When D'Allesandro's Pizza hosted its annual Elliotborough block party last year, the purpose was to celebrate and highlight the music scene happening in the neighborhood, a scene that included everyone in the festival's lineup: Brave Baby, The Royal Tinfoil, SUSTO, Jordan Igoe, Johnny Delaware, Ka'tet, WO'SE, and FIASCO. "That's kind of when everyone started to see what was going on," says Justin Osborne, frontman for alt-country band, SUSTO. "Everybody realized that every band playing was connected to this neighborhood and that the quality of the music was great."
The Elliotborough music scene first began to really shine four years ago and has since evolved through the supportive culture that's developed around the up-and-coming, affordable 'hood. D'Allesandro's employs musicians (with weird touring schedules and such), while Wolfgang Ryan Zimmerman operates around the corner, turning albums into pure gold at his Line Street studio. The talent the neighborhood has to offer has been lovingly cultivated and primed for success. "There's a whole group of people, and none of us really even tried to create what we've created, but we all recognize the beauty of it now," Osborne says.
To better understand how the scene found its feet, we went straight to the heart of it: The Australian Country Music Hall of Fame (ACMHF) — that's the nickname for the Line Street house where Osborne resides along with a bunch of other creatives, including SUSTO bandmate Corey Campbell, Brave Baby's Steven Walker, Osborne's girlfriend and SUSTO tour manager Meghan Redel, bow-and-arrow craftsman Ryan Lareau, Walker Trull (of the new "Weird Al of the millennium" project, Crab Claw), and Keating Norris, who's currently starting up FOURTH, a business that will host gigs in makeshift venues.
And that's not counting the others who have come and gone — a list so long and noteworthy, there's a special space on the wall between the kitchen and living room where the roommates record the heights and names of present and past residents, the latter of which include Zimmerman (Brave Baby), Johnny Delaware (solo and SUSTO), and Jordan Hicks (Brave Baby and SUSTO). But those guys didn't stray too far from the house.
"The furthest anybody lives away is like, a quarter mile, a few blocks," Osborne says. A few minutes' walk away on Rutledge Avenue you'll find the home of Delaware, Marshall Hudson (The Royal Tinfoil and SUSTO), Jordan Igoe, and Mackie Boles (Royal Tinfoil). "We all try to stay as close as we can to the pizza," Osborne says.
Situated a perfectly short distance from D'Al's and Zimmerman's storage-unit studio, The Space, the ACMHF has become a creative headquarters for the musicians. "Everybody stops by because the studio's right there and D'Al's is right there," Osborne says, pointing down Line Street. The house has become so important to the group, a sketch of it can be found on a recent SUSTO T-shirt design. It's not uncommon to have close to 20 folks there at a time. "It's like the spot for when you take breaks and go eat or get a drink at Cutty's," Osborne says.
Since Osborne moved in to the ACMHF four years ago, he's seen firsthand the goodness that happens when artists are surrounded by talented people who treat each other like family. For now, everything is in its right place. "We have community here," he says, "and one of the key things that holds that together is The Space."
The Space came into the picture when Zimmerman moved to the Holy City from Charlotte in 2009 to start Brave Baby (formerly called Wiley) and make a career producing records. With over a decade of production know-how he earned working at a church while growing up, Zimmerman is confident he made the right decision. "I was gonna be a political science major," he says. "But my [church] mentor said, 'If you give up on music, you're gonna think about it every day and be miserable, and I see a really miserable version of you at 45 either being a politician or working for one.'"
Things fell into place when Zimmerman found the right band-friendly storage unit to start up his studio. That first tiny space is where Igoe, SUSTO, Grace Joyner, and Brave Baby's debut albums were created. But last year Zimmerman had a wall knocked down for a more comfortable studio that has welcomed acts like Hermit's Victory, E.T. Anderson, Avi Jacob, and scores more.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, Zimmerman found Osborne and company and embarked on what they now call the Acid Boys Summer, a series of LSD-inspired moments and revelations that would transform the musicians' approach to their craft. But first, Zimmerman had to meet Delaware in the summer of 2012. "Something weird happened as soon as Johnny got here," Zimmerman says. "He's like this force — we were all doing our thing, and he kind of invaded fast and changed everything."
Zimmerman can thank Luke Mitchell, member of the local harmony-driven Americana band The High Divers, for that invasion. After working with Zimmerman on a record in Charleston, Mitchell moved to Austin to pursue new musical adventures. Then he met Delaware. "I found an ad on Craigslist that really amused me," Mitchell says. "It was classic Johnny Delaware. I remember it saying something like, 'I don't care how old or young you are, if you can really play,' and, 'Here's a sample of my music — if you don't like it, you can tear it up in your head, but I don't want to hear about it.'"
Mitchell listened to Delaware's songs and loved what he heard. "We got to emailing and trading songs, and then met at a weird barn that hosted shows," Mitchell remembers. "We watched a couple of bands, then walked outside. Johnny looked out towards the city and said, 'I can't wait to take over this town.' We didn't take over Austin, and now, looking back, maybe he had been looking in the direction of Charleston — who knows."
Charleston was indeed right around the corner for both of them. Mitchell had talked up Zimmerman's production skills — and the Charleston girl-guy ratio — so hard, that Delaware was all in.
Zimmerman very clearly remembers Delaware's arrival. "So Johnny calls me, 'Hey, I'm this guy, Johnny Delaware,'" Zimmerman laughs. "'I'm from South Dakota, I live in Austin, and I'm moving down there to record an album with you. Is that cool?' I didn't think I'd ever hear from him again, and then in June he calls me and says, 'I'm moving there on June 15. You can count on it!'"
After moving into the ACMHF, it didn't take long for Delaware to infiltrate the music scene. Then in mid-2012, the acid-induced magic happened and the Acid Boys were born, a gang of partakers that included Delaware, Trull, Osborne, and Zimmerman. For Zimmerman, it was an LSD trip at the beach with Delaware that gave him clarity about his direction in life.
"It was this moment of being overwhelmed with what's already in front of you and what's already there — like, the puzzle pieces are here," Zimmerman explains. "Because Justin is such a rockstar guy and Johnny is too — and I've got this Brave Baby thing going on, and Amber [Grace Joyner] is like my girl, and then Jordan Igoe rolls up — and every time I hear her songs, they like make me cry. They're so powerful. And so it was this overwhelming thing like — you're supposed to be here, you're taken care of."
That was October 2012, when Zimmerman also decided to change his name from Ryan to Wolfgang — an event that prompted his fellow Acid Boys to craft an image with his picture on it that read, "Takes acid, changes name to Wolfgang." Zimmerman's intent was not only to make himself more search engine-friendly (a baseball player named Ryan Zimmerman posed a problem), but to also signify he had reached a new chapter in his life.
The Acid Boys' shenanigans and subsequent spiritual journeys also inspired the title track to Brave Baby's new record, Electric Friends, out this week on Hearts & Plugs. Keyboardist/percussionist Walker says, "The song's about being in a relationship and dealing with the change when you're not changing yourself, because Keon [Masters, Brave Baby frontman] wasn't doing acid, but Ryan was, and they were tight buddies. Ryan was changing dramatically, and Keon was like, 'Whoa, where's my friend — what's going on?'"
"Acid Boys," off SUSTO's debut record, is about that period, too. The track also appears on the band's recent release, Live at the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, on which Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell makes a guest appearance, in addition to Igoe, Delaware, Campbell, and Matt Lohan. Osborne's first contact with Bridwell was about a year ago, and it came with the confirmation that he was making all the right moves with SUSTO.
"I was trying to get the record out, and I was in the middle of booking this 50-day North American tour, and at the same time it was my last semester at CofC," says Osborne, a former anthropology major. "I had a paper due and decided, 'I'm not gonna finish. I don't care. I'll be the guy with three credits left before he graduates, because this is more important.'"
The day Osborne dropped out of college, he heard from Bridwell, who wanted to let him know the album was great. The next day, the band was asked to open for Alabama at the Family Circle Cup Stadium. Osborne and Delaware celebrated, of course, at their neighborhood go-to, Cutty's.
"It's really amazing how many doors open up when you fully decide to take that risk and do it," Delaware says. "It's remarkable, because you're finally standing up for yourself when your whole life maybe you weren't, when you were listening to what your parents wanted you to do. It's like a minor miracle some of the things that come your way."
Serendipitous events like the Bridwell call are seemingly daily occurrences within this thriving music community, and it's what keeps them so uniquely connected to one other. "It's that constant reminder that there's more, that you're not going down this road alone," Osborne says. "There's a lot of people going down this road with you."
And it all goes back to Elliotborough. At D'Al's alone, you can find Delaware washing dishes and Lily Slay (The Royal Tinfoil) delivering pizzas; they also employ musicians like Matt Dobie, Dylan Ray, and Elliott Vanotti from Gangrene Machine and FIASCO's Thomas Concannon and Scott Frank. Not only that, but co-owner Ben D'Allesandro even offered The Royal Tinfoil's Marshall Hudson a place to live a decade ago, just moments after the drummer first stepped foot in the restaurant; he still lives there.
"You don't get something like this all the time, what we have," Osborne says. "It's good to have that community support, because it makes you feel like you're not like a total shithead for what you're doing.
"We all had breakfast the other day and talked about how we can continue to be self-sufficient," he continues. "Because I think the most important thing in life, in anything, is being self-sufficient. And we are still pursuing major labels — but what we've done and what we've created as a community here, if we could continue to grow that and get more national recognition ... the end goal is to not have to deal with anyone else on their terms, because we're the fuckin' Acid Boys. We're the fuckin' ones puttin' in all the work and eatin' dirt all day and fuckin' washin' dishes and doing whatever."
Cheap living allows the artists to focus on the music, but as development continues to move farther up the peninsula, the musicians fear the inevitable. "If you're at The Space and you look out over the parking lot, over the fence, you can see these huge buildings there now," Hudson adds. "I was just reflecting on that recently, how when I first got a practice space [storage unit] with The Royal Tinfoil, how we were in there and we went away for a while, and when we came back I recognized how the skyline had changed. When you're in The Space, you can see the change happening. To be at Ryan's door looking out — to be at, like, the source, and it's right there. It is. It's coming this way."
But for right now the crew is still pushing toward the dream, together. "We all kind of realize that it's fleeting," Osborne says. "You have to be a realist about it and understand that it's not permanent and enjoy it and hope that eventually, we can be in another place and feel the same way."