Lullwater did not have the most auspicious debut. Scheduled to play a day party, the band shouldn't have had any problems making it to the 3 pm gig. But the bass player didn't show up, and the guitarist ran into a little misunderstanding with the law.
"I was falling apart; I was so mad at everybody." recalls singer and bandleader John Strickland, 28. "This guy comes up and says, 'my friend plays bass'."
Roy Beatty pushes his amplifier 30 minutes across campus and sits in with what's left of the band. "He starts laying out these riffs and jamming. Me and Nick look at each other and say it might not be such a bad thing that our previous bass player couldn't make it."
Brett Strickland (no relation to John), their guitarist, was eventually freed to join the rest of the guys. Lullwater, as it appears on Silhouette, their latest muscular LP, was born. "Everything fit really well," says John.
That fit is evident all over Silhouette, which came out in February. Working with producer-engineer David Barbe (Drive By Truckers, Widespread Panic), the band gelled in the studio, refining a sound that hints at the best of 90s rock -- Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters -- with a dollop of southern swagger.
"We showed our roots," says Brett. "We're very happy with that album. We grew as a band; we consolidated our sound."
This consolidation -- a gritty, grungy music -- is just the latest expression of a friendship between Brett and John that began four years ago, when Brett first moved to Athens, Georgia, at 18 and a mutual friend introduced them. Brett invited him to sit in with his band that very night. John was so impressed that he invited Brett to play his own acoustic show in a later timeslot.
"I was just blown away with what Brett was doing. He was doing all this great looping stuff on stage," says John. "The first thing that popped into my head was I want Brett to be in my band and play my music."
Brett was equally pleased with John's style. "He's got more energy; he's got balls to his songs," he says.
Today most of the songwriting is done via email. Brett lives in Savannah; John is four hours away in Athens. John will bounce a few riffs off of Brett, a melody or a chorus. "Brett will then say 'that's sounds like corny-ass '90s rock'," John laughs. "And I know it does. So Brett throws in a twist or a curveball."
The texture that Brett adds to the music adds a layer of surprise and gravitas to a rock sound that is both warm and familiar. Roy, the bassist, is a progressive rocker who brings an entirely different sensibility to the songwriting approach. The resulting songs are accessible without being cloying; solid rock songs that have both brains and brawn. "We're aiming for a new genre," says Brett. "We want people to know, when we do our next album, that oh, that's Lullwater."
The band hopes to capitalize on their momentum and record their next album in Seattle, cradle to much of the 90s rock they listened to growing up. "We're looking at our next album like its our final album," says Brett. John chimes in, "We just want to overdo it. We've always wanted the big epic song with strings and everything."
The sound, a bit more road-seasoned now, is trending a little darker, a little grittier these days. Which in some ways seems almost pre-ordained: The name Lullwater was taken from the street where the band once used to practice. "It was the basement of the house where Nick lived in college," says Brett. "Moldy, dingy. It was rough." Exactly the kind of place you'd expect to churn out a perfect new grimy sound.