Continuing our build-up to Best Kept Secret, enigmatic guitar whizz Ryley Walker spoke with us. The mercurial Chicagoan has released four albums in the last three years. His most recent work, Cannots, is an hour of live improvisation with fellow Illinois musician, Charles Rumback. He’s been called “the reincarnation of the true American guitar player” and his songs encompass modern folk, free jazz, and wild, experimental finger-picked guitars.
His sound is often compared to Van Morrison’s classic albums, and those of the late Nick Drake. Fans of Tim Buckley, John Martyn and The Grateful Dead have been praising his dense instrumentation and hypnotic tunes. He has toured with Joanna Newsom and Danny Thompson of Pentangle recently and played at the Bert Jansch tribute shows in Glasgow.
Here’s what the psych-folk troubadour had to say to Musos’ Guide.
MG: You have just played in Whelan's, the spiritual home of live music in Dublin, as part of your Irish tour. How did that go for you? Have you been to Ireland before?
RW: Had a wonderful gig. Never had a bad time in Dublin. Always treated me very well.
MG: You'll be back to play in London next month and playing festival dates too. How do find the reaction in the UK?
RW: A lot of people are very nice. I enjoy my friends and label family there very much.
MG: You've released lots of material the past couple of years, did you have a backlog of songs that you wanted to get out? Can we expect the frenetic pace to continue?
RW: There's not a lot of material sitting around as far as songs go. Lots of old weird stuff with old bands laying around. I have doubts anybody will put them out. I have a new record out in August.
MG: You have an interesting choice of musicians to play with. The piano on ‘Primrose Green’ is like Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and experimental guitar on ‘Sweet Satisfaction’ adds a whole other dimension to the music. How do you choose who to work with? And do they have carte blanche to experiment on the individual tracks?
RW: I choose by closest friends in Chicago. There typically is a general theme to roll with, after that they can go nuts.
MG: You have toured with Cian Nugent. How did that come about?
RW: I met Cian through mutual friends in music, and eventually went to Ireland and we hung out. From there, we became fast friends and went on tour. I love him dearly. Very close friend and big influence for me.
MG: Are you happy with comparisons with Tim Buckley and John Martyn? Are you tired of hearing them?
RW: Yes, I'm pretty tired of hearing them.
MG: It’s your first time at Best Kept Secret. Who will you have playing with you there? What kind of set can we expect?
RW: I think the band will be a quartet. Lots of new material and sonic experiments! I have lots of new gear I'm excited to mess around with.
MG: You are a keen improviser. You even made a full length album improvised for Record Store Day. Will you do more projects like that?
RW: I'll always make new music - songwriting or otherwise. All signs point to releasing more hopefully. Just all economics and time management I suppose.
Ryley Walker will be playing on Sunday June 19 at Best Kept Secret, and will be back in the UK on Monday June 6 in London’s Oval Space and Caught by The River Thames on Saturday August 6.