(Feature image borrowed with love from @waxminister)
One of the joys of being a music fan is the many great people one meets at shows. It happens often where the conversation steers towards the best concerts we’ve ever seen, which almost always leads to the instances where we saw a now very famous band in a very tiny venue. One of my good friends loves telling the story of when he paid a $1 cover to see a then unknown Blues Traveler play a tiny, stageless bar in Baltimore and continuously hand John Popper shots between songs. One of my more recent ones was more through luck but I got to see Tom Petty last summer in a small club who rocked for over two hours with me parked ten yards from the stage – jaw dropped to the floor – as Mike Campbell ripped effortless guitar solos all night long.
The point? The Artisanals are well on their way to being one of those bands. I sat down in a corner booth at the Royal American with lead singer, Johnny Delaware, and keyboardist, Steven Walker, for a half hour to discuss the band’s roadmap, debut album release dates, the current financial struggle, and lyric writing.
The Charleston, SC, music scene has been a simmering pot of water ready to boil over for some time. Band of Horses, who are close friends of The Artisanals, broke out nearly ten years ago with the mega-hit, The Funeral. Susto, a band The Artisanals lead singer, Johnny Delaware, collaborated and played guitar with for two years, has had their biggest year to date touring in support of The Lumineers, performing at Hangout Fest, and live streaming three songs from Rolling Stone’s offices.
Johnny Delaware surely knew Susto was well on their way for a breakout, but his calling to leave the band formally last November and write his own album was stronger. The Artisanals’ ten song, debut album, Literally Anywhere, was recorded this past January over three weeks at the Magic Barn. Magic Barn is a studio-converted barn in rural Iowa that recently acquired the soundboard and gear from New York City’s Soho-famed, Magic Shop Studio. The coolness factor of the Magic Barn is that its’ soundboard is the very same one used by Lou Reed, David Bowie, Blondie, Norah Jones, the Foo Fighters, and Arcade Fire to name a few.
As for The Artisanals’ debut album, two of the three tracks on their outdated bandcamp website they re-recorded but left the track, AI, as is. The standout track in their live shows, Primitive Style, will be on the album, which is great news. I whole-heartedly believe Primitive Style is a track the band can ride to radio and festival success if marketed correctly. It’s catchy. It’s guitar heavy. Its’ vocals are raw and loud. It’s a head-banging song that immediately makes you want to hit the mp3 back button, which of course I can’t because it’s only accessible at live shows.
So, when can fans expect to get their hands on the album? Don’t hold your breath. As of a few weeks ago, Delaware told me they had been mixing the album for a month and half with only one song left to mix. When they release it to the masses is an entirely different question. No tracks will be dropped on Spotify until an album release plan is in place, which may run into early 2018 though the band hopes not. They were clear they were not in a rush since there’s only once chance to make a first impression.
Johnny Delaware: “You only do one debut album so we want to do it right. And we still need to get it mastered. We’re hoping for this year but if it isn’t whatever.”
Steven Walker: “We’re holding everything close until a plan is in place.”
In parallel, the band is actively engaging labels to see who is the right fit.
Johnny Delaware: “We’re trying to figure out where we belong. We are not an indie rock band we’re discovering and that’s great because Indie rock is pretty much fizzling out. I think the general public has been getting tired of the tones and everything that has been happening through that genre. So, it’s time to kind of expand and reinvent the wheel a little bit. We’re kind of doing a heartland rock with a modern twist of Rock n’ Roll with the heartland rock vibe. We’re trying to find people who can understand it because people aren’t really doing much of that anymore.”
“We’re mixing it with Steve McIntosh and Pete Becker at the Magic Barn where we recorded it. We’re not going to record it on the best gear in the world and mix it on our computer in Charleston.”
Steven Walker: “We’ve been in Iowa a long time this year.”
Johnny Delaware: “When people think of mixing they only think of volumes and stuff. There are a lot of effects involved. It’s a tedious process. When you first begin writing songs you can hear the production a lot of the time and what everything should sound like. So, it’s important that whoever is mixing it understands your vision of what you want it to be like. Through my experience, I don’t want anyone touching our mixes anymore. I want to be involved with it. There’s professional mixers that do incredible jobs, but no one is going to be able to read your mind. It just comes down to getting everything perfect. If you’re an artist that’s what you strive for.”
Is it hard touring with no way for new fan bases to buy or stream your music?
Johnny Delaware: “Oh yea it’s terrible. I know. Put yourself in their perspective. ‘They don’t have any music out and they don’t have any merch? What are they doing?!?’ But you got to build a name and start somewhere. We’re broke and just trying to get our name out best we can and you do that by playing shows.”
Is there any plan for music videos? (A video he filmed with Susto has over 47K views)
Johnny Delaware: “I don’t know. Not right now. That’ll come down the line. Honestly, I think music videos are kind of a waste of money. The production of videos costs a lot. You’re only going to have to pay someone back for the cost. But people do want to see a visual representation of what the music is about and what the band looks like. I understand that. I’d rather focus our money into playing live and putting together a really awesome show. Tons of cameras at different angles. Getting an incredible sound and getting it mixed correctly so people can see what we’re about live. And you can do a music video like a slo-mo on the ocean and waves and just putting the lyrics over it and make it some cheesy, funny Hallmark thing. It’d cost like five dollars!”
What keeps you busy at home in Charleston, SC, when not touring and mixing?
Steven Walker: “Trying to figure out how to make us not here. Clay and I try to figure out where we can play shows. Rehearse. Everyone scrambles to try and make money. I’ll Uber. Johnny will go and wash dishes here and there at D’Als [Pizza]. Clay will pick up shifts at Home Team. We all have our ways to scramble and get by.”
Johnny, everyone in town is so used to seeing you with your white body, Gretsch. I noticed now you’ve switched to a 12-string Gibson.
Johnny Delaware: “We have more of classic sound and I love 12 string guitars. They’re very inspiring for me to pick up and come up with neat songs that I couldn’t on a six string. So, I use it with Clay when we’re writing and it always sounds good with another guitar. The white guitar does look great. It’s pretty rusty now and got some grime and wear on it.”
Talk to me about the lyrics of your album.
Johnny Delaware: “A lot of it is pretty uplifting I like to think. There’s a song called Nothing is Hopeless and it’s a very positive song. Beyond the Veil will be on the second album, it didn’t make the cut. We didn’t have time to record it. There are three songs on the album written for this one woman who I crossed paths with. Angel 42 is for her. Grow with You and First Time. She’s in Ft Worth, TX, right now. I met here in Charleston through some Futurebirds friends. We ended up hitting it off and had a really kindred spirit. Interesting circumstances happened where she brought a lot of inspiration to me.”
The Artisanals play the Royal American this Saturday as part of the Summer Shindig. See them up close while you can.