Lullwater Interview – Asylum – Portland, Maine – October 18th, 2014
Athens, Georgia has offered up a lot to the American music scene, and the latest is the heavy rocking quartet, Lullwater. Their self-titled release appeared in our mail in 2013, and after two minutes with their sound and energy, I knew this was an album worthy of attention and time and a band with the energy and drive to leave their mark on the music scene. Lullwater has been in my heavy rotation stack since. I love it. Check out the album review here.
Appearing with Flyleaf at Portland, Maine’s Asylum on October 18th, the band settled in for a few minutes and gave Maine Music News a great interview. Although fighting off colds and weary from a long drive, the guys were gracious and charming. Our thanks to them for sharing their time and answering our questions.
John Strickland – Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar
Brett Strickland – Guitar
Joe Wilson – Drums
Ray Beatty – Bass
MMN – Let’s get a little introduction for our audience, tell us about the band.
JS – We started the band in Athens, Georgia. Joe and Brett currently live in Savannah. We have been at it for 6-7 years now. This line-up has been around for almost 3 years. We all consider this line-up what Lullwater should have been and what we always wanted it to be. We had our growing pains and started off small and played college gigs in Athens to make money, and we wanted to take it further – to start writing and recording original music. Joe came on board about 2 ½ – 3 years ago with this new record. We have been touring the new record for a while now. It has been a wild ride.
MMN – You are all young and you still think it is fun.
Lullwater – Yeah, oh yeah.
MMN – When people have talked about Lullwater, they have talked about a grunge sound and you have said that is the music that you grew up on. It is easy to see where the grunge influence is in your music, but what nobody is talking about is the Southern influence. Tell me about that.
Brett – I think it is subconscious. Us growing up in the South, it just a natural influence. We all listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd growing up, and Marshall Tucker, and Drive by Truckers, which is one of our favorite Athens bands. It is not like we are trying to sound Southern, I think it just comes out naturally.
MMN – When I listened to your sound check, I could have sworn the guitar on “Oddline” sounded a lot like Drivin’ N Cryin’. Is that an influence?
JS – I loved Drivin’ N and Cryin’ growing up. I never really thought about it, but Drivin’ N Cryin’ make sense.
BS – I have been going to Drivin’ N Cryin’ shows since I was eleven.
MMN – The latest release, your self-titled album – I absolutely loved this release – talk to me about the album. How has it been received and what sort of success have you seen from it?
JS – It has taken us from figuring out who we were as a band and it solidified our sound and it brought us closer together as a touring band. It was because of that record that we were able to tour on it and we were able to grow together as musicians and really push the record nationally. For me, the most success is not really financial, which is what we are not seeing right now, obviously, but for me the success we have gained is the fan base.
Look at it from a different point of view, looking at rock differently, there have been some saying it has been grunge revivalist. We don’t really think that. We are not trying to bring back grunge. We are just trying put out our own take on an era that influenced us. I think we have successfully come together. People see that when they come to our live shows. They can tell we are having fun and they really get the sense that we are a genuine band and that this is a genuine album and the music we are playing is honest and raw and I think it translates.
MMN – Were any of the songs released as singles? I know you put out a few videos.
JS – We took a few songs off the record and a good friend of Ray’s is a journalism major and he did the video for “Tug of War.” It was awesome, and we had fun with it. Then we decided to do another video with our friend Jason Thrasher for “Albatross.” So I guess those would be considered the singles, but we like to push the record as a whole instead of just singles. We put the whole record on Spotify.
BS – We are definitely an album based band. We try to focus on the entire piece of work rather than thinking this one is going to be a single.
RB – You can think of it as though we think of all of our songs as singles in that we treat all of our songs as their own thing – they are unique and different to us.
MMN – Considering that we live in a digital age, do you feel pressure to think about singles? Did you have the discussion when you started this album?
BS – We just did it.
RB – People are either going to buy it or not.
JS – To me, that is what is discouraging. Artists take a lot of time analyzing the track order of an album. We had arguments about it. I remember driving in the van and we had a two hour conversation where we went through it. So for us, it was not what is the single? We didn’t care. We were just worried about not beating each other up trying to figure out what is track one and what is track twelve. We wanted it to have a flow. For me Pearl Jam 10 is like a story. You have to listen to that record from start to finish, and it takes you places.
BS – You said it best, there are people on the radio that you hear their one song you know who they are. But there are a small amount of people who could tell you five other songs by that artist. We are staying true to the body of work.
MMN – Makes sense, it creates a fan base with a depth.
BS – We grew up listening to jam bands, Grateful Dead, and they have hundreds of songs and their fans know all of their songs. They are not going to a live show to see just “A Touch of Grey” or “Friend of the Devil.” They are going to see them play a different show every single night. That is one thing about Pearl Jam – they play a different setlist every single night. You will never see the same show twice. We are very much into that. However, where we are at right now, we can’t do that.
JS – We have to build our catalog more to be able to do that. I love the fact that when you go see a band like Pearl Jam, when they change the setlist, they create an environment and atmosphere where the show is completely different. When you are Pearl Jam, you can do that. Eventually, we will get there. Coming back to your question, in the digital age it is something that is frustrating somewhat as you have to push singles. We don’t want to do that, but in this era we had “Albatross” as a video, so it had to be a single. “Tug of War” was a video, so it’s our single. We just don’t like looking at it that way.
MMN – The music industry has changed drastically over the years. If you look back to ‘91 when Pearl Jam released 10, the industry was album-driven, and it was very lucrative. If you look at the industry as it is today, the bands that are playing the large arenas are the country acts. The industry has changed, what was once rock dominated has now become dominated by country. Now, unless you are doing bro-country, you are relegated to playing clubs like this or 2,000 seat venues. So, knowing that tonight’s door is roughly 190 people at $12 a head, and there are three bands on the bill, four of you in this band, and five in Flyleaf, plus touring staff… So the real question is, you are out on the road and whatever money you do make from tonight is going to put gas in your van to make it to the next venue. I am assuming you all are full time musicians and this is your livelihood. How do you do it?
JS – You just have to love what you do. We did not get into music for the money. It is tough, man. It is grinding and grueling. You work 23 hours a day to get that one hour on stage. I think it is worth everything.
MMN – You have been on the road forever. Your publicist used the term “slogging it out” on the road so being out on tour with Flyleaf is a big step. How has that translated for you?
BS – It is what we want to continue to do for the next year or so to just build and build. All the crowds are rock-oriented crowds, but each one is so different. When we toured with Ra, those are some pretty heavy rock fans, metal heads. Then we did a tour with Passafire, which are reggae-pro-rock-oriented so we got to appeal to that crowd as well. It has been going really well and everyone has been really receptive.
JW – We have not gotten booed off the stage yet.
RB – We got New Yorkers to sing the other night
MMN – One of the things we like to get out to fans is what it means to be out on the road. We want the fans to know what it takes. How long are you out for?
JS – The last tour, the Ra / Passafire tour, we only had two days off in between those tours. They were both four-five week tours. It was like three weeks for one, two days off, and then another six weeks.
MMN – Two days is not even enough time to get laundry done.
JS- I think all I did was sleep.
JW – You sleep and try to eat some healthy food because you don’t get any while you are out.
RB – We played a show on our off day.
MMN – How much longer do you have on this run?
BS – November 7th is the last show.
MMN – Are you off for a while?
BS – We are going to be rehearsing and writing in December. Then we are going to try to do another album in January or February.
JS – Then we will be out on the road after that. Pretty much between the 9th of November and December we will spend with our families. Then right after that we will get into the writing mode and set everything up with our management to get a recording studio locked in for January. So hopefully, we will back on the road in January and the record will be in the works.
MMN – Are you going to try to go back to Seattle to record the next record?
JS – I don’t know, I don’t think so. We have been tossing around ideas. It was a time and a place and it was magic there for us. I don’t think we can get that same magic there again, and we should not try to.
BS – It would be forced if we did.
RB – No rehashing.
BS – Us going into a new environment allows more creativity. I think subconsciously if we went to Seattle we would be trying to recreate what we did. Now, going into a different environment will allow how we have evolved with our newer songs to shine through. We are definitely not going to do it in Athens or Savannah, we need to get away and isolate.
RB – When you are working with a new producer you are always on your toes.
JS – Yeah, they will ride you. If you are friends with someone, it will be more casual. But if not, they will ride your ass to make sure you get done what you need to get done.
MMN – I read that in a previous interview when you talked about Jonathan Plum. He didn’t give you any slack, but he gave you a lot of support.
BS – He rode us. There were days we would get into the studio at 10:00 a.m. and walk out at 4:00 in the morning and then we would get up and do it again.
MMN – You had said previously that you were in the studio for 14 hours a day for a month, what were you doing?
JS – Playing.
MMN – Now you had all the songs written, right?
BS – We did to an extent, there were a couple that were kinda loose-ended, and we knocked those out pretty quickly.
RB – We just did a lot of fine-tuning in the studio. I don’t think we wrote anything in the studio as a whole.
JS – The cool thing about Jonathan is he has such a dry personality. He is funny, you just never know when he is serious or being funny. I found it very confusing because he would ride me for 2 hours and then he would look at us and say, “Can you guys fuck off for a while?” He was saying this in the nicest way possible. He pretty much wanted us to go do something else and leave him alone. He made us better and tighter and more work-oriented. For us, we were kind of star struck, it was Pearl Jam 10, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and others we grew up on. So we walked in and it was Wayne’s World, ‘we are not worthy’ kind of thing. Then the hammer comes down and you have to deliver. That is how Jonathan made it happen.
MMN – A month in the studio is not cheap.
JS – We put up everything we had to make it happen. We certainly did not have a record label behind us at that point.
MMN – Are you looking for a label?
RB – Not really. If the right thing came along, we would entertain it.
BS – We would rather keep playing shows and building up the fan base from that. Kind of the grassroots thing we are doing now and getting better press outlets. You don’t really need that financial backing that a label has.
MMN – How important is your merchandise sales?
JS – It goes a long ways when our fans are able to come the show and purchase a cd or a shirt.
RB – We hang out there all night. We brought our merch with us on this tour, and for any current or foreseeable tour, it will be all us.
JS – We hang out and meet people. Those sales put money in the gas tank and food in our mouths during the off days.
MMN – In a previous interview, I believe you said that you found ‘your sound and purpose’ in that record with Jonathan Plum. Can you articulate what you meant?
JS – Our sound and our purpose came from the time spent working on that project. For us, as friends and musicians, we blended the two where it became a tightknit group of friends and musicians and we created our own sound. We could not get that sound in Athens. We could not get the rock sound we wanted with the Southern influence. It’s hard to get that rock sound that we wanted in Athens. There is too much Southern, too much twang, and too much indie. We had to get out of Athens but have our Athens roots and bring them somewhere else. We discovered our sound by taking the best records from my childhood that I idolized and putting our own spin on that sound. In my mind, and I think in the band’s mind, we created our own sound blending a Southern roots type band into a late 80’s, 90’s grunge era history and made something unique and original. Purpose? Yes. That record gave us hope again. This record was the first record that I was 100% satisfied with and excited about. Every other record or demo we did, it was not us. It was not what I heard in my head. Yet, when we went to Seattle, what we got was what I was hearing in my head.
RB- It was really like it was us against the world.
MMN – That is what I wondered. It sounds like you folks were saying you were kept in such a level of not being comfortable that you had to come together as a group and produce something.
RB – That has really been our history as a band, the trials and tribulations that we go through. Seattle was very much a pinnacle of us coming together.
JS – We have been struggling with that problem the entire history of this band. It has always been ‘you are too rock’ or ‘you are not rock enough’ or ‘you are not radio enough’ or ‘you are too mainstream sounding.’ We have heard it all. Athens is a very eclectic music town, but it is very much an indie rock town. If you come out too strong, and we are an aggressive, loud rock band, it is hard to break into. We were breaking into the Midwest before we were breaking into our hometowns. But now, we are breaking in to both hometowns.
MMN – Blackberry Smoke said the same thing, they could not get the time of day in their hometown but else where everyone loved them.
JS – It’s weird. You go to certain cities and it’s real indie hipster stuff, and then jam bands, bluegrass, Americana. There is really no solid rock scene that is consistent throughout the South.
MMN – So it seems to be more Midwest?
BS – Yes, the Midwest, they love rock.
MMN – Do you have anything written for the next album?
JS – Yeah, we do. We have some puzzle pieces that we are putting together. It’s coming together.
MMN – Do you have a direction for the next album?
Lullwater – Loud, aggressive rock.
JW – I think it will be a more consolidated sound even further than the last record.
RB – It will be much more fast-paced than the one you have.
BS – The album you have has a few fast songs and then slows down. The new one will be pretty much straight riff rock.
RB – The songs will be distinct, but less “lull.”
JS – It will be the same sound – we will always have that – just because we won’t be going to Seattle, it won’t matter. This next chapter is going to have our distinct sound. We have it now, he had to find it, but now that we have it, it won’t ever go away. It’s the four of us playing regardless of the studio we go to. We still want to do analog tape, we don’t want to lose that fat warmth.
MMN – So when you are recording, it is all four of you in the studio together playing. None of this recording your tracks at home and emailing them in?
JS – Yeah, that is how we are. Plus we mess up a lot, and if you put headphones on and listen to the last record you can hear parts bleeding into other parts.
BS – The basis of what you hear on that album is all of us together in the same room performing together.
JS – We didn’t want it to be perfect, it’s not us – we are a loud, obnoxious rock band, and we wanted that to come through on the record. We are all playing our parts but it’s organized-chaos-sloppy.
MMN – In an interview you said “I don’t want to do anything else,” and I was struck by that. I thought that was quite a sentiment in an age where the overriding message from the music industry is gloom and doom. How do you see the industry’s future? As indie artists you seem pumped that this is the road to go down.
RS – This is fun. You have to have the drive to challenge the status quo of everything. We are not trying to make a quick million bucks or overnight success. Finance for us is not the primary focus. We are looking at the bigger picture – to create a culture in the rock scene where people are engaged with it. If you look at the 70’s and that culture, and the 90’s with the grunge culture, it existed outside the music venue, there was a sense of community.
MMN – There was an identity that people took from the music. People found an identity in the music, is that what you mean?
JS – Absolutely. I think that will come back around and people will get fed up with all this radio bullshit. And they are. Everything is so force-fed. There will be some kind of music revolution.
I think us just doing what we love to do – and when you say you don’t want to do anything else – I just can’t see myself doing anything else. The thought of not being on the road, traveling, playing shows every night, spending times with my best friends and playing, writing and recording our music, everything that goes along with what we do… I would regret a lot of things. I don’t want to be an old man looking back saying man that was cool, I wish I would have done that.
MMN – You also said in an interview that if you could start over your music career that would you have done it differently. You responded, “I would have started pursuing a career in music earlier. With that being said, I try not to look at what I could have been but needs to be done.” What did you mean?
JS – I’m 31. It’s always the same thing… if I knew then what I knew now. I have always been passionate about music, I have always played music. It was not until my early twenties that I decided to do this. I should have done it when I was 16, 17, 18, but you can’t go back and making any changes then this would not be happening now. I would not be where I am at in my life now so I don’t want to second guess anything.
Do I struggle with things? Do I wrestle with our past as a band, our first formal years? Absolutely, I think we made a lot of mistakes. We were naive and we bought into a lot of bullshit. We struggled with who we were as a band and who we were as people. I think to an extent that it changed us for the better. Those events, especially the bad ones, made us better, made us more aware of what is happening around us and who we are today. I don’t think we could have been able to do the record the way we did it if we were not going through such hard times.
All of the songs on that record are genuine real emotion. Every topic we are talking about on that record was happening almost the same day. It was crazy. “Albatross.” All the issues that song represents and is talking about were happening to and from the studio – Brett and I were walking in the rain, it was December in Seattle, and we were getting calls from management that this happened… And then we would put it down on tape. “Albatross” vocals happened when I was extremely frustrated so that song, especially for me – I felt we just needed to put it out.
MMN – Final message for the fans?
Lullwater – Support live music. We realize without the fans we could not be doing this. Honestly, no one is supporting the bands anymore other than the fans.
Again, many thanks to the members of Lullwater for their candor and their time. We wish you all the best! Connect with Lullwater for news and tour dates at www.lullwatermusic.com, Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes.