Liars have had many different guises since their studio debut, ‘They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top’, came out in 2001. Having found their form within New York’s experimental punk scene, and originally counting Yeah Yeah Yeahs amongst their peers, the then four-piece signed to Mute Records for the LP’s 2004 sequel ‘We Were Wrong, So We Drowned’.
Now a trio and still affixed to the Mute roster, Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross chose to master the art of sampling for their sixth long player ‘WIXIW’ (the palindromic title of which is pronounced “wish you”). The almost entirely electronic record marks an abrupt exodus from the band’s erstwhile instrumental style, whilst still somehow sounding like the sum of the many sonic trials they’ve made to date.
Liars have just listed a comprehensive October outing in the wake of this latest LP’s much-praised release earlier this month, kicking off on 10 Oct at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club. Meanwhile, CMU’s Aly Barchi spent some time questioning Angus Andrew about ‘WIXIW’, the world, and everything else.
AB: You’ve said of this LP that you wanted to input it “direct into the computer”, rather than using microphones as intermediaries. Did any outside factors prompt this ‘digital switchover’, or was it innate within the band?
AA: It was a decision that was innate within the band, but with a few practical reasons influencing us too. Basically in the past our process has involved writing very complete demos of songs and then going into a studio with engineers to essentially remake those tracks in an effort to enhance the sonic quality. And we’ve always been aware of some crucial elements being effectively lost in this translation. We spoke about how in the studio there is this physical space between a microphone and the amplifier that it’s recording – how it would be nice to remove that space from the equation entirely to give us more of an immediate and controlled sound. I think also there was just a general curiosity we had about what it would be like to re-calibrate the way we write songs and also an eagerness to explore the possibilities of software-based sounds.
AB: Did digitising the recording process make this album feel intangible at all, and how did it compare to your more instrument-based studio experiences?
AA: Yes, this idea was quite interesting to me. In the past we’ve had a very physical relationship with the sounds and songs we were creating. For example – hitting a drum or playing the piano – you have this recognition of the physical motion that is required to develop the tone or note. When you work from within the computer this relationship is pretty much entirely lost. There isn’t really any connection between your body movement and the sound you’re creating – most things come down to mouse clicks and keyboard strokes. This is quite disorienting and extremely abstract. At times I felt very disconnected with the music I was making and this made me concerned with ideas of authenticity and originality.
AB: The ‘WIXIW’ sessions were based primarily between two studios, one a remote woodland cabin and the second an windowless LA bunker. Why choose such isolation, and how did this encroach on the record?
AA: Starting the process off in a small cabin in the woods came out of a very pragmatic decision. Aaron and I wanted to force ourselves into collaborating more and earlier on than usual. In the past we’ve felt quite comfortable working individually and then bringing the results to the other person. This time we wanted to see what would happen if we worked together, step by step, throughout the writing and recording period.
The cabin we lived in was small enough that literally one of us could not be working on something without the other listening in and so we became involved in each other’s work at an earlier stage than ever before. Also, the cabin setting allowed us to remove all the extraneous and unwanted influences you contend with when writing a record.
It also gave us the opportunity to really focus on the process and develop much more of an inward looking and personal perspective than we have in the past. I think this set the tone for all the following work we did in LA proper – although once we got to LA we had the chance to really spread our wings experimentally and utilise the large space we had procured to work in.
AB: Was there anything in particular of the ‘outside world’ that you wanted to escape?
AA: Yeah, as I said, we made a real effort to block out the world on this record. We wanted to make something we felt was coming directly from within us and not something affected so much by our surroundings. This can take some effort – particularly in a city like LA or a country like America. There’s just so much stimuli/noise/information seemingly attacking you for attention. I’m also aware that I’m particularly susceptible to unwanted influence – so on this record it was thoroughly important for me to physically restrict myself from indulging in certain areas like music, TV and the internet.
AB: How do the three of you interact while writing and recording? Is there a set method to it?
AA: From album to album it can be quite different, but generally at the outset Aaron and I will have some brief discussions about what we’re interested in and what we’d like to achieve with the project. Our aesthetics are quite varied but we rely heavily on one another for input and advice. As a rule we always make a lot of material, so really the biggest challenge in making a record for us is the editing.
AB: Are you inspired in general by an artistic movement or ‘scene’ of any kind, or do you see yourselves as standing apart from things like that?
AA: I don’t think we really associate with any kind of movement or scene other than being part of the creative community as a whole. In some ways I still find it hard to categorise us as musicians or really even within the traditional confines of a band.
AB: ‘Sisterworld’ felt so outward-looking, a comment or critique on society at large. How does ‘WIXIW’s stance compare to that? It seems to be more one of introspection.
AA: Yes definitely, it feels like this is the most introspective and personal record we’ve made. In the past, as you mentioned with ‘Sisterworld’, we’ve established a concept or subject matter to basically ‘study’ and critique. We relished in the examination of Los Angeles as a specimen and used it as a tool to, I think, project some of our own fears and anxieties upon. With ‘WIXIW’ we intentionally left that conceptual subject matter space blank and that quite naturally allowed for our attention to turn inward.
AB: Tell us about the sampling on the album, the foley-style approach you took to making sounds from objects.
AA: I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about making an ‘electronic’ album is that it’s somehow inherently limited to computer-generated sounds. For me one of the biggest influences of working within the computer was the use of simple tools like time codes and rhythm grids. These things can allow you to sample any kind of sound you hear and make them adhere to a pattern or format to fit the structure of a song. It’s an incredibly liberating approach to sound that I had a lot of fun with, and which led us toward a massive amount of experimentation with object based – installation type – sound structures.
AB: You never publish your lyrics, has this proved a blessing or a curse in the way the music is interpreted by critics and fans?
AA: We’ve always felt like printing lyrics shuts the door on the innumerable possibilities of interpretation. It limits the listeners use of her/his imagination by supplying the ‘answer’ definitively. So I feel like we’ve always seen it as a blessing that people have the chance to interpret our songs exactly the way they hear them.
AB: Did you write ‘No 1 Against The Rush’ with it being the LP’s first single in mind? Do you think it’s important for artists and labels to contrive an LP campaign, or rather to just be instinctive about it?
AA: No, we didn’t write that song with the idea that it would be the first single. Often it’s hard for us to contemplate what is the right first song for people to hear. It requires a completely different mindset to the one we employ when making the album. I think it’s difficult for us to imagine putting out our LP is a ‘campaign’ much less it being contrived. At some point, pretty much when we’ve completed the mastering phase of the record, it’s time to let go of the album – to resist being too precious about it. We rely heavily on our label Mute to input good advice and opinion regarding the roll out and generally throw caution to the wind.
AB: The band posted a number of cryptic Tumblr clips in the run-up to the LP’s release. Did you see social media as a means of creating an aesthetic or a mythology around the LP?
AA: I think we’ve always been a bit repelled by social media and the information saturation of the internet. Still, we realised the possibilities of interacting with the medium and started to devise some kinds of conceptual approaches for ways to deal with it. Our tumblr Amateurgore was our first real foray. Our idea was to address issues of truth, validity, mystery and intrigue in relation to the internet – how information is passed around and consumed, almost without question of authenticity.
AB: So, what’s next for Liars?
AA: Right now the only real word is touring. It’s hard to know where we’ll be once we’ve circled the globe a few times. Hopefully back where we started – just like a palindrome…