Music is a family affair for Folk/Americana outfit Warrick & Lowell, a Cincinnati band that veers wildly from hardcore Country to blunt ballads and all-out Roots Rock, with glimpses of small-town sophistication unearthed along the way by worn hands and bald tires. It’s a frantic, heartbreaking and reckless trip down a remote gravel road and, if you’re lucky, the passenger seat is all yours.
The lyrical narrative of Warrick & Lowell is brought to us by brothers Robert Lowell Ford and Jonathan Warrick Ford, who grew up in rural Indiana. Their story, of course, goes back to the beginning.
“We first met in the hospital,” Robert says dryly, “when our mother had Jon. He peed on my Spider-Man shirt while she was changing his diaper — he took that opportunity to get me good while he had the chance.”
Once the teenage years hit, the siblings began honing their songwriting and musical chops separately and sporadically in a number of Southeastern Indiana bands. Then, in 2015, the brothers finally came to terms with the realization that their best songwriting partners might have been right down the hallway.
The pair christened their partnership Warrick & Lowell, after their middle names, and the band has since grown into its current six-piece format. In late 2017, they released their debut album, an eight-song, self-titled affair.
Warrick & Lowell’s sophomore album is the just-released Absinthe Nights, which the group has been promoting with tour dates across the region. The run of shows wraps this weekend with a hometown release party on Aug. 10 at Newport’s Southgate House Revival.
The new LP kicks off with a fervent bang, a storyteller confessing his past with no time to spare, recalling a short-term place to lay his head. The narrator finds himself smack-dab in a Midwestern small town surrounded by religion and rot-gut liquor, a hungover head not sure where his next steps should lead. Surely, many can relate.
“I spent a couple years living out of a house down east,” Robert sings on “Viral Love.” “Rocket fuel and dragon’s breath and numbers of the beast... I spent a lot of time goin’ through my mind lookin’ for who I was supposed to be, with a hangover love that burned in the third degree.”
It’s a driving track, somewhat reflective of the brothers’ adolescence spent playing in scrappy Punk bands wherever they could.
“A lot of the early bands I was involved with were pretty heavy Punk Rock, and I think sometimes I still crave that rougher edge to things,” Jonathan says. “Maybe that urge has whittled itself down to me just strumming the acoustic guitar a little too hard now, (but) I do feel like that energy comes forward in some parts of this record.”
Beyond the brothers, each band member adds more than a shade of melodic virtue, a fabric carefully woven by Zaq Fox (drums), Thomas Costa (keys), Matt Crone (bass) and Hanna Rae Mathey (violin). In the studio, pedal steel ace Steve Hauke from Young Heirlooms contributed to a few tracks as well.
“I think we’d probably kill each other if we tried to get too inside each other’s heads,” Robert says when asked about the collaborative process. “Once we’ve got the bones of (a new song), we bring it to the table and it starts getting fleshed out. Changes get made to the arrangement, pieces get added or removed and eventually the thing grows legs and starts walking on its own.”
To record Absinthe Nights, Warrick & Lowell entered multi-level, multi-discipline arts center The Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky late last year. Veteran local musician and engineer Paul Brumm — and the space itself — would prove to be instrumental in taking the already-established group to a whole new level.
“Paul’s been a friend for a while, so it was really fun to be able to work with him,” Jonathan says.
“The Lodge is huge,” Robert adds. “Paul set up microphones in the stairwells and hallways and let the sound from the guitar amp leak into those areas (to) pick up the natural reverb and it sounded incredible.”
The story checks out — Absinthe Nights presents a lot more than next-level songwriting. Character, mood and sonic accents create an inviting space and a comfortable new world for both the music-makers and listeners alike.
“I was just walking around with my acoustic guitar, waiting for Paul to get something set up, and Tommy sat down at the piano and Hanna picked up her violin. We started playing and could hear each other perfectly in that huge room — that kind of thing is inspiring when it happens,” Robert says.
On the subject of inspiration, it would seem the whole purpose of Warrick & Lowell’s back-road testaments and declarations is to bond closer with whoever is willing to jump in the passenger side.
“We write and play in order to communicate with people — to be heard,” Robert says. “We’re all just these lonely frightened souls looking for love and security and connection. We do it through sports. We do it through politics. We do it through book clubs and we do it through music.
“Of course, we prefer music,” he says. “Music seems to be less restrictive and less divisive, in most cases. It’s a more inclusive medium. And you can dance to it. You can’t really dance to politics.”
Warrick & Lowell host an album release party Saturday, Aug. 10 at Southgate House Revival with Ohio Valley Salvage and Lexington, Kentucky’s Lylak. More show info: southgatehouse.com and warrickandlowell.com.