is a band on fire!
What do the B52's, REM, The Black Crowes and Lullwater have in common? They're all great bands from Athens, Georgia, which is gradually becoming one of the top music cities in the United States.
Athens is dominated by a pervasive student culture and music scene, centered on downtown Athens, next to the University of Georgia's North Campus. The city is also known as a recording site for such groups as the Atlanta-based Indigo Girls.
On this night, I was fortunate enough to meet the lead vocalist of Lullwater, John Strickland, before their show with Sevendust, and Mark Tremonti at Revolution Live (concert review) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We sat inside the band's tour bus talking about Lullwater, their current tour, and plans for the future.
TRR: Hi, John. You guys are from Athens, Georgia, which is rapidly developing into a serious launching pad for many great bands. Are you a fan of the B52’s, Black Crowes or REM, all from Athens?
JS: Yah, I am. I'm a product of the 90's. You know, one of my favorite bands is also from Athens, the Drive-By Truckers. But it’s cool. Our drummer Joe is a massive Widespread Panic fan. They're originally from Athens, too. We’ve seen them so many times. In Athens, you’re in a cool music city with a lot of musical history. Especially in the late 80’s and 90’s.
TRR: Your new album, the first song, Curtain Call, very cool song. Great drums. There are a lot of cool rhythms on all the songs. On This Life, the drum intro, I thought I was listening to a remake of Wipeout. What’s your thought on that?
JS: Yes, with the drum roll. (laughing) Joe hates it because Jakob Herrmann, (the band's producer for this, their 3rd album), Voodoo and Joe had this thing. Jakob said, “Joe, do a drum roll, just kill it.” So, Joe hammered through it, but he was also sick that day. It took him a couple takes to get through it, and then he got some medicine, maybe some Mucinex, or whatever it is (laughing). But I love it. Every-time that song is played, I think it’s really cool. You wouldn’t think that’s how that song would start off, but it’s got a great dynamic to it.
TRR: I agree. I really works well. Who does most of the writing? Do all of you guys share in the writing?
JS: Musically, we’re all collective, we all write together. I may come up with a riff, and we’ll explore it from there in our practice space. Ray will sometimes come up with a Riff, and Binnie will throw a chorus on it. Binnie wrote some songs on this record. Then, I’ll come in and write lyrics and vocals, and do vocal melodies. We all respect each other and value each other as musicians, and we’ll ask, “How can we make it all better?” And then, we’ll bring these songs to the studio, and Jakob will probably shit all over it. (laughing). Just kidding. He was a huge help in all of it.
TRR: Who influences you guys - with respect to your writing?
JS: I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. The 90’s grunge scene was my thing. I’m a kid of the 90’s, and the 90’s grunge scene is a huge influence on my songwriting. I’d have to say Soundgarden, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam helped pave my way into music.
TRR: What artists do you look up to? I hear some Tremonti in your song Dark Divided. Is that someone you guys look up to?
JS: Oh, absolutely. Alter Bridge just kills. I’m a big fan of Alter Bridge and on this tour, Mark [Tremonti] is on it with us, and just to get to watch him every night, is really cool. He’s a shredder and he’s just doing his thing, he just kills it.
TRR: Your new album was produced by Jakob Herrmann, known for his work with Anthrax, Machinehead and Amaranthe. How did you guys hook up with him?
JS: We met him back in 2015 or 2016 on the Amaranthe tour. He had produced and engineered the Amaranthe records, and on that tour, we just bonded. A year later, he actually flew into Athens and surprised me there. My girlfriend and Jakob planned that, and surprised me. They coordinated this whole thing, and he said he wanted to do our next album, Voodoo.
TRR: On the new album, (which is great-by the way) I can definitely hear some of Jakob’s influence, especially with Daniel’s strong guitars and Joe’s machine- gun- drumming. Is that something that Jakob guided you guys toward, or did you all sit around and come up with a plan as a team?
JS: He and Justin Davis, who is our sound guy on this tour, worked together and helped produce the album. It wouldn’t be as big and produced if Jakob hadn’t come in and put his signature on it.
TRR: His signature is definitely on it. You recorded this album in New Orleans?
JS: Yeah, we recorded it all in New Orleans. In the French Quarter. That was a fun time.
TRR: Tell me about that. How was it hanging out in New Orleans when you weren’t busy recording?
JS: It was a love/hate relationship. I love that place. It’s so unique and diverse. Voodoo wouldn’t have been able to happen if it weren’t for that city. But, that place can tear you up, especially for a band like ours. (laughing) It’s like no other place in the world.
TRR: Man, that's the truth and if you enjoy getting out and getting into some trouble, that's a good place for it. In New Orleans, trouble can find you if you're not careful. (laughing)
JS: You're not kidding. (laughing)
TRR: You guys are now on your 3rd album?
JS: Yes, this is our 3rd album.
TRR: I listened to every song last night. In my opinion, there’s not a weak song in the mix, which says a lot about your songwriting and the production.
JS: Thank you. That means the world to me.
TRR: You're welcome. The songs are hard and heavy, but not overproduced. What’s your thought on that?
JS: You know, our last 2 records were done on analog tape.
TRR: Wow, you went old school, very Tom Scholz.
JS: Yeah, exactly. We always like having that raw, fat, organic sound, I guess. But for this album, Voodoo, we stepped our game up, went digital, and produced it, but were careful not to overproduce it. We always want to keep it so we can hear the human element, like there is with analog, where you can really hear the musicians playing their instruments. To be able to really connect with a rock record, you have to be, I feel, somewhere in-between analog and digital. You’ve got to feel the heart, and feel the music, and not have everything over-saturated on ProTools. Not so over-saturated to where it no longer captures the heart of the band.
TRR: Do you think you’d ever do analog again?
JS: (laughing) I don’t think we’ll do analog again, it’s a whole other monster.
TRR: Lots of splicing.
JS: (laughing) Yes, lots of splicing. It’s a nightmare, but, you know, we did it.
TRR: How do you feel this album is different than the first 2?
JS: This record seems to have shifted it up, it’s a bit more mature, more powerful, a little bit more produced, but we’re very happy with it.
TRR: What about album number 4? Have you written any material for that one yet?
JS: We actually have an acoustic record, just sitting there right now. There’s only one new song on that record. We recorded it in Athens, and we're just sitting on it for now, and it may be the next little thing we have.
TRR: Maybe a little Lullwater Unplugged.
JS: Yah, Unplugged! There you go.
TRR: I understand you and Matt from Blacktop Mojo are friends. They did a bunch of unplugged songs, and they sound great.
JS: I love Matt and those guys. Yeah, their unplugged songs are cool. We actually hung out with them in Houston.
TRR: Cool. Yeah, I interviewed Matt a while back, and he was really cool. I can see how you guys would hit it off.
JS: Yah, Matt’s the man!
TRR: But no plans in the works for Lullwater 4 just yet?
JS: Yah, as for the next Lullwater record, I have no idea right now. We have no idea what we’re gonna do yet.
TRR: How have your lives changed from the first album in 2012 to now?
JS: Well, we’ve toured a lot. You know, I think we’ve become a lot more focused. We were younger then, and really wanted to get that first record done. And then we pushed to get the 2nd record, and then the 3rd one. We learned a lot about, not just the band, but, a lot about the music business; the music industry, what to do, what not to do, and who to trust or not trust. That’s one of those things that's helped us….I mean, I know our shows are bigger. (laughing)
TRR: Is there anyone who really helped mentor you guys, or did you have to just learn a lot about the industry on your own?
JS: For us, we had to learn on our own. When it started, you know, we didn’t have a famous uncle at Atlantic, or something like that. But for me, I think Kevin Martin of Candlebox, when we toured with them, he really took us under his wing. He was super gracious and humble, and I think that everything he was telling me, I became like a sponge with him. I just listened and listened, and I really owe a lot to Kevin and Candlebox.
TRR: Where did you get the name Lullwater from?
JS: (laughing) A street sign in college.
TRR: Really? (laughing)
JS: Yep, that’s it. I wish it was something cool (laughing) but that’s it. And, I actually hate the band name. It can be a mouthful to say, especially at 2:30 in the morning, trying to explain or say the name to a bunch of wasted people (laughing). So, yeah, I wish the name was from something really cool or mysterious, but we were in college and me and our guitar player, Tom, and I were maybe really high, and he said, “How about Lullwater?”
TRR: You know, you’ve had the name for several years now, lots of people and fans know who you are, it works.
What’s on the table for the rest of 2019?
JS: Touring. That’s our biggest focus, and staying on the road, and meeting and reaching new fans. That’s how you sell records, and get new and loyal fans who will come back to other shows, so I think the touring will be the big focus.
TRR: So, are you planning big shows, smaller ones, or a little of both?
JS: Small, medium, large. The Sevendust tour, which we’re on right now, is definitely a big show. So we’ll be doing a bit of both.
TRR: Do you get to do a lot of Meet and Greets?
JS: Not so much. Most of those are done at our merch table! (laughing)
TRR: You heard it right there, people. Go see Lullwater at a show in your town, and meet John and the rest of the guys at the Merch table!
JS: That’s right! (laughing)
TRR: John, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you, and good luck on the rest of the tour.
JS: Thanks, Craig. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, too.
Craig Marks, Publisher
Tru Rock Revival Magazine
To catch up with John and the rest of the band, visit https://www.lullwatermusic.com/