Chicago is a beautiful city with a rich history of blues and rock’n’roll, so it’s no wonder indie rockers Sonny Falls blossomed there.
It’s also a city ravaged by heroin. While Sonny Falls’ frontman Ryan Wesley Ensley would never touch the stuff, he’s seen the needle and the damage done. After seeing friends struggle with addiction, his experience with the epidemic became inspiration for his music.
“Now that I’m getting older you see who is going to be really affected by it and people die,” Ensley tells BTRtoday over the phone. Sonny Falls recently released Some Kind of Spectre, a hardcore rock ’n’ roll album bursting with Chicago rock ‘n’ roll influences. “I wrote a lot of the stuff in the midst of people who were struggling with this stuff, I didn’t realize until after the fact.”
Tracks like “Flies In The Milk” and “Easy To Lose” relate the desperation of withdrawal and struggles with inner demons. Each song is filled with distorted guitars and melodic sultry saxophone and keys solos, creating a melancholic atmosphere with a powerful rock ’n’ roll punch. While the songs are about addiction, Ensley frames them ambiguously so anyone can relate to them.
“It’s loose enough that I think the average person can see it as the arc of any kind of relationship—anyone can insert their own meaning into it,” Ensley says. “Everyone has some kind of specter, something that hangs over them … it’s different for everyone.”
Musically, Ensley’s inspirations are seeped heavily in Chicago’s rich music history.
“We were like, ‘well, I think we should have some fucking saxophone solos on here’—I just thought it could potentially be iconic to acknowledge [Chicago’s] history of rock’n’roll and blues,” Ensley says. “That’s very deep rooted in the city and I grew up listening to that shit with my dad.”
Ensley emerged out of Chicago’s DIY punk scene, with his first show being a surprisingly successful Battle of The Bands show. “[The show] was pretty good actually—and the punk scene was thriving, it was super cool” he says. “[Then] a bunch of older kids hooked us up with shows and welcomed us into their punk scene, so I just started doing it and kept going.”
Ensley played in several bands since that Battle of The Bands show, which he says his grandfather probably has on a home video somewhere. He only created Sonny Falls two years ago out of the need to start focusing on writing his own music. “I just wanted to have my own thing,” he says. “[Now] I’ve been playing with my drummer for 10 years and the band is great—it’s easier when I have faith in the band, they’re all really good, if I had a different band, it might be scarier.”
Sonny Falls started touring for Some Kind of Specter, earlier this month in St. Louis, MO and wrapping up in Elyria, OH before heading back to their hometown to open for Slaughter Beach, Dog on September 22. Listen to the album in full on this week’s The Music Meetup and hear the entire interview with Sonny Falls’ frontman, Ryan Ensley.