For Young Ritual, Saturday’s live show at Sanctuary Detroit feels like a long-awaited homecoming.
The Flint indie folk rock singer-songwriter will perform his first headlining set in nearly 18 months at the Hamtramck venue.
“I can’t even express how good it feels to be playing shows again. I really hadn’t considered how vital that type of experience was in my life until it went away. I really had to push it away for a while when we didn’t know a timetable for the return of live music,” said Dylan Grantham, aka Young Ritual.
“Once the show was announced, all of those feelings came flooding back. I just want to make this night a loud and beautiful entry back into the music scene out here for Young Ritual.”
Hosted in partnership with Audiotree Presents, the show will allow Young Ritual to debut several new tracks since releasing his introspective, two-track A/B EP in March. He’ll be joined by Fenton indie pop singer-songwriter Au Gres, aka Josh Kemp, and Detroit indie folk singer-songwriter Emma Guzman.
“They are all pretty driving rock songs because that’s where my intent in writing has been, and the one I’m most excited about is called ‘Julianna.’ The song is kind of Springsteen and The Killers, but absolutely Young Ritual top to bottom,” said Grantham, who will include Au Gres as part of his live band.
“Josh from Au Gres is one of my closest friends, and I adore his band. He writes the sleekest indie pop imaginable and is just a pleasure to have around. I haven’t met Emma yet, but I’m a huge fan of what she’s been doing, so I’m really excited to have her on board.”
Despite the temporary absence of in-person live music, Young Ritual continued to release a roster of thoughtful, emotive EPs and singles throughout the pandemic. His most recent project, A/B, delicately confronts past struggles while searching for internal growth and self-acceptance on two compelling tracks, “Sondheim & David” and “Peace of Mind.”
“I’m reflecting on my own experiences and the world as it is through my eyes. This whole year has been a lot time alone, which I’m not accustomed to. It’s been a learning curve to figure out what do I do when I don’t have a million urgent things to do,” Grantham said.
“I didn’t write these songs with the intention of hitting on some nostalgia for me and stories of me being younger, but that’s exactly what happened. They fit so well together because I could see these two pieces of a puzzle that were very true and honest to me.”
Young Ritual’s A/B opens with the reflective, folky ballad, “Sondheim & David,” which seeks creative inspiration from the artistic endeavors of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and comedian-writer-actor-director Larry David.
Weighted, wistful acoustic strums and somber, ringing electric guitars seep into our subconscious as Young Ritual sings, “Getting dizzy/But it don’t feel the same/As it did when you were stupid/And painfully under age/There you lie wasted in your hand-me-down coat/Put you up on that bench/Put water down your throat/Once you dried out/You were thinking about praying again.”
“Artists like (Stephen) Sondheim and Larry David show the world through their eyes, and I think that’s the role of an artist. I think in a song that’s so reflective of my experience I was thinking about the artists who have come before (me), and how they’ve made art with intent that same way,” Grantham said.
“Every verse in that song tells some version of a true story in my life. While it may be high drama because that’s how I write, most of them come down to a time when I felt ashamed. Something embarrassed me, and I felt out of control and in the middle of it. That ties in with the reflection as well.”
Young Ritual also revisits inner strife on the mesmerizing ode to self-awareness, “Peace of Mind,” which beautifully fuses shiny, twirling piano with detached synths against a backdrop of muffled, dark voices.
He reveals, “Cause peace of mind/Ain’t what they told you it was/And they might be fine/If you were the only one/But you’re not the only.”
“I’ve learned what things make me happy, healthy and fulfilled. I can sleep at night, but it’s not because of everything everyone else told me. It’s because I’ve explored and found out for myself, and that’s what’s given me comfort. For me, that song is a victory in that way,” Grantham said.
For A/B, Young Ritual teamed up with Social Recording Company’s Jake Rye to mix and master both tracks while Dawning’s Aaron Senor plays piano on “Peace of Mind.” It proved to be a seamless partnership while collaborating on the EP’s tracks remotely with Rye and Senor during the pandemic.
“I just tracked everything at home, and I said, ‘Hey Jake, I’ve got this idea for a double single. It’s going to be really easy for you to deal with because there’s not going to be much to them. It’s going to be lyric heavy and emotional heavy,’” Grantham said.
“I also said to Aaron, ‘I have this song. If I sent you a demo that just has me playing the parts kind of poorly, do you think you could play them well, and maybe add a little bit of your own style?’ He just knocked it out of the park.”
A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Indie
Young Ritual discovered his love of music while growing up outside of Flint. He sang and played guitar in his family’s gospel singing group and developed a deep appreciation for country music at age nine. At the time, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Faron Young served as his formative musical influences.
“Any of that stuff was constantly being played, and I just was just analyzing it. I was only listening to stuff that was made 50 years before I was born,” said Grantham, who learned mandolin and guitar at a young age.
By age 12, he expanded his musical palate to include indie rock after hearing his brother play Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Kweller, Kings of Leon, The Killers, and Tegan and Sara.
“I wanted to be in an indie rock band, so I started one with my cousins called Wells. We did it throughout high school and early college in the Flint area, and it was my first time writing more in that genre and playing the Flint Local and at actual venues and church,” Grantham said.
During his time in Wells, Young Ritual wrote additional material that was better suited for a side project. After exploring his new creative outlet, he opted to pursue music as a solo singer-songwriter instead of being in a band.
“I thought it was going to be a punk project; I didn’t think it was going to be indie. My first release was on a compilation right around the time of the Flint water crisis. I was donating money for Flint kids, and it was a totally political song that was angry with the governor of Michigan at the time,” Grantham said.
“Then, I started to get back into my roots, and ‘Prime’ was the first song I released where I knew I had an identity.”
Under his new moniker, Young Ritual released two ruminative EPs, You Can Be Beautiful, Too (2018) and Spare Room (2020), as well as several intriguing singles. His artist name also reflects a sense of personal healing and contemplation.
“Right in the early goings of that, I had a pretty substantial case of obsessive compulsive disorder, which I’m like, ‘Thank God for therapy.’ I’m a super healthy person now. So much of my life was wrapped up in rituals, and I was trying to come up with a name, and I knew that kept coming back to me,” he said.
“In a ritual, it can be chaotic and damaging, but it can also bring structure and intent to it. Everything I do musically, whether it’s performing, tracking things or writing things, there’s always a lot of intent behind it. That just happened to be where I fell. The ‘Young’ part comes from being in my late teens, early 20s, and I felt like it added a sense of recklessness and abandonment to it.”
As an evolving artist, songwriter and musician, Young Ritual plans to release new material soon as a follow-up to A/B.
“This was a palate cleanser. I have some more ambitious plans for things I’d like to do toward the end of this year. This was my last time writing in the pandemic mindset. I can put a marker in the ground for that in my life that I can move from,” Grantham said.
“I’d like to have more full-band tracks similar in production to what ‘Together, Alone’ was. I’m planning a single to come out not too far from now, and I have plans to keep releasing some singles consistently after this release.”
Audiotree Presents Young Ritual with Au Gres and Emma Guzman
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4
Sanctuary Detroit, 2932 Caniff St. in Hamtramck