Corey Flegel of This is American Music recently named Water Liars one of the 10 Southern bands to watch in 2015 in Southern Living. While the Mississippi trio will be playing several shows in 2015, including a stop at Standard Deluxe in Waverly, Alabama on Feb. 23, Andrew Bryant will take time to release a new solo project, This is the Life, in January. He comes to BottleTree and will do an in-store show at Seasick Records prior in celebration of the new material.
Bryant spoke to Weld about his work separate from the band and Oxford, Mississippi before the Birmingham stop.
Weld: How do you distinguish a Water Liars song from an Andrew Bryant song?
Andrew Bryant: That’s pretty simple, actually. Justin [Kinkel-Schuster] has written all of the songs for Water Liars. He’s written all of the lyrics and he writes 99.8 percent of the music. He has a chord progression. Basically, what he’ll do is write a song and come to me and I’ll start piecing together the arrangement. There’s only been a couple of instances where I said, “You should add this chord, change the progression up a little bit.”
So I’ve never considered myself a songwriter in that band. When I do Andrew Bryant songs, it’s separate from Water Liars.
Weld: So Water Liars songs are his experiences and never really yours?
AB: Yeah, but I feel like sometimes, especially with the newer material, he was definitely speaking to experiences that we’ve been through together.
Weld: Galilee came out in 2009. Have you been collecting songs since then for the new record that you’ll release this month?
AB: No, not at all. After that record came out, I actually did a long tour with a band that Justin used to be in called Theodore out of St. Louis. He was living there at that time. I went on tour with his band, just solo, opening up. That tour was really terrible. The shows were bad. We barely had any money and we barely made it where we were going and back. When I came back from that, I started trying to work on a follow-up, and I wasn’t happy with my material.
I haven’t written songs, really, since Water Liars started. I wasn’t having writer’s block, per se, but I didn’t have anything to say, I couldn’t write, I didn’t like anything that I was doing. I was fed up with what I was doing — making solo records and touring like that. I wanted to do something different, and he wanted to do something different, which is how I came to be in a partnership with him. It was a good role for me at the time. It let me be musically active and creative, but not have to be a songwriter and not have to have that type of pressure.
I wrote all of these songs in about a week or two last year. It was right after the Water Liars record had come out. We had a longer than normal break from the tour, and we weren’t working on any new material, so I was just kind of sitting around the house and started writing these songs. That’s how it came out.
Weld: You had hit a writer’s block, a stall in the creative process. Where did you draw the inspiration to write this new batch of songs?
AB: A couple of things. During those three years, I was on antidepressants, and I’ve kind of chalked it up to that. It was numbing me to a point where I couldn’t process things and write songs. Within a month of my getting off of the antidepressants, I wrote a brand new album.
I think I worked on that follow-up to Galilee for so long that I had gotten frustrated and I kind of wanted to put it down for a few years. It was a little bit of both things. It was what I was going through personally and it just wasn’t working. “I can’t write songs right now, but I don’t really care.”
I was super glad that I had Justin come along when he did and that Water Liars happened when it did. It allowed me to still be artistic.
Weld: You guys opened Centro-Matic’s final Nashville show and you opened solo for Patterson Hood in Florence in December — how has the work of those two bands influenced your own work and what did you learn during those performances?
AB: We also did some Water Liars dates with Drive-By Truckers earlier in the year, which is kind of how I had that connection. Patterson has always been a big fan. The main thing that I have learned from those two bands — from Drive-By Truckers, it’s just being professional. They’ve always been a hard-working band, and me and Justin have always just respected bands that have that “grind it out” work ethic and don’t quit. English Oceans was one of their best albums in years.
On the other side, Centro-Matic, it’s one of those things where they’re always talking about calling it quits and it’s depressing. But I know that all of those dudes in Centro-Matic have their own craft and they’re still going to be going on to do great things. From them, I’ve learned how to figure out who you are and what you do and work hard at it. It’ll pay off. That’s what I try to do.
Weld: Was 2014 as good as Ole Miss can be or is there a higher ceiling?
AB: Of course that’s not as good as they can be! I’m very hopeful. I think we’ll do better next year than we did this year — it may be about the same. The steps the university is taking with regards to their image is helping in recruiting. Everybody else around here will say the opposite. But it’s pretty apparent, and it’s only going to get better with the new facilities. We’re recruiting well. The best thing that can happen for us is for Alabama to have a bad year. Or Mississippi State to have a bad year.
I’m not a defeatist. I’m not one of those defeatist Ole Miss fans that always just says, “We’re going to win the party.” I mean, yeah, we’re going to do that. But there’s too much at stake, and the people running the show now realize that they can compete for a championship.
Weld: What is the best dive in Oxford?
AB: Lamar Lounge is the best for food and drinks. John Currence’s place, a nonprofit restaurant and bar. City Grocery is great, it’s a little more high-end. Lamar Lounge is north of town, away from the Square, so you don’t get all that action all the time. The food is incredible and the drinks are always good.
Weld: When I type Andrew Bryant on Spotify, there’s another guy with the same name that is a Christian R&B act. Have you considered a double bill with him?
AB: I don’t know who that [expletive] dude is, man. How is my name that normal? What are the [expletive] odds?
I had it first! My record came out a long time ago. His record is ironically called Storyteller, which makes it seems like he’s a singer-songwriter, but it’s not that at all. It’s terrible, nu-gospel.
I don’t know, what am I gonna do? Sue that guy?
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
AB: I wasn’t expecting this one. Minor Threat, I’ll say that is number five. Number four — I listen to so many songwriters, it’s weird.
Wilco might be up there. Magnolia Electric Company is number one in my book. I know that.
I don’t do lists. So this is hard. I’m going to put Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band up there.
The most influential [expletive] to me was Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt and tons of those kinds of people. Those were the best musicians that America has produced. Ray Charles and Al Green. All that [expletive].
I just need one more? [expletive] it, man. Nirvana. I was trying not to be obvious, but how can I not include Nirvana? Minor Threat and Nirvana are two bands that, when I was young, really did it for me. Magnolia Electric Company, you can say they robbed that Canadian sound from Neil Young, but I don’t agree with that at all. I get it, but if you ever saw them live a few times like I did and saw their work aesthetic, there’s something very American, something very Midwest about it. That’s what I love about that band. It’s not the South, it’s not the North — it’s Middle America.
Andrew Bryant will perform at BottleTree Cafe on Jan. 31 in celebration of his new solo record, This is the Life. The Gunshy and The Suppertime Shuffle will open. Doors open at 8:10 p.m. and the show begins at 9:10 p.m. Tickets are $10.