Minnesota indie rockers Communist Daughter are on fire. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for lead singer Jonny Solomon, who had to conquer a few demons before he saw success. Dealing with addiction and mental health problems before the band’s formation, he had several stints in treatment facilities and assumed the worst for his music career.
When Solomon reached rock bottom, he wrote a series of songs that he intended to be a farewell note to those he loved. He invited his friends—who would later become his bandmates—to help him flesh it out. The result was Communist Daughter’s acclaimed debut album Soundtrack to the End, which was released in 2010. However, the singer wasn’t done fighting his own personal fight, and checked himself into rehab soon after the release.
It seems to be true in Solomon’s case that some of the best art comes from the worst situations. He’s now fully recovered, with his positive outlook on life echoing in his music. Communist Daughter’s latest record, The Cracks That Built the Wall, received serious praise from critics. The album is a glistening light with bright guitars and an optimistic message. It’s a reflection of the artist’s upward motion, refusing to let his past weigh him down. We got in touch with him to talk about his SXSW experiences and what advice he has for younger bands as a festival veteran.
Vinyl Mag: How many times have you played SXSW?
Johnny Solomon: Officially this is our second time, but we went down there once for fun. It’s hard to be in Minnesota at the end of winter without dreaming of heading south.
VM: Do you have any favorite memories from the festival?
JS: We don’t go down there with weird industry dreams in our head. To me, it’s a chance to be in warm weather, plus it’s hard to see other bands play when you are always on the road. It’s great to just walk around and stumble into music. But my favorite memories don’t have much to do with music. We stay outside of the city, a little ranch way out there. My favorite memories are from there, soaking up a different lifestyle.
VM: Do you guys have any pre-festival rituals?
JS: We’re all pretty different about it. SXSW is its own beast, because you can let the logistical nightmares get to you, or you can just realize it’s all crazy and to take it as it comes. That’s why the ranch outside town comes in handy. This is the second time we are going to end our trip with a little acoustic show way out there for the folks that let us stay with them. So that’s a post-festival ritual.
VM: What albums have you been listening to recently?
JS: The Dig’s Blood Shot Tokyo. We just finished up three weeks with them. Probably my favorite band. I never got tired of seeing them night after night, and their album is now spinning around our tour van nonstop. I’m also listening to Hop Along’s Painted Shut. I’m late to the party on them, but I can’t stop listening to it. Such a great band and album. I need to creep on them and meet them. And then Paul Simon‘s Graceland always gets back in my headphones when I head south.
VM: The video for “Keep Moving” is beautifully done. What was the inspiration behind that?
JS: The director (Nate Matson) and I went back and forth a bit with that video. The song is very personal, and he connected with it right away. But it was hard to make a video that complimented that without making it so overtly literal. I was worried, but Nate lined things up right to make it right. It hits all the same themes without being in your face.
VM: Who were some of your musical inspirations for The Cracks That Built the Wall?
JS: The Beach Boys and Jason Isbell and a million other bands. It’s hard to pin down influences since the album was recorded over the course of three years.
VM: What inspired you to name the band after a Neutral Milk Hotel song?
JS: Honestly, I didn’t know it would be a thing, but Neutral Milk Hotel wasn’t around anymore when I started the band. They were one of those mystery bands that put out a masterpiece and then vanished. But it was so personal and intense of a record. I wanted to do that, so when I was writing songs by myself, I just thought I would take that as our name. I hate thinking of band names. They are all stupid until you are big enough for people to attach your music to it. I don’t think twice about my favorite band’s names.
VM: Were there any other songs you considered naming the band after?
JS: “Two-Headed Boy”? It’s hard to remember things from back then. I wasn’t in a really stable mental place.
VM: What advice would you give to an artist playing SX for the first time?
JS: Don’t go there for your own shows. Sure, play some, and be good at it. But don’t go there with some sort of idea that you are going to do anything important. Just enjoy the fact that every indie band you want to see that year is all in one place with tacos and beer, for the drinkers. Also, get all the free stuff you can. Sunglasses for days.
VM: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at SX?
JS: Not sure, I’m still in tour mode. I try not to think more than 48 hours ahead. I’m sure I will have an idea on Tuesday when we get there.
VM: What’s your dream festival lineup?
JS: It changes every day. I make a Spotify playlist, and then those are the only bands I care about for a week. Then I make another one and it’s totally new. But I have some all time favorites. If I were to put one together one off the top of my head [it would be] Paul Simon, Jason Isbell, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Angel Olsen, Hop Along, Death From Above 1979, and The Dig. And us of course. I want to be in my favorite festival.
VM: What shows are you guys playing?
JS: CLIF Bar Bash, SESAC Showcase, Central Presbyterian Church and Best Lil’ Big Fest.
VM: What’s your favorite part of the festival experience?
JS: The energy. It’s food, sunshine, super excited people and shiny free things everywhere. Then I go out of town and eat barbecue and finally get some sleep. It’s the end of three months of touring for us.
VM: We have to ask every artist playing SX: do you prefer barbecue or tacos?
JS: That’s not fair. Everyday food: tacos. Special meal: barbecue. I love barbecue, but I couldn’t eat it every day, because it would kill me. But pretty much every taco everywhere is good. I will eat a taco anywhere, any time.
Communist Daughter at SXSW:
3/14 – 3pm The Blackheart – 86 Rainey St – ” CLIF Bar Bash – The Current and NoiseTrade”
3/15 – 11pm Lamberts Downtown Barbecue – 401 W. 2nd St – SESAC Showcase
3/16 – 11:40pm Central Presbyterian Church – 200 E. 8th St.
3/18 – 5pm Tiniest Bar in Texas – 817 W. 5th St. – “Best Lil’ Big Fest”
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