Young Ritual elevates songwriting and production with new single, “Art Teacher”

Dylan Grantham’s indie solo project, Young Ritual, has cemented itself in Michigan’s music scene for the past three years. This past December, the EP, “You Can Be Beautiful, Too,” was released. The five songs on that EP unveil his ability to weave storytelling and thinking out-loud in melodic, guitar-heavy arrangements. But, “You Can Be Beautiful, Too,” was just the baseline of what Grantham is capable of producing. “Art Teacher,” an ode to overthinking and the need for validation, is amplified by the lo-fi fullness of guitar and drums distinct to Young Ritual.

“This was 100% my first reality, my life experience. I think lyrically this song is what I am. I could tell that this song would be interesting to people and get chuckles from the crowds. I think that’s cool. I like that--if you’re laughing or your crying. ‘Art Teacher’ is a good representation of what I do, and it’s also a very obvious leap from the last thing I produced.”

“Art Teacher” is a firsthand reflection and internal feedback of an encounter Grantham had with an old art professor at “The Flint Art Walk” while wandering in and out of galleries. He soon realized he was in his professor’s studio as he saw him handing out water.

“I went to thinking, do you say something? Will he know who you are? Is it weird? I came up and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you remember me,’ and he went, ‘Dylan!’ I was like oh, yeah. We had a nice conversation, but that encounter hung around in my head. It became a song about feeling uneasy in the space you occupy in the world and assuming no one is paying attention to you. Also, talks a little bit about my need to feel valued, and the way I measure a lot of my value by people who are entertained by me. Do you think I’m funny? Do you think I’m nice? I’m in a long-term relationship with my partner, who lives in Chicago. Distance can be hard for validation too because you’re trying to make time for each other, but you’re both busy.”

That innocent encounter he writes about manifested into a sound that somehow mimics what you’d imagine a mental downward spiral sounding like. He sings, "He’s still lecturing cause something has to pay the bills," talking about the mental and physical sacrifices associated with doing what you love.

“It’s like the little mind games we play that no one else is subject too and has no idea of what you’re thinking about yourself and what you need to get up and go to work everyday and play shows or anything like that or the little value I have.”

Honesty and insecurity go hand in hand, and Grantham didn’t flinch on shining a light on every crevice in the vast abyss of vulnerability. He credits his grandparents for growing up on old country music that’s deeply impacted his take on lyrically heavy music.

“I fell in love with that type of very cleaner songwriting, first person voice. I think that still kind of hangs around in my style. That’s my foundation.”

His foundation maybe lyrics, but the framing of Young Ritual’s music is all in the production. “Organized chaos” is how Grantham described his songwriting process, trying to explain the sonic dimensions to his music that he records in his home. This single is actually the first that he’s used a recording studio to track drums, adding to the complexity to the song.

Photo by Kris Hermann

“I always had looked up to really dynamic and almost theatrical and glamorous artists. I love David Byrne, Talking Heads; I loved Saint Vincent. I loved The Killers, really anything that has something interesting to it. Of course, I love rock bands too, but I was always drawn to really highlighter personality during music and also showcasing some part of yourself that you don’t get to do other than in your music. So, when I started doing it I wanted to make music that I felt challenged my writing. If I did it, I would get that euphoric feeling afterwards where I had done something significant. Whether people liked it or not, I had done something that was significant to me.”

Compared to the rest of Young Ritual’s discography, “Art Teacher” places him on an upward projectile, validating that he has earned a spot on your radar.

“I have spent a lot of time on this one, thinking about what I wanted. There needed to be a pretty big divider from the last release I had. I just needed it to look better. It needs to sound better. The writing needs to be better. The promo-- everything across the board needed to improve to show I’m growing...I hope the people who have been supportive to me, my core group of sweet people, I hope they feel like okay, I know Dylan. I know what his goal is, I know what the last thing he released was, and he’s getting better. I want people to feel like I’m earning their support, and that it is worth it.”