Billboard shared a meal of southern fried chicken with the band when they were in Los Angeles to play a gig at the Mint. Lead singer and co-founder Johnny Delaware answered our questions about how the band came together, their influences, and the magic mushroom-inspired video.
Tell me about your musical history before the Artisanals – including being in another group and being a solo artist.
Throughout my twenties I pretty much wandered the United States. It was a very exciting period in my life, leaving my home in South Dakota while looking for answers. It was a testing and difficult time because I was alone, young and fearful from all the doubt and obscurity. But it forced me to search within myself, somewhere I couldn’t go living a comfortable life.
All along I was looking for a musical family and tried creating bands in Albuquerque, Nashville, Austin and Spearfish, South Dakota, where I went to college to be a counselor to juvenile delinquents. I wanted to heal others but I dropped out to try and serve society with music instead.
Despite having a short stint in a band in Albuquerque, I was a solo artist for nine years. I was self deprecating to an unhealthy degree toward my songs and myself. I just wanted to be an incredible songwriter. But I hated my voice and knew if I could write some goods songs, I could still break through.
In 2012, a tree fell on my car from a thunderstorm and that gave me enough insurance money to pay for my journey to Charleston, South Carolina to record an album. I coincidentally moved into the same house as Justin Osborne of Susto. We hit it off and started playing music together. He was and will always be a dear friend of mine, and it was such a wonderful, refreshing experience focusing and helping his vision for a band, instead of walking my little mouse track. I learned a lot from him. He deserves all the success and blessings the world has to offer.
How and why did the Artisanals come together? How did the name get chosen?
While in Susto, I met Clay Houle (lead guitarist and co-founder of the Artisanals) on the tour circuit. We kept unintentionally running into each other and became really good friends and wrote music together. I was and still am blown away by his ear and intuition for a song and production. I knew Clay was very special and was relieved to have him in my life, because I felt he was the musical companion I had been looking for all throughout my twenties. I left Susto because of health complications but I also wanted to pursue new music with Clay. We started recording demos together with Wolfgang Zimmerman and I suddenly got a text from celestial angel Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) asking us to open a couple of shows at the 9:30 Club in D.C. The Artisanals were official. It was on!
The band name “the Artisanals” is an esoteric joke. Clay always says everything is artisanal. I thought it was really funny. It’s such a stupid word. Artisanal craft beer! Artisanal breadsticks and pickles! We decided to have some fun with it. Plus, I could imagine the name on a marquee.
Do you prefer being in a group as opposed to being a solo artist?
There’s a positive and a negative to everything in life. We’re in a world of duality. The solo career is psychologically easier because you make all the decisions, so it reduces conflict. But you’re also alone so it’s all on your shoulders. In my experience, sharing a creative space with others is so much more rewarding. Most of the time you come out with a song or idea that completely expands your own periphery of creation. And once again, I’m very grateful to have a gifted, creative sidekick like Clay Houle. He is just as much a part of this band as I am, even though the illusion of the leader always gets cast on the lead singer. Clay works really hard and does a lot of stuff I couldn’t do. It’s a team effort and the team always gets further than the individual. So to answer the question – I’d much rather be in a band.
How would you describe the group’s journey so far? And what goals lie ahead? What has been the highlight of being in the group so far?
It’s all been going the way it intends to. I feel like we’re rafting down a winding river hitting different currents each day. We’re already learning a lot in our young phase. I can now see why bands die out the way they do; I can now see why “making it” takes longer than your ego wishes. Creating a new band is a lot of work, but we’re willing to log all the miles and hours it takes to make this thing happen. I’m really thankful to be surrounded by the guys in the band and our management team. We all keep pushing each other up the foothills toward our mountains of dreams. Sometimes it feels like the world is against you, but you carry on because you recognize your dignity – which no one knows but you. Personally, I think we’re a special band that has a lot of promise. That carries with it big goals, obviously. But we want to keep it simple too, by making more fans each night and playing in front of more people. We’re also excited to play festivals and meet other bands doing the same thing. We don’t really talk about the big aspirations anymore for superstitious reasons. I generally keep it to myself, but Buddhism and Hinduism have saved my life when it comes to understanding fear and stress and not putting unnecessary Western monkey-mind attachment, thought and weight on your path. Just allow the force, or whatever you want to call it, move through you, and surrender your little existence once in awhile. It makes the ride so much smoother.
Tell me about the song “Drag” – how it was written and recorded.
Clay came into my room one day with an Eastern-influenced lick that I combined with a song I had written years previously. They glued together like magic.
We recorded “Drag” and the entire album at the Magic Barn in Iowa City through an 80-series wrap-around Neve that David Bowie recorded his last records on, at the Magic Shop in Manhattan. Once the Magic Shop shut down, the entire studio, down to the last screw, was transported via semi to Iowa by Steve McIntosh – a guru, kind-hearted genius with a love and passion for music that makes you thankful to even exist. He built the barn with his bare hands with the help of his sons, after going through a divorce. It’s the coolest story ever. He’s such a badass!
It was such an honor to record our songs through that gear. It gives your art so much more value. It was a spiritual experience touching the same knobs Lou Reed, Bowie and the best producers in the game did. Not to mention, the Cranberries, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, & Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo all came from the same source.
Tell me about the video for “Drag” – who came up with the storyline? How and where was it produced?
We filmed the video at an enchanting AirBnB that we had rented months previously outside of Durham, North Carolina. It’s a custom log cabin that was built during the ’60s on a property that comes across as an apocalyptic hippie commune — so it was perfect for the shoot.
We didn’t want a serious, emotional storyboard. We needed to make a fun music video and not give a shit what anyone thought. So we figured we would trip our nuts off on magic mushrooms and smoke a bunch of pot and tell our friend Zach Hellmuth to film and direct what ensued while keeping the shoot organized. Zach was so patient with us. He did such a great job. He’s such a pro. He had two of us guys yapping arbitrary ideas at him all at once in the peak of the mushroom trip, ideas that probably didn’t even make any sense. We annoyed him for more fog from the machine and other ridiculous stuff — but he kept cool the entire time.
It was hard work moving from the different locations and hauling the lights and props, so we were also very lucky to have our friend Toucan helping us. We couldn’t have done the video without him.
Finally, who are your personal musical influences?
We’ve been digging into Slowdive, Hiss Golden Messenger, the National, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot – all the classic songwriters. The Clash and Joe Strummer’s ideology will always be a guiding moral compass and Patti Smith will be in our subconscious to keep focused on creating good art.
The Artisanals Tour Dates
9/19 – Boca Raton, Fla. – Funky Biscuit +
9/20 – Tampa, Fla. – The Attic +
9/22 – Gainesville, Fla. – Heartwood Soundstage +
9/23 – Jacksonville, Fla. – Jack Rabbits +
9/26 – Louisville, Kentucky – WFPK Waterfront Wednesday %
9/27 – Asheville, North Carolina – Salvage Station +
9/28 – Charlotte, North Carolina – Evening Muse +
9/29 – Charleston, South Carolina – Charleston Pour House # +
10/2 – Washington, D.C. – Black Cat +
10/3 – New Haven, Conn. – Café Nine +
10/4 – New York, New York – Bowery Electric +
10/6 – Rehoboth Beach, Del. – Dogfish Head Brewings +
10/7 – Philadelphia, Penn. – 118 North +
10/8 – Asbury Park, New Jersey – Wonder Bar
10/9 – Charlottesville, Virginia – The Southern ^
10/10 – Richmond, Virginia – The Camel +
10/11 – Carrboro, North Carolina – Cat’s Cradle +
10/13 – Atlanta, Georgia – The Earl
% with Car Seat Headrest
+ with the High Divers
^ with Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters
# with Dega