For Mississippi-based Water Liars, the line between contemplative folk music and southern rock is repeatedly redrawn, blurred and erased all together. And it’s by design.
“We want to be able to be the loudest band and the quietest band at the same time,” says vocalist-guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster.
It’s evident in their two albums, 2012’s Phantom Limb and Wyoming, released in March of this year. The former features stripped-down guitar and drum duets by Kinkel-Schuster and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant. Recorded under somewhat spontaneous circumstances with one microphone, it feels at times like the garage rock tunes of two musicians raised on Neil Young’s earliest albums.
Where Phantom Limb conjures sounds of lo-fi southern rock, Wyoming develops the idea of bleak space, hence the title, or, as Kinnkel-Schuster put in an interview with CMJ, “a particularly American sense of… desolate beauty.”
Wyoming from Water Liars on Myspace.
With lyrics as, indeed, desolate and self-reflective as “Did I kiss my mother with these lips? Did I leave my brother in the thick? Did I miss my sister’s happiness? Did I steal my father’s emptiness?” the album is ripe with instances of stark openness beneath a mono-colored sky, where barren, lonely lands breed nothing but isolated self-reflection.
And Water Liars are on the move again. With an album due out in early 2014, Kinkel-Schuster says the new set of songs pull away from the folk-inspired tunes of Wyoming.
“The new record has a lot of the same elements, but it has a lot more aggressive sounds,” he says. “It’s a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll record.”
Water Liars, in the midst of a monthlong tour, will play O’Leaver’s Pub in Omaha on Saturday, and The Bourbon in Lincoln on Sunday night. Kinkel-Schuster said their shows so far have been comprised of material from their previous two albums as well as the forthcoming record.
For Kinkel-Schuster, fluidity in the band’s sound is not a conscious choice. He said they’ve never felt the need to be a genre-consistent band.
“We just write songs,” he said. “If they come out sort of folk or sort of rock, that’s great, but we just write what we want.”
The addition of bassist GR Robinson to what was formerly a duo may have had an influence on the new material’s direction. Kinkel-Schuster admits it has certainly impacted their live show.
He says he appreciates how the addition has permitted Water Liars to add new elements to live songs on the fly, an aspect of live performance for which the band has often strived.
“It’s enabled us to play more of a rock ‘n’ roll show, which I find a lot more interesting. We’re able to be a lot more dynamic.”
Jacob Zlomke is Hear Nebraska’s editorial intern. He views wide open spaces perhaps more optimistically than Water Liars. Reach him at email@example.com.