Happy Accidents

W ater Liars Make No Mistake with Stunning Debut

By Tim Anderl

Some of music’s greatest achievements are happy accidents.  The right musicians, in the right place at a time when the planets and melodies align in a way that produces soul-singing, is destined to tickle the ears and hearts of listeners.  Recorded on a whim, with a single microphone, by a then unnamed band, Water Liars’ Phantom Limb is a stunning record.

The duo, consisting of St. Louis, Mo. songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Justin Kinkel-Schuster and Oxford, Miss. drummer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant, convened to record their debut over the course of three days in the small village of Pittsboro, Miss.  The remarkable output made its way into the hands of old friend and Misra Records figurehead Leo DeLuca — who recently returned to his native Dayton, Ohio — and he signed the band to a roster that includes his band Southeast Engine, Shearwater and Great Lake Swimmers.  The debut was released to the public on February 28, 2012.

“I met Andrew about six years ago in St. Louis at a show that my previous band, Theodore, played in support of him and Matt Arbogast, who plays and records as The Gunshy, while they were touring together,” explained Kinkel-Schuster.  “We liked each other’s stuff and kept in touch and kept playing shows together in each other’s towns, and over the years we’ve just become better and better friends. We’re about as similar in our ways of thinking about and working on and playing music, and being alive, as I’ve ever been with anybody.

“Finally just about a year ago, I had a weekend off and some songs kicking around my head and I asked Andrew if I could come down to his house and record and just hang out for a few days and clear my head. As soon as we started to work, it was clear that we should’ve done this a long time ago, and so here we are.”

The resulting output has already received the attention of more than a few well-regarded music press outlets and radio stations.  Paste magazine, the Pop Matters and The Onion websites, and Seattle’s KEXP have all hailed the record as an eerie lo-fi folk phenomenon.  Website Daytrotter hit the nail when they described Phantom Limb as “pissed energy packed with solemn depression, leaning on the sides of aggression and beautiful compassion and brokenness to an effect that makes all of the force feel and sound wonderfully wounded.”

“I’m not sure what exactly makes people take notice of what we’re doing. I can say that Andrew and I believe in it and we’re lucky to have people working with us that also believe in it and want people to hear it,” said Kinkel-Schuster.  “I just know that to me, it has an unadulterated, immediate quality that I haven’t really ever felt before when making music. Probably we’re just lucky, which is fine by me. We’re just trying to keep our heads down and get from one place to the next.”

When Dayton City Paper caught up with the band, they were en route to the Misra Records showcase at Austin, Texas’ annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music event, where they’d converge with a handful of Ohioans also making the trek — labelmates Southeast Engine, Dayton’s R. Ring (featuring former Breeder Kelley Deal), Columbus’ The Black Swans, and Basho Apparel, who would be screen-printing a limited-edition, showcase only t-shirt for the Misra Showcase.  The band was anxious for the event, and despite the national attention they’ve received, Kinkel-Schuster also worried whether the band would have the resources to get there.

“Touring being what it is for a band at our level, we are at this moment figuring out what we will do if we don’t make any gas money tonight in Omaha, like we didn’t last night in Des Moines,” said Kinkel-Schuster.  “Not to reveal how unglamorous we are, but we’re really just trying to get from one place to the next and maybe get some pizza and watch Andy Griffith. We are working on covering needs at this point.”

Following SXSW, the band returns east, including a stop at Dayton’s South Park Tavern on Friday March 23.  “I’ve been to Dayton once before, but not for a very long time,” recalled Kinkel-Schuster.  “I remember the art museum was real cool. We’re just hoping to have a good show, and maybe if there’s time I’d like to go back to the art museum. I remember a Joseph Cornell they had that was super cool.”

(Water Liars perform with New Old Fashioned at South Park Tavern on Friday, March 23.  For more information about the band, visit http://www.misrarecords.com/artists/water-liars.)

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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