‘Things Happen the Way they Ought to’: Pandemic inspires Fayetteville songwriter to release album from now-defunct band

Water Liars performs at the 2016 On the Map Fest in Fayetteville / Photo: Todd Gill

As he looks back on it now, things worked out exactly like they should have worked out for Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster and his band, Water Liars. All it took to realize it was a five-year, detour-filled delay in releasing the band’s fourth album, a move to Fayetteville, and a global pandemic.

But in 2015, when the band started work on “Roll On” at The Echo Lab near Denton, Texas, the album – and perhaps the band, too – was meant to be the next big thing. The record-in-progress followed on the heels of three increasingly popular albums for the band. “Roll On” was recorded as a commercially minded expansion of the band’s sometimes sparse sound.

In the weeks that followed the recording session, the band’s management company dissolved. In the months that followed the dissolution, the band members were left to shop the record around on their own. The trio spent time, energy and money they didn’t have trying to find a home for “Roll On.”

“We were unknowingly dealing with the seeds that would cause the band to fall apart,” Kinkel-Schuster said recently by phone from his home in Fayetteville.

Maybe if a label had picked up the record, the rock ‘n’ roll version of Water Liars would be out and about, using this time when touring isn’t possible to record new material. Maybe there would be European tours and late-night television appearances and everything that goes with the next rung of fame above where the band was at when it recorded “Roll On”. But the album never found that proverbial home, instead languishing in release purgatory.

“We were under no contractual obligations,” Kinkel-Schuster said. “Maybe if we had been working for a record label we could have [kept the band together]. But the fact that we made it with who we wanted to make it with, and that we made it ourselves, resulted in a complete lack of safety net. We weren’t enough to support it.”

It’s a fate that befalls many almost-great bands.

Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster of Water Liars / Photo: Todd Gill

“It’s the oldest story in the book,” said Kinkel-Schuster. “There’s nothing special about it, except when it happens to you.”

It became the story for Water Liars, now spoken of in the past tense. Without direction, and under the pressure to recover what they’d invested emotionally and financially, the members went their separate ways. Kinkel-Schuster, the band’s primary songwriter and lyricist, moved to Fayetteville in late 2016 and started a solo career. Drummer and vocalist Andrew Bryant moved back to Mississippi to record his own solo works. Bass player G.R. Robinson, who joined the group at the time the third album was released, has taken a lower profile, musically speaking.

Kinkel-Schuster always knew “Roll On” would be released, but he didn’t know when. Introspection and some time at home courtesy of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gave the shelved project “a not-so-gentle push” into fruition, he said.

“Roll On” was released July 3 on a new self-started label. The album is currently only available as a digital version via Bandcamp. A vinyl version was expected in mid-October, but like everything in 2020, production has been delayed. Kinkel-Schuster does not have a firm date on vinyl delivery but hopes it can be resolved by the end of the year. He wants to hear it on his turntable, a great equalizer to the other records in existence.

Kinkel-Schuster realized that despite the discouragement that came with an album and a band that almost was something bigger, having the music out there mattered more.

G.R. Robinson and Andrew Bryant of Water Liars / Photo: Todd Gill

“The pandemic forced a kind of perspective on us, about what’s important and meaningful in our day-to-day lives,” he said. “I don’t think I realized how good I’d feel about finally getting this music out there, sink or swim as it may.”

He’s also realized that learning more about the process of recording and editing suits him. Kinkel-Schuster has been working on commissioned pieces and will soon record his next solo album in his home studio. His return to a more DIY aesthetic reminds him of his first musical project as a teenager, recording the noise he and his friends made in a neighbor’s garage in Greenwood, Arkansas, where he grew up.

That circle has turned him back home. Looking back, he knows a bigger, more popular Water Liars would be nearly impossible considering his current way of life. While he misses playing with other musicians who he cares about and trusts, touring life is incompatible with where he finds himself.

“Those worlds could not be more different. Speaking for myself, I don’t feel like I could be more content,” he said of his Fayetteville life with a fiancé, their dogs and their home.

But the music of Water Liars will “Roll On” despite its unceremonious arrival. There are songs on the record that may connect with people, and that’s the ultimate miracle of music.

“I’m glad it’s out there,” Kinkel-Schuster said. “Things happen the way they ought to.”