The last time I spoke with Andrew and Justin of Water Liars, we discussed their musical kinship and the writing and recording of their full-length debut called Phantom Limb (Misra Records). Since our chat, the boys have signed with the Fat Possum label and have just released one of my most-anticipated albums of 2013, Wyoming. I recently caught up with Andrew to discuss the making of the new album.
Hi Andrew, can you talk about what was most rewarding making Phantom Limb, and the subsequent touring for the album?
Andrew Bryant: When I think about Phantom Limb, I always think about the little things that happened in making the record and how it all morphed into us being a band seemingly out of nowhere. It really was just two friends hanging out, making music together. You could even call it a bonding of sort, at least that's how I think of it. But not the way some people bond, by talking and getting to know each other. It was different and better than that.
And I guess that's because we are both the sort of dudes who don't care much for meaningless talk about the past or the future or our relationships or anything like that. So in a lot of ways, I feel like Justin and I have gotten to know each other by making music. And that makes the recording of Phantom Limb and the touring behind it both memorable and special. Not to mention I have a friend now.
How did these experiences prepare you for working on the next record?
Andrew: Well, the touring we did behind Phantom Limb I believe set us up pretty good for making this new record, because we finally gained a bit of "a sound" if you will from performing. Even the tunes from Phantom Limb have morphed into our more current "sound" when we play them live. So having that little bit of an extra-identity helped in developing the new songs for sure.
When did you begin working on the material for Wyoming?
Andrew: Well, only a few months after Phantom Limb came out Justin had already written a couple of new tunes. One of them was "Fake Heat". We basically worked that tune out playing it live, which goes back to what I was saying before: playing live and gaining a sort of a sound identity just made all the new stuff pretty easy to work out. But we didn't want to give the next record away by simply playing the songs at shows. And we also knew that we wanted to do the album in a good studio this time.
So, when we had a break from the road we decided that we'd start working on the next record all at once so as not to lose any of the spontaneity that comes with "the new". So we demoed the entire album at my house, just as if I had recorded, like Phantom Limb was made. And that's how we worked the new record out. Then we went into the studio and laid it down in three days because we knew what we were going to do before we got in there.
Did you have a preconceived direction set for the new record overall?
Andrew: There was really no preconceived direction as far as content goes. Justin had about 10 or 12 new songs and that's what we were going to record. The only new direction was that we wanted to record the album in a studio that could capture the sounds we were hearing in our heads, as well as what we've been trying to accomplish at our shows.
How would you say that your songwriting and performing together has evolved?
Andrew: I should say that we don't think of ourselves as a "two-piece" band. I mean, that's how we perform live, because there's only two of us, and there's only so much two people can do well. We're always just trying to put on the best show we can, working with what we have. But I play a lot of other stuff besides drums in the studio, and Justin plays all his own guitar parts and some of the bass on the new record too. I mean, our ultimate goal is to make the best record we can, and live, put on the best show we can. What else can we do?
Was there a theme that set the course for the new record as you began working on the new material?
Andrew: The main theme was capturing the sound we wanted. And also, I feel like "Fake Heat", the song we worked out by playing it live, definitely set the tone of the record. It was pretty much all downhill after that.
What were you listening to that influenced your writing and recording of Wyoming?
Andrew: Man, we listen to a lot of different stuff. I know when we were touring behind Phantom Limb we listened to a tone of Hip Hop. Particularly, Danny Brown's XXX album. Don't ask me why, though. We just liked it at the time.
So I wouldn't say that we were listening to any particular band or record at that time that seeped through it all. But I will say that we both really love the record When The Devil's Loose by AA Bondy that came out several years ago. And we wanted parts of our new record to sound like his sounded, with maybe the same sort of sonic vibe too.
Also, there is a book of poetry that Justin really likes called Wyoming. I think it was written by a fella by the name of Terry McDonell. I haven't asked him about it, but I assume something about that book influenced the title track in some way. He gave it to me to read and still haven't done so. Maybe I'll do that tonight.
Can you discuss the recording process of the new album?
Andrew: Well, Phantom Limb, as you know, was recorded with one microphone in a house I was renting at the time. But the new record was recorded at Dial Back Sound studios in Water Valley, MS with Bruce Watson. Bruce produced the record, and he and Bronson Tew engineered the whole thing. So I didn't have to do all of that work myself. Plus, the studio has all its own gear that is way better than ours.
All I took into the studio was my drum-sticks, my drum throne, a few packs of cigarettes and a sandwich. And Justin used some of the studio's amps and guitars and I did as well. So the main difference was having all of this at our disposal, leaving us free to concentrate on performing the songs and not having to do push every little button ourselves.
How did you connect with Fat Possum for the release of Wyoming (Phantom Limb was released via Misra)?
Andrew: Bruce Watson, the guy who produced our record and owns the studio where we recorded, is also the GM at Fat Possum. So that's how that happened. We'd booked the studio time with him and he asked to hear the demos we had, just to have an idea of what we'd be doing. And we started talking to him after that. Apparently, he really liked the demos. So that was that.
What drew you to the label and what does it mean to you to be on their roster?
Andrew: We've always been drawn to Fat Possum because of their roster. They put out some really great records. And it means a great deal to us to be in such fine company. But even more so, to be involved with some really great dudes who conduct themselves in the most professional manner is the best part for us.
I mean, they run their label like a business, so there's no bullshit involved. And that's just what we've always wanted. We like it when things are very: What you see is what you get. Plus, we live in Water Valley now and they're based in Oxford and we like dealing with local folks. It's almost like that blood is thicker than water thing. Or at least that's how I feel about it.
What do you you think sets Wyoming most apart from Phantom Limb?
Andrew: From Phantom Limb, I believe the songs are better and it sounds better. As for everything else, I honestly couldn't say right now.
Can you talk about your touring plans and what's next for you this year?
Andrew: We'll be hitting the road pretty hard this year. We've got a record-release tour coming up in March which includes a trip to SXSW. We're playing the Fat Possum Showcase Party with some pretty rad bands. In April we're doing a full month, heading out to the East Coast and back. Then we're doing the West Coast in June. And who knows what all after that. So keep an eye out, folks. And come see us if we're close to you.
What have you been listening to lately?
Andrew: I've been listening to three records like crazy for the past month. Sweet Heart, Sweet Light by Spiritualized, Twins by Ty Segall, and the new Foxygen record We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. All those records are great. And the knew single "Dropla" by Youth Lagoon is incredible. I can't stop listening to that song. Fat Possum is putting out that record in April I think and I can't wait to pick up a copy.
And Justin has been listening to a lot of Angel Olsen, Kris Kristofferson, and Lee Hazlewood. But he was blasting the new Ghostface Killah track a few minutes ago too. Dude's all over the place and knows more about music, literature, and art than I ever will. I'm just trying to keep up.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Andrew. Good luck with the release of Wyoming and all the touring you have planned. I'm really excited for you guys and I really dig the new record. I hope to catch you guys in Portland next time!
Andrew: Chris, thanks for doing this interview. We really appreciate it.