Water Liars seek truth through rock music
Since forming in 2010 as a duo consisting of drummer Andrew Bryant and guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster, Mississippi-based band Water Liars have been gaining an increasing fanbase of admirers who have become infatuated with the group's rich, Southern-tinged songwriting and no frills rock and roll. Their latest album, Wyoming, is unquestionably one of my personal favorite releases this year and of all time for that matter. Recently I interviewed Justin Kinkel-Schuster and this is the piece that resulted. -Neil
"We were both crucified by the truth.”
These ominously chilling words are the final line in the short story that Water Liars named their band after. Written by Barry Hannah, a Mississippi literary icon who passed away in 2010, “Water Liars” tells the story of two men who are ostracized from a group of liars for telling a true tale. It should come as no surprise that Andrew Bryant and Justin Kinkel-Schuster chose their band name as a tributary nod to Hannah’s story. Much like the writing of Barry Hannah and other distinctly Southern writers like Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, Kinkel-Schuster and Bryant write songs that, while straightforward and often painfully honest, carry themes of darkness and despair. This makes sense when you consider the two reside around Oxford, Mississippi, the literary capital of the South and home to their record label, Fat Possum.
“There's something about coming from the South that sort of puts you spiritually in tune with rough things,” says Kinkel-Schuster, who plays guitar and writes the majority of the band’s songs.
Rough things is a good way to sum up many of the songs on the latest Water Liars album,Wyoming (ALBUM REVIEW), which dwells on testimonials of lost love, death, and a perpetual yearning for something better. The lyrics are brought to life by exuberant, gritty rocking that serves as a sort of musical redemption for the misdeeds of the characters portrayed in the songs.
“It's definitely not the case where [songs] are autobiographical and straight from my life or the other guys in the band's lives. But it's definitely the case that when I'm writing I try to take a small kernel of truth or something that is actual and build a story off of that. I don't think that because a lot of the lyrics are dark that there's anything unrealistic to it. I think everyone goes through [dark times],” says Kinkel-Schuster.
In a way, that darkness is what led to the formation of Water Liars. Though they met in 2005 when Andrew Bryant came through St. Louis, where Kinkel-Schuster was living at the time, and played a show together in separate bands, the two “immediately hit it off and responded to each other's songs.” After living in different towns for years and keeping in touch, it was rough times that finally led Kinkel-Schuster to Bryant’s home in Mississippi, where Water Liars was created.
“I was really looking for change and was pretty unhappy with the way things were going and just needed to get away, so I asked Andrew if he would take a long weekend with me to record and play on this group of songs that I had together. He said ok and as soon as we started it was that kind of proverbial thing where it just felt great and special,” says Kinkel-Schuster.
With a stripped down lineup in the vein of groups like the Black Keys, Bryant played drums and backing vocals while Kinkel-Schuster sang and played guitar. Together the two realized they had a unique connection that gave them the ability to deliver that rare and beautiful package of songs that rock your face off and lyrics that can make you tear up at the same time.
Since releasing their incredible sophomore album, Wyoming (Fat Possum), earlier this year and playing their first batch of shows behind it at South By Southwest, Water Liars did what every band that gets a buzz needs to do - they hit the road. Over the last year they’ve toured almost constantly, adding full time bass player GR Robinson in the process. Closing out what can only be described as a successful year, the band recently recorded a follow-up to Wyoming to be released this winter.
Reflecting on the new album, Kinkel-Schuster says, “I think it's a continuation of what we've done thus far, but I think it's a little bit different of a record in that Wyoming had sort of an overall, overarching sound and feel to the whole record, whereas with this record we spent a little more time recording it and trying out different sounds and things on it. It gets pretty aggressive at times and a lot of it has a softer, almost folkier element to it that we've done on previous records too.”
Given the first two albums, one can only expect the band’s third release to be fantastic. Like the men in Barry Hannah’s “Water Liars,” Andrew Bryant and Justin Kinkel-Schuster are drawn to the truth, and with their own style of Southern music they provide us with something badly needed in our prefabricated wasteland of modern culture - a healthy dose of honest, thoughtful rock and roll.
This interview was originally published on The Horn, an online publication based out of Austin, Texas. Feel free to read Neil's posts on No Depression or browse through his more than 200 published articles at readthehorn.com. To follow Neil's work and more Austin-based music coverage please check out Neil's TWITTER!