Interview with Athens, GA Rock band Lullwater while on tour with Passafire
HHM: This is pretty interesting tour package, are you finding that you guys are getting to play in front of a group of people that you might not normally get to play for?
John: Yeah, it’s been a diverse crowd. We were a little apprehensive coming into the tour, ya know we’re a loud rock band, we didn’t know how the people and the fans were going to react to the show but it’s been awesome. It’s really cool to see a guy with a shitload of dreadlocks come up to you and just rock out with you. That’s what I’m talking about. I think our music has blended well with Passafire and we appreciate those guys having us out. It was kind of a risk for them, cause they didn’t know if our style of music would go over well. Everything has been fun. It’s been awesome. Good crowds, good venues. We’re definitely happy.
HHM: Back to the beginnings, when you first started the band, was it the intention to take it where it is today or was it sort of ‘let’s jam” and you realized you had something?
John: I know I wanted to take it where it is today, but where we were when we first started was, “let’s jam” and have a good time. We started playing in college bars making money, playing covers and playing acoustic gigs together. We started getting serious, it wasn’t long once we started the band when we started getting original songs down and all that good stuff. We wanted to play original music but at the time, we were broke, we wanted to jam, play at college bars and pay our rent.
Brett: That’s where the money is.
HHM: I know, why is that? Cover bands make so much money.
John: They bank. We definitely went from making a lot of money playing four or five nights a week in Athens bars to doing original shows for next to no money.
Brett: For maybe 10 bucks. In front of four people. We’ve literally had bar owners come up to us and hand us 3 dollars before.
John: You might as well keep that, cause we’re gonna go right back to the bar and spend that and another 50 dollars. We actually paid you guys to play, ya know.
HHM: You guys have one of the most interesting and insightful bios I think I have ever read and I have read hundreds. Who wrote your bio?
John: Our manager and our publicist. We just sat down with them and laid out the history of the band. Our publicist got to know us really well over several months and then he said ‘let’s update the bio” from what we had. We originally had like ‘We like cool stuff, we play music”, so Steve kinda put the finishing touches on that.
HHM: It’s nice. Most of them are garbage and when you read them you realize they were written three tours ago and you’ve done seven albums since then.
John: Yeah, it’s time to update.
HHM: That was a bold move, heading up to the Northwest to record. Did you just go up to record or did you stay awhile to soak it in?
John: We just went up there to record. Seattle is that mythical place that all those bands of the late eighties/early nineties hard rock grunge scene that we love and admire. That was the main reason why we went there. The catalog and the history. Once we got there, it was just fucking awesome. It was more than we had hoped for.
Brett: That and to isolate ourselves. To be far enough away so we could focus on that all day. We’d get to the studio at ten in the morning, sometimes earlier, and not leave there ‘til four or five in the morning. Every single day for almost a month.
HHM: So you guys went in on one shot and didn’t break it up.
John: We were at an extended stay right down the street and we lived there. We lived in the hotel and walked to and from the studio every single day.
HHM: That’s what amazes me about the Pop scene. Rock, punk etc bands, when they hit the studio, they are there to work. Pop stuff, they go to the studio, do two tracks every six months. Next thing you know they have a full length out that’s been co-written by seventeen different people and recorded at 4 different studios. I never understood how they keep a record cohesive that way.
Joe: You can’t. They’re in a singles mind frame. They put out singles, release them on iTunes and that’s how they do things. We respect the start to finish experience of an album. We’re definitely record people.
HHM: Did you guys notice a different up there from Athens?
Band: Oh yeah, totally.
HHM: I’m sure you guys got to go out and fuck with the town while you were up there.
John: We definitely fucked with the town. It is a great town to fuck with. All those areas are still hopping with live music. There is still a very vibrant music scene up in Seattle.
HHM: They should use that. “It’s a great town to fuck with”
John: (laughs) it was different, the recording process in Athens, we’ve done demos and EPs and a record I guess. The scene is just way different. We were able to really soak up the culture in Seattle. We were there to work and get as much in as we possibly could and a lot of things happened while we were in Seattle. We lost our former drummer there, in Seattle.
HHM: Well, that had to suck.
John: It was not a fun experience. It was something that needed to happen. He decided that he needed to follow other passions.
HHM: Was that before or after he tracked?
Brett: That was after a few tracks. We scratched them.
John: We had to go a different route.
Brett: and now we have Joe.
John: Yeah, Joe came in and he’s a fucking animal. It was the best thing that we could have done. It worked out for the best, we’re still really good friends with our old drummer. We learned a lot about ourselves, we learned a lot about the band and the music we were making. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
HHM: I’ve got to say, the recording to tape thing was a stroke of genius. I’ve been listening to your stuff, it’s so alive, there’s a lot to it and I feel like I’m there. I’ve been around the studio a lot and know how it all works.
Brett: That was the vibe we wanted to create. You hear the human quality. If you listen to it with headphones, you can hear bleeding from other instruments, if someone didn’t hit a note correctly, there little subtle things like that. It’s not perfect and it really made it a real record. It’s perfect for us. We’re not trying to have this flawless product that’s not us.
John: That’s not rock ‘n roll to us. The record is so special to us, it was done on analog tapes, it’s got that warmth to it. That full sound. It’s also because of the recording process. We got to do it live. Like Brett said, if you put on headphones, you can hear those nuances, the crackles here and there, the other guitars bleeding in. It sounds like a live rock record because it was done live. London Bridge’s drum room is legendary. It’s got that big boomy drum room. It was really exhilarating for us, it’s like we got to play those songs for the first time. We’ve been playing those songs for a while, an extended period of time. We got to go into the studio and play in that room, it sounds huge. It came off like that. What we were hearing in that room is what the record captured.
HHM: Were surprised when you got the masters back on how good it really sounded?
Brett: Yeah, the masters were bad ass. We were in the hotel and I got the final mix. Everyone was still sleeping, I downloaded it and burned it. As soon as we got in the car that’s all we listened to, all day every day for like two weeks straight.
John: It was crazy to hear that record. We were able to do this…and it sounded great. Once the masters came out we were all pumped, like Brett was saying, we were jamming it. We were proud of it. We worked fourteen hours a day for a month straight. It was the first record that we have ever done as a band that we were proud of. That captured our sound, what we were going for, it exceeded our expectations of what we wanted to accomplish. That’s what was so fulfilling.
HHM: Do you think it’s harder recording with that process?
John: It was, but we deserve it. We had to earn it. We had to earn that sound. Just the fact of going to London Bridge, we had to earn that. We weren’t ready to do that before Seattle. We put songs, records, but the members weren’t right. This right here, this is was Lullwater was supposed to be and has been working to get to. I wish we had all been together in the beginning. I hope we would have been a lot further along than we are now, because we would have had our shit together. BUT, you can’t look back and say shoulda coulda woulda because the timing wasn’t right. We weren’t ready to go to Seattle until December 2011. We did, we had a great time and we are very proud of that new record.
HHM: For those that don’t know of London Bridge Studios, what were some of the major reasons you decided to go there?
John/Brett: Pearl Jam 10.
John: For me that was the biggest reason. That we all knew that Lullwater had a Nineties influenced sound but we weren’t able to get that sound anywhere else. It was logical thing for us. “let’s go to Seattle, let’s go where all those bands came form” but put a Lullwater twist on it. Put our own southern spin on that sound. Create something that is new. To get back to your question though, yeah, Pearl Jam Ten was the thing. Once we saw that, then the catalog, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, it was crazy. Being a kid of the nineties and being a fan of all that music growing up, it was like Wayne’s World ‘I’m not worthy.” That’s how I felt. Then it was like…”we gotta work”, it was overwhelming to be in there, being star struck, “oh fuck, we’re in London Bridge Studio,” then the reality sets in that we had a month and Jonathan Plum has a very distinct way of saying “get your fucking shit together, we’re about to work.” He’s awesome, so much respect for that guys. We love him to death, we’re all close with Jonathan as friends, but when it’s time work, he works your ass off. We needed that. We definitely needed that. The environment outside was not paradise. It was Seattle in Winter which was rainy, cold and wet. Getting back to the record, that made the record sound the way it did. We were walking in the rain to and from every day and it definitely comes through on the record. We were in a bad place, dealing with some bad people in the industry. We were going through some relationship problems, I know I was. It’s hard not to let all of that affect the record.
HHM: You guys should have written a country record….
Band: (laughs) totally
HHM: I was perusing London Bridge’s website, checking out the photos and was digging what I was seeing. And it’s got a Neve console, that’s ALWAYS a plus. What was it like working with Jonathan Plum every day?
John: It was very….it was a lot of work. He is a working engineer/producer. He works the band to get the sound. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to that. He was awesome to work with, but he would tell you to fuck off in a heartbeat. If you’re dicking around too much, he’s like “get outta here, quit wasting my fucking time.” At the same time, when he gives you a compliment, it means so much.
HHM: Did he take you out of your comfort zone, make you try new shit?
Band: Oh yeah
John: He pushed us really really hard.
Brett: Definitely way out of our comfort zone.
HHM: Does he play, like everything?
Brett: Yep, he does and he doesn’t. Not as a musician, but he does by ear. He would just play around with a guitar and come up with these great melody ideas. He just was an amazing ear for music. He’s a badass and he actually gives enough of a shit about every little detail for the overall final product.
John: He’s also a producer like, we’d be eight hours in, we’d be burned out and exhausted… he’d be like ‘This shit sucks guys, what the fuck are ya’ll doing?. Why are you doing that, let’s take a break. I’m gonna go walk around the block, ya’ll go take a smoke break, come back with a fresh head, let’s do this.” We or we’d be done for the day and go home. There had been times, when it wasn’t working and we’d go home (hotel). We’d get down on ourselves, have to walk a mile back to the hotel.
HHM: In the rain no less.
John: Yeah, in the fucking rain. US arguing the whole way back amongst ourselves. “Why can’t you get your shit together?” But then the next day, we would come back and he would reward us in a way. He would break us down, cause we were sucking. He was so honest. “This shit sucks, I know you’ve got more in you.” And we did, because the day we’d come back, he’d push us and we’d kill it. We’re very thankful for him doing that.
HHM: I’m jealous now, I want to hang out there. That is probably my favorite place to be. (in the studio). Just watching how it works, what it’s really like. It’s pretty awesome.
John: The people there were awesome too. We got to know so many people that work in the studio. We’re still friends with them. One of our friends from Seattle flew out to go on the road with us for a while, she’s a photographer. It’s good seeing them. We’ve got some Seattle people coming out this Summer. We’re very close with everyone from London Bridge still.
HHM: How big is that studio, how many rooms, how many studios?
Brett: They just expanded actually. It was three when we were there. They bought a whole other building.
John: There’s the big drum room, the main studio, there’s Studio A, Studio B…
Brett: There’s two upstairs, the big room and now with this new building there’s at least two more. At least two.
HHM: How much did you take away from the whole experience at London Bridge Studios?
John: It pretty changed everything for us. That was the pinnacle moment for us. For us as a band, we can take this out on the road and try to do something with it. Before, we had another record and we toured on that. Sound guy tours after sound guy tours. I’d say we hit 180 shows from 2010 to 2011, something like that. We kept it going for 2012. We took a little bit of a break in 2013, we didn’t play but 40 shows the whole year. We were getting our management and business stuff set up. Tim’s our manager, he’s been our manager for four years now. He’s fucking awesome.
HHM: You get to that point where things have to change, it’s a whole different ball game.
John: Yeah, we had to someone who was going to get behind the record from a publicity stand point. Someone who was really going to be able to push the record with press outlets. Before, we’d do a record and we’d put it out immediately. This time, we knew the record was good so we wanted to wait and make sure we had all of our shit in line. Then we released. Now we’re touring it, it came out in September of last year, so it’s a relatively new record so we’re pushing it and touring it.We knew in Seattle that it was good enough so that we could sustain ourselves and really push it.
HHM: When you went to Seattle, did you have most of the material written or did you write some while you were there?
John: We had the songs written, but we didn’t have them perfected. We had most of the songs complete from a writing standpoint, but when we got into the studio Jonathan put his mark on the songs, little changes here, little changes there. Some of the songs like ‘Low’ really came together in the studio. For the most part though, we had the songs written before we went in.
HHM: Did you have a long pre-pro session with him?
John: No, we had zero pre-pro. It was kind of a crazy thing. We sent him a demo, ‘Tug Of War’. We sent him that and he loved it. He said, okay, let’s do this. So, we booked a month. We had all this stuff, but couldn’t get our shit together to send him stuff for pre-pro. So the whole time he’s like, “okay guys, I don’t really have a lot of stuff, I don’t really have a lot to go with.” He was gracious enough to say “I’ll work with you guys anyway.”
HHM: When it comes to writing, how do you guys go about it? Do you writing individually, write together, jam session or…
John: We do a little of both. I’ll come up with a riff or a chord progression or something, or a vocal melody. Then Brett will come up with a riff or chord progression then we’ll start writing a song. He’ll have an idea for a song, I’ll have some ideas for a song. Ray will come in with some ideas as well. Then it all comes together in the jam sessions. We all kind of have our processes of writing then it all comes together once we all come together in one room and play it.
HHM: Are you guys all pretty much on the same page when it comes to writing? Do you pick up on each other a lot?
John: We definitely pick up on each other and I think that’s what really cool about this band is that we’re all kind of going in the same direction. Everyone is on the same page and everyone feels what everyone else is writing. There’s a lot of different sounding songs on this record. Brett would write a song, then I would write a song then we would kind of put it together and put our own marks on each other’s songs. It’s a good thing, writing with those guys.
HHM: Do you write on tour or like to save a specific time to write while off tour?
John: We really don’t write on tour but we’ll do sound checks and have riff ideas on sound checks and stuff like that. It all kind of comes together when we’re off the road. We take experiences from the road though. I’ll write the lyrics and vocal melodies that I pick up from the road. I’ll put it into a song after we get home.
HHM: We do guys have planned for the coming months?
John: We’re gonna finish up this tour, once we get home, we’re gonna chill. Tim and our publicist are working on a tour for late May/June and then another one in August. We’re trying to hit 180+ shows this year. We will be hitting the road a lot this year.
HHM: Are all of you guys in Athens together?
John: I’m in Athens, Ray the bass player is in Athens. Brett and Joe live in Savannah, which is about four hours away. It’s a little difficult but we’ve made it work. They come up to Athens, we’ll go to Savannah, it’s really not that big of a hindrance.
HHM: Do you guys break off for alone time or…
John: When we get home you mean?
HHM: Yeah, once you get home form tour.
John: Yeah, Brett and Joe play acoustic shows together in Savannah but I think once we get home from tour, we all take about 2 weeks to kind of do our own things. We all always talking to each other, it’s weird. We have our own band lingo that no one else gets. We get home and we’re talking this stupid shit that no one else understands what we’re talking about. But, we do kind of chill out as far as that goes.
Interview by DaveHHM
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