Ryley Walker on “Deafman Glance”

On a Rocket to the Sun

Oct 22, 2018 Photography by Evan Jenkins Issue #64 -  Kamasi Washington
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As anyone who have ever experienced it knows, a Ryley Walker show is never just about the music. He also takes time to chat to the audience, mixing rambling stories in with profane jokes, and he doesn't care what you think. "I guess some people might find it stupid but fuck 'em," the singer/songwriter/guitarist says.

That's typical of Walker who is both dedicated and individualist and loves his craft passionately to the point he gets annoyed when bands complain about how tough touring life and opening sets can be. "My dad is 60 and wakes up at five everyday to work on cars. I'd love to see the bands that complain lift a fucking couch up a flight of stairs."

As much as Walker lapses into this chatty and funny persona, there's a haunting quality to his music. It's even more apparent now he's stepping away from the traditional folk sound he first made his name with, adding in a looser, more improvisational feel. His fourth record, Deafman Glance sounds like Walker, but not the Walker of old.

"I've always enjoyed free jazz and improvised music. I've always wanted to make records like this but never really had the gall and wherewithal to pull it off," he says, before making clear this isn't a temporary diversion either. "It's a really exciting new direction. It opens up a lot of doors to get to weirder territories of music."

This is apparent across a record that feels only vaguely familiar. Songs such as "Telluride Speed" and "22 Days" are another step forward, stretching folk foundations with prog flourishes and layered instrumentation, and it's apparent this is only the start. "I'm sitting on eight or nine different records right now."

Despite this, he denies being a hard worker. "I'm totally the laziest person I know," Walker admits. "It's funny when people are like, 'You work non-stop.' I don't know man, the last two weeks all I did was drink beer and sit on my couch."

Walker may switch between experimental innovator and wisecracking clown, but neither are where he thought he might end up. "If I was my true self I'd be stealing my extended family's pain pills from their fucking medicine cabinets and smoking a carton of pall malls. That's the career trajectory I was heading on. What I am now is pure luck. This guy right here is fake it until he makes it."

The switch back to humor feels like deflection. Walker is an artist who knows himself. When we go back to his previous traditional folk sound, he's unequivocal. "I don't fucking care about record collectors, I don't care about tradition. I want to be inspired by tradition but never based in it."

Which begs the question, where is Walker going next? "When you put yourself in the universe of trying to sound like those old folk records, you limit yourself to that universe. I'm trying to get on a fucking rocket to get shot into the sun," he responds. How much closer does Deafman Glance get him? "I'm on a long flight for sure."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 64 (August/September/October 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.ryleywalker.com

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