Last Wednesday, Macon’s Hummingbird Stage and Taproom received a humble portion of bluesy, southern authenticity from Water Liars’ frontman Justin Kinkel-Schuster.
Called “Pete” by most people, Kinkel-Schuster and his feather-adorned guitar took the stage with an open and welcoming presence. Even without band member Andrew Bryant, he managed to give a great display of the raw, blunt simplicity that makes Water Liars’ sound so powerful. Their name comes from a Barry Hannah short story, and their music is densely infused with literary references. Like a dark hymn, Kinkel-Schuster’s voice is a cleansing breath that demands reverence.
After leaving Macon, he took some time to visit Flannery O’Connor’s house in Milledgeville before continuing the tour up to Charleston.
A few days later, Kinkel-Schuster took some more time to let me get an interview from the road.
MM: How long have you been writing music?
KS: I’m pretty sure that as soon as I got my first guitar, at around age 12 or 13, I just started writing songs. So I’ve been trying to write things pretty much as long as I’ve been playing—I guess approximately 15 years.
MM: What influences your writing?
KS: Life. I mean, I’m sure a lot of people would say that too, but really, it’s the things that happen to me and what I do and see and hear that make up the lion’s share of what inspires me to write. It’s mostly just living life, and what I soak up from everything that happens.
MM: So how has life been for you lately? When did you start touring?
KS: (laughs) Well, I’ve been touring forever. But with Water Liars, we started the tour at the beginning of March. It’s been going great so far.
MM: You’ve been in other bands before, but Water Liars formed in 2011. What made that happen?
KS: Andrew and I have been friends forever, but we’ve only been playing together as a band for about nine months.
MM: Wow. So you played together for the first time when you made the album?
KS: Yeah, I just went up to his house for a long weekend and that was actually the first time we ever worked or played together. We knocked it out in about three days over a long weekend. We were just planning on recording some songs that I had but we weren’t planning on cranking out a fully formed record. It was kind of accidental. As soon as we started working on it we both felt it. Immediately it just felt really good and felt like something we needed to work on and do whatever we could with.
MM: And the name comes from a short story. Tell me about that.
KS: We chose that because we are both Barry Hannah nerds and love Hannah’s writing. It’s the first story from that book of short stories, and it sounded like a good name for a band, so—two birds, one stone. We needed a band name, and we both like the story. Seemed like a good way to knock ‘em both out.
MM: Andrew wasn’t with you when you came to Macon. Will he be back to join you later?
KS: He did all of the first long tour when the record came out, and most of the spring, but he’s been working a lot during the summer. I don’t know what he’s going to be able to do in the future. I’m planning on just doing, you know, everything, but he’s welcome at any time.
MM: How much longer will you be on tour?
KS: Well I’ll head back to Oxford at the end of November, then I’ll break for a couple weeks before starting again in December and do it again.
MM: What have been some of your favorite places so far?
KS: I don’t know—Durham, North Carolina the other night. Charleston was really good. It’s hard to answer that question when I’m on the road because everything and every day just blurs together. I’m playing in Norfolk, Virginia tonight, but then I head to Baltimore. I’m really excited about playing in Baltimore tomorrow; I have some friends there and it’s always a lot of fun.
MM: Do you have a favorite song to play live?
KS: A favorite song? I’m not going to answer that. (laughs) It’s just funny to me to think of sitting around and picking out favorite things that I wrote. There are definitely things I feel are better or worse than others, but it’s sort of like talking about your kids. You say you love them all the same even though you don’t always, and they’re all a pain in the ass sometimes.
MM: What other music influences you?
KS: I mostly listen to a lot of old music, old soul and R&B and blues. Generally I have an attraction, a love affair, with old things from the past. I guess I like the way the music sounds with old equipment; the way it’s played sounds warmer and more real and live to me. Which doesn’t make sense because it’s old, but that’s just the way it is to me.
MM: ‘Phantom Limb’ came out recently and sounds great. Will you record again soon?
KS: Yes. We are going to record again and make an album, and hopefully it’ll be alright.
‘Phantom Limb,’ the Water Liars’ debut album, was released last February. Music and merchandise from the Water Liars can be found at www.waterliarsmusic.com or the website of the band’s producer, Misra Records at www.misrarecords.com.