Levitation Q&A: Ryley Walker

Folk guitarist extraordinaire has nothing bad to say about ATX

When Ryley Walker’s debut LP All Kinds of You arrived in 2014, it heralded a distinctive new voice in contemporary music. That impression sustained widespread reinforcement on March’s masterful follow-up, the acclaimed Primrose Green. On his way to perform at Levitation on Saturday, the guitarist checked in by e-mail while on tour in Europe.

Austin Chronicle: You’ve honed in on a very distinct style associated with a specific time period, drawing from seminal influences: Tim Buckley, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. When and how did you find this music and what made you take it to heart?

Ryley Walker: Record shopping and smoking dope with the wrong crowd. [I’m] just a very big fan of folk tunes, be it from any generation. I suppose that era speaks the loudest to me, though.

AC: How do you feel about the constant comparisons to these folks, even in the liner notes to Primrose Green?

RW: I don’t know. It’s like the only thing people can talk about. I roll with it, I guess. Make no mistake, I love everything they mention, but all I got is me at the end of the day.

AC: When did you know that writing and performing music would be your path?

RW: Geez, maybe 17 or 18? Once I got enrolled into college I realized I made a huge mistake, so I dropped that like a hat real quick.

AC: Did the infamously productive Chicago music scene open up to your music when you first started? Do you feel like your music is more appreciated at home or abroad?

RW: Chicago definitely embraced the tunes from the start. Those are my peoples. Lots of amazing memories. I don’t care to think about where I’m appreciated, or make some us versus them over where I sell more records. I have great friends all over the world. Thankful enough for that.

AC: Primrose Green has been out a couple of months now. How do you feel about it in hindsight?

RW: It’s okay – still fun to play live. Haven’t listened to the recordings since I got a test pressing of it, but I’m excited to be making new songs. Think I’ve learned a lot by touring so much since the recording.

AC: Do you feel this is the direction your music will continue to go?

RW: Got lots of ideas for a new record. Don’t like waiting too long. Hoping to record very soon. Lots of gigs, so trying to sort time in between.

AC: One of the best aspects about your guitar playing is that it’s not based on ripping solos. I know you started on electric guitar; did your current style evolve from self-accompaniment before you had your current band?

RW: Yeah, I’d say definitely it developed out of sitting at home for a few years and playing daily. Listening to lots of records and doing loads of cover tunes. Really feel like I’ve had a big leap in the last couple years, though, mostly from touring tons and tons.

AC: Your bandmembers have jazz backgrounds, correct? Is that more conducive to your music than the usual rock or folk-oriented musicians?

RW: Yeah, lots of improv and jazz heads. I think it definitely came out the best it could have. Such confident players and great friends. Very on-the-go and focused work. All signs point to keeping it that way.

AC: This will be your second time in Austin this year, after your performances at SXSW. Are you looking forward to coming back? Coming from Chicago, which has a ton of bands, what do you think about Austin’s rep as a musician-friendly place?

RW: Austin has always taken care of me. First time I went there was on a Greyhound bus when I was 18 to hang at SXSW, but I fucking came the week after. Stupid as hell, right? However, I got to meet a lot of people when I was bumming around town who I’m still friends with to this day. Nothing bad to say about Austin.

AC: You’re coming to play Levitation, formerly Austin Psych Fest. Critic Jim Derogatis has described psychedelia as music that takes you to another place. With that definition in mind, do you feel your music fits in well with a lineup of psychedelic rock acts?

RW: Lots of great tunes on the bill for that festival, some not so psychedelic or whatever. Just looks like a good time, and I’m up for a good time. I’m glad Jim Derogatis has figured out the gold standard of what psychedelia is. Good for him.

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Ryley Walker, Tim Buckley, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, David Crosby, SXSW, Levitation 2015

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