Lost John / Photo: Bradley Giczkowski
An excellent Fayetteville band will celebrate the release of a very good record this week.
Locals Lost John actually unveiled their eight song album Let it Be Strange back in the spring, but they’re just getting around to recognizing its release with a show on Thursday night when they’ll perform with fellow locals Lost John at George’s Majestic Lounge.
The band, fronted by songwriter Eric Witthans, has been playing regularly in Fayetteville for several years now. Witthans is also active in the music scene as the producer/engineer of local studio, Homestead Recording.
Lost John Let it Be Strange Album Release Party w/ Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo
Their sound is smooth, subtle, and subdued, with Witthans laid-back voice perfectly complemented with some beautiful harmonies by singer Meredith Kimbrough, rounded out perfectly with the solid playing of Lee Zodrow (keys), Baron Lyle (fiddle), Brad Haj (drums) and Allison Williams (bass).
Their new record really hits the spot along with a cool breeze and a stiff drink on the patio winding down on a summer night after the kids have gone to bed. Maybe that’s just me.
We got in touch with Eric via email this week to find out more about the record release party this week, the new album, his ability to accurately mow letters and phrases into an overgrown field, and other issues. Check it out below.
What have you been listening to lately?
I have the best seat in the house when it comes to great local music. I spend a lot of time listening to mixes, listening to the artists that come through Homestead Recording. Lately, I’ve been cranking some Dylan Earl, Jamie Lou & The Hullaballoo, Basement Brew, and The Whispering Willows. Our dear Texan friend Jordan Moser has been releasing delicious tracks from his new album Long Night that have definitely been on repeat. I also am really digging a Canadian duo called Kacy & Clayton and time spent with Jonny Fritz is never wasted.
Give us a little bit of history on Lost John. How did you guys start playing together, and how has the project evolved over the years?
Roots to this band go way back. Meredith Kimbrough (vocals, guitar) and Lee Zodrow (keys) were in bands together back in high school (Reed Indeed, early formations of Basement Brew). I used to play music with Brad Haj (drums) and Lee around that time, making a ruckus at house parties. Later after high school when Meredith and I moved to Austin, we formed a band there called Mother Merey and the Black Dirt. We toured several times, and generally hit Austin pretty hard for about five or six years. I started performing solo under the name ‘Lost John’ towards the end of our living there, wrote and recorded ‘Arkansas Miracle, California Shame’ kind of during the move, and knew I wanted to put together a band for its release once we got settled in Fayetteville. I knew Lee and Brad were still playing and I gave them a call. We just needed some heavy low end for the project and the universe brought Grant D’Aubin (bass) into our lives during a memorable snowstorm in 2016. Soon after that Grant introduced us to Baron Lyle (fiddle), now a dear friend, who I asked to join us when recording ‘Let It Be Strange’ in winter of 2017. Sometime after that Grant relocated to the wonderful city of New Orleans where he plays music for a living. We decided to maintain the original instrumentation and Kurt Delashmet stepped in on the electric bass for some time after that, and most recently we have been playing with Allison Williams on the upright which has been a treat. So, it started as a solo project, and is now a 6 piece with room for more. It has really come a long way. The producer in me loves building it up and stripping it down, and exploring all the forms it could take.
We’ve been enjoying Let it Be Strange. Tell us a bit about the process of writing and recording this one.
I wrote the majority of ‘Let It Be Strange’ during the first year we were back in Fayetteville. A lot of the songs came out of a songwriting group. We were missing our friends back in Austin so we decided to start a songwriting group via email as a way to stay connected. It was a badass pace – like a song a week, due every Sunday. There would be a rotating prompt with just a phrase, usually two or three words, that had to be worked in the song somewhere. Groups like that are really wonderful – the act of sharing and receiving feedback from other artists that you respect can only make a song better, and having that little bit of accountability for producing a piece keeps you creating. Anyways I had a good run there and felt good about a handful of those, which turned into ‘Let It Be Strange’, ‘Long Time Comin’, and ‘Cosmic Kin’. A few I wrote outside of that group as a tip of the hat to artists such as Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) with ‘Lost John Sanctified’, and Ramsay Midwood with ‘Smacked in a Cosmic Way’. ‘Minibike’ was just a heart-song, I could play that intro for days. We set out to record the album at Homestead. We accomplished all of the tracking in about two days, instruments all live to tape, granted we knew pretty much what we wanted. The tape machine we utilize, a Tascam MS-16, has this like 50ft controller that looks like R2D2 that we wheeled out into the control room so when we were ready to do a take we could just punch it. I did want vocals to feel lush so we spent some time experimenting with layers on those, ‘Let It Be Strange’ especially. Ultimately, we tried to capture what we were doing live, with that group of people, at that specific point in time (just with nicer delays and reverb haha). I know the time we spent recording was really meaningful to me and I think the feelings in that room came out in the record.
So, this one’s available on vinyl in a few different options. Can you outline the different ways folks can get their hands on the new record?
Sure thing – the record is available on vinyl in solid black, clear, and I think there are a couple black & white swirl left – as well as streaming digital on all major platforms. You can purchase the record at www.findlostjohn.com or www.bandcamp.com/findlostjohn, and also at any of our shows.We are really proud of how it sounds – it was mastered by Justin Douglas at King Electric Recording in Austin, TX. The lacquer was cut by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Mastering in Portland, OR and it was pressed with love and care at New Orleans Record Press in Louisiana. You can definitely pick one up at our show this Thursday at Georges.
You’ve been involved in the music scene as a musician, and as a producer/engineer with Homestead for a couple years now. How do you perceive the music scene in Fayetteville these days?
The state of the “music scene” is a hot topic right now, and something that I have spent some time thinking about. There is so much more to say than what I can accomplish here, but I’d like to give you a thoughtful answer – so I’m going to do my best. Fayetteville embodies a culture of love and respect for the arts, and there are so many talented and hardworking artists living here that want nothing more than to share their heart with the community. There are many amazing people who own venues, put on events, attend shows, record albums, spend their heard-earned cash on local art, and generally devote their energy to supporting artists. We have all the pieces of the puzzle, so I think there is a lot of confusion and frustration among the artistic community about the difficulties we face. We all sit around and talk about “the scene”, and try our hardest to figure out who is responsible for making it profitable and sustainable for everyone. I have to be honest, I think these conversations are missing the mark. When you think about it, it becomes quickly apparent that everything is connected; once you start pulling at one thread, something somewhere else comes up – and you know I am always down to pull strings, turn knobs, or push buttons – but these issues are much bigger than our town. It often feels like we are trying to re-create something that will never exist again. We are watching the music industry as a whole transform into something new, and we are watching art more and more transform into a commodity to be sold. I think now is the time for imagination. Now is the time for re-focusing our efforts on creating things that make people feel something, that fosters that connection between people that is so vital in a time where everything seems designed to isolate and separate us. I think we all want the same thing and we forgot how to get it. To me, it can’t be about how many people click the like button on Facebook, or how many bodies are in a room at midnight on a Tuesday. It can’t be about the “scene”. It has to be about what happens to one person, in one moment, when they put on a song and the whole world feels different, more connected, more alive. I don’t know if that answers your question but thats where I am at with it at the moment.
Tell us a bit about the release party this week with Jamie Lou & the Hullabaloo.
We are so excited about this show!!! We absolutely adore everyone in Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo and have a great amount of respect for their music and the hard work that they do in the community. We are super proud of ‘Let It Be Strange’ and very stoked to play the entirety of the record (plus some) in the presence of friends and family. Its going to be a good one!
You guys released a really beautifully shot video with Nick Futch not too long ago. Who came up with that concept, and how did that project come together?
Haha oh man, what a trip that was. Believe it or not the whole thing only took about an hour. I had the idea probably two years ago and decided this album was a good time to push for it. I let the grass grow unreasonably long much to the chagrin of my neighbors, drew up a little sketch/map of what direction the mower needed to be pointed and where I needed to be cutting my letters. The drone went up, I did it in one shot, and the drone come down. I am so thankful Nick was down to try the idea, he does really amazing work and I think it turned out really great!
What’s next for y’all? New tunes? World tour? Lost John Landscaping, LLC?
Good question. Funny enough I thought about that on the mower the other day– ‘what if I made a business cutting messages into lawns for folks?’. Realistically though there are so many things on the horizon, with Lost John and with Homestead Recording. We are super inspired by all of the change lately and want to harness that energy as much as we can. We will definitely be digging into new sounds in the studio this year – Homestead just acquired a really cool new console and I want to try some things out that I have had on the back burner for quite some time – both sonically and also with analog workflow. We will be sure to keep you posted! But for now, let it be strange…