07 Nov YOUNG RITUAL SHARES SECRETS ABOUT “PRIME,” “ROSARY,” AND HIS FORTHCOMING DEBUT EP, YOU CAN BE BEAUTIFUL, TOO
Young Ritual, the Mid-Michigan based Indie-Alternative solo project started by singer-songwriter Dylan Grantham, has sparked our attention (and playlists) for months. His first official single, “Prime,” hit us hard at the end of August (just as we were craving new music). The oh-so-relatable lyrics—“Worries and shivers in sheets every night, Working up the courage to just say hi to the people in my life”—feel like a bit of a homecoming. It’s a repeat-worthy track for anyone who embraces Americana and appreciates songs with substance. (Listen while you read.) We love “Prime” for its heavy, heart-felt melancholy-mixed lullaby sound, the brave, bold (and at-times young Bob Dylan-esque) vocals, and the searing questions the song illuminates and cradles.
When Dylan unleashed Young Ritual’s second single, “Rosary,” a couple weeks ago, we witnessed his sharp ability to bend and twist his sound into something stormier. And it lingers in an alluring way. Piercing conviction replaces vulnerable anxiety with lyrics like, “We’ll need for nothing, not even time,” and “Blood mixes with fate, don’t pretend to know my face.” (Pretty deep, right? The track’s music video is even more intense. Watch it now.)
While we’re still smitten with these first two singles, we’re elated that they’re actually part of Young Ritual’s five-song yet-to-be released EP, You Can Be Beautiful, Too. We caught up with Dylan to uncover everything we possibly could about the making of the music (and his life), so we could share it with all of you.
In this interview, you’ll learn about: Young Ritual’s must-listen-to singles “Prime” and “Rosary;” three unreleased songs on the forthcoming You Can Be Beautiful, Too EP; why it’s best to apply Special FX makeup near a sink; what time of day is Dylan’s favorite; three other indie bands Dylan thinks you’ll dig; why you should be mindful of hardwood floors when being theatrical; which song Dylan finds REALLY sexy (that no one else seems to); what new dark pop project Dylan will be playing bass for; and why you should be at The Pike Room on November 12th.
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q & A format.
Q & A:
How did Young Ritual come about?
Dylan: I used to play in a different band, but I started making some music that didn’t really fit that project. I write pretty frequently, and I was creating too much music for it to be used in that way. So, I decided to start doing my own solo thing. My first performance as Young Ritual was in February of 2016.
I thought—in its original form—Young Ritual would actually be a much more political thing than it was. The first single I ever released was a song called “Immune” that appears in the Not Safe To Drink: Music For Flint Water Crisis Relief compilation that donates 100% of its proceeds to FlintKids.org*, a charity focused on Flint, Michigan’s children.
That’s kind of where Young Ritual had its roots. From there, it continued to evolve into writing in my own voice. Sometimes the music still has political elements, but I took off the dividers of what I could write about and what this is going to be.
*Learn more about FlintKids.org.
Can we talk about your first single “Prime”? What are fans saying about it?
Dylan: “Prime” was born after a long night in Lansing, Michigan. It’s a rumination on being young, and the revelation that time is fleeting. One interesting thing about “Prime” is that I wrote it at such a specific time in my life, where I just felt like nothing was panning out for me—especially musically. I felt like, Oh, I’m just one of those people that WANTS to do this, but won’t ever GET to do this.
I end up falling out of love with a lot of my songs and feeling out of touch with who I am; but, “Prime” specifically feels like it stuck with me. I still go through cycles of feeling like that. Because that feeling—that chip on my shoulder—is pretty consistent. Yet, “Prime” has remained in my setlist since I wrote it about a year ago.
The feedback I’ve received for “Prime” has been awesome! This track was my first official release as Young Ritual. I’ve released other songs before—but never on all platforms—so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. I was immediately blown away by the fact that people cared about what I was doing, and that they wanted to be supportive of it. A lot of the really great Michigan artists took attention and shared it for me, and I thought that that was really encouraging.
I had one other song on Bandcamp (before “Prime”) called “Disaster.” Some of my friends helped me record it in a basement. It’s a very folkie song with an acoustic guitar and a vocal, and it was completed in just a couple takes. I pretty much decided that picking “Prime” for my first official release was putting my best foot forward. However, I still stand behind “Disaster”—it’s another autobiographical song.
When did you first realize you were an artist?
Dylan: Oh, that’s a fun one! I come from a really musical family, so I grew up around music. My grandparents homeschooled me. My grandpa’s an old country music guy; that influence was put on me from a young age. I was nine years old when I first started playing guitar, singing, and writing songs. And I just knew right then that that was all I cared about doing. I used to watch DVDs of Willie Nelson and try to mimic him and his guitar playing. Music has been the most concrete part of me for a long time now.
Do you have all of your old journals and all the songs you wrote when you were younger?
Dylan: I haven’t kept them intentionally, but I do have them unintentionally. Sometimes I do look through them and think, Oh my god, you’ve gotten SO much better!
Were you nervous the first few times you performed or did it feel natural from the start?
Dylan: When I first started performing at nine or ten, I felt like it was normal. I didn’t get nervous until I became a teenager. When I was old enough to be insecure, I was insecure. I had to go through that for a little bit. At my band’s first real show I was SO terrified that I ate half of a pizza and then just tried to survive a twenty-minute set.
Now, performing feels more natural than most other things I do in my normal life. Luckily, the lull period in the middle where I was scared went away. I have a really intense need to put on a performance, and I embraced that even when I was nervous. The catalyst to making me feel better onstage was getting a little more comfortable in my own skin by taking the risks that I wanted to take (but at one point was too insecure to take).
Can you tell us anything about your second single “Rosary” and its brand-new music video?
Dylan: “Rosary” is about confronting vanity, and it’s about confronting beauty. It’s about burning away the shame attached to the meaningless.
The only thing I’ll say about the music video—without giving too much of the story away—is that I’m covered in a LOT of blood. It was definitely fun but much stickier than I had anticipated. My friend who shot the video, Director/Cinematographer Mathew Pimental, also put the fake blood on me. At one point in the application, he asked me to open my eyes. As I lifted my lids, the fake blood went IN my eyes. And I couldn’t see anything! He had to grab my hand in order to lead me into the house towards the sink. That first day of shooting was awesome!
The “Rosary” music video is cool, partly because I don’t think it’s what’s expected from someone like me who makes music that people consider to be indie/folk/Americana. It’s a pretty bold look for a video. (Watch the “Rosary” music video.)
Where do you record your music? Do you have a preferred studio location?
Dylan: I basically recorded this whole EP by myself in my home studio/dining room. It’s titled You Can Be Beautiful, Too. I’ve been working on it since February, and the whole thing is done. It’s five songs. They’ve already been mixed and mastered by Jake Rye at Social Recording Company. Jake has recorded Michigander, Steppes, and a lot of other really great Michigan bands.
At this point, it’s just a matter of figuring out HOW to release the EP and WHEN to release it. It’s weird to be sitting on all this completed music. I know a lot of bands do it piece by piece, but I’ve had the means to record it myself, so I did it in a block.
Do you have to gear yourself up to record or is it just a total solo mission?
Dylan: It’s just a total solo mission. I need to be alone and have a nice block of time, because I’m super obsessive in nature. I need the privacy to be obsessive enough to be doing something and not feel self-conscious that someone is seeing me do it over and over. I’d hate for someone else to think, Oh my god! This is annoying!
I definitely do have to hype myself up a little bit, though, because I put a big focus on creating something that is a performance in nature. I want to make something unique, and I know I can get a little too stiff if I don’t hit a zone where I feel comfortable. I can do that the best when I am on my own, and I can get into a comfortable head space.
Do you find that a certain time works best for you?
Dylan: Yeah, I would do everything in my whole life at night if I could.
We heard you’ve been on tour! Can you share anything about that experience?
Dylan: Yeah. I didn’t make it out of state, but I did play two gigs—one in Ypsilanti and the other in Kalamazoo.
The Ypsilanti gig was a house show. All acoustic acts plus twenty-something people packed into a small living room. It was really cool because everyone was so attentive. And I actually performed one of my songs entirely a cappella. (I’ve never done that before.) After watching the set before me, I said to myself, If I’m up next, I’m going to do it a cappella. It was TERRIFYING, but everyone was SO quiet and SO engaged. I tried to pull off my pinky ring and throw it at the ground for a dramatic effect—but I forgot about the hardwood floor—and my turquoise ring sort of ricocheted. (Thankfully, no one was hurt.)
The Kalamazoo gig was a completely electric gig in a basement. It was awesome to pretty much play the same setlist two nights in a row but play all the songs in a completely different way and get something visceral out of both performances.
We’re also hip to the fact that you are friends with Kostka—another super-talented indie artist we can’t get enough of. What’s it like to have other incredible rising musicians support you?
Dylan: It has been the most remarkable and fulfilling year for me. Becoming friends with artists I respect, being able to support them, and being able to experience what it’s like to be supported by them has been motivating—and not in a competitive way. It’s not motivated by, Oh, look, this person has more Spotify plays than me. It’s like, they put out a song, and it’s SO good, that EVERYTHING seems possible again.
I know these artists and they’re putting out music I like better than “more established” artists. It’s a good reminder for me, that to make good art, you don’t have to have all of this money and publicity behind you. And even to be seen as and to look professional you don’t have to have all that stuff. You just have to have a good idea of who you are and play your strengths.
I love when artists I interview put out new music, because that’s what I put in my playlists. “Prime” is a perfect example. What other local indie bands are you into that you put in your playlists and want us to know about?
Dylan: Steppes is a really great Michigan band that I’m close with. They’ve put out three songs so far—“Marceline The Vampire,” “Rachel,” and “Go (Starting Over)”—and they are all straight bangers. They sound so good, and, besides that, they are really exceptional people.
I also have some really good friends in a band called Copneconic—think garage punk. They have a full-length out called Generation Parasite, which is really awesome.
There’s a really amazing band in Michigan you may have already heard of called Michigander. I’m grateful to be friends with all those guys, too. Aaron Senor, Michigander’s drummer, is starting a project called Dawning, and I’m actually going to be playing bass for him. It’s suuuper cool dark pop music.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of really cool stuff that people I know are doing that you should check out.
What keeps you focused and pressing forward?
Dylan: I think what keeps me pressing forward is the realization that this is the ONE thing that I’ve ever felt like I’ve done extremely well. And I hope that doesn’t sound conceited. It’s not a conceited sentiment. When I make music and I perform, that’s the truest version of me. The shackles come off, and I can walk away feeling recharged for everything else I do in life.
I think the motivation is probably fear-based. I want an opportunity to make music and perform as much as I can, because anything else won’t do this for me. I know, I’ve tried many different things to convince myself that this wouldn’t work, and nothing has ever been as rewarding as this.
What songs and artists are you currently vibin’ on?
Dylan: I’m on a big Bob Dylan kick right now—specifically the Blood On The Tracks era. I’m always on a Randy Newman kick. I think that he’s so good at writing lyrics and writing these songs that no one else could write. I love him a lot. Father John Misty is always a big influence for me, too. A song (or two) from his most recent record, God’s Favorite Customer, has been on every playlist I’ve made since its release. Really, lyrics are my bread and butter. All the artists I listen to on a daily basis are artists I can learn from.
*You can hear ALL the Young Ritual tracks + what Dylan’s currently vibin’ on by listening to this exclusive Spotify playlist: MMM: Young Ritual
Can you tell us something most people don’t know about you?
Dylan: Hmmm…(laughter). Ooh. Here’s a really funny one that some people know (but most people wouldn’t) and the people that DO know despise about me: I think “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen is a really sexy song. The vocals are deep and synth-y—not in the cool Barry-White-type-of way, but in a weird, creepy voice. It’s low and breathy with synthesizers and electric drums—like if a robot made a swanky song. I LOVE that song! But, when my friends found out what I thought of it, they were like, WHAAAT?! I’ve been into “I’m Your Man” for two years of my life, and I’ve ruined my friends’ time with it.
What’s next for Young Ritual? Looking ahead, what are you most excited about?
Dylan: Sometime soon, I’ll be settling on a before-the-end-of-the-year release date for the You Can Be Beautiful, Too EP. It will have “Prime” and “Rosary” on it as well as three other unreleased songs. The album is completed and the artwork is finished. All I need to do is pick a date.
I also have a show coming up at The Pike Room (in Pontiac, Michigan) on November 12th—the day after my birthday—with another solo project called Current Joys and a Michigan solo named Stefanie Haapala. I’m pretty much pressuring all of my friends into going for my birthday. I’m really excited because it should be a big show. And it will likely be the last show before I release my EP. Buy a ticket to the show + also celebrate Dylan’s birthday.
Can you give us any hints about what the three other unreleased songs are about?
Dylan: Yes. By recording the EP on my own, I was able to try some experimental stuff that I don’t think I would have had the nerve to try with a producer or a studio engineer.
One of the unreleased songs is actually an iPhone voice memo. (I always record everything I write in a voice memo for reference.) This one particular song I wrote in only fifteen minutes. I quickly recorded the vocals and piano on my phone; but, every time I tried to record it legitimately, the song was missing this really cool vibe that the voice memo possessed. So, we took the voice memo and loaded it up with tons of effects, like reverb—and it sounds awesome.
A couple of the unreleased songs are kind of lo-fi things that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m really attached to the EP’s opening track—“Father/Son”—which I wrote about a year ago. It’s become an opener to any set I play. When I perform it, I first create a loop of the music and then set down my guitar, so I can wander around the crowd a little bit. I find that it makes people a little uneasy, but it’s also humorous. The audience tends to laugh at me as I walk around, being theatrical, while I sing these actually heavy lyrics about family.
I couldn’t be prouder of the five songs on the You Can Be Beautiful, Too EP. Each is unique in its own way, and I think they all come together to create a really cool picture.
Do you want to thank and/ or draw our attention to anyone?
Dylan: Yeah, you can’t do this at this level without an EXTREMELY supportive group of friends that want you to succeed not only because they believe in what you do, but also because they love you and want the best for you.
My friend Emily Woodruff designed my current merch, which consists of buttons and stickers. She’s an incredibly talented artist.
My friend Joshua Kemp from Steppes put me in contact with Jake Rye, who ended up mixing and mastering the EP. I was basically at a stall before that happened, because I didn’t like any of my mixes. I was trying to do everything by myself, and I just wasn’t getting anything out of it. You Can Be Beautiful, Too would not have crossed the finish line without Josh believing in me and introducing me to Jake, and then Jake showing an interest in my music and taking a chance on working with me.
I mentioned earlier that you have to know your strengths as an artist. Knowing your weaknesses and having encouraging friends, whose strengths are your weaknesses, to collaborate with is invaluable. To anyone who has helped, I am thankful.
Listen to “Prime”:
Listen to “Rosary”:
Listen to what Young Ritual is Listening to (our exclusive playlist):
MMM: Young Ritual
Watch the “Rosary” Music Video:
Connect with Young Ritual:
Read our recent Mini-Post about “Prime”:
Photo by Kris Herrmann