In the imaginary bazaar of the music world, there is currently no shortage of stalls pushing inventive updates of various forms of more or less obscure American and British folk/blues guitar wizard formulas.
Even with some stiff competition, Ryley Walker hovers over the finger-picking pack. On surface, the Chicago-based guitarist/singer’s act is little more than a particularly accomplished tribute to templates laid by Tim Buckley, Bert Jansch/Pentangle and John Martyn. Listen closer to recent second album Primrose Green, and Walker emerges as an equal, not an imitator, of the old masters; he’s even more convincing live, where the deceptively simple tunes take flight, expanding and stretching until breaking point before Walker reels them back in to the land of melody and structure. Considering Walker’s fondness for the vintage giants of folk/jazz exploration, Saturday’s pairing with legendary bass partner for Martyn and Buckley as well as, amongst many others, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson seems not only apt but almost inevitable. The YEP asked Walker with a few questions on the eve of the collaborative tour.
Your roots are in the Chicago experimental/noise underground. What drew you towards more acoustic musical settings? I’ve always played the weird music side by side with the nice easygoing tunes. They draw from one another.
Tim Buckley, John Martyn, Bert Jansch – your music has been compared to a long list of vintage folk/jazz/blues explorers. Who or what are your actual main influences, and why? Those names are big for me. Huge. Outside of great records from the past, I think my friends are my biggest influence for making new music. I’m lucky enough to be close with some of the best bands in the world. They make me want to be better.
Having played with all of the aforementioned legends, Danny Thompson is obviously a legend of your kind of music. How do you feel about the prospect of playing and touring with him? He’s a really easy going guy. I see him as a friend and collaborator. Obviously, his resume is just about the best in the double bass business- but I feel like we’ve known each other for years. I feel really lucky to be doing this tour with him.
What can we expect from your duo gigs? A lot of experimenting and twisting the classics. New tunes as well. I’ll be at the bar after every show trying the local ales.
How did your collaboration start? Danny still listens to loads of new records and keeps his ear to the ground. I always thought it would be great and rewarding work if we got to jam, and we both met and decided to do it.
Seeing you live with a band in Manchester last year was a bit of a revelation as the tension and sprawl that’s hinted at on your albums was let off the leash. How difficult is it for you to rein in your improvisatory impulses in the studio? The studio is a great place to improvise. We often do 20-plus takes of every song and make them completely different each time. A lot of editing and mixing later, you got a fresh tune.
What is the hallmark of a successful live show? A feeling of joy and connection. A good beer after.
You’re working on your third album. What can we expect?
It’s all done! It’s a lot slower and longer songs. The best stuff we’ve ever done, hands down. Lots of out-there lyrical themes. It’s less of a guitar record in some ways. No idea when it will be out, 90% sure second half of the year- but nothing is confirmed. That’s up to the powers that be. Also, a couple other records of collaborations I did with some friends that will be out sometime this year.
You did a solo show in Leeds at the Brudenell not that long ago. What can you remember about the show, the venue and the city? Leeds is great. Absolutely love it. Had a great curry. Slept in a sort of punk rock squat with no heat. It was a good time. People were lovely.
You’ve been given a magic wand and instructions to compile a dream band from any musicians you wish, live or dead. Who is going to be in the line-up? Woah....Sonny Sharrock, Nina Simone, Coltrane, Mingus, Tom Verlaine.
Steve Gunn, Chris Forsyth, yourself, many others – there are quite a few artists mining the great American guitar traditions around at the moment. What do you think is the appeal of this stuff? People’s interest in guitar music comes and goes. Always has. I think I can speak for myself and both those guys that we will be playing guitar tunes for better or worse. If anybody wants to come hang at the gigs, that’s a bonus.
Ryley Walker and Danny Thompson play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Friday February 26. For details visit http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/ryley-walker-danny-thompson/