Session 175: Ryley Walker // Mike Mangione & The Kin<- Back
October 04, 2017
Ryley Walker's new album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, on Dead Oceans is the triumphant follow up to his breakout album, Primrose Green, which earned critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut, and Mojo and admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker’s life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan – as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley embarked on a British tour.
In November 2015, at the end of a ten-month period which saw Ryley play over 200 shows in support of Primrose Green, Ryley decided that he should probably head home. However you wished to measure it, he was surely due some sort of holiday. Although, a holiday was the last thing on Ryley’s mind – and certainly not a holiday in his adopted hometown. After a year spent on the road, all that Ryley could associate with Chicago was the emotional debris he had left behind.
He went into the studio over the Christmas vacation to record Golden Sings That Have Been Sung whose songs were directly wedded to Ryley’s return to Chicago. Some of his formative musical memories had been shaped by the work of pioneering Chicago acts such as Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. “Jeff Parker was the guitarist with Tortoise, and I used to listen to him a lot,” recalls Ryley, who figured that, for the first time in his career, it might be helpful to enlist the services of a producer. With only one person on his shortlist, once again, all roads led back to Chicago.
Ryley had been a long-time admirer of sometime Wilco multi-instrumentalist LeRoy Bach. Back in 2009, still in his teens, he had frequented the improv nights hosted by Bach at a restaurant/gallery space called Whistler. “For me, it was an incredible opportunity,” recalls Ryley, “…because you would sometimes also have Dan Bitney, the drummer with Tortoise, and I’d get to play with these people. I mean, they were twice my age. I’m sure they thought I was annoying at first, maybe some of them still do, but I kind of looked at them like gurus – and to have these old school Chicago heads taking me in was just amazing.”
For Ryley then, the prospect of having Bach produce his album was something of a no-brainer. “It was everything I wanted it to be,” he enthuses. “I would go to LeRoy’s house every other day with a riff, and we would take it from there.” Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track and lead single “The Halfwit In Me” most audibly bear the imprint of those Whistler sessions.
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung was made for the dewy magic hour when night and day have yet to meet and, as long as the song is playing, you feel might briefly leave the corporeal world with them. This is the music you might imagine the woodland animals making once the humans have left for the night. This is Ryley Walker’s coming of age.
Mike Mangione: For the past thirteen years I have been on the move. I grew up in Chicago, attended Marquette University and after graduation, moved to Los Angeles to pursue something as a musician. While there I recorded an album entitled There and Back. A little while later I moved into my van with my dog, played all the contiguous United States at night, and then slept in parking lots and rest stops. After a year and a half of that nonsense I moved back to Milwaukee and married my college sweetheart. At that point I started a band called The Union, and we began recording my second record, Tenebrae, in Lexington, KY. We then accomplished the third, Offering, also in Lexington, KY. Finally, we finished the fourth, Red-winged Blackbird Man, in Iowa City, IA. All of that production was over the span of seven years.
Within that time I co-founded something called The Cor Project with speaker and author, Christopher West. I toured the country and traveled the world. That endeavor, combined with my music and band, has taken me deep into places I never would have imagined I’d go. I mean this physically, spiritually, and emotionally; some have been good, and some horrible. I’ve gained some amazing friends, lost a few as well. I’ve been lifted so high and let down so much. I have had a few accomplishments and many more failures. I’ve met some fascinating people and some surprisingly toxic ones too.
In the past year and a half I have begun a few new projects while maintaining my music career. The first being my new record, recorded back in LA and due out sometime in the future. The second is my podcast, “Time and The Mystery: Conversations with Mike Mangione.” T&M is a conversational podcast in which I sit with public figures I have come to know over the years to discus their inspiration, process, and ability to connect with others through their work. Last, but not least, is my blog of the same name (sans the “conversations with Mike Mangione”). The purpose of this blog is to be the platform for what’s underneath it all: stories, reflections, conversations, and opinions will all find a home here. I find myself in strange places and sometimes with incredible people doing fantastic things and so … I want to share. I don’t consider myself very smart, opinionated, or an expert on anything. I see and experience things around me, I am affected and moved by them and so I create. This is a product of that pattern meant simply to be taken, but never too seriously.