Guitarist William Tyler began his career as an ace sideman for bands like Silver Jews and Lambchop, but it wasn’t until he went solo that he was able to fully explore the full breadth of emotionally evocative tones that he could conjure from his guitar.
Tyler has always been associated with his home city of Nashville, Tennessee, but after releasing four acclaimed instrumental albums since 2010, it was time for a change of scenery.
Tyler struck out for California, where he now resides, to record his latest album, “Goes West” (Merge Records). The effect of the West Coast can be heard in the album’s warm, sentimental, major key sounds.
“About half those songs I wrote out there and half I wrote while still in Nashville, so it was hard for me to say this record was really inspired by moving out west,” Tyler said. “But, I think more of the attitude of it, the way it sounds, the players, pretty much everybody on the record is a West Coast person...It’s definitely a record that has been shaped by moving west and there is this sort of intangible optimism and hope to it that I think is reflected in being in the new location.”
Tyler invited other guitarists to join him on the record, which is a departure for him. With the help of his friend Meg Duffy of Hand Habits and jazz legend Bill Frisell, Tyler was able to add new textures to his compositions while he focused on drawing out spectral melodies from his Martin D-18 acoustic, an heirloom handed down from his uncle.
“I didn’t think of going into this album with another guitar player in the tracking part of it, because on ‘Modern Country’ I played all the guitar parts,” says Tyler. “But, there is this symbiotic chemistry we have playing together—I think she has with a lot of people, frankly—and I just like the contrast of me playing acoustic with [Meg] playing electric.
“I’m a huge fan of Frisell and if anybody is a role model for being in this world of music it’s him,” Tyler added. “It meant a lot both sonically and symbolically to have him involved in the record.”
Previous recordings by Tyler delved in psychedelic reverb, American primitive, and even krautrock, but the warmth and clarity of “Goes West” owes more to record labels like guitarist Will Ackerman’s Windham Hill Records, Manfred Eicher’s jazz and classical ECM Records, and guitarist John Fahey’s Takoma Records.
“I was really wanting to tap into the aesthetic of Windham Hill and ECM,” explains Tyler. “To me there is an outsider element to Takoma Records and a lot of the Fahey guys, and it’s also music that is very explicitly tied to folk music and folk traditions and I’ve never seen myself in that way. As much as people might think, I’m really not influenced by American folk music. I’m influenced by people who were influenced by American folk music like Fahey and Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho, but if any thing really influences me it’s jazz and classical, or international music.”
Windham Hill releases are often misconstrued as New Age music because of their softer qualities, qualities that Tyler fully embraces, if not the handle. “I’m not crazy about everything they put out, but they sort of took acoustic guitar music and reframed it,” says Tyler. “Calling it New Age takes it out of the folk idiom, but I think it opens it up in a cosmic way. That’s why I use that word cosmic pastoral.”
Tyler created the term “cosmic pastoral” as a catch all for the broadly defined New Age genre descriptive. With the recent reappraisal of New Age music many fans and critics disagree with what exactly fits in the genre.
“A lot of people in the New Age community frankly think Windham Hill has nothing to do with New Age music because a lot of New Age music is electronic based and synthesizer based,” explains Tyler. “There are a lot of people I know in the community that bristle at the Windham Hill folks being associated with them, even though they were all friends back in the day. But, at the same time, I think that what I do is sort of New Age—it’s spiritual, it’s meditative. That’s why I came up with the term cosmic pastoral. I’m imagining a new term or banner a lot of us could get behind.”
Tyler will perform solo at Savannah Stopover Music Festival at newThe Wayward bar inside the Perry Lane Hotel with just his trusty acoustic and Telecaster in tow.
His live show is often meditative, transportive, spiritual, and cosmic—just don’t call it New Age.