Chicago is home to a plethora of talented musicians; you’ve got free jazzers, leaders of the conscious rap renaissance, soul stars, independent rockers, folk troubadours and then fellas like Ryley Walker, who tick but a couple of the aforementioned boxes.
A master of reality, his easy-going personality and penchant for the good times seep into his songwriting, giving the tracks on his latest LP, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, a crisp authenticity and relatability. He’s not just a great writer but a virtuoso guitarist, donning both acoustic and electric guitar (though not simultaneously) on stage. He can cut loose, engaging his improvisational mind and heading for regions in which time can slow for a short while, or he can keep things succinct, with hypnotic guitar rhythms punctuated by Jansch-esque flourishes.
Ahead of his return to Band on the Wall, to perform as part of the Manchester Psych Fest in September, we caught up with Ryley to discuss some of his psych favourites from ’67, his batch of new songs and his wickedly funny tweets.
We’re looking forward to having you back in Manchester for the Manchester Psych Fest! This year being 2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of some touchstone psych-rock and psychedelic folk albums and while the talk naturally turns to Sgt. Pepper and Pink Floyd’s debut, I’m wondering if there are any killer 1967 albums that were part of that psychedelic burgeoning, that are really important to you and perhaps less often praised?
1967… big time year for tunes for sure. I really liked “Disraeli Gears” by Cream growing up. I guess that’s pretty well known though. Albert Aylers “live in Greewich village” is from 1967, I’d say that’s a pretty psychedelic record.
Golden Sings was a mammoth record and so accomplished that I’m sure your devotees would be understanding if you wanted to take your time in following it up, but given that you’re always thinking about the next step, have you new songs and a new record in mind and if so are you ‘road testing’ any material at present?
Eh sort of road testing, yeah. the songs themselves are pretty hyper-composed now. Not much room to stretch out within them. I’m working on a record, yeah – it’s gonna be a while longer. Taking lots of time.
A fantastic thing about your songwriting and your versatility as a player is that it might see you performing at a psych fest like Manchester’s one week and then a jazz or folk festival the next. Do you enjoy having that breadth and variety of audience as a performer and do you feel at all compelled to tweak the set or perhaps bring a particular version of yourself to the stage, in instances like these?
I’m pretty lucky in that sense yeah. I really enjoy being able to find myself on all sorts of bills, jazz/folk/weirdo/etc. I don’t purposefully let a certain type of festival influence anything, I just try to do my best and see what happens. Lord willing, it’s always far-out.
Meg Baird accompanied you on your last trip to Band on the Wall, with the two of you sharing the stage for a great rendition of Rosemary Lane. Given your collaborative streak, is there any chance we’ll hear a collaborative record from the two of you in the future?
No immediate plans, though I’d love to jam with Meg again. I’m gonna see her band Heron Oblivion in Chicago in a couple weeks. They are great. Looking forward to it.
Talking of Rosemary Lane; that song is at least a couple of hundred years old – have you a large repertoire of older folk standards, or do you tend to pick up the odd one here and there as artists have through the generations?
I don’t really have any standards in the vault. Not really my bag. I kinda suck at “folk folk” you know? like, real traditional stuff. weird scene.
Your name might not make every countdown article, but your tweets are easily some of the funniest around. As an artist in the modern age do you struggle with the tech/creative balance and the demand for a social media presence or are you able to take it all in your stride and possibly even find it in some way conducive to creativity or songwriting ideas?
Twitter is just my autistic brain projecting into the world. I’ve always hated the idea of taking things seriously. Definitely gotten me into trouble throughout my life. Ha. I also hate when people want to be cool in band pictures. I’m definitely guilty of it – I’ve bought that charade before. The whole “look at this asshole playing dress up in the woods” bit. The whole biz as selling oneself as cool bothers me. I guess saying stupid shit on twitter is a way to disarm that for me.
Do live sound engineers have a black cargo shorts/leg tattoo convention every year where they also sell shure microphone merchandise?
— Ryley walker (@ryleywalker) 22 July 2017
Ryley’s final reminder/word of warning:
If you don’t buy an early bird ticket, the LSD you take during my set will send u into a spiral where I turn into your screaming stepfather https://t.co/BH8jKsa6ab
— Ryley walker (@ryleywalker) 25 July 2017
Pick up your Manchester Psych Fest tickets here.