Published Aug 21, 2007Perpetual reinvention is a tricky business. In music, it either takes you so far away from your roots that you lose the plot or finds you succumbing to your "accessible tendencies, either of which can threaten your core audience. Brooklyn noise heroes Liars already committed the former with 2004s polarising They Were Wrong So We Drowned, so why not go for broke and attempt the latter? Cam Lindsay managed to track down Liars front-man Angus Andrews in Los Angeles to talk about the band's new eponymous album and how its straightforward direction is the most radical and challenging thing they've done yet.
Hey mate! Where you calling from?
I heard you guys were planning on coming up here in September but had to cancel because of another tour.
Yeah, were doing that Interpol tour. I dunno, does that go to Toronto?
No, sadly it doesnt come up to Canada, for some strange reason.
Well that means that obviously were gonna have to come there on our own a little later, which is a bit of a shame. That tours a bit of an opportunity for us.
Definitely. Well, I caught you guys at Lees Palace and the Pitchfork Music Festival, where you were easily the highlight.
Oh cool! Did you go to Pitchfork this year as well?
Was it good? How were Sonic Youth, Slint, GZA? They were all good?
For the most part, yes. It was cool. Daydream Nation was an event to see.
Yeah, thats the whole thing now, replaying old records.
What record do you think theyd ask you to play?
Well, its funny because we were talking about that in the car. I guess theyd probably ask us to play Trench, but the only one Id replay is Drowned. I really like that record as a whole and I think it makes sense to play that one in its entirety again. I think thatd be fun. And thats the record that everyone hated, though I really liked it.
In a way, that is the album that seems to have gotten you guys the most attention though it wasnt exactly good attention.
Aah, look, any press is good press.
I stand by that record. I am a big fan of it and really couldnt see why people had such a problem with it.
I am too man. What Ive heard a couple of times is that there were some "interesting choices in ordering the record. I think the second one is this trains down instrumental, but I dunno, I think that one might have caught people in the lip and put them off the road.
You guys are touring with Interpol, and theres been a bit of a backlash with their new album; people are saying its not living up to the previous two, or doing anything new. Is that kind of reaction something that youre worried about with this new album, a backlash? I guess more because its yet another change in direction
I dont know, a band like us man, it seems like weve been through it all. Theyve dragged us down and up and all of that sorta shit. At this point, on our fourth record, man, we dont really care at all. Were just having fun. The fans that have followed us through on this whole progression are probably stoked about some easy listening right now. [Laughs.] Weve put out some heavy records, so I think its nice to put out this one, which is a lot more light-hearted. Its the same thing for us with each record: What are they gonna say? Are they gonna hate it? Of course theyre gonna hate it. Its weird, its just like every record is a big gamble for us.
So what happened? Did you have a big epiphany when you started writing the album?
The only epiphany Ive had recently is that I should move to Africa.
Oh, man, I feel like Im being a bit selfish in this life. Its like that term, "you gotta start giving back. Anyway, It was more that after touring Drums Not Dead we wanted to first of all, make another record really quickly. We wanted to turn it around in half the time, so I guess that was the first decision in making deadlines for that, which were pretty stringent and important. So, there was a need to turn this one around quickly?
Its from our experience of putting out records that by the time theyre out we get so sick of it because it takes so long to come out. Especially if youve written the songs and it could be two years before its actually out there to listen to and youre talking about it. Theres such a weird situation of time lag where youve basically moved on from the last record and are ready to move on before it gets any attention. So we decided what wed do is speed everything up in a way where this time comes around, like now, well be really stoked on the album. Thats exactly how it is. Im really excited about it because it feels very fresh for us and were just about to go and play it, and its brand new. Normally wed be ready to move on to the next one at this point.
When you began planning out the album, what were you looking to do differently?
We set off on this task and we just decided that we werent gonna talk about it. It wasnt gonna be a concept or anything that we would fall back on. This time we were just going to try to write some good songs. After a while, obviously, Aaron and I did start to talk about it. We were both writing in different countries and sending each other CDs. And we started to think about the ideas that we were both interested in, and it seemed like some of what we had in common was just forgetting all of the theory and intellectual stuff about music and getting back to how it felt to be young and struck in the gut, yknow.
Is it fair to say this is Liars "rock record?
You could say its a pop record. Dont feel weird about that. Im interested in that word "pop because it has such a negative connotation to it. At least in our circles of indie rock, or whatever, the idea of writing a pop song is weird or sacrilegious. But I think that is what we were really interested in this time, finding out what a pop song is. One of the things that does make a pop song is that it connects with people and communicates with them. In certain ways I think weve failed in that regard in the past. Weve made a connection with some people but generally people find us confusing and hard to understand.
I couldnt accuse this album of being the one that would break you guys, considering I think your first album is the most accessible thing youve done. But considering your interest in pop music, do you think Liars have it in them to write some kind of crossover hit?
[Laughs.] Well thats an interesting use of words because a crossover hit is a different idea. I dunno, sure! I guess were all learning. Like I said making this record was a bit of an eye-opener in the possibilities of songwriting. When it comes to the point where you sound like other people, is where it begins to get interesting. Its kind of weird, and out of the box, but at some point it starts to sound really amazing when you make something thats more familiar than that. And I think this record is something like that. We really sort of let out some of our influences; theyre there on each song. I think thats was fun about this record, is that its open to that possibility. You are supposed to connect the dots, rather than on the last record it was leading you down on a primrose path to nowhere.
I played the album for a friend and he said "Houseclouds reminded him of Beck
Yeah! Ive totally heard that too! Its interesting man, that when you put one of these things out, one of the most fun parts is hearing that sort of comment. Particularly on this record its welcome. Ive heard some really weird ones.
Beck, yknow, at one point I thought Beck was awesome. I think at one point we all sort of liked him, with One Foot in the Grave, that sort of stuff. I can see that there could be some seepage in there. I would definitely say that we didnt try to create a song like his. Its kind of how these things work you have these things in your subconscious and if youre willing to let it out, then it will come out. Thats why I think there is another song that sounds like Led Zeppelin, and another that sounds like the Jesus & Mary Chain
Yeah, "Freak Out sounds a lot like the Mary Chain.
Ive actually never heard them! Ive gotta say it because people were going crazy about the Jesus & Mary Chain reference. But thats how it is, it happens on a lot of records. I suppose on our other records, like Drums Not Dead, the references have been a little more obscure, and you have to dig a little further to read those this is always after the fact. This one is a little bit clearer. Some people say the first song sounds like the VSS, and that shocked the hell out of me, so I went and checked that out. Again thats the exciting part of this record for us, that it connects with the history of music. I love the press release that Mute wrote to go with the album: "What do you expect from Liars? Noise? Concept? Both? Their new LP delivers neither. Was it difficult not following a theme or concept for once?
Yeah, I think we realised that that method is more for us. Its a tool we use to help us write a record that means something as a whole. I think thats something weve always been concerned about, that the album works as one big piece of art. But after a while we learned that its our choice and its not necessary. Hopefully its not necessary, to push that whole thing on the listener. Its kind of exciting to let them decide what the concept is. So, thats the genesis behind this one. Theres no long titles - its self-titled and all of that is really to take us out of the picture and put the viewer back in there, because all of our records you really have to digest a whole lotta stuff before you can sit down and listen to the music.
So the title has to do with not using a concept?
Yeah, and the fact that we just wanna be direct. I think that if you title your record, for example, They Threw Us All in a Trench and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, yknow, it takes up a lot of space in someones thoughts. The idea is that they have this thing, which in the end, isnt really necessarily to the appreciation of music. And it becomes almost like noise. This time we just thought wed quiet it down so the music could speak for itself, for once.
While you were writing this album were you guys aware of how different it was or did that just come when you were finished?
No, no, no. We were in the studio going, "Oh my god! This is not Can we release this?
Why am I playing a guitar solo?
Exactly! We just had this uncomfortable laughter like we were having fun but at the same time saying, "Oh dear! Honestly, I think we go through that on each record. I do think that this one was a little scarier because it was more personal and more straightforward we werent hiding behind fictional characters. There were points where we were looking at each other going, "Are we gonna release? In the end you just have to look at it like its fun. And we certainly had fun making it. We just hope that other people have fun with it thats the idea, other than it being an intellectual labour.
It seems like the three of you sound more confident as musicians on this album, whereas previously it seemed much looser. Were you learning or re-learning how to play your instruments, I guess a little more conventionally?
I mean, thats all part of the trick right now, is that were learning a lot right now. And each record is another step for us. Yeah, this one was definitely weird in the sense that Id reached a level of playing the instrument that felt like it reached a point where it sounded like other people. That was a really big point for me; Im normally used to making the music so it sounds different or experimental, whatever. But when I actually fell on a piece that sounded like Id actually heard it before, my god I nearly peed my pants. It was so exciting, because I never thought I could actually play a blues riff. And then it started going further that way. So in the end it just became more experimental than anything weve done before. The experimenting being that it sounded like other people. Something was familiar other than alien.
Some of the songs sound like theyre much bigger than a three-piece playing them. Are you expanding the line-up for shows?
Thats right! We did expand the line-up weve got a guy called Jarrett Silberman, he used to play with the Young People. Hes playing guitar and bass with us now. Some of those big ass rock songs, we were just like, "Oh my god, we need as many people as we can get on stage if were gonna throw this one down properly. Know what I mean? So, thats what weve done to make sure those ones are as big as they should be.
For your gigs then, how are you covering all of your material since this album stands out so much from the rest of your music?
You know, whats been interesting is that weve got a bit of a back catalogue now, so weve been going back over things that we might not have played before live. Its a bit of a Swiss Army Knife of stuff that goes together. Its fun that way because then its like making a little greatest hits record for the stage. But its definitely rock this time.
You recorded the album both in L.A. and Berlin. Were you guys going back and forth or were you doing it through file-sharing?
Yeah, basically or just CDs in the mail. Time apart to write is really important, and to be really left alone is important. We go through that process, swap some files, but talk about it and still stay apart, keep writing and then eventually meet in the studio with the songs that we feel most strongly about. And then we try to record it the best we can.
Is that how youll continue to operate in the future?
Thats kind of how weve always done things, to be honest. We really would like to be that kind of band who makes a song together all in one room, but thats just never worked for us. Its important to be left alone to go away, and to explore some of our own ideas and then come back and get it together. I think it allows us to expand a bit further than if we were all trying to work on the same stuff.
And youre still in Berlin?
I am vaguely, but at the moment Im in L.A. Were rehearsing like crazy for touring. I really enjoy Berlin, particularly for that idea of writing. Im quite separated and alone over there, and that helps my process.
You guys toured with Deerhunter before they became everyones favourite new band. Their first record sounds a lot to me like Liars
Well, yknow, when I first heard it I thought, "My god, this should be a pop record. It doesnt need all of the interesting sounds. We said that to them: "You guys are writing all of these interesting pop songs and need to let that out. And hopefully they will a bit more.
Were you expecting them to get this popular?
Well, Bradford is a really interesting and he has a lot of motivation. I kind of did, because I really think their songs are amazing just in and of themselves. I think thats obviously big. And then if you have an interesting personality like Bradford, thats a good combination. Yeah, I wish them the best of luck.
Well, heres to hoping you guys get up here soon.
Thanks a lot. I really do hope we get to make it up to Canada, and Toronto its really a favourite spot of mine, actually.