Arkansas singer-songwriter Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster was in a very good place when he recorded his months-old album “Take Heart, Take Care.”
He also was still sober after nearly seven years.
And all of this played out in the record that critics have lauded as his most personal and most enlightened.
“This record was the first time I was both sober and in a place in my life where I felt happy and settled and have a great partner and a settled home life,” said Schuster, 36, who is bringing his tour in support of the record to Tucson’s The Boxyard on Friday, Oct. 18. “All these things combined is a truly unique place for me.”
And from that truly unique place, which includes being engaged and buying and settling into a home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, came a record that has flashes of upbeat optimism instead of the doom and dark that has been his signature much of his career.
“In hindsight it’s also sort of a bunch of one part of myself trying to give warnings or lessons or ‘hey yous’ to my younger, more scattered self,” Schuster said in a phone call from home last week. “It’s older me speaking to younger me.”
“Take Heart” is Schuster’s third album since splitting from his Mississippi indie rock band Water Liars a few years ago. The soulful voiced tenor has been pursuing music since the mid-2000s including with his duo project Marie/Lepanto, singing songs seeped in moody darkness. Schuster said some of that came from the fact that he spent his 20s being “not sober.”
A sober Schuster now sings about love and figuring out how to transition from singlehood to couplehood once you’ve found your forever love. The moodiness of his Water Liars days is replaced by shattering cymbals and driving guitar riffs on “Cut Your Teeth” and 1980s pop melodies tying together “Name What You Are.”
The album has earned some love from places including No Depression, which gushed about the “poeticism of a JPKS song (that) can leave you dumbfounded, listening back more closely to make out all the intricacies in his language. The way he weaves words together is awe-inspiring, especially on the album’s title track.”
“I’m always surprised there is any reaction at all to my records,” Schuster said, then laughed.
“As a songwriter and singer who sort of is toiling in the quieter lower rungs of the music world, I am always surprised and glad when things make any kind of a noise at all.”
Friday’s concert is Schuster’s first in Tucson since he was an opener at a 191 Toole show in 2016, right before releasing his debut solo album.
He comes here with a band — the first time he’s gone with anyone other than himself and a guitar in three years — all packed into a nifty Ford Econoline van that he bought from a small Baptist church in Arkansas.
“It still has the hand-painted font on the side of it. The workmanship on the font is amazing,” Schuster gushed. “When I bought it, they actually wanted me to cover it up or take it off because I guess they didn’t want their church to be associated with any nefarious goings-on. ... No way I’m going to cover it up. It’s kind of old-English, stylized font. It’s super cool.”