Liars

Liars
Perpetual 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 2004’s 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 Angus.
Hey mate! Where you calling from?

Toronto.
Wow!

I heard you guys were planning on coming up here in September but had to cancel because of another tour.
Yeah, we’re doing that Interpol tour. I dunno, does that go to Toronto?

No, sadly it doesn’t come up to Canada, for some strange reason.
Well that means that obviously we’re gonna have to come there on our own a little later, which is a bit of a shame. That tour’s a bit of an opportunity for us.

Definitely. Well, I caught you guys at Lee’s Palace and the Pitchfork Music Festival, where you were easily the highlight.
Oh cool! Did you go to Pitchfork this year as well?

Yes, actually.
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, that’s the whole thing now, replaying old records.

What record do you think they’d ask you to play?
Well, it’s funny because we were talking about that in the car. I guess they’d probably ask us to play Trench, but the only one I’d 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 that’d be fun. And that’s 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 wasn’t exactly good attention.
Aah, look, any press is good press.

I stand by that record. I am a big fan of it and really couldn’t see why people had such a problem with it.
I am too man. What I’ve 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 there’s been a bit of a backlash with their new album; people are saying it’s not living up to the previous two, or doing anything new. Is that kind of reaction something that you’re worried about with this new album, a backlash? I guess more because it’s yet another change in direction…
I don’t know, a band like us man, it seems like we’ve been through it all. They’ve dragged us down and up and all of that sorta shit. At this point, on our fourth record, man, we don’t really care at all. We’re just having fun. The fans that have followed us through on this whole progression are probably stoked about some easy listening right now. [Laughs.] We’ve put out some heavy records, so I think it’s nice to put out this one, which is a lot more light-hearted. It’s the same thing for us with each record: What are they gonna say? Are they gonna hate it? Of course they’re gonna hate it. It’s weird, it’s 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 I’ve had recently is that I should move to Africa.

Why’s that?
Oh, man, I feel like I’m being a bit selfish in this life. It’s like that term, "you gotta start giving back.” Anyway, It was more that after touring Drum’s 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?
It’s from our experience of putting out records that by the time they’re out we get so sick of it because it takes so long to come out. Especially if you’ve written the songs and it could be two years before it’s actually out there to listen to and you’re talking about it. There’s such a weird situation of time lag where you’ve basically moved on from the last record and are ready to move on before it gets any attention. So we decided what we’d do is speed everything up in a way where this time comes around, like now, we’ll be really stoked on the album. That’s exactly how it is. I’m really excited about it because it feels very fresh for us and we’re just about to go and play it, and it’s brand new. Normally we’d 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 weren’t gonna talk about it. It wasn’t 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, y’know.

Is it fair to say this is Liars’ "rock record”?
You could say it’s a pop record. Don’t feel weird about that. I’m 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 we’ve failed in that regard in the past. We’ve made a connection with some people but generally people find us confusing and hard to understand.

I couldn’t accuse this album of being the one that would break you guys, considering I think your first album is the most accessible thing you’ve 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 that’s an interesting use of words because a crossover hit is a different idea. I dunno, sure! I guess we’re 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. It’s kind of weird, and out of the box, but at some point it starts to sound really amazing when you make something that’s more familiar than that. And I think this record is something like that. We really sort of let out some of our influences; they’re there on each song. I think that’s was fun about this record, is that it’s 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! I’ve totally heard that too! It’s 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 it’s welcome. I’ve heard some really weird ones.

Beck, y’know, 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 didn’t try to create a song like his. It’s kind of how these things work – you have these things in your subconscious and if you’re willing to let it out, then it will come out. That’s 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.
I’ve actually never heard them! I’ve gotta say it because people were going crazy about the Jesus & Mary Chain reference. But that’s how it is, it happens on a lot of records. I suppose on our other records, like Drum’s 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 that’s 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. It’s a tool we use to help us write a record that means something as a whole. I think that’s something we’ve always been concerned about, that the album works as one big piece of art. But after a while we learned that it’s our choice and it’s not necessary. Hopefully it’s not necessary, to push that whole thing on the listener. It’s kind of exciting to let them decide what the concept is. So, that’s the genesis behind this one. There’s no long titles - it’s 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, y’know, it takes up a lot of space in someone’s thoughts. The idea is that they have this thing, which in the end, isn’t really necessarily to the appreciation of music. And it becomes almost like noise. This time we just thought we’d 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 weren’t 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 it’s fun. And we certainly had fun making it. We just hope that other people have fun with it – that’s 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, that’s all part of the trick right now, is that we’re learning a lot right now. And each record is another step for us. Yeah, this one was definitely weird in the sense that I’d 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; I’m normally used to making the music so it sounds different or experimental, whatever. But when I actually fell on a piece that sounded like I’d 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 we’ve done before. The experimenting being that it sounded like other people. Something was familiar other than alien.

Some of the songs sound like they’re much bigger than a three-piece playing them. Are you expanding the line-up for shows?
That’s right! We did expand the line-up – we’ve got a guy called Jarrett Silberman, he used to play with the Young People. He’s 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 we’re gonna throw this one down properly.” Know what I mean? So, that’s what we’ve 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, what’s been interesting is that we’ve got a bit of a back catalogue now, so we’ve been going back over things that we might not have played before live. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army Knife of stuff that goes together. It’s fun that way because then it’s like making a little greatest hits record for the stage. But it’s 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 you’ll continue to operate in the future?
That’s kind of how we’ve 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 that’s just never worked for us. It’s 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 you’re still in Berlin?
I am vaguely, but at the moment I’m in L.A. We’re rehearsing like crazy for touring. I really enjoy Berlin, particularly for that idea of writing. I’m quite separated and alone over there, and that helps my process.

You guys toured with Deerhunter before they became everyone’s favourite new band. Their first record sounds a lot to me like Liars…
Well, y’know, when I first heard it I thought, "My god, this should be a pop record.” It doesn’t 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 that’s obviously big. And then if you have an interesting personality like Bradford, that’s a good combination. Yeah, I wish them the best of luck.

Well, here’s 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 – it’s really a favourite spot of mine, actually.