There is a constant searching that permeates our world, a question that stumbles through light-hearted conversation and “deep” thought philosophical undertakings. A bantering silhouette, perched tall and proud in its hilarious nature, laughing at us as we seek grand success and monumental happiness. So we ask ourselves once again … what is truly most important in life? What does real success feel like? Today we’re looking for the real stuff – not the fancy car and expensive house fluff – I’m talking about the success that truly and sustainably translates into feeling good.
For Ryley Walker, the answer is simple: balance and healthy home life. Satisfaction… come on in. Contentment is invited too and pairs perfectly with humble expectations of self. Most of us are too busy wielding our deepest desires and forging ahead in search of the token that will strengthen our ego into ultra-powered lift-off mode, only to be let down when we realize how shitty it feels to be looking outward for something that was right there the whole time. Simple, humble, balanced, even, fair, truth.
Today, the 32-year-old artist – with his unassuming genius and a refreshing approach to the guitar – has an outlook on a life worth sharing. In short, Walker spent the good part of his twenties in a van, grinding away at the indie musician “dream.” Multiple releases with hip labels, tours through Europe, notable press, the whole shebang. Now Ryley is running his own small indie-label, doing all his own public relations, and in simple terms: he is killing it. So I say this confidently and proudly: Ryley Walker is an inspiration.
Glide was lucky to get on the phone and catch up with Ryley about the upcoming album Course in Fable (out 4/3), his move from NYC to Vermont, and much, much more.
Ryley Walker: Where are you calling from?
I’m in Portland, Oregon
You’re from there?
Nope, I’ve lived here about six years. I was in Vermont for some years before that.
Oh man, I love Portland and I’m actually moving to Vermont in May. I got a house up there with my girlfriend.
Far out. What part?
In Calais. Outside of Montpelier.
That’s awesome. I love it there.
Yeah, I always thought I was just a city rat. Times are different and I’m getting older I guess. Getting a house up there and getting things figured out wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’m really stoked.
How did that come about?
My girlfriend is from New York City and has lived there her whole life. She’s ready to move on to bigger and better things and I was like, yeah, let’s do it. I can be comfortable anywhere. I don’t need nightlife or a scene as much as I used to. I’m pretty happy just to chill out. It’s time to go to bed early.
Yeah. I feel that. Discovering your music recently has been really cool. I love your writing and guitar playing. When did you start playing and writing songs?
I started playing guitar when I was twelve or thirteen and I wrote crappy songs. The big music for me then was American Football, Cap’n Jazz, all the big midwest emo bands. Doing that sort of thing was the starting point.
I was hearing SMOG (Bill Callahan) influence on your new song Rang Dizzy. Is he someone who inspires you?
Yeah, definitely. I’m a big fan of SMOG. In my early twenties, Dongs of Sevotion and Knock Knock, I listened to those records religiously. Bill Callahan is the greatest. I take so much from him. He’s funny. I love his sense of humor and his music a lot.
What was the recording process like for your upcoming album Course In Fable?
It was actually recorded in Portland at The Hallowed Halls last October with John McEntire. I started writing the songs around this time last year while I was on a solo tour in Europe. When I got home and knew I was going to be there a while I thought I should make use of this time. My band and I went to Chicago to record demos in June last year. I’ve wanted to make a record with John McEntire forever and had known him loosely, though we were never close friends or anything. So I hit up John and told him I’d love to make a record and he said, “Sure, get out here.” It was a pretty quick process. We did the basic tracking in three days. I’d never done demos before, generally, I’d go into the studio 50% done and hope the other 50% would stick. The difference this time was all the songs were fully fleshed out. We knocked it out quickly and were all really happy with the result.
Are you missing touring?
No, I’m not really. I toured a lot the last ten years. My tune could change tomorrow but as of right now I am really enjoying staying home. I didn’t know how badly I needed a break. I’ve always defined my life on the next tour, thinking the only thing that matters is the next gig. My priorities have changed so much. I’ve found a really good balance at home. I love my home life and I really like staying in. These are all things I knew that I needed. I feel really bad for young kids who have cool bands and haven’t gotten to go on tour yet and for people who really depend on touring. I’ve had to adapt which is why I’m putting out this record and funding it myself. I started this dinky little label (Husky Pants Records) out of necessity and because I needed a job. I figured I’d take the small amount of savings I have and put this and a couple of other records out and see if it works. So far it’s been cool. Touring will come back and when it does I’ll do it on a much smaller scale. I’ve been really lucky, gotten to go to Japan and Australia but I don’t think I’m suited for a month-long van tour across America anymore.
Is it cool to see how putting the record out independently can be more sustainable, keeping costs down?
Yeah. So far it’s been sustainable. I was pretty willfully ignorant about how everything worked. I only thought about making the tunes and going on tour. It’s nice to wear a lot more hats now – it’s not about taking control or whatever – it’s nice to understand the business more from the inside out and to work at my own pace. I don’t have to let anybody down with a bum record (both laugh). I’m glad it’s all on me. I’m glad it’s just mine to fuck up and I’m excited to take on the responsibility for it. I don’t mind the bad parts of it – the emails and the PR stuff – I have a good time with it all. It’s the right time for me to smarten up and see how this can be sustainable instead of a bleeding money thing. I just want to be able to afford cigarettes and rent and I’m cool with that. I don’t need a big career trajectory. I don’t care about the next level or whatever that is anymore. There are always people wanting you to level up. I just want to keep going at a totally lateral, horizontal motion for the rest of time. That makes me happy. The next level is not something I care about. I’m having more fun with music than I’ve had in years. I’m living with a lot of gratitude right now. I’m really lucky and happy.
Can you tell me about the label you started, Husky Pants Records?
Yeah, I put a record out recently of this Japanese artist Kika Gakumoyo and me and I have plans to put out some friends’ bands. That’s really exciting to me. There’s no middle man, just my friends that I am talking to, splitting the profit with them and getting their music out there the best that I can. It’s low stakes. I don’t have a team, just me in a crummy apartment with a laptop. The expectations aren’t huge or anything but it’s really rewarding to see my friends’ music through from beginning to end. It’s more a gift, nothings being taken away, and I’m really stoked on it. I want to build the label brick by brick and see what happens, remain totally humble with it. I don’t want to have huge expectations and honestly, I am happy to break even and not press shitty records. That’s all my goal is.
My buddies have a cool tape label in Vermont called NNA Tapes.
I don’t know him that well but I played Burlington some years back and would hang out with Toby (Aronson). NNA is such a great label. I probably have 30 NNA cassettes on my wall. I’m looking at them right now. NNA is awesome.
I used to make albums with Ryan Power (NNA Artist) who’s a good pal of mine.
Man, Ryan Power. I have the LP where he’s sitting on a chair. Toby gave me a promo CD of that six or seven years ago. That’s a great record.
Ryan is an amazing genius.
He’s a bedroom-pop prodigy.
Have you played any shows in the last year?
No, I tried a couple of stream things. They were nice opportunities and I think I got some small donations and that was helpful but I haven’t focused on playing live at all. I play at home all the time on my own. I think streaming can be done well but I kind of stink at it. I’ll wait for the real thing to come back. This whole thing has made me take stock in my priorities in life and for me, the priorities are maintaining a nice home life and being happy… or trying to be happy. Being more in touch with reality and the people in my life. Those were things that took the wayside to the ego of touring and the ego of indie rock hype. I took all of those things in weird directions. I’m glad to have a baseline and steady home life that I enjoy.
Man. That’s really refreshing. It’s so easy for artists to idealize the life of people on the road. They don’t know how hard it can be.
Yeah. It can be really fun and it can be healthy for people who treat it that way. For me this was a good time to take a break.
Tell me about your recent single Axis Bent.
I want to say it was the first or second song that I wrote for the record. It’s like Lenny Bruce on psych meds over Television. It’s a guitar noodle but I never made a noodle-like that before. I’m stoked about it. It’s a totally new direction for any guitar music that I’ve ever written. I usually go on these circular riffs of folk-based stuff and this is definitely more like a late 70’s New York City-influenced kind of thing. I think it’s a good template of the next direction of where I want to go with the music. It has key changes and weird parts. It’s all the things I love about music.
What inspired you to make a cover album of The Dave Matthews Band album The Lillywhite Sessions? It’s a really beautiful record.
Thanks. That came about from Eric Deines who was working at Secretly Canadian, it was his idea. I’ve always liked Dave Matthews, even in my mid-twenties in the midst of indie record collecting snobbery, I liked Dave. We recorded in Chicago and my idea was to make a weird, fucked up Chicago-sounding record. We knocked it out in a few days. it was all wacky and kind of a half-joke but as we were recording we were like, ‘this is kind of cool actually.’ Somehow, someway, Dave got a hold of the music and he really enjoyed it and he reached out to me. We got to be pals kinda. He’s a really cool guy but I’m sure there are a good number of Dave Matthews fans who hate it and want me dead.. but I get it, that music is sacred (says with a smile). It was really fun to do. There’s no thesis behind it, just a couple goofy midwest people covering Dave Matthews Band to make it sound like Sonic Youth.
What’s in your CD player?
The first thing I look at when I go to the record store is one-dollar CDs. I still love the format. I get 90’s indie rock CDs. What I have here in this stack I just got the other day is; Palace Songs by Hope, Tom Verlaine, Meat Puppets’ Too High to Die, and this band called The Spinanes. A lot of 90’s indie-rock one-dollar CDs is usually what I am listening to.