Andrew Bryant had a big year. He finally released what may or may not be the final Water Liars record with his longtime partner Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster in July of last year, and he also released his own fourth solo album, Sentimental Noises. But most importantly, he got sober, and that was a major influence on his fifth solo album, set to be released on Friday, A Meaningful Connection.
He and I spoke about that journey and how it landed on this album.
Obviously, this record was a big part of it. But how have you spent your last year?
The biggest thing that I did last year was getting sober, which I’ve talked about a bit recently. In order to do that, I was running a lot [laughs]. I would go running every day. I built myself a routine: get up, have a coffee, sit on my porch and chill, go for a run, come home and work on music. Every day. That’s sort of what I did all of last year.
In between there, my father-in-law was having some health problems, so I was traveling back and forth to his home in D.C. with my wife, who was staying up there until he recently passed away.
It was definitely a year. [laughs]
Sobriety is still going well for you, I suppose. And I imagine that writing this record played a role in maintaining…
Yeah, and I didn’t really mean for it to be. I had written three or four songs for the album before I really got serious about getting sober; that was last July. The themes that I had in mind was finding the connections–the technology–I was already heading that way in my brain, but when the pandemic hit, it really kind of doubled-down in my brain. How we connect with one another, how we connect with one another online, how we connect with one another day-to-day. Once I started getting sober, I started realizing that a lot of the connections that we make in our brain–and with other people in relationships–is different when we are in a really toxic relationship with alcohol.
I had all these different connections and things that were starting to make sense that I thought used to make sense that didn’t make sense anymore. It morphed the record into me trying to work through that.
You had just put out a record in 2020 before this happened that you never got to tour. Was there hesitation about putting out something so quickly?
I didn’t play at all behind the last one. Sentimental Noises was a record that I had kind of been working on for a couple of years. I was basically done with it, but I could never commit to the final sequence and mix on those songs. I had already decided, “I’m going to finish this.” When the pandemic hit last March, I finally decided, “Okay, I’m really done with this.” I only finished mixing and mastering the record a couple of weeks before I threw it up online. I finally gave in and just said, “I need to release this and just get it out of here.” I was already working on A Meaningful Connection, too. They sort of crossed over in that way.
But I also updated my studio, and I had moved houses. A lot of working on that new record, I just worked quickly. I didn’t overthink it. I had all new gear I wanted to try everything and work on it as much as possible. I think I put a lot more man-hours into the new record that the last few, honestly.
You’ve talked a lot over the past year about being raised in church and how much people have changed over the past year. How much has that weighed on you and how much did it lead you toward alcohol as an escape and how much of it did you throw into the music?
They’re really connected and it weighs heavily on me, still. For most of my 20s, I think I just decided, “I’m just not going to think about this anymore” because it was too much for me. But I think that is where the alcohol problem seeped in and not confronting the things that I had been raised around and with. They’ve gone hand-in-hand. I knew that I had to confront a lot of that stuff more and deal with it; and also talk about it publicly.
It helped me get sober, but it also made it harder at times. When you get sober everything that has bothered you really comes to the surface. It’s a part of me; working through past trauma and pain that I have. That is one of the reasons that I drank the way that I did.
I think it influenced a few songs here because I had a few done. But then the meaning of the record changed. It seeps into a song like “Fight.” I’ve always dabbled with religious imagery. It’s always appealed to me artistically. I think the next record–which I am working on now–will probably deal with it a bit more than this one.
Have you made peace with it? Have you found your own connection to religion? Or have you left that behind you completely?
I’m working on it. Peace to me–I don’t know if I’m completely there. The “leaving it behind” thing seemed to not work for me. I thought that it did, but now I’m in a process of coming back to something that feels like having a bit of it in my hand that gives me peace. Maybe that’ll end up with me leaving it behind again at some point. I just know that I need to deal with it more than I ever have instead of just ignoring it.
My childhood best friend passed away last summer. He was the same age as me; maybe a year older. I hadn’t spoken to him in a decade or more, but we were best friends as kids and we grew up in the evangelical church. He was the kid I learned to play guitar with. We didn’t have a band, really, we just played at church and after church. I think that really got a lot of this back on my mind–thinking about what happened to him, where did his life go and why did it end so quickly?
When you got out of small-town Mississippi, was it easy to move on? Or was there some sense of responsibility to the people from your hometown that you needed to also help them find what you were looking for?
I’m still weighing that a little bit. I definitely feel that responsibility sometimes, but I wonder if I’ve carried that too long. Especially with the way that it’s gone in the last four years or so. Seeing the way that Trump and Trumpism was embraced and the way that faith and Christianity and religion–the people that I grew up with–have embraced these types of ideas–it’s really done a number on my faith and the ability to speak reason to people. I don’t even know that it’s possible. I feel a weight of responsibility, but I don’t know if I should [laughs]. I don’t know if it’s healthy for me.
Some of that came from that have the strength to do that, and some don’t. Not everyone is the same.
There were so many nights of having the same Facebook argument with the same guy you went to high school with that you felt you could speak reason to…
Yeah, I don’t know if you caught this theme on the record, but there’s a lot about truth and lies. The one thing that it really showed us–I’ve had those same Facebook arguments–when people have different belief systems that are the way they are, they really live in two different realities. “What is truth? What is lies?” still falls under their reality. And what is the actual reality? I still ask that question. What is the actual reality, and the truth is that it’s somewhere in the middle because we are all perceiving reality in our own way.
It’s tricky. It’s wild. That was sort of a connection I wanted to make on the record, which is why I ultimately just named it A Meaningful Connection. Hopefully, people make a connection somewhere.