It’s a good record. But I can’t really listen to it anymore. It kind of broke my brain. It took a year, and there were a lot of times I thought it was going nowhere, a lot of botched sessions. It was all my fault, no one else’s. I was just totally unprepared. I went in with over-confidence, I went in there like ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go!’ but I was just kind of bullshitting. I went in expecting to make a fucking masterpiece, but I kept hitting a brick wall.
I was under a lot of stress because I was trying to make an anti-folk record and I was having trouble doing it. I wanted to make something deep-fried and more me-sounding. I didn’t want to be jammy acoustic guy anymore. I just wanted to make something weird and far-out that came from the heart finally. I was always trying to make something like this I guess, trying to catch up with my imagination. And I think I succeeded in that way — it’s got some weird instrumentation on there, and some surreal far-out words.
And it’s more Chicago-y sounding. Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving. That’s the sound I hear, all the time, ringing in my ears. Everybody here’s always hustling. Everybody who talks to you on the street’s always got something they’re coming at you with. It’s the sound of strangers dodging one another. And landlords knocking on doors to get rent that people don’t have. But it’s eerily quiet at night. This record is the sound of walking home late at night through Chicago in the middle of winter and being half-creeped out, scared someone’s going to punch you in the back of the head, and half in the most tranquil state you’ve been in all day, enjoying the quiet and this faint wind, and buses going by on all-night routes. That’s the sound to tune in to. That’s the sound of Chicago to me.
Chicago. More than ever I’m just finding little details about it that I love. There’s so many weird twists about it: the way that street lights look here is really peculiar, and a really bleak sense when you walk around. It looks gray, there’s not a lot of color, and I find a lot of radiance in that. And oh man it smells like diesel. And garbage cans. And in the summer when it really heats up it’s extra garbage-canny. And everything here looks like it’s about to break. It looks like it’s derelict. But that’s what I’m used to, that’s what I like. The amount of imperfection in this city is really perfect.
So I’ve fallen in love with Chicago pretty hard over the past year, despite crippling depression. I’ve realized I can’t not be in a city. I appreciate nature, I appreciate driving through nature, but you put me in a campsite for more than two days and I’ll flip the fuck out. I need to hear people outside of my window trying to buy crack. I need to be able to buy a taco at two in the morning. I need to hear the neighbors yelling really fucking loud at each other in the middle of the night. I need people. I need people really fucking bad.
You have to find calm in the city. You actively search for it. It’s not a la carte like it is in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. Which are beautiful, they’re one of God’s finest creations — I’m not talking shit about the Rocky Mountains. But in the city it’s like scoring drugs, you’ve got to score your tranquil situations. And that’s the sound of Chicago to me.
The songs don’t really deal with any political or personal or social issues at all. Mostly it just comes from being bummed out. And there’s not a lot of musical influences on the record. I wasn’t even listening to music when I made it. Last year was probably the least I’ve listened to music in my adult life. I mean I was listening to stuff in the van — I listened to a lot of Genesis records. I got really into Genesis. But there’s nothing else I could point to. Maybe I’d say it’s a record for coming up or coming down. It’s not an album for the middle of the day. It’s for the beginning or end of it.
I quit drugs and booze recently. I got sick of being a party animal — I don’t want to be 19-gin-and-tonics-Ryley anymore. My brain is working a little better now, but man I was just going at it pretty wildly, and then trying to make a record while I was drinking, it was kind of like torture.
We all had no idea what was going on, every song we’d be like ‘What is this record?’ Because every song sounded different. In a way this record was working with everybody that I’ve worked with for years, and it wasn’t like a Fleetwood Mac thing where everybody fell in love and divorced or anything, but a lot of times we were butting heads in the studio.
I hadn’t played any of the songs live ever, whereas with my earlier records I’d play the shit out of them live and then go into the studio when they were totally cooked up and ready to go. But these songs were all half ideas and riffs I had on my mind, so that held things up for a while.
Being meticulous and being deets-oriented is not my thing at all. I’ve never been like that. I’m kind of like go go go! Making a quick record is not hard, it’s the easiest thing the world, so working in this time frame, over a year, made me go kind of nuts and… oh, tortured artist bullshit, blah blah blah. But then last summer we started playing songs back to back and finally we started to hear a common thread running through the record.
I’m lucky enough to have some people who are playing on it who had a big part in shaping the songs and writing with me. Cooper Crain, the guy who engineered it, and played all the synthesizers. And when the flute guy, Nate Lepine came in, that was really something that made it special. The producer was this guy LeRoy Bach. I love LeRoy, he’s a really talented guy. He did the last record too.
The last record was cool but I was still figuring out what I was good at. But I’m fucking 28 years old, I’ve got to figure out a sound, figure out something that I enjoy doing. So this record is a little bit more grown up. Ol’Ryley’s just workin’ on bein’ a better Ryley.
I think more than anything the thing to take away from this record is that I appreciate what improv and jamming and that outlook on music has done for me, but I wanted rigid structure for these songs. I don’t want to expand upon them live. There’s a looseness to some of the songs I guess, but I didn’t want to rely on just hanging out on one note. It’s so straight-forward that I can see a lot of people really not liking it to be honest. But I’m so happy, I’m happy that it’s completely different and unexpected.
But I know it’s divisive. It’s hard to talk about. It’s a weird record.
The fourth full-length from Wild Pink, ILYSM unfolds with all the fractured beauty of a dreamscape. Over
the course of 12 chameleonic tracks, the New York-bred rock band build another world inhabited by
ghosts and angels and aliens, inciting a strange and lovely daze as the backdrop shifts from the mundane
(subdivisions, highways, hotel parking lots) to the extraordinary (deserts, battlefields, the moon). But
within its vast imagination lies a potent truth-telling on the part of singer/guitarist John Ross, whose lyrics
closely examine his recent struggle with cancer. The follow-up to 2021’s A Billion Little Lights—a critically
acclaimed effort praised by the likes of Pitchfork, NPR, Vulture, and Stereogum, who named it “one of the
prettiest rock records of the past decade”—ILYSM emerges as a truly revelatory body of work,
transforming the most painful reflection into moments of transcendence.
As Ross reveals, ILYSM’s feverish yet fragile intensity has much to do with the unmooring experience of
being diagnosed with cancer early in the writing process. Now in the surveillance phase of recovery, Ross
explains, “Even though I’d already started working on the record, everything took on new meaning after
my diagnosis. I started writing songs that tried to make sense of the whole experience, including the love
and support I felt from the people in my life—particularly my wife, which is where the title came from.”
Co-produced by Ross with Justin Pizzoferrato (Pixies, Body/Head, Speedy Ortiz) and Peter Silberman of
The Antlers, ILYSM finds Wild Pink joining forces with a thrilling lineup of guest musicians, including J
Mascis, Julien Baker, Ryley Walker, Yasmin Williams and Samantha Crain. As the most experimental
work to date from Wild Pink—whose lineup also includes bassist Arden Yonkers and drummer Dan
Keegan—the album embodies a finespun yet mercurial sound embedded with so many unexpected
details (e.g., the spirited gang vocals of its title track, the slippery grooves and unearthly narration of
“Abducted at the Grief Retreat,” Mascis’s frenetic solo on “See You Better Now”). Mainly recorded at
Sonelab in Easthampton, Massachusetts, ILYSM ultimately marks a bold departure from the lush
orchestration of A Billion Little Lights, yet still bears an endlessly immersive quality. “I wanted to make a
record with more organic elements than the last one,” says Ross. “Playing live in the room together as a
band was very important to me—I really leaned on them to bring their talents to the table, which they did.”
An album informed by the odd poetry of everyday life, ILYSM opens on “Cahooting The Multiverse”—a
gorgeously hazy track encapsulated by Ross as “a stream-of-consciousness tune inspired by watching
the light come in through the sugar maples where I live, or taking a walk by the school and seeing this
little mountain of cigarettes where the teachers sneak out to smoke behind the cedar trees.” From there,
Wild Pink drift into the quiet grandeur of “Hold My Hand” feat. Julien Baker, one of ILYSM’s most
profoundly vulnerable moments. “I wrote that song right after my first surgery, about lying on the operating
table where a member of the surgical team held my hand right before I went under,” says Ross. “It sounds
kind of arbitrary, and like it shouldn’t have been as impactful as it was, but I felt very comforted and
wanted to capture that loving feeling in the song.” Featuring the elegant piano work of David Moore
(leader of the ambient ensemble Bing & Ruth), the result is a hypnotic piece of chamber-pop, brightened
by Baker’s warm and wistful vocals.
Graced with the dreamy pedal-steel tones of Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner (Magnolia Electric Co., Badly Drawn
Boy) and the syrupy clarinet of Jeremy Viner (Bing & Ruth), “War on Terror” presents a lonesome and
sprawling portrait of wandering the beach at night, once again illuminating the gently jarring effect of
Ross’s lyrics (“Stay in the ocean because it’s just me/And the big moon rowing across the sky/Time is
always moving to the right/And measured in things like tumor markers”). “There’s a running theme
throughout this record of the moon being a constant companion, and I think that comes across in this
song the most,” notes Ross. And on “Sucking on the Birdshot,” Wild Pink deliver one of ILYSM’s most
devastating tracks: a six-and-a-half-minute epic driven by crashing rhythms and gloriously careening riffs.
“I was in Florida and saw a sandhill crane by the side of the road; its partner had been killed by a car, and
the bird was mourning and screaming in pain—I’ve never heard anything like it,” says Ross. “They’re
these very striking birds that look like dinosaurs, and I came to learn that they mate for life, which is
unusual in the animal kingdom. I had that in mind when I wrote this song about a pure expression of love
in the natural world, and how your own first love can feel huge in a similar way.”
For Ross, the process of bringing ILYSM to life provided a certain sense of escape, even at its most
daunting moments. (“I was actually back in another cancer surgery within a week of wrapping up the
recording,” he recalls. “It was pretty surreal to record this album knowing I had cancer in my lymph
nodes—but since I couldn’t have the surgery any sooner, I just stuck with my studio time.”) And with the
release of ILYSM, Wild Pink hope the album might supply others with their own outlet for solace and
catharsis. “Writing about all this has helped me process my experience, or even just acknowledge that I
still don’t completely understand how I feel about it,” says Ross. “It’s been a very confusing, overwhelming
time, and hopefully it’ll offer some kind of comfort to anyone else who’s feeling overwhelmed or confused