I had a chance to talk with John Strickland, the lead singer of Lullwater, on the night of their set at The Tree in Joliet, IL. We discussed their latest album Revival, music and song writing influences, and who he feels should carry the torch as the savior of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He shared his thoughts on the impact of the music industry on bands today along with his feelings on success and more.
Listen to the entire John Strickland interview below:
Today I’m joined by John Strickland of Lullwater.
Hello, hello, hello.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
So, you released your second album, Revival, last October and it’s a really great album. To me, there’s a real-in-your face attitude about it. When I listen, I can’t help but feel there’s a lot of heavy emotion coming through each song. Especially compared to your first release, it’s seems a little darker, more aggressive lyrically. So I don’t know if you had more to get off your chest this time around?
I think so. It was very much of a, we’re always angry in a way of being able to express ourself. In rock ‘n’ roll for us, it’s therapeutic to be angry and to be able to get an outlet to say, “You know what? Let’s release the anger,” and we get to do that every time we record a record. This record, Revival, was I think the culmination of working hard, putting everything out on the line and also not necessarily receiving what we put out from the music industry and a lot of Revival was just angst, I feel like, and anxiety and being able to release all that and Revival to us was saying, “You know what? We’re going to go our own way. We’re going to make a record that doesn’t sound like everybody else. We’re going to do it on analog tape. We’re going to do seven minute songs,” you know, we’re going to do what we want to do. We’re not going to try and fit the radio format, we’re not going to, and we do have three minute and twenty second songs and things like that but for us it was freedom. In my opinion the best way to express yourself, truly, is to have total freedom. So, having total freedom means that we have a platform to be angry. So yes, it’s more of an angry record, but it’s a therapeutic record. It lets out a lot of the anger.
Which is good. Alright, so what you said just kind of leads into my next question. One of the longest songs on the album, Broken Wings, is really a key song for me personally. There’s some really great guitar work in there and because you guys did record to tape, one, was the jam section always intended or did it just happen and did you do it in one take?
We did not do it in one take, but we did most of it in one take. As far as the drums go, yes, and the bass lines, a lot of that was live and most of the record was live. Was it intended, you know…
It’s a pretty long jam section. Which is awesome.
It’s a long jam. It was, it was kind of like our engineer hit the play button, record, and we kind of went with it. There were some overdubs and guitar parts here and there but for the most part, I’m so glad you like Broken Wings. I’m so glad because it’s very raw and it’s real and it kind of captures our live sound. But yeah, I think, what was the question one more time that you asked at the very end about Broken Wings?
Did you intentionally mean for it to carry on that long?
Okay so, that’s an older song and I wrote that song a long, long, long time ago. The reason that song turned into an improve type jam was because of Joe [Wilson, drummer]. That song has been around for eight years or so. With our former drummer it was more of a structured song and Joe came in and it was just no holds barred. It was more of a, let’s see what we can do with this. Let’s have fun. It was more of that. Let’s improvise, let’s see where it goes. After touring on that song for a long time we were able to go to the studio and say, “Okay, remember that part we did in Seattle,” or whatever, so it came together from Joe. Joe is the reason that song is eight minutes long. (laughter)
Now, in a headline set, do you guys play that or is that reserved for special occasions?
For us, I mean it’s hard to do that as a direct support or even a one of three because it’s so long. We save that for headlining shows or like a club show in Athens or Savannah.
Alright, so you’ve cited Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters as some of your biggest influences. Growing up in southern Georgia, how did you discover those bands?
As an awkward middle school kid, being in the south, which everything was country and I love 90’s country and that was during the early 90’s. When I heard Pearl Jam Ten, that changed everything for me and it went from Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker and the southern rock I grew up in being from south Georgia, when I heard the Seattle sound, I dove into it head first. It changed me at 12, 13 years old. I remember hearing Smashing Pumpkins, like Cherub Rock and then you hear Nirvana and Soundgarden, so yeah, it definitely influenced me at a very early age because I was going through things in middle school, like most middle school kids go through, but the music from Seattle in the late 80’s to early 90’s, that’s something that I connected to wholeheartedly and it influenced me from day one and it continues to.
So would you say there is a conscious influence or do you think unconsciously those songs kind of work their way into your own songs?
You know, I’d like to say, when I’m writing that it’s subconscious, but it’s very much in the front of my mind. I still listen to it. So I would say it’s very conscious. I think when I write a song or write lyrics and things like that, I think that just because it was rooted when I was an adolescent it just doesn’t leave you. I think it just keeps coming out. I don’t think it will ever leave me at that point.
So are you the sole lyric writer?
Yeah. Mostly on the Self-Titled, Brett and I split some writing together but as far as lyrics go, on this new record, it’s mostly me. Our engineer and producer, we wrote some lyrics together and we had a good lyric session, writing session in the studio but yeah, for the most part it’s mostly me.
Is it mostly based on real life or do you have other outside influences, maybe you read a book or heard something on the news.
You know, it’s just easier for me to write about what I’m feeling. I’m more of an emotional writer, when I feel something I write a lot down at one point. I really kind of want to start branching out and writing different stories like Pearl Jam Jeremy, like that song, it’s just to me I feel more comfortable and more genuine when I’m writing about something I actually feel instead of something I’m just watching. Or a story behind the scenes, but you never know. (laughter) You never know.
Alright, so at the beginning of your video Vendetta Black, Ryan White spoke about Lullwater’s use of his song as a passing of the torch so to speak.
Did you like that video?
Yes. But he said he wanted Lullwater to be the savior of Rock ‘n’ Roll, saying that if anybody could do it, you guys could. One, did you accept the challenge and if so, how do you feel you’ve done over the past year?
It’s a tall order, you know, but I think we’ve always been like that. We’ve always been the underdog, we’ve always wanted to create something different and new and in today’s rock, we’re not necessarily popular. It’s not something that you’re going to turn on the radio and hear, “Oh yeah, that’s that Lullwater hit,” you know we’re not, we don’t claim to be. Not that we don’t want to be and not that we don’t care about radio and all that but it’s just something that’s never really worked out in our favor. So being the savior of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I don’t think any one person can be the savior of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I think it has to be a collective effort between musicians and rock bands that decide to say no. It’s like the Seattle scene, I always go back to Seattle, I know it’s probably aggravating but, you look at the hair metal days and you look at the southern California movement and Poison and all that and then you had this little Seattle and they changed everything and I think at some point something has to change. Something has to. You can’t just talk about going to strip clubs and getting hammered all the time for rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t mean anything. For us to say, to be the savior of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I don’t think we are. I think that it’s going to take more than just us to be on board with changing the way rock is, you know, but it’s kind of a fun challenge. (laughter)
Do you think it’s so much the music as it is the industry?
I think a lot of it has to do with the industry. I do. I think a lot of it has to do with the perception of what sells and the way that the industry says, “Let’s squeeze as much out of these bands as we can.” You look at 2001, 2002, there was a sh*t-ton of rock bands and they all sounded very similar and they’re all like, “Let’s pick and choose.” What happens, well the industry is no longer as profitable with rock so you know, I don’t know. I think it’s, to me, I think it’s mostly industry but the beauty of the internet is that a lot rock bands can put their stuff out there and promote it on their own and it creates more of an independent sub-culture, I think with rock bands, when rock bands are doing it on their own, they have more control. They have more, you know they’re not having “the man” telling them how to write their songs, they’re not telling them how to promote their songs or the hook needs to be here or it should sound like this band. I think that’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s also a hindrance to bands because a lot of people don’t know that the bands that struggle, it’s a business. It is very much a business and you have to run your business in a way that you’re successful so you can write more music and you can record more music. The answer to that question, I think a lot of it is more label based, I think so.
Alright, so with the many ups and downs of the industry, how do you define success?
I’m talking to you right now about a record. (laughter) I mean, that’s successful to me. The fact that we’re hanging out next to a bathroom, underneath Joliet (laughter), where can we talk? I’m having a great time and I think success is not financial because a lot of things can be done for monetary value but when you start looking at gauging success monetarily I think you lose sight of everything you thought you could be, or you know, I don’t know. I could never look at my 12 year old self that was in the basement or in the pool room listening to music, and loving music, that’s the reason we’re all in this. We’re all fans to begin with. Success is going to a show and having a person come up to you and genuinely say, “I had the worst day of my life and I came and saw your show and I am perfect now.” That’s the best feeling of all time. That’s success. Making other people feel the way you feel about music.
Well good. Alright, so I have a few rapid fire type questions. Another artist you’d like to collaborate with?
Who I would like to collaborate or who I do collaborate with?
No, who you would like to.
Oh man. Eddie Vedder.
Okay. A song you’d like to cover?
(pause) I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen.
Favorite new band?
Favorite new band.
Or maybe new to you.
New to me, oh man, I love Monster Truck. Love ‘em. I cannot wait for their new record to come out. I f–cking love that band.
One thing on your bucket list?
One thing on my bucket list, to go to Ireland with my Dad.
Favorite local food joint in Athens, GA?
Oh my God. Okay. That’s a hard one. Teresa, come on, now. Have you been Athens? You should go to Athens.
Savannah is good too though. Brett and Joe are from Savannah. Favorite food joint. Copper Creek.
What kind of place is that?
It’s like a gastro pub type, craft beers for days. They brew their own, like a microbrewery, but they have great wings on Thursdays. It’s like fifty-five cents. It’s great.
What is the hidden track at the end of the Self-Titled release?
It’s called Lonesome.
Is it an original?
Alright, so you’re basically at the end of this run of dates. What’s next for you guys?
We are going back to Athens. We’re going to re-group and do some writing and then I think we have a really good tour coming up. I got an email the other day so hopefully we can announce that soon, in March. March to April, so it might be a seven week tour. I can’t say yet.
Nice. Well cool. Well thank you for taking the time to speak to me. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much. Right on.