Brooklyners Liars returned this month with their sixth record, WIXIW, and as they hit the UK tour circuit they tell Getintothis’ Lewis Stapleton – ‘we had to make sense of the crows, shotguns and police sirens and do justice to these sounds.’
Liars released their sixth album, WIXIW, on June 4 and Getintothis caught up with singer, guitarist and songwriter Angus Andrew while the band prepared for their show in Utrecht.
Angus is a very friendly, affable guy, more than willing to chat about the record, the different approach they took to creating it (WIXIW is a marked deviation from their back catalogue – though that’s something we’ve come to expect from one of America’s most experimental collectives) and what to expect when they play live on their current UK tour.
You’ll have spotted the palindromic title up in the first line there. Getintothis was pretty certain that Angus had been answering a lot of questions about it so we decided to let him off, instead askin him if he’d constructed a palindromic answer yet.
“I haven’t. I did a lot of research into palindromes when we were getting into the whole thing and I can’t remember one of them right now. I really need to work on that.”
The title of the album is pronounced ‘Wish You‘ which captures its longing, wistful nature, was that intentional from the beginning?
“I don’t know if it was intentional when we started it but we realised that it quickly became one of our most personal and introspective albums.
“In the past we’ve used more conceptual subject matters to project our feelings on, to divert the attention away from ourselves a bit by talking about things like Los Angeles or Witches and stuff like that.
“On this record we left that space open and realised that the result was that we turned inward. There’s a lot of longing, self doubt, that kind of anxiety and actually a lot of contradictions that I think you’ll find on the record.”
We wondered if the ‘Wish you‘ was less addressing an external person, but rather if it was addressed to the ‘wisher’ themselves. What was interesting to him about the words?
“Being able to use the wording in different ways, such as Wish You Were Here, as in the classic Floyd jam, or wish you were dead. I like the duality of the possibilities and that’s one of the things that drew us to it.”
This album is yet another change in sound for the band and their first real step into full blown electronica. Given the challenges of working in new mediums and employing new ways of creating their music, we asked about how the changes had impacted on the process of making the record.
“It’s definitely the first time we’ve tried to attack the computer with a serious intention of being able to produce most of the material within the computer.
“Part of the reason for that was to see if we could create a record where we didn’t have to start off with a demo and then try and translate it in the studio and the computer seemed a good way to achieve that.
“It was a very self-conscious process particularly stepping into the electronic realm where we are the first to say we’re not well versed or skilled and that there are a lot of people in the world who are probably better at doing it then we are.
“So you immediately become self-conscious about what you’re doing and whether or not people have heard that before.”
The well crafted palette of beautiful sounds and found samples blend into the more traditional sounds of the band. Hearing a well-established group take a step into this new world of song writing, which many people will already be well versed in, is as refreshing as it is exciting. In going out into the world, acquiring these sounds and then turning them inwards they have created their own world of sonic textures.
“Part of the beauty of the computer is that you can take these sounds from anywhere and by way of the computer you can fit them into these time signatures, which as a song writing tool is really kind of amazing and I’m pretty amazed that I hadn’t figured it out before. It opens up a whole world of possibilities.”
Ill Valley Prodigies is a case in point. Looped samples of crows, shotguns, fireworks and other less identifiable noises are brought together to create a wondrous piece of pastoral music where sounds of the city blend to evoke a patch of corn stubbled wilderness. I asked him what it was comprised of.
“Crows, there’s shotguns, there are police sirens. All sorts of stuff from around my area. Some people have said that they think I recorded someone having sex. It’s definitely not that.”
Not something Getintothis picked up, so we won’t be casting aspersions as to anyone’s good character or moral fibre. We thought we heard Barney Gumble though…
The record is also reminiscent of Krautrock bands such Faust or Can. Given that this has been a brave new step for the band we ask whether they had been influenced by this kind music, or whether this was really the result of trying to wrestle with unfamiliar tools.
“It really is a strong effort to shut out influences really. When I get down to writing I think it’s really important to physically resist allowing any unwanted influence into the headspace because for me it is so easy to get pushed around.
“One way that we did that is that Dan (Miller) and I moved out to a cabin in the woods and took our computers with us.
“There’s just so much noise in the world these days, even if you’re watching a football match or something you’re going to hear a song in the background. Those things can always creep in. It’s so much more interesting to see what we can achieve without that kind of stuff.”
This isolation has certainly bled through into the music, which is introspective, internalised yet not maudlin or tiresomely self-obsessed. Rather it is an interior landscape that is strange and unfamiliar because it has not been observed in detail before.
“It’s a little uncomfortable. We’ve figured out ways of working and making records where we in some ways intellectualise the process in a sense to deflect that internal look into your roughed up landscape.
“This time round we let it happen. It’s really much more frightening to do that. It’s not easy to put your innermost feelings out into the world and it’s taken us a while to get to that.”
Given that level of candour we wondered if it was one of their most truthful records.
“In the sense that it is on the personal side. I don’t know if truthful is something we would always want to go for because the imagination and the lies are sometimes more exciting or interesting.”
Their first single from the album, No. 1 Against the Rush, is an excellent distillation of the album’s spirit and style. For the first six months of working on the record they just experimented with sounds, which was a backwards way to work according to Angus.
“Normally we would sit down at the piano or with a guitar and try and develop a melody and a song and then add these interesting textures but this time we worked in a reverse way and developed a huge bank of really interesting sounds.
“Then after six months we realised ‘shit we didn’t have any songs’. It’s about time we stopped experimenting and find out a way to do these sounds justice. It’s a tough position to put yourself in and it’s hard when you’ve got so many options when you let yourself experiment so much.
“No. 1 Against the Rush is really a good example of that process. That early sound you hear on the song is one of those experiments and we didn’t really know what to do with it so we thought, we’ll put this simple drum beat to it. And that’s why I think it’s a good one to start off with as a single.”
Looking ahead to their UK tour we asked which songs they are enjoying playing the most and what audiences could expect.
“A lot of them are really fun to play, not only because they’re new to us but because they’re pretty challenging technically.
“It’s not just the same as getting up there with your guitar and your bass and jamming them out, it’s really quite a trick to try and recreate these sounds on stage. For me the second track, Octagon, is pretty fun to play and also the more dancey one, Brats, is crazy when we perform it.
“With the live show you’ve got to expect a bit of chaos and things going wrong. We’re not necessarily there to replicate the record. You’ve got to be ready for a slightly different interpretation!
“When we get round to the point where we’ve finished the record and we’re thinking about doing it live, it really is like taking on a new project. It was really difficult for us this time because there are a lot of sounds on the record which we weren’t sure how we even made them.
“It’s not like we really want to be the people who get up and play the CD and sing over it. The question is how to incorporate a physicality into the music, so it’s not some kind of lean, clean electronic kind of thing.”
All of which sounds very exciting indeed – we’ll be catching some chaos when Liars roll into our town very soon.
Liars return to Manchester’s Sound Control on Sunday October 21 – for full tour dates visit here.