Forward-thinking singer-songwriter Ryley Walker performs Orlando’s Timucua Arts this weekend | Music Stories and Interviews | Orlando
Ryley Walker has had a very, very busy 2021, releasing no less than four albums on his own Husky Pants imprint and touring with Dinosaur Jr. (Not to mention a brief foray into the Vermont wilderness, though Walker is now safely back settled in New York City.) To call the young singer and guitarist a “chameleon” on the basis of his recent, diverse and dazzling catalog is too reductive a term; Walker doesn’t try personas so much as exploring the outer limits of sound and new modes of expression, alone or in the company of outsiders like David Grubbs, Chris Corsano and John McEntire.
If you haven’t seen Walker in a few years, start with his thunderous love letter to 1990s Chicago’s alt-freak elite, Fable lessonbut be aware that at this point he is probably on a whole other journey.
How did the stars line up to make this handful of Florida dates actually happen, especially at such a difficult time for touring artists?
Florida is a big, beautiful state that I’ve never had the chance to go to. I love the fruit hanging from the trees and the pretty tan everyone has. This is Valhalla for simple, corn-fed Midwesterners like me. I made sure we were going there by this route. I haven’t been there for years. Love him deeply.
Is it true that you’re bringing the whirlwind pre-jazz Chris Corsano to those gigs in Florida? Could you talk about your history and your relationship with him?
I’ve known Chris’s music since I was a teenager in the mid 2000s. I read arthur magazine cover to cover every month and he was a rising star in that weird musician scene that they were focusing on. His duet with Mick Flower changed my life. Almost as much as Led Zeppelin or something. We have become friends over the past decade. I saw him at festivals or concerts in New England. He’s as cool as can be. A true innovator and genius. I am so grateful to have him on this trek.
You’ve played a number of shows during the pandemic, on your own, opening for Dinosaur Jr., with David Grubbs — quite a wide range of gigging experiences. What have been your personal impressions of performing live during the various stages of the pandemic?
I live one day at a time in this profession. Today everything seems fine and good. We are healthy, having fun, and protecting ourselves and others as best we can. I don’t know what is best for everyone. I’m happy to work and I don’t want to ruin everything.
You released four albums last year and Husky Pants was humming all the time. How did you maintain your creative discipline during those shitty times?
My resume is pretty bad. It’s jam or hunger. I also look forward to playing music. I have a good life and I live within my means. I’m happy and I can’t ask for a better situation. The joy of music and having fun takes me a long way.
How did Vermont treat you and are you happy to be back in New York?
Vermont was really nice. Good ponds. Good dogs. Good hikes. I am a city dweller by heart. So I’m happy to be back in the mix. New York works for me. I love it.
Talk about making A pat on the shoulder. Your collaborator on that one, David Grubbs, is such a singular force. And more generally, how do collaborations satisfy the creative itch unlike your solo music?
David is my hero and my guru. He is humble and kind and everything I aspire to. His guitar work is so unique and brilliant. We made this record in two days. We just hit a record and improvised. Very relaxed. Very funny. I came to Chicago thinking we were making song records, and in between there were noise records. I always want to keep this discipline and rhythm of recording!
What albums will your set be taken from? Most Fable lesson and post wook? You have so many choices…
The latest record, Fable lesson, takes up most of the setlist. Beyond that, we improvise and jam to lots of old tunes. Each set is unique. The concerts in Florida have always been fun, I can’t wait to find out more.