The trans-Atlantic conversation might be subtle, but it's still ongoing.
Take Ryley Walker. Largely a product of Chicago's ever-fertile underground scene, his left-field take on folk songwriting owes much to British greats such as Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, and John Renbourne.
But it goes both way. Glasgow based Alasdair Roberts first came to prominent through his links with Stateside label Drag City, from his work with Appendix Out through to his myriad of solo endeavours.
Two very distinct personalities, Clash hooked up the songwriters to chat about their respective backgrounds, and so much more...
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Ryley: Nice to finally talk to you! I’m Ryley and I’m a big fan!
Alasdair: Nice to talk to you too!
R: Where are you at right now?
A: I’m at home in Glasgow. Where are you?
R: I’m at a hotel in Brussels, Belgium. I’m looking out a window, looking for a place to buy chocolate. I can’t wait – it’s gonna be a great day! I like Glasgow a whole lot too, I’ve been there about a half dozen times. I really like the energy outside kebab kiosks at two in the morning there.
A: Yeah! Where did you play in Glasgow?
R: Stereo. Mono. All sorts of clubs! I’ve been there a bunch but I still don’t have a grasp of Scotland. But I mean, people are always doing a shitload of cocaine in Glasgow! Those lines are really impressive. Not that everybody does it, but it’s a deep hang there, for sure.
A: Haha! Where are you from?
R: Chicago. I lived there for a long time. You spent time there as well, right?
A: I spent time there, yeah. I’ve not been to the States for five years.
R: Oh man, come on back! It hasn’t sunk into the Earth yet, it’s still there.
A: Well I don’t actually have a North American booking agent at the moment. The guy I worked with retired after the last tour I did over there.
R: That’s a classic case of why music is such a shit business. Like, if someone quits you’re done. It’s such a weird industry. Did you ever play the Empty Bottle in Chicago?
A: I did! A long time ago, about 2004.
R: Were you on Drag City then?
A: Yeah. I started on Drag City in ’97, I think.
R: They’re always making good stuff but that’s a super fine era. That’s when the wine was peak age for them! They made some amazing records at that time.
A: Definitely. I was a big fan of the label before I got involved with them.
R: Did you do anything with David Pajo?
A: Yeah a few things. And I toured with Will Oldham as well.
R: Man I’ve had dinner with him a few times but I’ve always been too scared to say anything. Not that he’s a mean person at all!
A: He was very pleasant on tour, I can say that much.
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R: I think younger bands really enjoy touring America – like, the whole ‘see the country and do mushrooms in the desert’ vibe. But there’s not a lot of dough, not a lot of hospitality. Anti-hospitality!
A: I know what you mean.
R: I dig that, though. I started that way. I thought the best it got was two drink tickets and maybe half price on a turkey club sandwich. But then I came over to Europe and it was like… you’re just giving us dinner?!
A: Touring in Europe is really good. It tends to be better than Britain. Certainly better than the USA in general. I enjoyed touring the USA, though – being able to see those stunning landscapes. For someone who grew up in Central Scotland that can be mind-blowing.
R: Yeah. But then nature can kill you, so you have to just admire it.
A: I feel very fortunate to have been able to see that stuff because most Scottish people don’t get that chance.
R: Most people in my family have never left the Mid-West. Outside of Wisconsin, or Illinois. Going to Wisconsin was a big deal, y’know? I’ve barely seen Scotland. I’ve always had this dream to go to the Shetland Islands!
A: I was just there about a month ago. We did a small concert there.
R: See? That’s so cool!
A: It’s beautiful! We didn’t get to spend much time there but it’s a beautiful place.
R: Are people there cool? What the hell goes on there? What do they do?
A: They drink a lot of beer up there, I think.
R: Sure. You’ve got to!
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A: The people are really friendly. It’s different from the mainland. There’s obviously a big Scandinavian influence – some of the language is still quite Scandinavian. Compared to Scotland it feels like another country.
R: It’s one of those places that has always occupied my mind. The world is this big massive checklist of where you can travel. I have to have a beer everywhere, and meet somebody really far out! Meet somebody who is rolling cigarettes with one hand, with crazy eyes going everywhere.
R: I’m lucky because much of my first few records were steeped in folk, so it got really embraced over there. I appreciate that. But now I make weirder more fucked up records. And that’s what I like about your discography too – you can turn folk tunes inside out! It can be left of centre but still folk. It’s really influential on what I’ve been doing, and I really admire it, man.
A: Thank you!
R: I did this gig in Glasgow, a tribute to Bert Jansch. It was magical. I had stars in my eyes, just walking on air. Pretty incredible to be the only American artist there. It’s always good to feel like the dumbest person in the room but I really felt like the dumbest person in the room! There were so many people there that I’ve admired my whole life. Martin Simpson was there! One of my favourite guitarists ever. Hanging out and having a beer after the gig was just… so cool! It was really special. And obviously being a Bert Jansch tribute – another guy I idolised but never met – it was so cool to be in amongst his family and friends, and be embraced by that whole crew. It was one of the best nights of my life, I think. And a lot of Scotch!
A: I never really met Bert, either. We played on the same line up a few times, at festivals, but I was always too timid to speak to him.
R: I saw him once at the Empty Bottle. I was too young to get in, so I stood outside. Shit, I was only 15 years old at the time… and you can’t get in underage, they’re very strict. I stood outside and waited for him to come out, and shouted: Bert I’m such a big fan! And he went: cheers! He wasn’t being rude by any means, he was just a quiet guy. But I walked all the way home just screaming, like some schoolgirl screaming for David Bowie in 1975.
R: Anyway, man, I got to ask you about Glasgow. I love Glasgow music. The whole indie rock scene, punk rock scene was huge for me. Were you there for it, man?
A: I was there from 1995 onwards. I moved there in my late teens. So yeah, I started playing quite early on at this club called the 13th Note, which is where a lot of the underground or more DIY scene took place. I did my first gig there. So bands at the time like the Yummy Fur…
A: And bands like The Pastels…
R: Massive fan!
A: So Stephen Pastel worked in a record shop – you’d go in there and he’d recommend stuff for you. They were so supportive of the local scene, what was going on at a grassroots level.
R: I was a huge fan of Aerogramme when I was a kid. People like Ivor Cutler. I love Scotland, it’s sense of humour. When you were a young kid was everyone into Primal Scream and the Jesus and Mary Chain?
A: Sure! A lot of people were. It was a big thing.
R: I love traditional Scottish stuff but I’m a real sucker for 80s, 90s UK indie rock. I’m so jealous of the people who were there. Like, having seen Aerogramme would be incredible to me!
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For tickets to the latest Ryley Walker shows click HERE.
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