Mississippi’s Water Liars offer up an alternative-country rock sound so full and robust, it’s hard to believe the music is solely the work of two men — singer/guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster and drummer/keyboardist Andrew Bryant — and not a larger ensemble.
The duo will make their State College debut June 12 at Levels in support of the self-titled “Water Liars,” the band’s third album but second with the storied Fat Possum Records.
Highlights of “Water Liars” include the stomping, Crazy Horse-evoking “Cannibal,” the raw sorrow of “Tolling Bells,” and “Last Escape,” in which Bryant compliments Schuster’s lead tenor vocal with a rich baritone that, frankly, needs to be heard more.
Weekender phoned Shuster for an interview as he drove through the Indiana countryside, taking in the American landscape, warts and all.
Weekender: How did this tour with Drive-By Truckers come into fruition? Will the tour be extensive?
Justin Kinkel-Shuster: It’s sort of a mini-tour, about 10 dates. We had been friends with (DBT bass player) Matt Patton for a while and he passed some of our music to (lead singer) Patterson Hood. It took some time for both sides to get coordinated, but here we finally are.
W: “Water Liars” takes its name from the Barry Hannah novel “Airships.” What other writers and authors have informed your work?
JKS: Frank Stanford, a poet from Arkansas, is an influence both Andrew and I share. We also like Willie Vlautin. His most famous novel, “The Motel Life,” was made into a movie.
W: In past interviews, you’ve explained the significance of the titles of your first two records, “Phantom Limb” (2012) and “Wyoming” (2013). What was the rationale behind titling this release simply “Water Liars”?
JKS: We were for going for a big dynamic sound on this record, a showcase of all the different styles we play. Self-titling the record best suited the essence of what is captured on this album.
W: You’ve been praised for your candor and frankness when addressing topics like sex, death, violence and insecurity in your lyrics. Did you have to break out of any comfort zones while finding your voice as a lyricist?
JKS: I’ve always been drawn to those subjects you mentioned. You need an outlet to work through the things that bother you and keep you up at night. So yes, that personal voice in my writing has always sort of been there. Of course, I’ve become more self-aware and in control as I’ve gotten older.
W: Your musical and personal rapport with Mr. Bryant is evident in your songs and your interviews, and many have complimented the musical kinship you share. How do you help each other grow as musicians?
JKS: We share so much in common; there is a sort of “unspoken consensus” on some many things we see eye to eye on, both in music and life. Our musical relationship is very clear and defined — I’ll come in with lyrics or a tune and Andrew will help flesh it out. I feel very fortunate that we found each other, and that we’re such good friends.