Reverb ricochets off the walls of a dingy, narrow room in Athens, Georgia. The venue’s den is amicably worn and adorned with familiar posters of local acts. Seated in the trough of West Clayton and Pulaski Street, the Caledonia Lounge is tucked just behind the street-front retail shops that litter the city’s historic downtown area. It’s the kind of place one might miss if loth to explore.
More often than not, it’s challenging for artists to predict where they’re headed at any particular moment. In an encouraging fashion, the lounge serves as a launch pad for performers of any size. For the Artisanals, a five-member rock band based out of Charleston, South Carolina, very little – if anything at all – seems to be obstructing their view of the road ahead. With freight train momentum, lead singer Johnny Delaware instructs his listeners to simply, “roll with it, baby.”
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After the Artisanals capped off a flash-bang performance at the lounge, I decided to get in touch with the band to find out where their heads were at. Here’s an inside look at my very first interview for The Deeper Dig, featuring Johnny Delaware of the Artisanals.
Q: You guys are fairly new as a group, but you’ve been touring like crazy. Can you tell me more about what it’s been like on the road over the past few months?
A: “Yeah, we got the honor of going on the road with Band of Horses. We did about six shows with them. I think three months ago we got to play some Florida dates, which was awesome. A lot of us had never been to Miami, so we got to go to Miami and chill out there and have a day off after playing that gig, so we just kind of got a little wild in Miami, in South Beach, but we went on tour with [Roadkill Ghost Choir], and we had a great time on that tour. Landscapes out west are just gorgeous, and everyone had a really great time. Good vibes all around.”
Q: From what I’ve seen, it looks like you and [Clay Houle, guitarist], kind of came together sort of over time. When did you finally put your heads together and say, ‘We’re starting this whole thing?’
A: “It kind of began to manifest around [September 2016]. Because I was in another band previously, and it got to the point where I knew that it was kind of time to turn down a new road, go down a new path, and let everyone do their thing. I was in that band really just to help out and do the best I could to see something succeed that didn’t revolve around my reality for a change. Everyone’s always kind of just going down their own mouse track, and I felt the need to… serve, I guess. So, me and Clay have known each other for about a year and a half, and we kept running into each other. It was very synchronous, how it all unfolded.
“We began to start a band last fall, and recorded an album, and we did it right, I feel like. We recorded on a Neve console from the 1970s. It sounds really good. Sonically, it sounds really good. We served the art, you know? I feel like that’s really important to do. You work so hard creating something, and then you got to give it the love that you put in. So, I’m really proud of all of us, and where we’re at as a band. We’ve been touring really hard this year, and we don’t even have a booking agent yet. We’re really doing it all on our own. It’s kind of D-I-Y. I’m just really proud of everyone, and for how hard everyone’s working, you know? It’s really difficult in these early stages to get going.”
Q: What’s been the most rewarding show you’ve played so far?
A: “You know the Las Vegas shooting? And Tom Petty’s death. There was kind of like an emotional wave kind of running through America at the time, and we had a show with Band of Horses in St. Petersburg, Florida, maybe a couple of days after that happened. There may have been a little fear in the crowd because of that mass shooting at a concert. And that was probably one of the most emotional shows. It just seemed like everyone was there, present. People were dancing; the sound was incredible. Just the energy was very palpable.
“I don’t know, really, how to explain it. It’s kind of one of those things; you just feel it. You can’t really explain what you feel sometimes. It was just, everyone was there together. It just felt like the band was on fire that night, too. So, that was Josh Hoover’s favorite show. Probably one of mine, too.”
Q: Is there a particular part of the country that’s putting out the best music right now?
A: “Yeah, honestly I think it’s in Charleston! And it’s kind of weird, you know? A band like Susto that’s taking off… it’s a successful band, and just being from Charleston, you kind of get cut off. You’re kind of far off on an island it seems like.
“I think there’s a lot of really successful bands coming out of Charleston that aren’t given the chances. Like the High Divers. 2 Slices, She Returns from War – and obviously you have Band of Horses, Susto, you’ve got Shovels and Rope. It’s an incredible music scene that’s blossoming there, and the industry cities don’t really seem to take the artists there seriously. It’s kind of weird, like I don’t know, maybe it’s just the personal experience that I’ve had and it’s different for others, but, I just feel like Susto didn’t get enough love in the initial, early stages from all these people. I feel like the Artisanals now aren’t getting the love. And we’re going to keep shoving it down people’s throats, no matter what, but it’s kind of turned into a locker room halftime game here. We’re gonna keep pounding the rock, god dammit!
“But it’s true: Charleston artists are busting their asses and no one else in the country’s giving them love. [People] need to start looking at them, because we’re really good. We need a little spotlight handed to us.”
I closed the interview by thanking Johnny and the rest of the guys – Clay Houle, Eric Mixon, Zac Crocker, and Josh Hoover – as I pulled back into my own driveway.
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Charting a course, defining a roadmap for your career is seldom a clear-cut task for newer, younger groups like this. But the end product of an organic group initiative can far outweigh misgivings and uncertainty in a myriad of ways. For the Artisanals, whose tours have spanned dozens and dozens of cities from coast to coast over the past year and a half, there simply isn’t any time for doubt. By connecting with fans at intimate venues; venturing through far out landscapes and exotic locales; and, perhaps most of all, continuing to “pound the rock,” these troubadours derive their satisfaction from the journey itself. In the words of Delaware, “You work really hard as an artist to get places. When it’s given back to you, those moments can be a really cool thing.”
Check out more from The Artisanals here: