WORDS / ROGER BARRETT
PHOTO / MATT WHITE
Friends of Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster just call him Pete. It’s Justin in press releases and emails. Tweets and t-shirts read JPKS, or Constant Stranger – the title of his first record as a solo artist. He says, “I got my first guitar and wrote my first song around Christmas 1995 or ’96. I was 12 or 13.” It was around then he played his first show, but he can’t remember exactly where: “My first show was either at a gnarly punk bicycle shop or at Dancin’ Don’s Old Town in Fort Smith.”
Kinkel-Schuster’s Oxford, Mississippi, garage rock band Water Liars began making regular stops in Fayetteville in 2011, as part of extensive national tours. They played Lalaland, Nightbird Books (twice), The Lightbulb Club (four times), The Phoenix, Fayetteville Town Center and George’s Majestic Lounge. The band received praise from NPR, Billboard, New York Times and Paste Magazine, which specifically touted Kinkel-Schuster’s multidimensional lyricism. In 2016 Pete released his first solo record and moved to Fayetteville, where his touring pace has slowed down. “When I’m not touring, I’m hanging at home with my partner Megan and our dogs. I try to always be working on writing, whether it’s songs or poems or prose. I paint, read, watch TV and movies, the usual stuff.” Getting to know his new home, he says “I love our house, Dickson Street Books, 410 Vintage, Arsaga’s and Crystal Bridges. Fayetteville is a damn fine place to live.”
Kinkel-Schuster’s upcoming record Take Heart, Take Care is out on Aug. 30 via Big Legal Mess Records. It’s his first record written with a stable home base, and that comes across in the songs. Right out of the gate, the first song “Plenty Wonder” finds him singing about love as “the balance from which all else flows.” Like most of his songs, it’s one that you feel you already know the first time you listen. Take Heart, Take Care combines the quieter and unadorned songs of Constant Stranger, with the big hooks and sound of Water Liars. “I definitely hoped with this record to put those two things together.” he says.
The middle four songs of Take Heart, Take Care are some of the best he’s written. This cycle of songs starts with “Cut Your Teeth,” whose gorgeous lyrics convey familiar feeling in a new way, something that Kinkel-Schuster seems to be able to do at will. It’s a stunning and simple song that guides himself and the listener towards happier times. It’s one of the highlights of the new record. “Here I’ve fumbled my way, as always, and of necessity, into a collection of songs that hold a light to the joys and comforts of life not given up on: those that appear over time as we are looking elsewhere, to surprise and delight us when we need them most,” he says. “To me, that’s the most fundamental job of songs, of stories, of all art—to be allies, friends, companions, when we need them most, and it’s my hope that these songs can do that work in a world that seems to need it.”
Take Heart, Take Care is further proof that Kinkel-Schuster is one of the best songwriters working today. He’s definitely the best songwriter you might see tomorrow walking his dog to the coffee shop. Kinkel-Schuster will be touring this fall with Spencer Thomas, ending with a hometown show at 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at Smoke & Barrel Tavern. Advance tickets are available now at eventbrite.com