Published Aug 23, 2017Since Liars formed at the turn of the millennium, the band have always been a collaborative project between frontman Angus Andrew and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill. (Not to be forgotten, Julian Gross served more than 10 years before leaving in 2014.) But when it came time to record their eighth album, Hemphill had a change of heart. Now Andrew leads the band on his own.
"Aaron and I are still extremely close friends but it had become increasingly apparent that our creative relationship had run its course," Andrew tells Exclaim! "It certainly was a sad reality to face, but ultimately we came to a mutual understanding that we were both happy with. He is now a brand new dad and so is focusing his energies in that direction."
The new album, TFCF, finds Andrew working almost exclusively on his own, with only live drummer Butchy Fuego appearing on three tracks. For Andrew it wasn't quite the adjustment some people might think it was, but he enjoyed not having to listen to anyone else's input.
"Well, the reality is that I have always written alone," he details. "Aaron and my relationship was more in line with critique than collaboration. Initially I certainly missed the opportunity to send him my work for his opinion but in the end I began to find the new situation incredibly invigorating.
"I found the freedom inspiring — particularly as it relates to instinct. In the past, my ideas needed to sift through several filters, which I was actually super appreciative of. Without those filters though I realized that my instinct is valuable — albeit a little frightening — and that my best work can evolve without hesitation."
Part of this evolution included relocating to his birthplace of Australia, where he hadn't lived since the '90s. "I left Australia before I began making music and before the birth of Liars," he explains. "Since then I've lived in several different countries but have always wished to move home. It's difficult though for a touring band to make living in Oz work logistically because of the huge geographical hurdle. Finally, after the touring cycle of [2014's] Mess wound down I realized that for my own happiness and sanity I needed to make the move regardless of the implications. It was literally one of the best decisions I've made in many years."
Like with some of his previous records, the move was partially due to changing the setting for the record, in order to allow new ideas to creep in. The switch from L.A.'s sprawling, concrete jungle to the barren Australian bush was just the creative outlet he was searching for.
"Y'know, I consider most, if not all, Liars albums to be a reaction to the one that came before it," Andrew says. "I think for this album I needed to leave L.A. and find a completely new way of thinking about sound. And that truly happened. Where before the rhythms and sound were all cut to a grid and locked into tempos — largely in response to the city of L.A., now the structure and the movement of TFCF are influenced by the discordant rhythms of nature: the movement of water, the wind in the trees and the sounds of wildlife."
Part of the allure was also distancing himself from civilization. Where he ended up was only accessible by boat, which provided a few challenges. He was literally in the great wide open, capturing all the astonishing sounds nature was giving him.
"It's very isolated," he says. "[And] it's been a very steep learning curve for me. I wasn't previously schooled on handling my own vessel, navigating the tides or maintaining the thing but it's been eye-opening and fascinating so far. Every time I entered my studio to work I made a point of hitting record on a live microphone I had set up outside. This ambience of my surroundings was amplified into my studio space so that it felt very much like I was working outdoors.
"Every song I wrote therefore has a complementary field recording from the moment I wrote it, which is a fantastic place marker in time and space. For example, if I was recording during a thunderstorm, then that sets the scene for the music I was making at the time. It's quite wild. I think one of the most astonishing things that happened was when a cockatoo landed on the microphone outside and began squawking and pecking away at it — which, when amplified inside my studio, was truly frightening!"
And if you thought, "Hey, the Australian is a pretty dangerous spot to make an album. Hasn't he seen A Cry In The Dark and Wolf Creek? They have dingos and serial killers!" Well, Andrew says the public perception of the bush isn't quite the threatening terrain we've come to think it is.
"Australia has lots of deadly insects and reptiles, but all in all I think the myth of it all is greater than the reality," he says. "It's all perspective, I guess. One time I was horrified to notice that after sitting at my desk in my studio for most of the day there had developed a decent pool of blood at my feet. Turns out there had been a leech just slurping away for hours on my leg. Such a fatty!"
Liars' eighth studio album, TFCF, is out August 25 on Mute.