Patrick Riley: Inevitable Reward

Last spring, on what would be the first of a dozen Friends & Neighbors documentary shoots, I sat alone in a Chicago hotel room, stuck in my newly sober body, missing my family and wondering if what I was doing made any sense at all.


A text message from my friend, cellist Patrick Riley, lit up my iPhone.

“Thought you might like this,” he wrote below an audio excerpt from the poet, David Whyte.

Patrick has performed string arrangements on albums by Shawn Mendes, Imagine Dragons and The Envy Corps, played alongside Eagles and Father John Misty, and scored big-time Hollywood movies. And he’s graced every one of my albums since 2010’s Forever Young.

“If heartbreak is inevitable,” Whyte read in gravelly baritone, “It might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward.”

For more than a decade, Patrick has helped me capture the heartbreak in my own songs, and find my way to their inevitable, unlikely rewards.

He has delivered everything from a plaintive viola solo to a vast string orchestra, all from the comfort of his sunlight-drenched, Downtown Des Moines home and studio. On Constellations, Patrick gives the “Tyler, Texas,” hook a square dance swing. On “Breaking Down,” he provides swelling, melancholic drama.

“These things don’t come up in a vacuum,” he says. “In the movies, when the main character is experiencing extremely melancholic or something terrifically sad just happened, in comes the cello. There’s a reason for that.”

On this week’s podcast, Patrick and I straddle the sacred and profane: musing on mortality and laughing uproariously at high school band names. He opens up about his Iowa childhood, talks kids and classical music, and shares a piece of street wisdom too hilarious and profound to ever forget.

Listen to the Friends & Neighbors podcast on Apple, Spotify or wherever you find podcasts now.

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