Eight-foot-tall mushrooms. That's what's on the mind of singer/songwriter and Artisanals frontman Johnny Delaware these days, and it's not just (or even primarily) about hallucinogens.
"We've got these eight-foot-tall shrooms that are being made. This is going to be called the shroom tour that we're going on," Delaware explains, impishly describing the debut self-titled album release tour his band embarks on soon. "It's turning into Spinal Tap, man."
And while that might seem odd for a band that consciously invokes heartland rock in its sound and mannerisms, it's really not far from the truth when you look at the widescreen, arena-yearning sound that the former SUSTO sideman has conjured up with Atlanta guitarist and co-writer Clay Houle. Folk-rock rambles and humble ballads have been transmogrified into stadium-sized singalongs, borrowing from the atmospheric grandeur of indie bands like My Morning Jacket and the War on Drugs, along with some genuine '80s arena-rock charisma to chart some exciting new territory for Delaware's previous cosmic Americana troubadour style.
"Making a band with Clay had a lot to do with [the sound], because I've always kind of been just a singer/songwriter who can incorporate rock elements into it," the frontman admits. "Clay really brings the thunder, as they say. He kind of made us an arena-sounding band. And it is a big production, thanks to the guys who helped record it, too, like Wolfgang [Zimmerman] and Steve Mcintosh and Pete [Becker]. They really made it sound fucking huge. It's almost too big for certain times when I listen back out now!
"When you create songs and you record them," he continues, "it's almost like how do you, where do you see yourself performing them? It's almost like you control your destiny in that way. With this [album], I hear us playing big music halls and maybe arenas — and maybe someday we'll get there. I don't know if we will, but it's fun to think that we're going for it, right?"
- The Artisanals' arena-rock arsenal can be found in one Clay Houle (right)
That ambition is echoed in their recording studio choice. The band and Zimmerman settled down in a barn in Iowa City to track the album, driven to dead-center of the Midwest to harness the power and mystique of classic rock analog magic in the form a reconstituted Magic Shop, the iconic New York studio that previously hosted David Bowie, Lou Reed, Foo Fighters, and the Ramones.
"I didn't know what to expect," Delaware recalls. "I walked in and I was pretty much really shocked to see the board, this huge Neve console, one of the wraparound series. There's only four in the world like it, I think. And this entire barn was converted into a studio, and all of this gear was from [the Magic Shop]. I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on here? This is really crazy. There's some kind of bizarre kismet that's going on here right now.'"
The resulting album begs for the Artisanals to be mentioned in the same breath as groups like Dawes and Blitzen Trapper who have managed to reinvent classic rock tropes with originality, wizened musicianship, and sharp songwriting. The band is ramping up its business ambitions along with its sound, aiming for a marketing and radio campaign along with a steady tour schedule designed to get their music in front of as many ears as possible. Regardless of what happens though, Delaware is his typically sanguine self.
"It's just so cool to meet those people out on the road, and I'm done having expectations," he admits. "We put so much weight on ourselves and it's unnecessary. I think the goal should be to be in the right frequency and having fun and enjoying our life. And, and that's, that's where it's at, you know? So if we go out and we play these shows, we get to have fun. Let's do this thing and relax a little bit and not feel the need to worry."