“Country Roads Town” is a moving depiction of longing. Singer Johnny Delaware ponders “are you happier now without me?” as monoliths of feedback grind against tranquil rhythmic acoustic guitar. The song splits influences between late 80s Dire Straits and the earnestness of post 9/11 Wilco. Throughout Delaware’s lyricism is evocative with vivid imagery “smokestacks rising out from a paper mill / South Dakota spirits blowing through the hill”. Stick around for the ending, which ascends with panic attack snare and cinematic guitars. Delaware joined me for a chat about lyrics, writing, and the magic of Charleston.
You can download a free copy of “Country Roads Town” here.
SC: I love how there is a tension in this song between its brooking musical landscape and its lyrical declaration of love. Can you tell me about that choice?
JD: I generally always make the music first when I write a song— whether it be me or with my band mate Clay Houle. It lays down the mood to know where the song should go lyrically. When I wrote these chords, it really brought me back to South Dakota's Black Hills to the countryside right on the foothills outside of Spearfish, where I went to college for a few years. Horses would run next to barbed wire fences and you could see their breath from the cold. The sun would fall and the sky would literally look like it was on fire; a stunning place to drive around and rip cigs.’
I began to think about my memories there, and my family from South Dakota who I really have nothing in common with anymore. I have a lot of love and pain from these people up there, but I really wanted to focus on my heart in this song. It's so easy to turn from people who don't understand you. I wanted to sing from a caricature of myself & let them know I will always have a wellspring of love, somewhere within, even despite those differences and what they did.
SC: I was moved by the lines “seems like a lifetime now since we’ve been close / people tend to grow apart, I still care about you though”. Can you tell me a little about them?
JD: This was directed at my mother. The lyric says it all.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Country Roads Town”?
JD: I remember when I first moved to Charleston, I lived in the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame. I wrote the chords of this song in my bedroom and never got around to writing lyrics until 3 years later. Sometimes I'll write songs and forget about them. Even years later the chord progression to Country Roads Town would play in my mind while walking around Charleston. That's when I knew I had a special song and needed to write powerful lyrics to back it up. Taking it to the studio, Clay Houle of The Artisanals really captured the emotion of this track by adding all the feedback guitars and Garth Brooks power chord hits (with the low octave piano —something we like to do a lot with our productions)
We would start playing this song live and jam out the ending, so when we re recorded this song, we added the extensive outro with the snare drop, trombones and fuzz guitar solo.
SC: Tell me about your songwriting process. Do you write every day? Or do you wait for inspiration?
JD: It's different every time. Sometimes I write a song in ten minutes, and other times it's a culmination of salvaged parts from multiple tracks that conflates years later. I love writing on my 12 string guitar, but wonderful songs and melodies just pop in my head while walking around Charleston, which I do all the time! Sometimes I'll write lyrics over Clay's riffs, like For instance "Roll With It." The piano can spark some beautiful songs, too.
Typically I write when the inspiration comes. I'll never force a song or stress out. We already have so many to get recorded. But if I do go a couple weeks without writing something, there's an underlying anxiety to stop being lazy and do my dharma.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence you?
JD: It's been a bit impalpable touring and listening to people from all over the country speak so highly of the Charleston music scene. I always knew the local scene was a special place, with so many up and coming bands and national mainstays, but there was a part of me that figured it could end up a well kept secret forever. Which it still kind of is.. like in a purgatory state. Music fans know about us, but the music industry really doesn't. But I really don't care what the industry thinks in the first place. Nor should any other artist in Charleston. They're a bit insecure, kind of like those kids at high school lunch who need to sit with the same people everytime so they feel validated. It's such a trendy and political business, and the Charleston music scene doesn't need to cater to that. So I'm proud to say I'm from here and to be a small part of this blossoming, and can say The Artisanals will never bend our art for an A&R rep.
I love seeing all the local bands in Charleston touring and doing all they can to spread their music. Other musicians from other music cities have a bit of a head start, but everyone's persistence and will inspires me to keep pounding the rock. It's all that we have to do.
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