by Daniel Coston
Alan Edwards, Chad Edwards and Shawn Lynch of the Loudermilks are a little nervous as they sit with me, waiting for the interview to start. I first met them in the late summer of 1996, as their previous band, Lou Ford, began to attract attention around their home base of Charlotte, NC. Throughout the intervening years, they have always been more comfortable letting the music do the talking. Songs of heartbreak, and of life in search of something better. Their story has not always been an easy one to tell, but unlike some of their songs, there is a happier outcome. And one that is still being written.
The story of Alan and younger brother Chad began in Dublin, Georgia. “We had sung together in choir,” recalls Alan. “[Chad] was more involved in that. I just stood in the back, and moved my mouth like I was singing. But even just mouthing like I was singing, I learned so much.”
While Chad was in high school, a chance to sing in front of a different choir opened up. “There was a band that came to our school, remembers Chad, “I missed it because I was out sick that day, but I wasn’t sick. I found out that the band was playing at another gymnasium that night, and I went by early while the band was soundchecking. Their bass player was playing a Jane’s Addiction song, and I told them that I could sing that. They ended up calling me up on stage during the show, and it went over well with the audience.” That led Chad to putting together a demo tape for the band’s manager, and he persuaded Alan to sing on the demo, the first time that the two brothers collaborated on any music. “We sang REM’s ‘Driver 8,’” recalls Alan. “Chad and I later sang that at a Chocolate USA practice, and Julian [Koster] and Will Cullen Hart commented on how we sang together.”
By 1992, Alan had moved to Athens, Georgia, and had joined Chocolate USA, led by Koster, who later became a part of Neutral Milk Hotel. “It was a fun year and a half,” remembers Alan. “More than anything, it made me decide that I want to play music. And it gave me to chance to do it. They were signed to Bar/None Records.”
“Alan and I had done a lot of talking about starting a band,” adds Chad. “We had done a lot of theoretical talking about doing it. But they were doing it.”
After Alan left Chocolate USA, lived and played music in various places, including a bar in Virginia, and what he now describes as “spider infested cabin” next to Niagra Falls. By 1996, Alan had moved to Charlotte, NC, had begun to play solo shows, and had met Mark Lynch at a Backsliders show. Soon after, Lou Ford was born, and Alan called his younger brother, and asked him to move to Charlotte and join the band.
“We had traded tapes back and forth for a long time,” says Alan. “That’s how I came to sing ‘One More Day’ on [the band’s first album] Sad But Familiar. It was Chad’s song, but I had done a version of it, and kept playing it.”
Lou Ford went through two drummers in their initial gigs, before finding Shawn Lynch to solidify the lineup. “I was only been playing drums for about six months, when I joined the band. I had been a guitar player,” says Shawn. “When I was playing drums back then, I wasn’t telling them that they needed to keep up with me. I would say, ‘I’ll keep up.’ Whoever’s song it was, was the timekeeper. Whoever’s hand was strumming was the timekeeper.”
For many in Charlotte, Lou Ford quickly became the right band at the right time, embracing Beatles-esque pop and Americana Rock leanings in equal measure. Even to the band themselves, the attention seemed immediate.
“The reception that was got was like, “We’re here!” remembers Alan.”
“We played a farewell party for one of the members of [local band] Sugarsmack at Jack Straw’s,” remembers Chad. “We wore tuxes, and this was the first time that we got in front of everybody.”
“We got word that they had old tuxes really cheap in Pageland, SC,” adds Shawn. “That was the first time that ladies had ever screamed at me. That was nice. Around that time, we also did a Double Door show. We left and came back, and I parked so far away. ‘Oh wow, there’s no parking around here.’ And when I finally got to the venue, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a lot of people here.’ They were there to see us.”
Over the next seven years, Lou Ford released two albums, Sad But Familiar (1998) and Alan Freed’s Radio (2000), and received a lot of critical praise. Uncut Magazine went as far as to call Lou Ford “The last great American bar band.” All of this attention did not sit well with members, and they reacted in different ways.
“I never wanted fame,” says Alan. “I went the opposite. Chad and I are kind of private people. I would hone in on talking to one person, so I wouldn’t have to talk to more people. That was the source of some of my anxiety. ‘I like doing this. I like writing, and performing for people. But when we’re done, please leave me alone.’ I was dealing with some personal issues back then. I did a lot of things that I regret. Said things I came to regret, did things I came to regret.”
“Constant flux,” says Chad, when asked about that period. “Everything was in constant change. Musical life, personal life. All was chaos.”
In all, twelve different band-members passed through Lou Ford between 1996 and 2003. That included Shawn Lynch, who left in 1999. Their shows were often unpredictable, and their audiences often responded by turning their shows into alcohol-fueled celebrations. By the summer of 2003, the band had decided to call it a day, and did so with a messy July 4th show outside the Penguin Restaurant.
“Some of it was my decision,” says Alan today. “There were things that were going on with my moods. I was kind of a loose canon.”
“Given the choice,” says Chad, “I might have clung to the band. My marriage ended, and the band ended all in the same week. But all that was part of the journey. I then had to grow up and say, “I’m going to make my own record, and start my own band.”
With Alan focusing on other things, “I had to focus on something,” adds Chad. “I just kept going to work every day, and dealt with everything by writing about it. One night, I ended up at Pyramid’s rehearsal space, and got talking to Mike [Kenerley]. We had kind of been rivals with Jolene, so we hadn’t talked that much, until then. Mike’s such a positive guy, and we hit it off, and that’s what started the Hard Times Family.” Chad Edwards and Mike Kenerley soon added Shawn Lynch, Ben Maschal, and the late Rodney Lanier to the band.
“Lou Ford had been so tumultuous and stressful, for me,” says Chad. “I’m a pleaser. I felt responsible. If I was going to do another band, I’m going to surround myself with people that I want to spend time with, and we’re going to have a great time. That band was therapy, for me. That was definitely a comfort level for me in the harmonies that came naturally to me and Alan. With that removed, I had to get up there on my own merits.
Hard Times Family played together for a couple of years, before Lou Ford reconvened with the Edwards brothers, Shawn Lynch and Mark Lynch in 2005. Over the next five years, Lou Ford released another album, Poor Man’s Soul, and playing across the state before splitting up again. Over time, Chad Edwards, Shawn Lynch and Mike Kenerley began playing together again. By 2011, Alan Edwards had rejoined, and the band was now rechristened the Loudermilks, named for the given name of another famous brother act, the Louvin Brothers. The band now had a new balance, and focus.
“It was kind of the Hard Times Family when I came back,” says Alan. “It was the people that Chad was playing with.”
“It’s getting better at inter-personal relationships,” adds Chad. “It’s learning to value things in other people, and what you benefit from. That journey, and collection of people.”
The Loudermilks spent the next two and a half years gathering more players, such as violinist Geoff White, and one-time Lou Ford keyboardist Jason Atkins, and put together their self-titled first album, before releasing it to wide acclaim in early 2014. “On the first record, we had said that we had wanted to keep it stripped down, says Alan. “And by the end of the album, we weren’t. I’m glad that we did it that way, though. That made it a different kind of record than we had made before.”
“It was a day of Jason coming over [to Alan’s house] and recording,” adds Chad. “A day of Geoff coming over here and recording. A day of Joe Smith setting up at Alan’s old house, and recording.”
Over time, the Loudermilks have tightened as a band, and are already deep into recording their second album. “These songs have evolved with the band, more so than the first record,” says Chad. “The first album, we had all these songs that different guys came in and play on, and then we became a band. This record has evolved out of this band playing together the last few years.
“It’s come together a lot quicker,” adds Shawn. “The new record is a lot more live. The first record was put together over time. This record, we went over to Old House Studios, and did the basic tracks in a day and a half.”
The three men that sat down with me for this interview have also changed over the years. For all the ups and downs of the last twenty years, they have grown a people. Grown into being fathers, husbands, family men. It’s something that is great to see. As a longtime fan, and friend.
“They’re all road signs for specific times and events,” says Chad about his songs, and his brother’s. “That’s the magic trick of making music, in general. It’s finding that place where you’re not directly focused on what you’re doing. You’re not thinking about what you’re playing, or writing. It just comes out, when you’re not trying.
“We’ve been determined all along to have our cake and eat it, too. I always wanted to have a family. But the only bands that are making money are the ones that never left the road. And the decision to not be that kind of road warrior is probably what made us where we are. I wouldn’t give up what I have for anything in the world. There was a conscious decision to not give up your life in the name of achieving fame.”
“None of us wanted to stop playing,” says Shawn. “You want to have these other good things in your life. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you want to do all these things.”
“Our journeys diverged, and re-converged, and we’re all better for it,” adds Chad. “We all went through our own individual growing experiences, and learning experiences.”
The Loudermilks play at Snug Harbor on Saturday, September 5th with Greg Hawks. Tickets are $5. Doors are at 9pm, show at 10pm.