Andrew Bryant of the Water Liars has a new solo album out on Last Chance Records: Ain’t It Like the Cosmos? (available right here). We took one listen and had to discover more about it, tracked him down and asked him to call us. Bryant phoned Americana Highways from his truck, on his way to drop off his rent.
We started out by asking how he gave the record such a philosophical name, and he responded: “The theme running through the album is trying to figure out the meaning of things that happen in life, but at the same time accepting the way things are. “Bittersweet” is the song that the title lines came from. Its first line is: “ain’t it like the cosmos to line up the magnolias at dawn;” but the second line is “ain’t it like the cosmos to play every card in the deck?” which asks a more existential question. It’s referencing death, and a recognition of mortality. The whole album explores these existential themes. The phrase evokes the feeling behind the way we deal with wondering why things happen and what it all means.”
We wondered what motivates Bryant’s songwriting. “It’s a search for meaning in life. I think that’s what music is. It’s a way to understand the meaning of life. I grew up in an isolated small community in Mississippi. I was homeschooled, and any friend I had was from church. Music was so prevalent in the church, as a healing thing, that led me to want to play music to express myself and work things out.”
“If you think about it, creating songs is uniquely human. Birds sing as part of their essential makeup, and humans have that but it’s coupled with our need to create things. Humans have a really innate need to be “creating” or “making” at all times.”
Tell us more about the music community in your area in Mississippi. “There are not a lot of people in the Water Valley, Mississippi area. Everyone knows each other. Jimbo Mathus is my property manager. When I called you I was just dropping my rent check off at his place. I dropped off a copy of my album, with the rent, in the bucket where I put my check. I can sit on my porch and see Jimbo Mathus on a zero-turn mower, mowing the lawn, it’s kind of surreal.” Is he wearing a glittery top hat and red jacket? I asked him. “His yard work attire is overalls and red converse all-stars,” Bryant laughs.
Should we speculate that Jimbo Mathus might be writing songs doing yardwork? Bryant considers this thoughtfully, “In all seriousness, I think so. I may be doing things that seem mudane from the outside but in my mind I am always trying to figure out what does it mean, where am I going. “ Bryant has a song, “Robert Downey Jr’s Scars” on the new album, and he confesses that song is autobiographical. “I’ve had that experience, watching Iron Man on television, while absent mindedly wondering what I’m doing with my life, where things are going. I can picture myself on the sofa in Water Valley like the song says, in a place where I needed to figure things out, to figure out how to “start again.” I had written that song after the others were already written, but I hadn’t set the overall tone for the theme of the album. Then that song came to me and everything came together.”
Do you find inspiration for your music in other genres? “I’m reading a book by Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia. It’s a scientific exploration of the way music affects the brain, where humans store harmonies and frequencies. It’s a fascinating idea. Music harmonizes melodies and uses these frequencies that go into our ear and we hear them as harmonies. I am trying to understand the science of it. I know music is extremely special and I want to stay tapped into that as much as possible.”
“Harmonies are a deeper way for us to communicate things that normal language simply cannot do. If you just read lyrics it wouldn’t affect you the same way. I write songs because people can do that.”
“It’s a way for humans to connect with each other. I can remember the first time someone told me a song I wrote meant something to him. That connection is the fire that makes you want to do it for your whole entire life. Because if you’re doing it for the money, that’s not going to work out. “
“In a lot of ways, musicians help bars make money, we’re in it together. Every service industry person I know in Oxford is either a musician or a comedian or a writer. We try to get people out when we play so the bartenders make money and they want us to get paid, we are all sharing the experience.” Helping beer companies make money, too, we might add.
The album just came out last week, tell us more about the process and the production. “It was technically self produced, we collaborated and recorded it at Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, Mississippi. Dial Back Sound is now owned by Matt Patton, the bass player for the Drive-By Truckers. It used to be owned by Bruce Watson, the general manager at Fat Possum Records. This is the studio Watson built when he lived in Water Valley; and he produced two of the Water Liars’ albums when he was the owner. He moved to Memphis a few years ago and sold the space to Patton – it still has a lot of the same gear and the same mystique.”
Kell Kellum is a pedal steel player from Water Valley who’s also associated with Jimbo Mathus and Eric Ambel’s Solo Sounds project, which Americana Highways has highlighted. “Kellum played pedal steel on the album and Matt Patton played bass.“
What’s on the horizon for Andrew Bryant this spring? “I’m going to the UK and then a longer Southeast/East Coast tour in May. And then get in a van and touring some more.” Follow Andrew Bryant’s tour here and get his album here or here.