STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
If you haven’t heard of Indie singer songwriter Ryley Walker, you soon will. The 27 year-old Chicago native is one of contemporary music’s more profound artists with a sound and style that immediately clicks.
Influenced by Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Black Flag, John Coltrane and the Doors, Walker has recently released “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung” (2016) (on the heels of his 2015 masterpiece “Primrose Green”). Exemplifying his musical diversity and creative genius, Walker, who has already struck a chord with European audiences, is finally gaining traction on his home turf.
“It’s a fantastic record,” says Walker, from his home in Chicago. “I think it’s the best album I’ve done. I certainly think it’s the most inventive and weirdly smart and musically deep record that I’ve made. It’s a really different record from the last one. I like to change up the formula. It’s always important to update your formula.”
“We made it last December, which is a weird time to make a record,” adds Walker. “The whole world is clocked out, and you’re in the studio with no windows and a bunch of other musicians. The whole world was celebrating the birds of our origin while we were making freaky jams in the studio. We had a lot of fun. Everybody got along so well. The only complications were trying to get good takes. I think it’s doing really well. I’m really happy with it.”
Although the entire record is beautiful, standout tracks include “The Halfwit In Me,” “A Choir Apart,” “I Will Ask You Twice,” “The Roundabout” and “The Great and Undecided,”
Relocating from Rockford, Illinois to Chicago in 2010, Walker was determined to become a vibrant member of the windy city’s independent music scene. Following the release of a handful of cassette EP’s and a vinyl EP (“The Evidence of Things Unseen” (2011), “Of Deathly Premonitions” (with Daniel Bachman) (2011) and “West Wind” (2013)), Walker released his debut album, “All Kinds of You,” in 2014. It was Walker’s critically acclaimed sophomore effort, “Primrose Green” (2015), that earned rotation on alternative and college radio and established a wider audience for his music.
Looking for opportunities to challenge his creativity and reflect his broad musical palette, Walker collaborated with fellow Chicago musician Bill MacKay, releasing an all-instrumental album “Land of Plenty” in 2015. Recorded live over two nights during their residency at The Whistler in Chicago, the album, a departure from his prior works, captures finger style ballads, psychedelic waltzes and raga-inspired blues.
“The mission objective is to always keep the vibe, but change up the music,” says Walker. “That comes from playing with so many people. I’ve played with so many different musicians. You get influenced by a lot of things.”
“I’ve struggled on and off for years,” adds Walker. “In Europe, we’ve done exponentially better every 6 months or so. I’m lucky.
I think the first time I went to Europe a few years back was a big turning point. In America it’s still a flat line. The mid-Atlantic and Midwest is where I’m strong. The east coast is where I’ve made the most tracks. It’s been a lot of hard labor getting traction on the east coast, especially in Philadelphia and New York. I’m happy to keep working to make that better.”
“I think if I could do a little better in America that would be great,” says Walker. “I’ve always done really well in Philadelphia supporting my music. I think if I can grow more and more to a higher level that would be great. I’d like to be able to make a living and give my band more money so they can have the opportunity to go out with me and people can experience a better show.”
Self defined as, “guitar with anxiety and inviting self deprecation; folk music for people who like to stay out too late,” Walker lives for the opportunity to spread his message to live audiences.
“The live show has always been our main goal,” says Walker. “I’m touring all the time. When you’re on stage, it all comes together and it’s well worth it. The greatest joy in my life is being able to play shows.”
“I want people to go away with the knowledge that they saw a really great show played differently every night, and the show was custom crafted for them,” adds Walker. “It’s like when you go to get a special dish in a kitchen somewhere that’s made just for that night. I craft everything in that context to that audience. I hope they have a powerful experience and they enjoy people having fun on stage and they have a lot of fun at the show.”
What is most intriguing about the shy and humble Walker that you meet off stage is the intense persona he projects on stage. Watching him visibly getting lost in his art while transcending to a level of intense creative energy, one can’t help but get drawn deeper into the music and Walker’s lyrical message.
“Most of it is me focused on listening to everybody in my band very intently,” says Walker. “I’m trying to feed off what they’re giving and them trying to feed off of what I’m giving. It kind of goes both ways. I’m really trying to make the music special and really be in sync with everybody. Playing live is always the best part of what I do.”
“I’m blown away that I even have fans,” adds Walker. “I just want to keep working and show everybody what I can do. If I can make a small living, it is important that I take it really seriously. I’m really grateful, that’s for sure.”