CHICAGO GUITAR PHENOM Ryley Walker is amusingly complicated. Steeped in free jazz experimentalism and dream-folk whimsy, Walker’s work is a natural progression from artists like John Martyn and even John Coltrane, though he’s also a steadfast contemporary of Cian Nugent, Steve Gunn, and William Tyler.
“I don’t have a particularly extravagant life,” says Walker, “but if I can tell it in a way that makes it unique, I’m happy to do that.”
This summer he released his third album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, which finds a more nuanced palette from which to cull his heavily textured soundscapes. Working with friend Leroy Bach (Wilco) as producer, Walker utilized the same Chicagoland band from his brilliant sophomore LP Primrose Green in new ways, collaborating during improvisational live shows to shape the songs that ended up on Golden Sings.
“You have a foundation, then you build a home,” Walker says of his songwriting with the band. “You add some lamps and a couple clocks, and then it’s a fucking house. They make it a house; I make it a home.”
Citing influences like the compositions of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, Walker opened his typically busy guitar work to sparser sonic avenues, relishing a more primal listening experience as heard on the minimalist “A Choir Apart.”
Darker tunes like “Sullen Mind” traverse shadowy stages of his hyper-deft abilities on acoustic guitar, unlike the sparks he flashes on the busy opener “The Halfwit in Me.” Walker’s objective, despite his six-string mastery, is to excel as a songwriter rather than sell his chops.
“I’m not really looking to be like Joe Perry with a fucking pair of socks down my pants,” he quips.
Walker’s self-deprecating humor and slacker disposition play a big role in his on- and off-stage personality—an endearment he attributes to growing up in the Midwest.
“I have kind of thick skin and low expectations built in me,” he says. “I’m not so wide-eyed to the world anymore. I’m not like, ‘One day it’s gonna get bigger!’ No, you’re gonna keep sleeping on your creepy cousin’s couch.”