Justin Kinkel-Schuster spent a decade making music before he felt he’d really found himself.
“There’s a general tendency when you’re young, you have this impulse to make things that are loud and chaotic and frenzied and wild,” says Kinkel-Schuster. “Then as you get older you realize that’s not a sustainable way of living. You have to give voice to that other steadier part of yourself.”
For Kinkel-Schuster, that expression has found form in Water Liars, the critically acclaimed Mississippi-based folk-roots combo he leads with multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant.
A 30 year-old Arkansas native, Kinkel-Schuster bounced around various bands for years, notably spending time with a St. Louis outfit called Theodore. While on tour he met and became friendly with solo singer-songwriter Bryant.
In 2011, the pair entered Bryant’s home studio in Pittsboro, Miss., to record a collection of songs that Kinkel-Schuster would describe as an almost “accidental” album. The resulting set, Phantom Limb, was an LP of meditative, spectral folk songs. Picked up for release by Misra Records in 2012, the project provided the outlet both musicians had been looking for, and so Water Liars — the name taken from a short story by the late Southern novelist Barry Hannah — was born.
“Once it came to pass that this was going to be a record that actually came out, we realized we were going to have to tour, and so we started to develop even more of a sound for ourselves and an idea of what we wanted to be,” says Kinkel-Schuster. “We didn’t really know what we had together until we started out just doing it, basically.”
After getting good notices for the album and the tours that followed, Water Liars landed a deal with Mississippi’s Big Legal Mess Records. It was a perfect union as Big Legal Mess head Bruce Watson had recorded and released A.A. Bondy’s 2009 classic When the Devil’s Loose, an LP that was a key inspiration for the collaboration between Kinkel-Schuster and Bryant.
“That’s one of the records we talked about a lot. It’s one of our favorite records of all time,” says Kinkel-Schuster. “That was a model for what we wanted to do. The way those songs sound and the simplicity of that record was a sonic touchstone for us.”
Working with Watson, the band produced a sterling sophomore LP, Wyoming, which was released this past spring. A further refinement of the longing, sad songs found on their first disc, the album explores a desolate emotional landscape that’s matched by the moody atmospherics of the music.
“For us, the overriding idea and focus is to always to serve the song, no matter what,” says Kinkel-Schuster. “Sonically, we don’t feel like there’s any sort of limitation or any one thing we’re trying to do. We just let the song dictate the sound.”
Even though Wyoming just came out a few months ago, Water Liars are well into the recording of their third album, once again working with Watson at his Water Valley studio.
Plans are to release the album in the spring of 2014, making it three albums in less than three years for the group. It’s a prolific pace, but a period that’s also seen their music grow exponentially. “To us that’s the way things are supposed to go. We’re always trying to be working and make something new and better than we have before.”
In between studio sessions, the band will doing a bit of regional touring, including a show at the Poplar Lounge on Friday. Water Liars also recently expanded to a three-piece, having added bassist G.R. Robinson to the fold.
For Kinkel-Schuster, every record, every show, is a chance to get things right.
“We spent years making mistakes and figuring out how not to do things.” he said. “Now we’re doing things as best and as smart as we can. To have made it to a point where that’s even possible feels like a small victory in itself.”
Lee Bains III
The Glory Fires
Friday, 9 p.m. at the Poplar Lounge, 2586 Poplar.
Cover is $7.
For more information, call 901-324-6550