, certainly, or to get famous or whatever. It's just really moving music to play and share with people. All of a sudden I found myself with a band, and when I started to play out here in Los Angeles with some friends, people immediately started giving us positive feedback."

White -- who released Reilly's versions of Ray Price's "I'll Be There If You Want" and a cover of the Delmore Brothers' "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar" -- became a friend through social acquaintances, and Reilly convinced him to play Elvis Presley in "Walk Hard." 

"We stayed in touch," says Reilly, who also recorded a pair of songs for the 2006 compilation "Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys and has appeared in videos for the Beastie Boys ("Make Some Noise") and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion ("Talk About the Blues"). "And he said, 'Well, if you ever want to do anything and want it to be recorded, you should come down to Nashville. I have this recording studio. You can stay at my house and we can have a record out in 24 hours. I thought, 'This is an opportunity I should not pass up.' "

Reilly, who recently provided a lead voice (and co-wrote) for the animated feature "Wreck-It Ralph" and appears in the forthcoming "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," has "a couple irons in the fire" for future acting projects, but is putting some emphasis on the music right now. And he's happy to keep playing live until the recording scenario is sorted out. 

"If there's a personal imprint I put on the show it's the songs that get chosen, not so much the way we do it," he explains. "We try to do them faithfully to the original intent and the original style of playing. I think they're melodies you hear one time and immediately can't forget them. I think you've got to keep these songs alive by playing them; the stuff just dies if it's left to recordings alone."

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