By Brian Tucker
The Low Counts – Matt Walsh (guitar/vocals) and Austin Hicks (drums) return to Wilmington this Saturday night to perform at Satellite Bar & Lounge.
The raucous bluesy rock duo from the Statesville, N.C. area delivers a combustible yet exquisite mix of raw power. Their debut full-length brings together guttural, howling vocals, fuzzed-out with bare knuckled guitar intensity and thunder-crack drumming,
Fun and scorching, the duo tosses in flavors throughout – psychedelia, hard rock, rockabilly, and more to make a hellacious stew of groovy, rural rock music. Walsh is a unique singer – he’s got the bark and the bite but an easy hand as well on songs. Though the howl may recall Jimi Hendrix, this remains a band carving their own path.
The band’s large sonic presence was self-recorded in downtown Winston-Salem. The full-length is a one-two punch of grizzly, sultry sounding blues based rock. Hicks’ drumming drives and provides a tense heartbeat to songs and Walsh’s ever-changing guitar licks and singing leads the emotional charge, whether on nasty gem “Voice Mail” or the multiple guitar personalities of “Going Away.”
Only together a short time, The Low Counts sounds seasoned. Prior to forming Walsh played solo shows or was playing with small backing bands. Walsh posted on Craig’s List that he wanted to do original music and seeking someone with a similar mindset who could think outside the box.
“No blues drummers, no cover stuff,” Walsh said. “And certainly no one who was tied to a genre. I was ready to do something original that combined what I had learned over the years. I think being a musician means a lot more than playing an instrument. It takes originality to call what you do “art” to a degree, otherwise, you’re a glorified cover band.”
Walsh and Hicks clicked from the start. The first time playing together they felt there was an “uncanny musical connection.” The result has made for timeless music with heft and soul. Though Walsh cites The Rolling Stones with firing him up as a kid and Hicks noting the prowess of Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward, the duo’s music moves beyond the past.
How soon was it that Austin felt he could read you, and play off you, and vice versa?
Matt: I came to Austin with a lot of songs that I had already written. So far, that’s how it’s been; I’ll write a song and take it to him. It morphs and we go from there. Some songs on the album were things we came up with in the studio that I wrote lyrics to later. On our first meeting, I’d played him the songs I had and he jumped on them. We literally ran through each one once, and we pretty much had them down. I think we were both amazed from that first day how we had some uncanny musical connection without ever playing together.
Austin: Almost immediately. We’re still rounding out some rough edges; especially with our newest material, naturally. The songwriting process has only gotten simpler for us as we progress further.
As a duo, what does that afford you – simplicity in making music?
Austin: Less voices to confer ideas and suggestions with. He or I come up with an idea and we’re always a phone call or text away so there are no intermediary obstacles getting in our way.
Matt: We like the same kind of stuff and share the same ideas about making music as well. We don’t shoot down each other’s ideas. We try them, if they work great, if not, move on.
Austin: We’re serious musicians. We apply a very natural and simplistic approach and never expect anything, other than enjoying the opportunity to perform our music live. We both set our sights, aim, and fire. So far, all of our shots have bull’s-eyed.
Matt: I think it goes back to sharing the same goals, ideas and approach. We work hard and give our all when we play live or when we record. We’re open to just about anything as long as it comes out feeling real and has soul. We don’t get hung up on our songs either or ourselves. A song either works or it sucks. We work fast and it keeps us productive.
Can you share what “Back Home” is about?
Matt: I don’t usually write songs about my life but it’s basically a song about my two uncles. I lost both of them and they were central figures in my life. One of them turned me onto a huge amount of great music when I was a kid and that music in part, led me to where I am today.
“Keep on Worrying,” was that born of a jam? How did you get distortion like that?
Matt: It was one of the songs I had written that I took to Austin on our first meeting. He put the beat behind it that doubled with the guitar, and just like the other songs on the album, we had it the first time we played it. It hasn’t changed since day one. The guitar is my El Bisa and I played it through an old tube amp with a 10-inch speaker turned all the way up.
What are some bands/performers you may do obscure covers of?
Matt: We sometimes do “Mona” by Bo Diddley and at times we’ve done some Link Wray tunes live. We do “Mona” because we’re heavily influenced by the shakers in Bo’s music. We don’t use them the way he would, but the idea of incorporating them comes from listening to that stuff. We’re not about recording covers though. Eleven songs is a good album, we want to make the most of them.
Is there a record you heard that led you to go learn an instrument?
Austin: Not particularly. I have had an eclectic taste in music and art from a very young age, same as Matt. I suppose if I had to choose one, it would probably be Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” Any record with (Black Sabbath’s) Bill Ward behind the beat. His playing definitely had a major impression on me as a young, aspiring musician.
Matt: The Rolling Stones made me play the tennis racket when I was eleven. The Best of Muddy Waters and some Lightnin’ Hopkins record my uncles had, made me get real and fall in love with guitar tone and what you could do with it.
How long before you had, or felt comfortable with, your singing voice?
Matt: I never had a problem singing, I’ve never looked back on that or playing an instrument, but I wouldn’t say I’m 100% comfortable with my voice. I’m constantly trying to push myself to do more vocally. Hearing the words to a song clearly is important to me. I’ve also really tried to focus on melody and how it related to the lyrics that I’m singing. I feel like I did a better job with that on the new songs we recorded last month.
How many guitars do you use for a show and what are you playing?
Matt: I mostly use the “El Bisa” live. It’s the guitar I’m playing on the cover of the album. Sometimes I’ll use a few Silvertones as back ups or my Telecaster. I have a 50s replica of a Les Paul goldtop I’ve used occasionally.
The album sounds great. Is it true that you did DIY recording?
Austin: Absolutely, in my opinion there really is no other way to record an all-original album. If you’ve got a producer, manager, record label rep, etc. there only going to muck the process up.
Matt: Everything to do with this album was DIY, the recording, even the cover art to it. We worked our asses off with no one’s help. That’s financially speaking as well, no Kickstarter, rich parents, or loans. We have a friend, Allen, aka Whitey, that helped us push buttons and that was it.
Are you a songwriter who writes about what’s around you or what’s going on with you?
Matt: Yes and no. Most of the time I write ideas or things I’ve observed in life or in my day-to-day. Are we alcoholics or heavy drinkers? Nah. Have I read a lot of Charles Bukowski novels? Yes. Sometimes, personal stuff can creep in, but it’s maybe only in a line or two and not the main idea of the song. I’m somewhat of a private person. My lyrics reflect that as well.