An interview with Ryan Bailey, Guitarist for King LLama
by Mike Huberty
October 2017

King Llama - photo by Chad Elder

King Llama
photo by Chad Elder

Progressive music takes precision and concentration. Time signatures change, genres bend in and out into one another, and a song can start in one place and end somewhere entirely unexpected. It’s this adventurous fusion of jazz, rock, and funk that KING LLAMA prides themselves on.

A Los Angeles power trio consisting of guitarist Ryan Tanner Bailey, drummer Luis Briones, and bassist Nico Staub, KING LLAMA has toured from Illinois to Argentina with their instrumental fusion and they’re coming back to the Midwest on their latest tour. We talked with Ryan to get a little taste of what the intrepid music of KING LLAMA is all about.

MI: You guys are doing all instrumental progressive music? Why’d you pick that road?
RB: Well, everything that we created is an original concept. We weren’t really trying to draw inspiration from like any specific bands. We just sort of embrace whatever that is naturally happening… But for myself, I was pretty influenced from a lot of the jam scene from that and I went I used to be. I used to go to a lot of GRATEFUL DEAD shows back in the 90s. But recently, I’ve drawn influence from old fusion bands from the 70s and 80s like KING CRIMSON or BRAND X. TONY MCALPINE is one of my newer heroes.

MI: KING LLAMA is an interesting name. Is there a specific story behind it?
RB: When we actually came up with it we were changing our name because we had a name that was good, but it was a little too risqué I guess. We wanted something a little bit more professional since our previous name was actually FAT GIRLFRIEND… I was driving on the highway talking to one of my buddies one day and we were talking about the name. And I looked one way and I saw a “Budweiser King of Beers” sign. Then I looked the other way and it was like a llama thing and I was like we could really just be like, “Llama King”. They were like, “Wait! That sounds really good.” So we sort of just decided to go with that and it’s just you know it’s been a winner. I mean, with the music, any name works that sounds cool.

MI: If people want to hear you guys for the first time, what track would you pick?
RB: Well, I’m doing the interview so I guess I would just choose my favorite track which I think is “Call Me Elmo”.  We did sort of point the finger at “Sensei” as well, so I think those two songs are the ones I would pick.

MI: What’s the difference in playing instrumentals versus having lyrics to try and communicate to the audience?
RB: I think with songs that have lyrics like pop music, there’s be a more traditional role for instruments. Your bass in a pop song has to be very supportive. The lowest frequency is really determining what key you’re in. The bass is reinforcing the chord and it makes it thicker and more appropriate for vocals

We treat our writing like maybe how a piano player would write. Where the bass and guitar don’t have to be doing what the layman’s ear would expect. You know we really try and throw in a lot of curveballs because there’s only three of us and we want to make as much sound as possible.

But some songs are just grooving, I don’t want to surprise the listener so much that they can’t take it. You have to relate to people that aren’t musicians that aren’t so technical, so you get the best of both worlds.

With my drummer and bass player, I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by being with them. I was used to simpler times and these guys play melodies that are in 10, 11, 15, 17… it’s just really adventurous.

MI: And when you guys are messing around with time signatures, what kind of feelings are you trying to elicit in the audience?
RB: The main feeling that I’m trying to portray is a sense of adventure. I mean we only have a coupe songs that are four minutes long, the rest of them are seven or eight minutes long with structural changes. I just like when you create a nice long piece where you could listen to just one section of it and then maybe tune in and listen to a completely different section of it and be like, “Is this the same song?”

I feel like our melodies are pretty dramatic and I can see a visual adventure of something happening, and that really sparked me to kind of work on a fantasy story to go along with the songs.

MI: That sounds cool!
RB: I actually have put together a kind of fictional fantasy story, like a sort of a mini novel. I don’t really want to get totally into it now or say too much about that but I’m determined to make more of the name. There’s more to come with the storyline.

And you can get a taste of KING LLAMA at THE FREQUENCY in Madison on October 20th as part of the Sonic Voyage Fest along with ZAIUS, JOE DENINZON & STRATOSPHEERIUS, and WHITE BUSH UNICORN.

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