Ryley Walker's a cool guy. He likes going on tour, much prefers a live show to an album, is candid about his music — "I think the first album I put out sucks," he said — and composes some of the best tweets in the biz. You might expect all of this from a musician who puts out rollicking, frantic pieces of music, but, alas, Ryley Walker rocks an acoustic guitar.
Masterfully creating lush, fingerpicked arrangements fit for a frolic in the woods, the Chicago native lives the life of perhaps a crazy noise band member — aptly so, since he credits his first band experiences as such — as opposed to what people would come to expect from an acoustic musician.
"I think when you play acoustic guitar, they think, 'Oh they're so quiet.' I'm just kind of loud," said Walker, gearing up for the release of his sophomore album Primrose Green, out March 31.
Which is why he feels most at home while being on the road. He's able to utilize a full band and to show off newer songs — ones beyond All Kinds of You, Walker's first full-length of luscious folk, that he's felt he's grown beyond as an artist.
"I think I just became a better songwriter since then," he said.
Picking up the guitar in his early youth, around age 12 or 13 he says, Walker turned from playing in basements, "being blackout drunk" with a loud, experimental outfit fit for the scene, to a more intricate kind of nostalgic-sounding vibe, still with the same amount of alcohol — exactly the reason he's excited to come to Philly, playing Boot & Saddle on Saturday, March 14.
Pals with local noise-rockers Purling Hiss and Swearin' — again, two bands whose sound falls on the opposite end of the spectrum as Walker's, he looks forward to giving the city another shot after a rocky start.
"Philadelphia has always been nice to me; I used to not like it," he shared. "I almost got beat up by a neo-Nazi. I was kind of scared of Philadelphia for awhile."
Now, the tides have turned; Walker's found a friend or two in Philly.
"It's a town where I'm struggling if I don't drink enough. You can't drink any water."
It's not all fun and games with Walker, though. With all his joking and revelry aside, he's still a musician as his 9-to-5, and with that comes the duties of being a professional: focusing on building his live sound and placing trust in the hands of his live band.
"I think the band really brought a new element to them," he said of taking the songs from album level to stage level. Walker recalls the rehearsal process being a complete collaborative affair, running ideas back and forth as far as "we shouldn't do that, we should do this" aspects of collusion. "It's a total band effort with this. It's really fun and easy."
But despite all of the equal amounts of work and good times that come with being on the road, Walker finds inspiration comes in slim pickings when outside of the studio. Much of Primrose Green originated in the studio off of steady improvisation and jam sessions and not calculated times of this-is-when-I'm-going-to-write.
"It's really tough to write songs on tour," he said. "Anyone who says they can is lying. When you're in the songwriting business like I am now, with some sort of improvised things, it's hard to find time."
What he finds time for are the simple things: "I'm inspired to find good sandwiches," he said point blank.
That sentiment brings us back full circle: Ryley Walker is a cool guy. Yeah, he writes very serious, expansive tunes, that at one point NPR dubbed as "acoustic swagger." "I don't really know what to make of it," he says of the title. "I don't apply it to myself. I like the acoustic guitar and I think there's cool acoustic guitarists popping up all over the world." But at the core, he's still a twentysomething dude who wants to make the most of it: writing music, playing music and getting a little rowdy.
In a humble and heartwarming tone, he marks himself in a way that not only makes him approachable and clearly down for a good time, but slightly self-endangering all the same — a statement that makes you want to both get a drink with him and protect him from himself. "I'm bonkers. I'm insane. It's fine," he says nonchalantly.
Whatever the case, audiences can raise a glass and settle into the almost virtual opposite of bonkers (though it'd be interesting to see how bonkers it could get) as Ryley Walker takes the stage at Boot & Saddle on Saturday, March 14. Tickets are still available.