On his new Impossible Truth, Nashville guitarist William Tyler evokes the wordless ghosts of past singer-songwriters 

Phantom Cowboys

Phantom Cowboys

"I probably look to the past for a lot of things," says William Tyler, a musician who lives firmly — but perhaps not entirely comfortably — in the present. "There's a lot of things that are going on, like ghost towns, abandoned highways, dead singer-songwriters, and this sense of the '70s, this lost era I grew up fantasizing about."

On his second full-length, Impossible Truth, the Nashville guitarist creates a record that evokes the abandoned byways of '70s singer-songwriter music. Impossible Truth feels transitional — stretching the boundaries of solo guitar playing, Tyler comments on a musical and social era that balanced solipsism with a sense of impending disaster.

Impossible Truth is an advance on Tyler's 2010 full-length Behold the Spirit, which found him conducting a kind of avant-garde aerial reconnaissance on the meditative guitar music pioneered by John Fahey and Jack Rose. The new record gets closer to the ground — those ghost towns and gently moldering singer-songwriters are now a part of Tyler's mental landscape.

"People immediately associate solo guitar music with the Takoma [Records] school," Tyler says, referring to the folk-blues label Fahey founded at the dawn of the '60s. "I was trying to move away from that with this record. I had a phrase I came up with when I was trying to describe what the overall mood of this record was: 'The Tyranny of Nostalgia.' I grew up around songwriting that was more like pop songwriting, and I guess in a weird, recontextualized way, that does come out in the way I write."

Born Dec. 25, 1979, in Nashville, Tyler did indeed grow up around songwriting: His father, Dan Tyler, is a well-regarded tunesmith whose credits include hits for Kenny Rogers and LeAnn Rimes. What Tyler invokes on Impossible Truth isn't the folk-influenced Nashville songwriting of the '70s, but rather Southern California pop-folk-rock as it was practiced by such innovative songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill.

"I respect that approach to music, obviously, and some of my favorite music is from singer-songwriters," says Tyler, who has played with such renowned Nashville bands as Lambchop and Silver Jews. "Judee Sill, she is a pretty big influence on a couple of the melodies of this record. There is something very cathedral-like about a lot of her melodies, and there were a couple of songs on this record where I was trying to channel that."

Recorded in Nashville with producer Mark Nevers at his Beech House studio, Impossible Truth reveals Sill's influence — the stately theme of "Hotel Catatonia" gives way to a droll, chromatic section. Truth often sounds like the soundtrack to an early-'70s movie about a group of young people fighting against an imminent man-made catastrophe. Tyler's version of the '70s includes bits of the '60s, and he seems interested in the way the liberal society of those decades gave way to something darker after 1979.

While he was writing Impossible Truth, Tyler immersed himself in writer Mike Davis' 1998 Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, which portrays the City of Angels as a sunlit dystopia.

"I really like Mike Davis, because he's a native, and I'm a native of Nashville," Tyler says. "There's a lot of things I don't like about growing up here, but the way he writes about growing up in L.A. is obviously the righteous indignation of a proud native."

It's a singer-songwriter-influenced instrumental record — as Tyler says, "I see it as a soundtrack to a movie that never got made." One of Impossible Truth's more lyrical moments is "A Portrait of Sarah," which Tyler wrote about his girlfriend, Sarah Souther. The ex-wife of famed Los Angeles singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, she seems to have inspired some of the record's ruminations about the irretrievable past.

"Meeting Sarah at the time I met her, and her past relationship — it was definitely a scene when I was recording this record," says Tyler. "On a lot of levels, this was about old relationships and people who weren't around anymore. It's kind of an end-of-the-world record, but I wanted there to be a love song on there, to punctuate it a little bit."

Email music@nashvillescene.com.


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters

* required

Latest in Features

More by Edd Hurt

All contents © 1995-2014 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation