Mississippi duo Water Liars was never intended to go beyond a weekend recording session. In 2011, songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster entered into the studio in Pittsboro, MS, with drummer/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant on a brief retreat from his band, Theodore. Drawing from a well of Kinkel-Schuster’s songs, Bryant helped in transforming the spare parts into a collection of fully realized tracks. Once Theodore suddenly disbanded in the days following, the two turned the recordings into their 2012 debut, Phantom Limb, a poignant batch of alternative folk rock that recalls Robin Pecknold’s melodies and Bob Dylan-inspired storytelling.
A year later, Water Liars have released Wyoming, a sophomore effort that allowed Kinkel-Schuster and Bryant to spend much more time planning out their vision. For the album, they spent six days at a studio in Water Valley, MS, with engineer Bruce Watson, whose previous credits include work with fellow folk artist A.A. Bondy. The results are somber, personal and often gritty takes of folk that are rooted in a kinship with the South. On the title track, Kinkel-Schuster sings a melancholic ballad through the lens of the “desolate beauty” he believes Wyoming represents.
I recently had the chance to email with Kinkel-Schuster about Wyoming, the South and why there’s so much heartache on this album.
You guys live in Mississippi, and the album was recorded there, yet the title of it is Wyoming. What gives?
I mean for Wyoming to represent what I see as a particularly American sense of open, jagged, desolate beauty, and the echo that it makes in myself and, I can only hope, in others.
Where does the name “Water Liars” come from?
Water Liars is the first story in Barry Hannah’s short story collection Airships. We are big fans of Barry Hannah.
How did your initial recording session for Phantom Limb come to fruition?
The session that produced Phantom Limb began purely as two friends learning, working on and recording a particular group of songs over the course of three days. No preconceived ideas, no forethought or -sight. Just two dudes who love songs hanging out.
Did you opt for a similarly off-the-cuff approach on Wyoming? What was different this time?
For Wyoming, we definitely wanted to spend a lot more time and use better gear and really just make sure that we could live with the quality of what we would end up putting out. We were extremely fortunate to work with Bruce Watson at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, MS, and he definitely made the record sound just the way we wanted it to. We really wanted to make the record there because he had worked on A.A. Bondy’s When The Devil’s Loose there, and we were looking for a similar sound. In preparing for the sessions, we basically did what we had for Phantom Limb and then used those recordings as demos so that we knew more or less what we were going to do before we got in the studio. I think all told we spent about six days recording Wyoming and a few more days mixing.
Is there a kinship felt with the South that inspired you to relocate there?
Absolutely. I grew up in Arkansas, so it’s basically just been like coming home. The South is where it’s at.
On the album, there’s a healthy amount of heartache, remorse and heavy reflection. Were you going through anything specific, or are these simply timeless themes?
Both. More often than not what I write ends up being a kind of processing for me, and it’s really the one place where I can really be honest with myself about the things that really fuck with me. I’m not the type of person that talks through shit; I just seem to write through it, for better or worse. I notice that a lot of people who write about the record comment on how dark a lot of the songs are, and it always surprises me a little because it’s just my natural mode and not really a conscious decision. It’s just what comes out. I guess to me happiness speaks and writes for itself, that nothing I can say about it that helps or may add to the discussion. And fuck, what happiness there is to be had, I’m gonna be selfish with and keep for myself.
AND, I think they are absolutely timeless themes, some of the most timeless, and I think just about everyone who grows to adulthood on this planet will experience some form of them, and anyone who says different is either lucky or lying or both.
With the album now released, what plans lie ahead for Water Liars?
Plans are just to keep playing shows for as many people as we can and hoping that people take to it. Starting on the next record in May. Just keep working. That’s the plan because it’s all we know how to do.
Tour Dates For Water Liars:
03/10 – Dallas, TX – City Tavern
03/11 – Denton, TX – Dan’s Silverleaf
03/12 – Fort Worth, TX – The Wherehouse
03/13 – Austin, TX – SXSW
03/14 – Austin, TX – SXSW
03/15 – Austin, TX – SXSW
03/16 – Hot Springs, AR – Valley Of The Vapors Festival
03/17 – Memphis, TN – 1372 Overton Park
04/03 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
04/04 – Carbondale, IL – Skihouse
04/05 – Kansas City, KS – FOKL Center
04/06 – Omaha, NE – O’Leaver’s
04/07 – St. Paul, MN – Big V’s
04/08 – Des Moines, IA – Gas Lamp
04/10 – Rock Island, IL – Rozz Tox
04/11 – Rock Island, IL – Daytrotter Session
04/11 – Chicago, IL – The Burlington
04/12 – Indianapolis, IN – Do317 Lounge
04/13 – Fort Wayne, IN – Brass Rail
04/14 – Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog Tavern
04/15 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
04/16 – New York, NY – Cake Shop
04/17 – Brooklyn, NY – Shea Stadium
04/18 – Baltimore, MD – JoJo South Records
04/18 – Baltimore, MD – Windup Space
04/19 – Charlottesville, VA – Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
04/20 – Boone, NC – Espresso News
04/21 – Columbia, SC – New Brookland Tavern
04/22 – Charleston, SC – The Royal American
04/23 – Athens, GA – Caledonia Lounge
04/24 – Atlanta, GA – 10 High
04/25 – Chattanooga, TN – JJ’s Bohemia
04/26 – Opelika, AL – The Railyard
04/27 – Mobile, AL – Callaghan’s