Published Apr 06, 2010There are few interviews out there that can match the entertainment value of Liars front-man Angus Andrews. His voice has a blasé, Australian lilt that's a little surprising if you've ever seen him become possessed and turn into that recklessly abandoned wildman on stage with his band. It's no wonder that Liars have remained such a fertile source in music. Their clash of noise-driven experimentation and twisted pop music produced some of the finest albums of the aughties, most notably 2006's droning masterpiece, Drum's Not Dead. This new decade finds Liars continuing their trend of studio fuckery and searching deep within the recesses of their psyche, enhanced by the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, where they recorded. Sisterworld, as Andrews tells us, isn't so much a concept album but a freeway to losing yourself. Y'know, not unlike Chatroulette. Exclaim! chatted with the temporarily L.A.-based Andrews about concept albums, how he scared himself shitless making Sisterworld and yes, his first and only experience using Chatroulette.
Your last two albums were recorded in Berlin. What attracted you to Los Angeles this time around?
The other guys live in L.A. and I had them come out to Berlin for the last two records. So I sort of passively promised that we would go back to L.A. to do this record. It was getting more into a comfortable, homely environment. Working in Berlin was fun but it was isolating, which I blame on the language barrier. Eventually we just decided to go to a place that was more familiar and that we could connect with a little better.
How much of a role did the city of Los Angeles play on this record?
A lot, really. There were ideas that we had been dealing with on previous records that dealt with isolation or dislocation. And once we moved to L.A. and a lot of those ideas over this landscape really seemed to pop out. The studio is very interesting in how it functions and doesn't function, so it was a great inspiration for thinking about a lot of the things we wanted to do.
Would you say there is a concept to Sisterworld?
Well, that's a bit of a tightrope walk there because the idea of a concept album is pretty unappealing to us. But at the same time, giving the album a sense of life or a sense of meaning is something we really enjoy doing, so it's tricky. I wouldn't say this is a concept record, but it is something we thought about. There is no right or wrong answer in the way you interpret it. We did use L.A. as a base to explore some of our ideas, but I don't think the ideas were specific to L.A. You can feel some of these things in other cities, like Toronto.
So the album isn't set in or about a place called Sisterworld?
No, it's more an idea of a place you'd like to escape to. I think being in L.A. and looking at the different aspects of the city, it makes us want to escape to some place that is a little more understanding. The idea is pretty loosely defined in that you need to go away to get a sense of yourself back. It could be a physical space where you need to get out of the area and find someone to connect with. A lot of people do it digitally where they go online and find a way to connect with people.
Yeah, like Chatroulette. Have you heard of that site?
Yeah, I have. I was on it the other day. This is what happened. My girlfriend told me about it and I asked if I should try it. So I was standing in her room and she had her laptop open and clicked on it. Then this white, pasty guy appeared on the screen, and I screamed and we shut it off. [Laughs] It was an experiment. Have you done it?
No, but I hear all of these celebrities are doing it.
Yeah, it's a pretty crazy thing. You've gotta be game. You can always hang up.
The artwork for Sisterworld is a rad looking puzzle. How did you come up with that design? How is it tied in to the music?
I can't take all of the credit for the design, it was done by a friend of ours named Brian Roettinger. We basically went to him early on during the recording and said, "Look, this is what the record's about, what do you have in mind?" He started playing with the idea of creating interactive packaging. When we started to understand it more was when we'd done most of the recording and we took a trip up to Big Sur. We took Brian with us and brought cameras, and put ourselves in an environment where we envisioned ourselves for Sisterworld. What helped me get was really a whole sense of the project. Standing out in the area I got a grasp of what we were starting to achieve with the record. We took the imagery from doing that and basically gave it the visual centrepoint for how we imagined the record. We combined those ideas from Big Sur with the ideas Brian had for the packaging and got a different perspective. That started to inform the way we thought about the second disc of interpretations. We were really interested in not only keeping a line of imagery throughout the record, but allowing for it to have the possibility of interpretation and have it not be so literal.
Where did the idea to have Sisterworld remixed in its entirety come from?
It wasn't with the album from the beginning. It comes boringly from the age-old notion that we'd finished recording the album and the label asked who I wanted to remix the singles. Every time that happens I get almost angry and frustrated because it seems so boring and it often involves a list of people they think are cool DJs right now who can turn our song into a dance hit. I find that formulaic and restrictive. So I didn't want to do that, and gave them a list of people I was interested in who weren't generally known for making "remixes." I wanted to open up the possibilities so that maybe these ideas of working on each other's songs would be more interesting than the 4/4 club song. It was about redefining the way the remix is thought about.
Are you pleased with how the songs turned out? Is there a favourite remix?
When you understand the parameters of the project, it's almost impossible to be disappointed. We basically said to these people that they can do anything. Like, "If you want to record yourself having a shower, that will be just as interesting to us for three minutes than if you work on it for a month." The results that we got are so wide-ranging in that way, I never felt like I wanted to hear the tracks before I put them to press. It wasn't my place to give input, it was more to do with how they heard the song and reacted to it.
Mute calls this your "boldest and most exhilarating record to date" and "devoid of influence." Do you agree with those types of descriptors?
I hate them! I hate those things! They're the bane of my existence right now, honestly. Again it's tied up with what we talked about earlier, whether it's a concept album. There was a point when we had to make some statements about the record that lets people know what we're thinking and it gets really tricky. In one sense they want this statement and in another sense that statement is never true. They've written that [press release] in relation to some of the things that we discussed with them. What's unfortunate for me with that quote is that it's backwards; it's supposed to read that Sisterworld is a place you're looking for that is devoid of influence, but it's a place that is no longer pushing you with all sorts of advertising or outside influence. That's the sort of place we're trying to get to. We were never interested in saying that our music is devoid of influence. I would never say that this is our "boldest" record because they all feel like that to me. It's not only the record company, it's journalism in general. I go into an interview sometimes and the description of what goes down is just so much more dramatic with us. It's just part of the game and sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick. Like, "Angus rolled the eyes back in his head as he answered with a devilish grin" or some bullshit like that. It's like really? I'm not like that.
I spoke with you for the self-titled album, which you called "light-hearted" compared to the two previous ones, which were "heavier." Where does Sisterworld lie amongst your records?
It's definitely the darkest, heaviest and most disturbing. I described the last record as light-hearted because we weren't interested in giving it this kind of meaning. We were having an experiment where we were throwing together a bunch of songs and putting them on an album. And that way we worked a lot faster and didn't get bogged down with too much. But this record we worked in the complete opposite way. Part of what I enjoy about making records is thinking of them as a whole and giving them life. So for this record we really took that on. Things came out on this record that really scared and upset me, and I think that's probably a sign that it was the heaviest record we've done.