Why Is a Chicago Indie Rocker Covering a Lost Dave Matthews Band LP? – Rolling Stone


“I love Coldplay!” Ryley Walker yells in the middle of a crowded bar in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. “There, I said it.” It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but after years of disavowing his passion for bands like Coldplay, Switchfoot and DC Talk in order to pursue an identity as know-it-all indie rocker, the singer-songwriter has finally reconciled who he is today with the music he cherished growing up. “All I want to do right now is go back to the music I heard when I was fucking 15,” he says. “When I listen to it, it takes me back to a place where things were very simple and I was very happy.”

At 29, Walker has already released five albums and three EPs. His breakthrough was 2015’s Primrose Green, a kaleidoscopic record that expertly combined Van Morrison–flavored soul-folk with sprawling, Chicago-style noise and jazz. With Deafman Glance, released in May, Walker zeroed in on a groovy exploration of the intersection of folk, jazz and good old indie-rock guitar worship. But on November 16th, he’ll unveil a very different project: The Lillywhite Sessions, a song-for-song cover of the Dave Matthews Band’s famously abandoned 1999–2000 studio material, recorded with veteran rock producer Steve Lillywhite. “We were going to approach it in a different way, possibly. Like, ‘Oh, let’s do it super fucked up. Like, what if we did a Sonic Youth kind of album, or like a noise band doing Dave Matthews,’” he says. But what he ended up with was closer to the source material than he’d expected.

In a conversation with Rolling Stone, Walker returns often to a very particular moment in American music history: the massive cultural upheaval that came with the advent of file-sharing. Like Radiohead’s Kid A and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, two of the first major releases to be leaked and downloaded piecemeal by rabid fans via programs like Napster and LimeWire, The Lillywhite Sessions’ fate was also bound up with downloading. As Dave Matthews Band mythology goes, while working on the album, drummer Carter Beauford told an RCA Records executive that both he and the rest of the group weren’t feeling the songs, which were uncharacteristically dark. “The vibe wasn’t there,” Beauford told Rolling Stone in 2001. “It was lacking everything the Dave Matthews Band was about.” So they put the songs on the shelf for another time. After being scrapped by the label in favor of 2001’s more straightforward, mainstream-sounding Everyday, The Lillywhite Sessions were resuscitated by an Internet leak, its songs quickly becoming some of the band’s most beloved. Many of the tracks were later re-recorded for the DMB’s excellent 2002 LP Busted Stuff.

“There’s legends of records that never get out,” Walker says. “My brain was warped by this. A kid presented me with a blank Memorex CD-R and it was cool that this wasn’t supposed to come out. They scrapped it, but it spread like wildfire. It got all over.”

Walker spoke to RS about The Lillywhite Sessions and reckoning with his teenage tastes.

Did you go through a period where you didn’t feel comfortable saying you liked Dave Matthews Band?
Oh, yeah, I absolutely dropped it when I was like 17. I’d either outgrown it or it had just kind of become passé, kind of lame. And definitely when I was 18 in 2007 and moved to Chicago. I was just full-on into noise and indie rock at that time. I stopped listening in my late teens, and I wouldn’t ever admit at that time that I liked Dave Matthews. So, I definitely had shame of my past. What would these cool kids in college think if they knew that I was jamming “Two Step?” At that time, he’d become the butt of every joke. It’s like, “Oh, a Dave Matthews fan. …” He was a soft and easy target.