Mic Check: The Georgia Thunderbolts represent Rome with tough Southern rock

The five-piece Georgia Thunderbolts are based in Rome, Georgia. The band released its self-titled debut EP in August 2020 and have more new material ready to roll for fall 2021.
The five-piece Georgia Thunderbolts are based in Rome, Georgia. The band released its self-titled debut EP in August 2020 and have more new material ready to roll for fall 2021.

Credit: JIM ARBOGAST

Credit: JIM ARBOGAST

Even though The Georgia Thunderbolts have only known each other as a collective unit for about six years, the band’s muscular Southern rock belies their brief tenure as bandmates.

All of the guys — singer TJ Lyle, guitarists Logan Tolbert and Riley Couzzourt, bassist Zach Everett and drummer Bristol Perry — hail from Rome, Georgia, and nearby Taylorsville. And while Lyle and Tolbert are childhood friends, the genesis of The Georgia Thunderbolts came by way of mutual meetings and an open mic night in Cartersville.

Now, said Lyle, “We’re a unit. We clicked. We act like we’ve known each other our whole lives. We have our own sound and we don’t try to sound like anybody.”

With the backing of manager Richard Young of The Kentucky Headhunters and a deal with Mascot Records, the band released a self-titled EP in August and has ample new material to release later this year.

The five-piece Georgia Thunderbolts are based in Rome, Georgia. The band released its self-titled debut EP in August 2020 and have more new material ready to roll for fall 2021
The five-piece Georgia Thunderbolts are based in Rome, Georgia. The band released its self-titled debut EP in August 2020 and have more new material ready to roll for fall 2021

Credit: JIM ARBOGAST

Credit: JIM ARBOGAST

A new song, “Take It Slow,” is accumulating views on YouTube and The Georgia Thunderbolts locked in a handful of live shows this summer in Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina (they’ll also play the Sycamore Grove Music Festival in Rockmart Oct. 9).

In a recent chat from his Taylorsville home, Lyle, who has written songs for the new Kentucky Headhunters album, talked about the importance of playing live and his affection for Ray Charles.

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Q: Did you record the EP during the pandemic?

A: We’ve had that recorded for about two years. With the pandemic affecting people mentally with not leaving their houses or having anything to do and with people losing their jobs, we decided to release it (in August), at the height when everything (with the pandemic) was breaking. We have a full length album done and that’s coming in October. Logan built a studio out here so we’re constantly writing songs. We got it built just in the nick of time — in February 2020 — and I was in there recording every day and writing songs. We’ve got tons of songs now. I, alone, have written more than 100 songs. We wanted to get ahead of the schedule so we can tour the first album in its entirety and as soon as that’s done just bam, keep knocking (albums and tours) out. Life’s too short to put the brakes on.

Q: The video for your new song, “Take It Slow,” looks like it was a fun shoot with that faux poker game.

A: It was! We did it at a bar in Rome called Peaches. Some of the outtakes were done around Taylorsville and guitar stores (there). But the big scenes, like the poker game, were in our studio.

Q: You’ve mentioned Ray Charles as an influence. What was it about him that spoke to you?

A: It’s his soul. The way he came across and he could tell a story without you having to see who he was or hear where he came from. He sang with his soul, it wasn’t with his voice. I listened to him a lot. My dad is a preacher and I’ve always listened to gospel and older country. Ray was just the guy I always turned and listened to. He’s one of the main reasons I started to play piano (five years ago). Music has always been around my family. All of my family are talented singers, but they don’t really play instruments.

Q: Do you think the band will remain in Georgia?

A: Probably so. We don’t have any reason to go anywhere. Our families are still here and we’re a close family. But I’ve always wanted to move to Nashville because I write a lot of songs and it would put me closer to the guys I’m friends with out there.

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Q: What was it like growing up as a fledgling musician in Rome?

A: When we started doing this in 2014-15, there was a group of people up there who came together and really had everything — the drums, the guitars — set up in the clubs and it was a live open mic opportunity and that’s how this band formed. They don’t have those anymore. That really opened up the door for us to get together and play together. I listen to a lot of country, so when it comes to the songwriting, I write country or soulful songs to the rock music (the rest of the band creates). I write what I feel and what I know. I try to sing about positive things. There’s too much negativity in this world.

Q: It seems as if that is becoming a lost art, paying your dues in tiny clubs and learning to play in front of crowds.

A: (Laughs) Yeah. If you can play six-hour shows for a dog in a bar six hours away… that really happened to us in Kimberly, Alabama. All that was there was the bartender and the bartender’s dog in a chair — and the dog was asleep. We played four and a half hours that night. It’s all a process. Now we don’t play more than 90 minutes!

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