The road to Low Man’s Joe begins on a farm in Kansas. At Berklee College of Music in Boston. In war-torn Iraq. In the mountains of Olongapo City in the Philippines.
“The first vehicle I learned to drive was a tractor,” says guitarist Kevin Moeder, who owns an architecture business in Houston. “My career pretty much got me out of Kansas.” All points eventually led to Houston, where the rock quartet formed just a year ago.
Singer Bret Gyrich honed his talent via Filipino cover bands and solo acoustic shows. He moved to Houston almost two decades ago and says music was a family staple. The bug bit at 8 years old in an unlikely setting. “One of our neighbors was doing her laundry with this waterpump, listening to Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen,” Gyrich remembers. “I’m hearing this lady, who has never been in America, singing like she’s born in the USA. That was her song. “I’m thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to create that kind of magic.’ ”
It’s that same sense of fascination — and ambition — that drives each band member. The collective effort is pushing LMJ quickly through the local ranks. “A lot of bands look at shows as, let’s face it, a chance to just get out and party,” says drummer and Berklee alum John Feldmann. He earned a master of jazz performance at Manhattan School of Music and was with Houston band Stalking Chloe from 2004 to 2008. “We like to have fun, too. But first and foremost, it’s a business.”
The band rocked four sets at last summer’s Rock the Bayou festival and — most impressively — cranked out a full-length disc. “Everybody’s had a stroke of genius. We’re all in it together,” says bassist and former Marine Arron Barringer. He moved to Houston in May 2007 after facing the possibility of an unrealized dream. “I was in Iraq as a security contractor, and we got ambushed pretty good,” Barringer says. “I was pretty sure that we were all done. I remember thinking, ‘I really wish I would have given music a shot.’ “When I got with these guys, it just worked. I could feel it.”
Where I Stand is a 10-track collection of fist-pumping, sing-along rockers. Gyrich and Barringer are natural songwriters, and it’s an astonishing accomplishment for a first CD. The bulk was assembled over two days at Red Tree Recording Studio with owner/producer Jeffery Armstreet (also a bassist for Houston band Evangeline).
Gyrich possesses a big, booming voice, full of power and emotion. He’s immensely charismatic and works small stages as if he’s playing for 10,000 people. Feldmann’s precise drumming gives the title track a simmering, tribalesque groove and turns Temptation into a seductive call to arms. Barringer’s bass provides a sturdy backbone that’s showy when it needs to be, and Moeder, put simply, is a fantastic guitarist. The band’s sturdy sound echoes Bon Jovi, and LMJ plays up the comparisons with a spirited cover of Radio Saved My Life Tonight. “I’ve never experienced a band as prepared for a recording session. They had their parts worked out and even pulled off several songs with one take,” Armstreet says. “It’s refreshing to see a group that handles itself with their level of professionalism.”
As for the band’s blue-collar moniker, Gyrich says it came to him in high school, a play on Low Man’s Lyric, a 1997 Metallica tune. But it’s Moeder who crystallizes the collective significance. “Metallica wrote (that song) when I felt that a lot of their members had basically hit rock bottom. It was their turning point,” he says. "That’s kind of where I was at. It was something I felt that I wanted to do and I needed to do for me."
“The whole ‘Joe’ thing, I think, is we’re all just average guys who are united in doing something that we feel collectively is better for all of us. We’re all trying to go to the same place.”
- Joey Guerra, The Houston Chronicle