Phantom Limb's self-titled debut record, written by Justin Kinkel-Schuster, is excellent. But don't take my word for it. Take Kinkel-Schuster's track record as the front man of Theodore instead. And, as anyone who saw the band play at the Crack Fox last night can attest, it is formidable. Let me be the latest in a long line of people reduced to superlatives and nonsense when talking about this band: Theodore, in its continuing evolution, is capable of astonishing power, of bringing you to your knees and lifting you off the floor.
"My approach with any outlet is to just try and do it as well as I can at the time, and then always try to do better the next time," says Kinkel-Schuster.
Right now, Phantom Limb isn't much to look at: the beginnings of an online presence, one video shot by Jarred Gastreich for his Show Me Show series on the KDHX blog (you can watch it below) and one show on the schedule: Tomorrow night at the Billiken Club, opening for the Felice Brothers.
Phantom Limb is Kinkel-Schuster and Andrew Bryant, who, in addition to being a very talented songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, is apparently good at building things. Kinkel-Schuster had written some songs, and on March 3rd he drove to Bryant's house in Mississippi, where they spent the weekend recording with one microphone in Bryant's makeshift in-home studio. There was no particular agenda for these recordings -- you get the sense that the whole thing happened by series of willfully unscrutinized instincts. They emerged with a full-length record totaling ten songs, and Kinkel-Schuster decided it was worth passing along to the label that signed Theodore: Misra.
A response came in late May. In its announcement welcoming Phantom Limb to its roster, the label was unequivocal, saying, "These two gentlemen have produced what is perhaps one of the finest albums in Misra's canon." Misra will release the record in early 2012 on CD and vinyl, and it will be widely distributed through Bloodshot Records. A tour will follow. We talked to Kinkel-Schuster about his new project -- the conversation follows.
Phantom Limb plays its only St. Louis show this year tomorrow night at the Billiken Club. Doors open at 8 p.m. and, as with every show at the venue, it is free and open to the public.
Kiernan Maletsky: Describe the weekend you recorded this record in as little or much detail as you feel is important.
Justin Kinkel-Schuster: Basically, I drove to Andrew's house with my guitar and amp on a Thursday night. I ate Wendy's on the way down. I had a spicy chicken sandwich and fries. It was subpar. I got Andrew's house and it was pretty late, so we sat outside and talked awhile. Then we went to bed. The next day we woke up and started setting up in the back bedroom of andrew's house, which is the "studio," meaning that I plugged in my guitar, we set up the drums, and then we spun the one microphone that we made the whole record with back and forth between the two. Also, we recorded my vocals in the hallway. We spent most of the next three days in a mindmeld and emerged with almost everything that you hear on the record. When we weren't recording, we hung out with Andrew's family and had a good old time. I remember Andrew and his little boy and I walked and visited the neighbor's horses. Finally on Monday I had to go home, and on the way back I ate Chick-fil-A. A+. I cannot recommend Chick-fil-A highly enough.
What do you think the record gained in keeping the entire process as unadorned as possible?
I'm not sure what the record gained as far as being unadorned, but I do know that that was just the way that it had to be. I realized that just letting something be is probably the best way to make it not stink, to a point. Of course we went back over it, but making a record that way was what I needed to do, plain and simple, so that's what came out.
How will the live show be set up?
The live show, for now, is Andrew drumming and singing and me playing guitar and singing. Obviously we are aware of the pitfalls of attempting a two man band. We're going to try to be really, really good so that everyone's well-warranted skepticism will be destroyed immediately.
How would this project be different with someone other than Andrew as a collaborator?
This project would not exist as such without Andrew as a collaborator. He would not ever admit or tell anyone this, but it is true. Without Andrew's recording technique, playing and our relationship in general, Phantom Limb would either not exist or would be pretty lame. Or lamer than it already is, depending on who you ask.
What are the biggest ways you feel this is a different outlet than Theodore?
This is different from Theodore in that I don't feel any pressure to write toward what anyone thinks of "Theodore" or what anyone else might think is too straight or boring or simple. I just want it to be simple.
Do you feel you have a different persona or approach with Phantom Limb than you do with Theodore?
My approach with any outlet is to just try and do it as well as I can at the time, and then always try to do better the next time.
Are the lyrics for these songs autobiographical, biographical or fictional?
I would say that, in general, the lyrics of most of what I write are an amalgam of the three, in varying quantities. I think Cowboy Jack Clement said "reveal some of yourself in all of your songs" or something to that effect. I think that's good advice.
Do you have any speculations or do you know from conversations what about this project provoked such an enthusiastic response from the label?
I don't know what exactly made the label stand up and take notice of the record, except to say that I thought it was pretty alright and that Andrew and I had made something special that was worthy of attention, and I'll stand behind that.