Ryan Ensley’s Grandma Makes a Moving Cameo in Sonny Falls’ New Double-Single

Today, Sonny Falls—the indie rock project of Chicago singer-songwriter Ryan “Hoagie Wesley” Ensley—shares a double-single called “Rooftop Bar” / “Purple Steers,” premiering below. The former track is a quiet, meandering cello number that features a moving cameo from Ensley’s grandma, while the latter track spirals into something more heady and sludgy.

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“It starts off as a sparse acoustic song, followed by a swirling cello soundscape, accompanied by my grandmother, talking about reincarnation,” Ensley tells American Songwriter of “Rooftop Bar.” “My grandma and I often have long, interesting conversations and I was lucky enough to have a microphone set up when we were having this one.”

“This conversation was stuck in my head for weeks and directly influenced my writing of the song,” he continues. “From there, [‘Purple Steers’] becomes a rock song that uses the same progression or motif as the acoustic song, and slowly devolves into a noise track.”

“Rooftop Bar” and “Purple Steers” come on the heels of Sonny Falls’ latest single, “Plasma Kids (Trailer, Alley, Strip Mall).” All three appear on Sonny Falls’ forthcoming double album, All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist, which follows 2018’s Some Kind of Spectre and 2016’s There’s No Magic Left in This World.

“When making this record I wanted to make something that was both sonically and emotionally diverse,” says Ensley, “a kind of foundational web that would lay the groundwork for me to be able to make records as Sonny Falls in whatever genre I wanted to, with this double-record as the framework. […] Everything from sparse, acoustic songs to straight-up noise, and then everything that lives in between those.”

“Not only that,” Ensley continues, “but I aimed to fully establish my voice as a writer and songwriter. […] In order to do that, I needed to create something that had a little bit of everything but was still incredibly cohesive.” The Chicago musician credits his collaborators—specifically Alex Reindl, Josh Snader, and Doug Malone—with helping him achieve that vision.

Another important collaborator has been Oceanator’s Elise Okusami, who founded and runs the “teensy label” that’s releasing All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist. “Working with Elise and Plastic Miracles has been incredible,” says Ensley. “I met her on tour in Athens, GA a few years ago and we became friends and kept in touch. […] I really couldn’t ask for a more supportive person to be working on such a special project with.”

“When I started [Sonny Falls], I didn’t want it to be a traditional rock band that would make a few records and then break up,” says Ensley. “After years of going through that endless process, I needed something more sustainable. Something more flexible that would allow me to have all kinds of various musical relationships and collaborators. This record is the first time I’ve been able to begin that process and it has been the most rewarding musical experience I’ve ever had.”

For Ensley, All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist is both a culmination and a launchpad. 

“This record is very much a kind of thesis statement,” he says, “and now that it’s finished I feel like I’m able to use this framework and go off in any direction I want to. Whether it’s noise, pop, power pop, acoustic fingerpicking to infinity, as long as I’m writing the words and playing guitar it will be called Sonny Falls.”

“Rooftop Bar” and “Purple Steers” are out now. You can pre-order All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist—out December 2 via Plastic Miracles—here.

“Rooftop Bar”

“Purple Steers”

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