Ryley Walker discusses new album Primrose Green

He may channel UK folk's fingerstyle greats, but on the stunning Primrose Green, Ryley Walker treads his own path.

The Sessions

"This record was made here in Chicago at Minbal Studio and my friend Cooper Crain [of the band Cave] produced it. He had a big hand in recording and a big influence on it, and definitely with the weird instrumentation and the fuzzy sounds.

"The studio is on the West Side of Chicago in this industrial wasteland. There's garbage everywhere. You can walk a mile and maybe you'd find a liquor store and a cheque-cashing place.

"I've got this Guild D-35 that I love and swear by. That's the one I've used exclusively for the last few years. She's a warhorse"

"We recorded it in May of last year and I remember it was the first day I could wear shorts. I don't know how it is everywhere else, but in Chicago, you really can't wear shorts until May. So the day that we started it was the first day I could wear shorts and I felt incredibly happy."

The Mix

"Cooper works at a fast pace, and we aren't really the type of band to sit on our asses all day looking for a magical tone. The first record [2014's All Kinds Of You] sounded like a winter album and it feels like we've maybe produced more of a summer record here.

"That first one was recorded in winter and they were very insular songs [in both sound and line-up], whereas these were very collaborative, as I was playing them with my friends."

The Guitars

"I've got this Guild D-35 that I love and swear by. That's the one I've used exclusively for the last few years. She's a warhorse. She's been all over the world with me. It's really old, too - a '73 or '74. Those are really easy to come by in the States and they're still not that popular.

"On the last track [Hide The Roses] there's a Gibson Hummingbird that I played that was really not in good condition. The strings had to have been like five years old, but at that exact moment in time I liked it. But for the most part I'm playing that Guild D-35.

"Then Brian Sulpizio [who plays electric guitar on the album] has this cool, super- modified 2002 ES-135. He's super into electronics, so he's switched the guts out of it, like, 10 different times. He has this super-fried 60s West Coast sound, but a really nice smooth jazz sound as well."

Ryley walker guitar interview

Ryley walker guitar interview

The Tones

"The acoustic was mic'd with a Neumann U87 and two small condensers on the bridge and 12th fret. We also put a Fishman Rare Earth soundhole pickup in the guitar and played it through a Twin Reverb. Mixing the two sources gave some of the best heady acoustic tone I've had.

"Brian used a modified MXR Blue Box and this small vintage Gibson practice amp the studio had, with the clean channel turned all the way up [and mic'd with a Royer R-121]. The amp's god-given distortion is always a better choice in my opinion - just beat the amp to s**t and nice things will come out of it!

"The album's named after a cocktail... It's a nice light, heady trip. I wanted to incorporate that in the record and I think that kind of applies to [the feel of ] it."

"Cooper then re-amped some of the electric tones through a Maxon Organic Overdrive in the mixing process. The fried electric guitar sounds on Sweet Satisfaction are probably the best examples of that."

The Lessons

"All of this is thanks to engineer and producer man Cooper Crain. Minbal is a small room that Cooper built and he knows every square inch of. It was 'get in and get out'. Having a really good trust and vibe in the room made everything go smoothly. There wasn't too much trial and error and, fortunately for us, it fell into place very easily.

"Most of the record was improvised. I had bits of lyrics and riffs and then I just kind of worked them out as it came. That comes from playing with those jazz guys who are just brilliant improvisers... Brian Sulpizio's playing all of the electric parts and we've got a good playing relationship. That comes from living with him for a long time. I mean, I could tell you what the guy's going to eat for breakfast every day."

The Verdict

"The album's named after a cocktail of whiskey and morning glory seeds [with absinthe-like hallucinatory properties - Ed]. It reminds me of a point in my life where I didn't have a lot of cares in the world and I was pretty happy, just making that cocktail. It's a nice light, heady trip. I wanted to incorporate that in the record and I think that kind of applies to [the feel of ] it.

"I'm always in the studio making new records and I'll hopefully make another in the summer. If I could have a record out every year it would be nice. To always be playing new stuff is therapeutic for me."

Primrose Green by Ryley Walker is available now on Dead Oceans

Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.