Lullwater
March 2019 interview by Todd Jolicoeur, photos by Mintypics

According to a recent press release: "Athens, GA based alternative rock band LULLWATER has released their hotly anticipated new LP, Voodoo. For more than a decade, alt rockers Lullwater have been blazing their way to the top of the industry thanks to their gritty, Southern-infused sound and straight-up, raw performances. Voodoo, their latest effort and arguably their best work to date, was recorded at the end of 2017 in New Orleans at Marigny Studios by Swedish producer and engineer Jakob Herrmann, co-produced/engineered by Justin Davis, and mixed by Jakob Herrmann at top floor studios; this record promises an even bigger, more explosive sound that will shake you to your core." We get front man John Strickland to discuss new music, touring, and much more...

Toddstar: John, thank you so much for taking time out. We appreciate it.

John: Absolutely, man. Absolutely. It's always a pleasure talking to you, man.

Toddstar: It was a lot of fun the other night catching up after the second of two sold out shows at The Machine Shop. And we'll get to that. But let's talk about the fun stuff. Voodoo, we talked about it briefly the other night. The thing hasn't left my car since I left the show. Luckily, I've got a stream on my computer I can listen to. What can you tell us about the new album that fans aren't going to get the first, or second time they listen through?

John: For us there's just so much love, and pain, and sweat, and tears that went into that record. Yeah, I think people, if they listen to it a couple times, and get the vibe of the record, they're going to hear New Orleans. They're going to get that French Quarter vibe from Voodoo that is just ... it's seeping into the record. I mean, you can kind of hear that New Orleans sound. It's throughout the record.

Toddstar: Definitely. I like the fact that you guys kind of stuck true to who you guys were, going back to 2013, your debut release, yet you guys really kind of expanded, and modernized the sound a little bit.

John: Yeah, yeah. We got Jakob Herrmann, and Justin Davis to do the record. And it's a little bit more polished. It's a little bit more mature. But yeah, it's still us. It's still our sound for sure. But it's a little bit more produced. It's a little bigger. And we've got strings, and keys, and horns, and stuff like that. So, it's a little bit more of a mature record.

Toddstar: It's more mature. Going through these songs, what songs do you find you're getting the best feedback from your fans on? I've got my own personal favorites, but they seem to shift around which one I like the best at any given moment.

John: That's a good problem to have. Well, we've been playing "Dark Divided" live. We've been playing "Empty Chamber," and "Godlike." And I think honestly between "Dark Divided" and "Godlike," people are really digging those two. And people are loving "Empty Chamber," the single that came off the record. So, I think a lot of people... it just came out, I think from what we're seeing on social media, a lot of people are just kind of exploring the record. But I do think those three are for sure the songs that people are really digging.

Toddstar: Well, the album comes at you from the get-go with "Curtain Call," and moves through like you said, "Dark Divided," "Empty Chamber." But then you hit what I think is the best one-two punch on the album, just because they're sonically a little different, that they fit together with, "Similar Skin," and "This Life." I couldn't get enough of "Similar Skin."

John: Ah, yeah. Yeah, it's groovy for sure.

Toddstar: At the end of the album you've got an opus, which is one of my favorites, "Suffer Not." It clocks in around ten minutes long, maybe a little more. How did you guys come up with the idea for that song? It's just got some cool ebb and flow. And it's got some time changes in it near the end. How did you guys come up with that whole deal?

John: You know, "Suffer Not" is my favorite song on the record too. That is by far... I love all the songs on the record, I think they're catchy and they're powerful songs. But by far my favorite is "Suffer Not" as well. Ray wrote the music for "Suffer Not," and I wrote the lyrics. But yeah that's kind of Ray's baby. On every record that we do, we always like to experiment on the last song. "Hello," from the first record, "Ruin the Roses," from the second, and then "Suffer Not," which we like to go into a jam mode, and we like to just experiment and say, "Look, let's do a 12-minute song, or a 10-minute song just to be creative." And "Suffer Not" is one of those songs... It's kind of a concept song. It's conceptual for the whole record. It sums up the vibe of the entire record. So, I'm glad you dig that one too because I think either people really like it, or they don't get it. It's one of the two.

Toddstar: Unfortunately, I think because some people just have that short attention span, that I think they'll see ten minutes, and might not even give it a chance. That's the hard part.

John: Oh, yeah. And I think if you can get through the ten minutes, a listener might go and do it once, and that might be it. But yeah, the ten minutes, it can be grueling. It gets a little chaotic in the end. And the cool thing about "Suffer Not" is that Jacob Herman was like, "Look, this is a weird one, so everybody gets one take." That song was one take from everybody in the band. Even the horns, the strings, the guitar solos, the vocals. Everything was one take.

Toddstar: Wow, that's awesome. Looking over these songs - again you guys are just starting to road test like you said, "Dark Divided," "Empty Chamber," and "Godlike" - what songs off this album do you think will hold up best in your live set, against stuff from your first couple releases?

John: You know, I think it's fun opening with "Dark Divided." We've been doing that every show. So, I think from that record, I think "Dark Divided." I absolutely think "Godlike" is going to be one of those mainstays. And when we're able to do a headlining show, or we're able to do a set that's like an hour long, we're going to be able to really play a lot of the record. Instead of just our 30-minute sets we've been having with Sevendust. But I'm looking forward to playing "Buzzards" live too. That's one that we have a lot of fun with.

Toddstar: That's a good one. Another one that kind of jumps in and out of my top three every time I listen it to it does. What song from this album, John, really kind of fought you? What was the hardest one to put the lyrics down for?

John: Well, I would say it would be "Fight of Your Life." That song, I wrote that song for my nephew who went through a brain tumor. He went through cancer. And that song's for him. And I think as far as the most emotional song, and the most attached to a song that I am to is going to be "Fight of Your Life" for sure.

Toddstar: What's it like for you as an artist to pour your heart and soul into something personal, knowing that it's just going to be consumed by the masses?

John: It's relatively easy because music and writing has always been kind of an outlet. It's always been an outlet for me, where I'm writing for myself, and I'm writing as a therapeutic way of releasing any kind of anxiety or anything that's weighing on me heavily emotionally, it's always easier for me to write it down, and to put it into a song. But I heard people connect to that. And I think for me it's very genuine. It's very honest. There‚Äôre no pretenses to it. I'm not writing a song to be, "Hey, let's be a radio hit. Or let's be catchy, or let's do this. Or let's write a song for a certain way." It's all genuine, and it's very real. So, I hope that when people hear that, they connect to it. And if they don't, then that's okay too.

Toddstar: Fair enough. We kind of started this conversation, because you and I, we caught up the other night at a live show. What's it like for you guys when you're playing these smaller places, you're not doing an arena tour. But you play a place near and dear to my heart, and I know you're a fan as well of The Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan.

John: Yeah, I love the Machine Shop, man. We've always been a huge fan of not just the venue, but what it stands for, and the community, and how everyone rallies around The Machine Shop. And just again the community there. It's so real, and it's powerful. And it's great. But I love playing small shows, man. We've done arenas. We've done big shows at big theaters, but honestly my favorite shows are the 300, 400 cap rooms, that you just interact with the crowd, and you can see the energy, you can feel the energy. And it's right in your face, you know? You're not on a stage that's 20 feet away. The guard rail, and the barrier, and you're kind of disconnected from everybody. So, yeah, man, I love small shows.

Toddstar: Well, you've got something like The Machine Shop, where the crowd, is close. Not necessarily at The Machine Shop, but at a smaller cap room, what's the oddest thing you've seen from the stage?

John: You know, people like to get wasted at rock shows. So, I've seen some crazy stuff with people getting too wasted. If you're rocking out, and you've got like 100 people just in it, and they're jamming out. And then you've got this one guy that's just blackout. And he's passed out on the floor, that's always kind of weird. I'm like, "You paid your ticket, man. Hold your shit together until the shows over kind of deal." But yeah that's probably the weirdest, when you just someone wasted, they're kind of passed out on the floor in a small club. You're like, "Damn, son. Get a hold."

Toddstar: What's next for you guys? The album just dropped, and you've released the first single. You're out playing dates with Tremonti, and Sevendust out there. What for you is the next thing? What are you guys looking to do next?

John: Well, I know that our team, management, booking, and all those guys that are helping us continue touring. We kind of set a goal for at least 125 shows this year. We do have an acoustic record that we did last year in October / November that's kind of on ice. So, we're going to be releasing that probably in May. But as far as that goes, man, I would say we're going to be on the road constantly this year.

Toddstar: That's awesome. It's good for the fans, and it's good for everybody who's not familiar with you guys yet. You talk about an acoustic album, and again I've known the band for a while. I know you guys kind of come from that 90's, the Pearl Jam groove and feel. You guys put out your own cover of "Release." What was it about that song, that made you guys want to just kind of put your own stamp on it?

John: You know, "Release" is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. I'm a big Pearl Jam fan. And we recorded "Release" like three years ago. We had a day off, and we were close to the guys from London Bridge Studio. And we went in for three days, and said, "You know what, let's do a Pearl Jam cover. Pearl Jam Ten, the original record, was recorded in the same room. So, for us it was just like let's add our own kind of vibe to this song. And it's always been one of my favorites. So, I think it was fitting for us to be in Seattle, and be in London Bridge, to say, "Let's do a Pearl Jam cover."

Toddstar: What's it like for you when you get a fan who's a little starstruck, and maybe just doesn't even know how to approach you?

John: That's always kind of weird for me. We never really look at ourselves as anything other than just music fans, and just being in a band. And it's a little weird, you know? But we appreciate it. I think it's really endearing when a fan comes up, and they're just like, "Oh, my god. I love your music so much." Because I do the same thing, you know? When we toured with Candlebox, I was the same... I fan-girled out so hard when I first met those guys. It's one of those things where it is a little weird for us now that we're getting that. We're getting die-hard fans coming up, and you can tell they're nervous. We're just normal dudes. Normal guys that play music. And we're all kind of in this together. I think everybody is a music fan to begin with. So, it is endearing, and we do appreciate it. But yeah, it's kind of weird to me.

Toddstar: Well, you kind of led into it, and that is the other side of my question is, when is the last time you were starstruck? Was it meeting the guys from Candlebox?

John: The last time I was starstruck was when I saw Tremonti. And I think I still am. I've been hanging out with him every couple days on the road. And their team is great. It was cool when we came in, and we met the Sevendust guys, and the Tremonti guys. I've been a fan of Mark for a long, long time. And his work is amazing. So, I think the last time I was starstruck was probably six weeks ago.

Toddstar: It's hard not to be starstruck by a guy like that.

John: Well, he's the nicest guy in the world. I mean, he is a super, super awesome dude.

Toddstar: Well, you've got that Southern humble about you that makes you accessible to everybody around you, which is cool.

John: Right on, man. Appreciate that.

Toddstar: That said, you guys are committed to 125 dates. What's it like for you guys to be away from home for that long?

John: It is kind of like circus. It's a different mindset. It's a different mentality where we have loved ones at home. We have girlfriends, and dogs, and a life in Athens. So, when we leave for this long, it's hard. But we've been doing it for so long, that it's just kind of second nature, to where everyone kind of gets in that tour mentality, and gets ready to work, and to get out and play shows. But yeah, it's tough. I think after about a month is when it starts kind of creeping in, and everybody gets homesick. But we love tour, man. I mean, this band has always been excited about tour. And we know how crazy it's going to be. But also meeting new people, and playing new shows, and seeing the different parts of the country that we've never seen. So, it's kind of a double-edged sword. I mean, you're going to miss your home, and you're going to be homesick, but at the same time you're out doing what you love.

Toddstar: What's the one thing you never forget to take when you leave?

John: Ah. You know, I never forget to take a Neti Pot. I call it a nose douche. That's my go-to. I always have to have that with me, so I don't get sick, right? Which I totally did. I have no idea what happened. I think everybody got a tour funk, and my Neti Pot didn't save me on this last run.

Toddstar: Well, I can't tell you enough - I told you way back in 2014 when we did our first interview and I'll tell you in 2024 when we do another one, I don't want to wait that long to do the next one - I love what you guys do. I love that you stay true to who you are.

John: Absolutely, man. And that means the world to us, Todd. And we appreciate that. Hopefully 2024, we'll be at a different plateau or a different playing field. But I appreciate you taking the time doing interviews and having chats with me, man. I do appreciate it.

Toddstar: Safe travels John. Go get yourself better. And have a good time in Chicago.

John: Sounds good, bud. Thank you so much.

Toddstar: All right, brother. Well I'll talk to you soon.

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