Anyone from Ponchatoula, Louisiana will tell you—there is a dark, dark cloud hanging over their town. This might be expected from the region that was scandalized a decade ago when it was discovered that Satanic worship and ritualistic child molestation were taking place right under the community’s noses at a local church. It was described as being “the most bizarre case that any normal, small town sheriff’s deputy or policeman or detective could ever imagine” by Captain Stuart Murphy, who was assigned to investigate the events. This eventually became the premise for HBO’s True Detective. This was also where Donovan Wolfington chose to record their new album, How to Treat the Ones You Love. Or rather, it chose them.
Donovan Wolfington had a dark cloud hanging over them, themselves. Their recording process began with a band member short, having lost singer and keyboardist Savannah Saxton right before beginning work on the album, the band’s second. “Why’d she leave? It was… it was just one of those things, I guess,” singer/guitarist Neil Berthier tells me.
So, down a fifth of the band, they initially started work in Kenner, a town on the outskirts of New Orleans, at Festival Studios where drummer Mike Saladis and bassist Chris Lanthier worked. One day, the studio owner Rick Naiser called in sick, which struck the band as odd. “This guy Rick, he never called out sick,” says Berthier. “We thought he just had a cold.” But it wasn’t a cold. It was myleofibrosis, a bone marrow disorder that fucks with your blood cell production. Within two weeks, Naiser was dead. “He passed away right before Christmas. It was pretty rough on all of us.” It wasn’t just the grief of losing a friend and colleague, they also had an album to finish, and were starting to doubt it would ever see the light of day.
The band went into the studio after hours—which they swear was not illegally breaking in. “We had a few nights at the studio before we had to get out of there and pretty much never use it again. So we got all the bass tracks done in like, one night,” remembers Berthier. “It was New Year’s Eve, and there were fireworks going off everywhere, it was nuts.”
They then took their half-finished record 40 miles north to the town Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey recently made notorious, and recorded the rest at a friend’s house. Right before it was finished, they lost another member—this time, Lanthier—over a mastering disagreement. But they’re still close with him, they say.
And now, with two members out, a producer and friend lost, two studios utilized, a college graduated, and way too much pot smoked, the light seems to finally be peeking in through the gray skies and Donovan Wolfington is ready to release the product of their turmoil. There’s a lot of angst behind the album, a lot of growing pains. Some songs, like “Hxc Punk,” are pure primal screams. Others, like “Ollie North,” are more measured calculations of feelings.
It’s a scattered mix of emotions and life lessons for Donovan Wolfington on How to Treat the Ones You Love. They’ve learned something about that concept along the way, too—treating your loved ones right. “I think we all lost something in one way or another, some more than others,” Berthier says of the recording process. “And it just… I don’t know. There was a lot of distracting pain involved in making it. We were all thinking about it, somewhere in the back of our minds.”
Listen to "Ollie North" below and pre-order it from Topshelf Records.
Donovan Wolfington tour dates:
8/6 - New Orleans, LA - Heaven's Gate w/ Bellows, Sitcom, Alejandro Skalany
8/7 - Jackson, MS - Big Sleepy's
8/8 - Memphis, TN -Murphy's w/ Loser Vision
8/9 - Nashville, TN - Exponent Manor w/ Beer Head
8/10 - Cincinnati, OH - 1818 Lincoln w/ Great Dane
8/11 - Cleveland, OH - Now That's Class!
8/12 - Chicago, IL - Downstairs (at SubT) w/ Ratboys
8/13 - Moline, IL - Uncle Stu's Haunted Waterpark (behind Milltown Coffee)
8/15 - Denver, CO - TBA
8/17 - Boise, ID - Feral House
8/18 - Seattle, WA - Black Lodge w/ Versing, Trashlord
8/19 - Portland, OR -Anarres w/ Sioux Falls
8/20 - San Jose, CA - San Jose Rock Shop
8/21 - Cotati, CA - Highway Tattoo w/ Brown Bags
8/22 - Oakland, CA - One Fam
8/24 - Orange County, CA - Programme w/ Casual Friday
8/25 - Corona, CA - Sinbad's Hookah Lounge w/ Karoshi Boy
8/26 - San Diego, CA - TBA
8/27 - El Centro, CA - Cafe 101
8/28 - Los Angeles, CA - TBA w/ Young Jesus
8/29 - Mesa, AZ - Trunk Space
8/30 - Albuquerque, NM - Blaze Place
9/1 - Denton, TX - Gatsby's Mansion w/ Mimisiku
9/2 - Austin, TX - Holy Mountain
9/3 - Houston, TX - The Summit