For: The Parklife Weekender/The Independent Online
Over the course of their five studio albums, Liars’ explorations of the heaviest in punk and the most subtle of experimental electronics have made them one of indie’s most unique acts. Gloriously impossible to pigeonhole, the L.A.-based trio of Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have, with most recent LP ‘WIXIW’, stretched their creative muscles towards a new sound that’s equal-parts Aphex Twin, Kid A-era Radiohead and the psych experimentalism of The Horrors. We caught up with Angus from the band for a quick catch-up.
You’re out of touring for a couple of weeks now, right?
Yeah, our next show is in New York mid-May, so we have a bit of time off. That show is at the Met Museum and it’s a bit of an artistic affair, so it’s something that we are actually preparing for now because it’s a little bit more involved than your average show. It’s not often you play there and it’s in this room with all Egyptian ruins, a bunch of walls with hieroglyphics on it. It’s quite impressive when you go and look at it and we’ll be set up in the middle of that. We’re collaborating with a few different artists to do a visual exposé that involves some technology that… well, I’m not the best-versed and most versed to talk about it but it’s got something to do with them being able to draw the projections as they’re happening, in real time. It’s interesting because on our side of it, we want to create a set of music that is new and relevant to that piece, so it requires creating some new music for it and at the same time taking into account what these visuals are going to be like. It’s a bit of a challenge! We do that show and then the next day we play another more standard New York show, and then we come over to Europe.
This show at the Met seems to follow on a lot from the visual element of the last video (The Exact Colour Of Doubt)
That’s right. Yes, actually. You’re right. Initially, when we first began talks about this project, that video hadn’t yet come to fruition so initially it wasn’t but once we saw the final results of that project we realized that we could involve that. The technology seems like it can utilize the kind of raw footage that we did to create the video, which is some sort of technology that can project in 3D images of us and stuff like that. It should be interesting.
Do you think that visual element is something that’s more important to you now compared to before?
I don’t think it’s a question of thinking about it more, I think the only real difference is that we now have more immediate access to the tools with which to create that different stuff. Certainly it wasn’t the case with the first record, where we were still drawing on napkins and trying to figure out how to have that as an album cover, but by the second album we were making videos. They’re out there somewhere. They’re pretty low-budget because we had limited access at that point, but we were always still thinking about it. When it gets to this point, especially with the last record where we went further than we had before in terms of embracing a platform like Tumblr or something like that, the work that we would possibly do anyway when making a record finally had this kind of outlet that it never really had before. We could put things on the internet that didn’t need to necessarily work as some sort of official release or whatever. I just think those tools, since we’ve been a band, have multiplied and the technology in terms of creating them – whether it’s just shooting video or taking photos – all those things have become so immediate that it’s just been a natural thing to create more and more.
How do you feel about WIXIW at this stage?
In terms of it being a change, it is clear to me that it was a very distinct change in terms of the means and the techniques and the technology in order to create it. It was very different because for the first time in that record, we used all computer-based programmes and instruments, which completely moves your whole world around when you enter that realm. Functionally, as a way to create that stuff, it was a big sea change but I agree that we’ve done that functional change in the way we make music a lot and that’s kind of who we are. I don’t think it alters the music itself that much. It’s still really the same thing, it’s just a different way to create it and the way we go about it has more effect on us than on other people, I think. On one hand it was incredibly liberating and exciting and fruitful to be able to create willingly within the computer. It opened up a lot of doors but at times it was a bit difficult to grapple with in terms of things like originality and moving into this kind of genre of music that I didn’t feel like I was that versed in. It was a little daunting for me. But all of those things are really good things when you’re making music. Generally, it’s great. For me, 9 months down the track I guess the way it works for me is that I don’t really get the chance – or maybe I don’t allow myself the chance – to reflect on that work until I’ve started or completed the next work, you know? I’m not sure exactly why but it helps me keep moving on instead of thinking about how that one worked or what happened with that one. I like to begin work on the next one and then at some point look back, I suppose. I guess that’s just the way it works for me.
Also, if you’re still thinking too self-critically about the last release it’s going to prevent you moving forward for your next project isn’t it.
Exactly. So in that sense, I don’t really want to know what the consensus was about the last record until I’ve really gotten far with the next one, and then it doesn’t really matter and I can say “Oh, this is what people thought” just for interest’s sakes. But like you said, I don’t really want it to affect the direction that I’m interested in going in because that’s what the most important thing is, that I’m excited about what I’m getting myself into. I don’t want to be second-guessing that stuff.
You’re LA-based now, and you have been for some time. Having lived in New York and Berlin, does being based in LA now have a big impact on
I think it’s really important for me, and it’s getting to that point where LA is going to have to be moved on from in that sense. For me, it shakes it all up and when you take yourself out of a place where you’re starting to feel comfortable and pop yourself down in somewhere you have to get used to and things are new, it just generates a whole new way of looking at things that I find really important. It’s almost like being able to give your creativity a little kick in the butt every couple of years. Beyond the music, as well as personally, I find it interesting and exciting to put yourself in a position where things can’t just become standard. Much as I appreciate some people who are able to stay living in their hometown where they were born, and part of that to me is really appealing, I feel that part of that wouldn’t work for me because I need that shake-up. It just helps me look at things in a completely different way, particularly when you move from country to country. That’s where it gets really interesting. Different cultures and the way they look at basically the same things.
What’s your experience been like being in Europe, compared to America? Is there a big difference between the two for you?
In terms of living, it’s all about what you’re looking for. It’s all in the goals, the same as making a record. What’s the aim, you know? When I moved to Berlin, my goal was to in a sense retreat and put myself in a position where I wasn’t immediately influenced by mass culture, really. By living in a culture where I didn’t speak the language, you block out a massive amount of that disposable media. I wasn’t reading newspapers or watching TV or going to the movies or any of that, because it’s just a bit more difficult. For me, that’s great. You can sit on the train with everyone talking around you and it’s just a blur. That was one of the biggest benefits for me, this possibility of being isolated but in a city where I could be creative in the way I wanted to without being influenced by anything.
When I come back to America, it’s the opposite goal. I’m thirsty for all that stuff again. I feel bombarded by all that media and at some point I feel like I’m drowning in it. There’s so much extraneous information being projected at you and that’s kind of great too. It’s what you want to do and what you’re looking for. In terms of touring the mindset, if you’re touring in the States or in Europe, is generally the same. The ‘road mentality’, where you get in a pretty set routine in how your day goes and it’s pretty much the same. The difference in the end isn’t that huge. I guess there are minor changes but in terms of crowd… it used to be quite different. When we first started, we used to have a lot more exciting and fun shows in Europe but more and more in recent years America has come around in a way. When we began, it was a little bit more mainstream in general and there wasn’t a different musical world that got much interest, whereas at the same time we’d go and play some outdoor festival in Paris in front of thousands of people. It just wouldn’t have happened here. Nowadays that’s changed and things are kind of like that here, so it’s good I think.
What memories do you have of being in Manchester?
I remember we’ve had great shows and I feel like one of the times we played in Manchester we opened for Sonic Youth. That was my first real introduction to a great Manchester crowd. It was a bit rowdy and I remember that being a good thing!