On an overcast and drizzly day in Athens, Georgia, John Strickland of Lullwater says hello with a certain punch in his voice. “I’m just taking a quick break and enjoying the rain,” he laughs. The Athens, Georgia homegrown band formed in 2007 when John Strickland (lead vocals / rhythm guitar), Brett Strickland (lead guitar), Roy “Ray” Beatty (bass) and Joe Wilson (drums) met through mutual friends in the fertile Athens music scene.
Athens has brought forth some incredible bands over the years with REM, B52’s, The Drive By Truckers, Dead Confederate, and Danger Mouse just to name a few. The beginning of this band can be seen as any typical band, but still has a great evolution to it. They started in a damp, mildew ridden basement off Lullwater Drive in Athens. “It was rough man, but it was the only place we had to play. We started off with us just messing around and jamming a little bit, trying to get to know each other. I met Brett through a mutual friend who told me about him hosting an open mic night at this small bar called DT’s Down Under. We went down to the bar that night and he was playing some acoustic guitar and doing some cool looping stuff. We instantly clicked and it was a really cool meeting. It was a bit surreal, as I actually had my own acoustic show that night and asked him immediately if he wanted to earn some extra cash and jam with me. Brett packed his gear, went to the show, we played that night and have been playing together ever since.” The University of Georgia Bulldog town has numerous bars and venues for bands to play and express themselves as Strickland explains, “We had bills and rent to pay so we basically just started out playing around Athens in college bars to make money and figure out what we were doing. The early days of Lullwater were definitely experimental,” he says with a hearty laugh. “We had so many member changes. We were going through bass players left and right and playing college parties to make some money. We were getting tired of it and decided to do original music and that’s when the money stopped. That’s when we decided we needed to hone our craft and get to the basics of what Lullwater was all about.”
Being called Grunge Rock, Alternative Rock mixed with some good ole Southern Blues, Strickland has a different feel. “Yea I’ve read that label a few times saying we are Southern Blues. If someone feels we have a Southern Blues feel, then to each his own I guess. I don’t feel we have that but being tagged with a label is just a label. We are from the South but our sound is our own. Athens offers so much music. It’s such a diverse scene; you can go from a Tuesday night seeing a Folk band to the next night seeing a trance like type of Groove band. There’s so much this town offered and we wanted to be a part of the Athens scene as far as that goes. However, it really didn’t start and fall into place until we got to Seattle. That’s when we got ‘our sound’.
Seattle was the home of London Bridge Studios where Strickland had a shared conviction with the group as a whole to venture across the country to be able to record there. “The Seattle area was a huge dream for me. To be able to record in the same studio as my idols was amazing. I am a huge Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden fan. Up to that point we had only been experimenting with our sound and it just didn’t gel until we got to Seattle as far as getting the sound we really wanted. In my mind we had that certain sound but we just couldn’t get it. It was a frustrating thing to know how the songs were supposed to sound but never be able to really connect with it and have it sound the way we wanted. Once we locked in on the same focus we sent demo recordings to Producer Jonathan Plum with London Bridge Studios. He liked what he heard and said he could definitely work with us so we signed on.” The four packed up and pooled their resources and literally uprooted their entire lives and trekked across America to relocate in December, 2011. “When we got there I guess you could say we got the Seattle treatment and were able to sit down to put our heart into the rock songs and figure out our identity there. One reason I feel we also found our sound, we did have Jonathan working with us. It was an exciting transition that had my inner adolescence freaking out. It was like a ‘Wayne’s World’ walking into the recording studio where the records I grew up on had been recorded. Yet it was a really good fit for us at the time and everyone was wonderful.” Strickland laughingly remembers getting to Seattle in the winter. “I always wanted to go in the winter time to experience then entire Seattle environment and have it carry over into the studio so we would have that feel. Well, we did. We went in December and it was so cold, wet and miserable. I was like shit man this is awful! We would walk a mile in the rain everyday to the studio and I was like ‘this is what you wanted John, you dumbass’ but it was still all worth it. We lived in an extended stay about a mile from the studio and we walked in this miserable cold wet misting rain every day; all day it would rain. But to bust our ass for 12 and 14 hours a day in the studio for a month was nothing I would trade anything for. It was such a magical time for us as a band to be able to bond and put everything we had into that record.”
After recording, they headed home to Athens just before Christmas and ventured out touring with their former drummer to finish the tour schedule in January of 2012. Completing the tour, they returned home once again to join with new drummer Joe and hit the road in support of the new album. “I have to say 2012 was non-stop! It was a great time, but still pretty weird at the same time. We were still going through member changes, with our former drummer and great friend pursuing a career as a chef, we now had the four members that hit the road touring to promote the album as best we could. Being in a rock band with a new album and not being on the road is something you definitely do not want. You have to tour,” he states. The self titled album was recorded in 2011 and may be old news to the band, but to the new fans, it’s all brand new. “We have been touring extensively again this year. You know it may be old to us, but for everyone else, the album is new. We’re working on some fall dates with management and PR right now and should have some news soon with more tour dates. Last March we did a small national tour where we were on the road for five weeks I believe. We ventured into the Midwest, Seattle, Salt Lake and down into California.” Being focused on the East Coast, moving up north into the Great Lakes and South into Florida, Strickland says he hopes to head toward the West Coast again soon. “I would love to play out west again and as for Vegas, hmmm. That would be an awesome but could be a very dangerous place for us to play,” he says laughing. “We’re definitely gamblers! We’d have to just play the show and leave.”
Tug of War and Blind are the first two songs to be released from the self titled album from Lullwater which have had an amazing response from fans. “Yea, our established fan base has made a statement loud and clear; they are loving it. We’re extremely pleased with the album and we want people to relate to the songs and connect to them. If they get something emotional from the music then we did what we set out to do.” As a group they continue not only to perform but also come together to write. “Our writing is clearly a collaborative effort. It all happens in different way on different days. Sometime I will come up with a riff, feel or a foundation of a song and bring it to the band, but once it comes to rehearsal the entire thing could change. Little parts could change here and there when we all get together. Especially if we’re all in a certain mood, lyrics could spontaneously change depending on how we feel at the moment to make the song more genuine. That’s when the magic happens when everyone brings something to the song and everyone puts their own stamp on a song. Without the four of us doing so, I feel the music wouldn’t be as meaningful and unique. Brett and I have similar styles but yet they are different in their own right. He grew up on The Grateful Dead and is a huge Wide Spread Panic fan and Jimmy Herring is one of his guitar idols. So Brett comes in with his own style and puts a different sensibility to a song just because he can bring a different style of guitar playing to the table. Same with Ray; the song New Design, Ray pretty much wrote that entire song musically and I wrote the lyrics, and yet I may have made a few changes here and there, it’s still a collaborative effort.” The 13 track album has intensity and a fierceness that can be well heard and seen. Strickland and his band mates are well aware of their energy. “That’s one thing I think we’re proud of. It’s harder to have that in today’s rock scene; it’s a blessing and a curse because we don’t fit in. We’ve been told over and over again that we’re really good, but we just don’t fit into any genre. We’re too rock for the indie scene, we’re not hard enough for the hard rock scene, we don’t fit into the radio market; so we said screw it and we’ll just be us and we have embraced the fact that we sound different and we value that as a band. The album has a lot of heart and feeling. A lot of the events that were happening in our lives were happening in the moment while we were in Seattle. The pressures and the anxieties of daily life, the music business and even just the stress of us not having our own sound and being frustrated of not fitting in anywhere. The emotions were coming through during recording. In fact the day of recording Albatross vocals, there was an event that occurred. Tim, our manager had given me some really aggravating news that day. Those recordings were genuine and honest and as a vocalist it’s hard to get back to the emotions of the day your originally wrote the song, but with Albatross it was so easy because I was already pissed.” Lullwater as a band is a force to be reckoned with. Rock, emotions, fierceness and attitude is delivered by this Athens, Georgia foursome. Don’t let the name fool you!