INTERVIEW

A band who refuse to revisit their past, have made their own, and their 5th studio album is their best record yet

liars

“I remember saying that by the time we got to the fifth record it would either be a Christmas album or a Samba one. I imagined we would be really old and that we wouldn’t be interested in making music any more, but that’s obviously not the case.” So says Liars frontman Angus Andrews at his record label’s HQ. A lot has changed since the turn of the century when that prediction first crept into his mind; the soon to be released ‘Sisterworld’ is neither Samba nor wintry themed and it’s taken the band ten years to arrive at.

For many the idea of creating and releasing five albums remains nothing but a milestone that is never reached, many bands falling foul to either in-band fighting, label politics or the age old cliché ‘musical differences’ long before. Yet it would be wrong to assume that Liars’ journey has been a straightforward one. Aaron Hemphill summarises that the initial steps were placed when “we got back from a very long US tour. Right after that we were introduced to Mute and agreed to do that deal. A little bit afterwards a lot of our friends who were in bands that are a little bit more commercial were offered deals,” he continues. “We were kind of like, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen to them? Did we fuck up?’ Obviously not – some of the problems they have had to deal with, with their labels, they’ve tried to relate those to us and we’re like, ‘God, you actually have to ask them if you can write?’ It’s beyond us.”

Though they were initially considered part of the happening Brooklyn scene, alongside bands such as The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Walkmen, Liars did not feel they had to retread past steps over and over, nor continue along the same route. “We like to keep it fresh and try new things every time,” says Angus. “We’re that purple word ‘eclectic’; our interests are pretty wide ranging and we’re still scratching the surface on what all those are. There’s so many different types of music and different ways of making it that you can literally for each record stop everything you’ve figured out so far and pick up all brand new ways of doing it, like a kid, which is just so much more fun and the possibilities are just so much more exciting than if you get very studied and bogged down.”

It’s an outlook that goes a long way to explaining why Liars are not afraid to make drastic changes, each album a document of a band incapable of standing still.

Taking control of the recording desk for new record ‘Sisterworld’ was Tom Biller whose previous clientele includes Kanye West and Beck, as well as work on the soundtracks for the films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Where the Wilds Things Are. Unsurprisingly, this appointment had an effect on the end results (particularly in terms of Biller’s cinematic past – ‘Sisterworld’ is a twisted Fantasia of a concept album) but as with all the decisions the band undertakes, Aaron makes clear that it was one given careful consideration. “We knew he worked with many different people but the thing was 1.) He was in LA and he had worked in LA for a long time and had done all these projects there so he has a reputation – he has a lot of friends and that enabled us to record the album, gave us more time to revise the music and demos etc… but 2.) He had also recorded a wide range of instruments at different paces, he had worked with John Bryan on various soundtracks but that to us didn’t mean that he would incorporate a more cinematic feel, it just meant that he could record strings.”

The upside of this is that it enabled Liars further room in which to experiment, and though strings do feature on a good proportion of the new songs (on ‘No Barrier Fun’ their appearance can be described as atmospherically woozy while ‘Here Comes All The People’ swerves in an avant-garde horror direction), they are never overbearing, simply a complimentary aid that adds further texture and suits Liars aggressive underbelly.

“It’s from a much more engineering stand point when we select who our producer is, as they function more as enablers,” explains Julian. “We have such a clear idea what we want to do and we work at such a frantic pace that there is no real time to make suggestions, it’s only ever, ‘Well, we could put this mic in front of that instrument and it would work better’ and that’s what Tom did. He’s used to working like that and he made it really easy. He’s used to working with all sort of instruments really quickly so someone could come in and play some glockenspiel and he knew exactly how to mic it and he seemed like someone who could get it done quickly while also enjoying the process as well.”

A happy camp is no more likely to be Xerox’d than an unhappy one though. The making of ‘Sisterworld’ was a joy but there is no certainty that Liars will repeat this process next time round. “As these guys were saying, we have never worked with someone who is a producer in the normal sense, as in they bring in ideas,” reiterates Angus. “I don’t know if it could ever work that way, but it’s interesting to think that someday we’ll work with someone who will bring ideas to us as opposed to us being so dictatorial”

Their totalitarian state has helped Liars create an album that feels like a collection of songs with a running theme, arguably for the first time. “That’s important to us,” nods their front man. “Our last record (the self titled album) was a little bit of an experiment on not doing that; seeing what it was like to lump a bunch of songs together that were made in the same time period and see how that sat with us. It was fun as we did it really quickly and it was important for us to do as it helped us then realise that one of the best bits about making albums is to give them this cohesion and inject a bit of life into it as a whole piece of work.”

And while we’re talking about change – which it seems like we always are with Liars – there’s the fact that this latest album was recorded not just in the States (for the first times since 2004’s ‘They Were Wrong, So We Drowned’), but in alien LA, a town that Aaron says the band can identify with. “It’s going to sound a little cheesy,” he half winces “but that’s how our band kind of functions. LA is a city that doesn’t function like many others, there’s no real set up, it’s very dislocated, and it’s like that with us – there’s no real centre, it’s spread out and we work in a different way to most bands. Bands are expected to work, jamming out the material, couple of beers, couple of hours in the practice space then off to dance. We’ve never done that.”

Equally, Liars have never spent a whole year making an album. But then, until now they’ve never made an album as adventurous as this. “In total a year was how long we worked on it,” confirms Angus “start to finish, which is a long time for us. The first one was two days, but the last one that we did was six months, so it’s quite a difference when you get a chance to let things sit or to let things develop. It’s amazing! I said that this was the first record, for me that I felt we could have worked on for a long time, even longer. Others I felt a real need to get it out there, I was really frantic about it, this one maybe it was all the practical circumstances but it seemed like there was so many things to explore.”

When the band handed across the track components to artists including Thom Yorke, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter to rework the songs for an additional bonus CD to compliment the album’s physical release, they were exploring uncertainty to degrees that they never had before. They’re safe hands, as collaborators go, but Liars had given up control for the first time in their careers. Angus informs that the basis of this move grew from wanting to “give the songs a different perspective.”

“These are people who we respected their work enough to really wanted them to give us a completely different interpretation of the elements that we gave them,” he says. “We certainly weren’t looking for a remix per se, in the sense of the dance club formula; it’s more how different people see these elements … collaboration is awesome, it’s not something we get to do all that much so it would be great if there was more room in this little genre.”

Which instantly raises the question, just how do Liars – a band captaining that hallowed ground between respected artistes and commercial success story (they’re no Radiohead, but they are on album number 5) – categorise themselves, and how do they see themselves fitting in with everything/anything else? “It’s obvious that there needs to be ways to put things in context,” reasons Angus “but it’s difficult when you don’t think of those realms when you’re creating. It’s hard to then, post production, try and fit them into a nice place and then to put a whole band into that.”

Aaron: “The problem is, when the people making the music not only ascribe to it, they aspire to it after that’s been placed on them, it’s a little confusing. As far as communication goes it can serve as a simple adjective. It’s not that music is so special that you can’t do that when you’re passing the CD around, it just seems really stupid when bands are like ‘we should stick to this.’”

Julian describes that doing so would “feel like a prison to us. The idea that you have to do the same thing every time, I think we would lose interest. I can’t understand how any form of an artist can keep on creating the same thing.”

Liars are a complicated band, not content to simplify their existence, though Angus admits that it is something they sometimes grapple with. “It’s hard for us to make an album that’s not considered a concept album,” he ponders. “One of our goals is to make a record that’s not determined that way, but it’s difficult because when you’re asked about what you’re thinking about when making a record, either you pretend that you weren’t thinking about anything or you tell people and then it becomes this whole bunch of massive meaning tagged onto the record. I think that sometimes gets in the way of the music and gets in the way of a more straightforward appreciation of it, but then on the other side of the coin I really like that part of records and I actually like talking about stuff like that, more than just listening to music. I think it’s cool that it might create a discourse about something else which is what I think good art does, it’s a bit of a dilemma, obviously, but at the same time it’s not a bad one, fooling around with meaning all the time is fun.”

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