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Lullwater Finds its Grungy Groove

Grunge-flavored rock quartet Lullwater has called Athens its home for almost seven years, during which time it’s undergone a slew of changes not just in style but also in personnel. Lead singer and guitarist John Strickland and lead guitarist and singer Brett Strickland (no relation) have served as the group’s sole constant members since shortly after the band was formed, and have been largely responsible for its ever-shifting musical direction and tireless work ethic.

All of which has resulted in a sort of slow-burning success for Lullwater. The group briefly signed to a label (which it’s no longer with) and released a debut LP, Silhouette, in 2011 before the lineup finally stabilized around the two Stricklands, bassist Roy “Ray” Beatty and drummer Joseph Wilson.

The four wasted no time in kicking their ambitions into high gear. Though the band’s sophomore album was released just two months ago, it was recorded in late 2011 at Seattle’s London Bridge Studio, famous for birthing classic albums by bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains—bands that, alongside Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Nirvana, have influenced Lullwater’s sound the most heavily.

In the eyes of John Strickland, Lullwater didn’t truly find its feet as a band until the new record came about.

“We lacked direction, and we weren’t a cohesive unit on any of the earlier records,” Strickland candidly admits. “But Seattle was the place where we found the sound we’d been looking for the entire time as a band… Getting out to Seattle was like stepping into this mythological place where all these amazing, influential bands came from. The first second we walked into the studio felt like a dream.

“We really came together and relied on each other for support and to bounce ideas off each other,” he continues. “We were as tight as we could possibly be. And we’re still just as tight today and moving forward as a unit. Everyone has to be on the same level, and everyone has to be [equally] passionate about the music and what they’re trying to create and the direction they’re going in.”

It’s not just Strickland who perceives a newfound growth in ability and sensibility. His bandmates unanimously agree that Lullwater brought the band to a career high-water mark, not just in terms of the recording environment and the internal camaraderie but also in terms of sheer musical sophistication.

“We just decided to make our music rawer and more rock-oriented this time,” Beatty says. “So, on one hand, the music is much louder, but it’s also much more intricate.”

“It’s got a lot more heart and emotional weight,” Strickland adds, citing “Albatross” and “Tug of War” as the most emotional songs on the album. “We were out there in Seattle walking every day in the wind and rain, busting our ass, working as hard as we possibly could and, at the time, fighting with our former label about recording the album. As soon as we got to the studio we started doing vocals and all that emotion came out. That was the beauty of that experience, because a lot of things in our lives happened within that month, and that came out in the music.”

Indeed, Lullwater introduces a grittier, fiercer and stranger edge to Lullwater’s usual palette of passionately delivered, anthemic hard-rock. Most of the songs bristle with intensity, helmed by John Strickland’s throaty vocal delivery, yet the band smartly includes a few slower, spacier numbers that allow their individual approaches to shine through.

“We all write together. Someone will come up with the base idea, and then we just hash it out from there,” Beatty says. “For the last album, what happened was John brought in a bunch of ideas and Brett brought in a bunch of ideas—and I brought in, like, one idea. But I latched onto their ideas and co-wrote a lot of their material.”

“It’s a great balance,” Strickland adds. “Ray will come up with a measure that I wouldn’t have put in, but because of the way Ray adds it in with what’s already there, it just feels like it’s how the song was supposed to go.”

Despite the new album’s intensity, it has already been more warmly received than any of Lullwater’s previous work, to the extent that the band is currently in the running for VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artist of the month for December. The group’s return to the 40 Watt for the first time in years this weekend finds the well-oiled band riding an impressive wave of gradually increasing success.

“This show is presented by the organization Handpicked Artists,” says Strickland. “They’re trying to get some [focus on] rock back into the Athens scene and get [it] in front of people in the best venues of Athens, like the 40 Watt and the Georgia Theatre. We’re all very appreciative of what they’ve done to put this bill together.”

WHO: Lullwater, The Woodgrains, American Mannequins
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 23, 9 p.m.