Liars – comprised of Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion, guitar, synth) and Julian Gross (drums) – are the very definition of unpigeonholeable (if indeed unpigeonholeable is a word). Initially lumped into the Noughties New York dance-punk scene, they’ve become better known for defying expectations with dramatic stylistic shifts between albums while always retaining an interest in rhythm and texture.
Luke Turner caught up with Angus Andrew after a storming stripped-back set at the Sonar Festival. Check out, too, their RBMA Radio recording from the archives.
Your new material is very electronic and dance-focussed, how does that come into what you're doing?
“We've always loved dance music. Right back to the first record, it's always been there. For [last year’s largely electronic album] WIXIW [pronounced 'Wish You'] we worked around it and made it a little more difficult, so with this material we thought let's just do it. It's less cerebral, it's more going for it and having fun with it.”
How did you start writing the new songs?
“I went on the holiday to the Philippines, freaked out a little bit, came home and my computer was sitting there and thought 'F*ck, I'm not going on tour, I'm going to see what happens'. Sometimes as an artist there's a fear that you have to be ready, to step into the songwriting, and it's great not to be in that position.”
These new tracks are a lot more direct than WIXIW, why is that?
“It's about using the equipment wrong - it's always been like that, we're not pro musicians. It's about using the tools and trying to find an idea and a way to express it. When we started on WIXIW it was like reading manuals, trying to figure out how to press the right key to make a sound. Now it's more natural. WIXIW was a scary record to make. It was really cerebral and paranoid because of learning how to make it all within the computer, it was hard for me to get my head around it.”
WIXIW was a lot more personal, it seems as if a lot of the madness of Liars, the strangeness is back.
“It's got to do with having less concern, and more reaction and impulse - that's where that stuff comes from. With WIXIW we spent a lot of time thinking about it, and it's nice to just riff, and freak out.”
At one point in the new material you shout "I WANT TO EAT YOUR FACE OFF!". What’s that all about?
“Where that came from was I wanted to do something where I manipulated my voice really heavily. I'm sitting there in my studio, and I can record myself: 'Take my pants off. Eat my face off. I like your neck.' I think it's got to do with the morphing of the voice, it makes it sound so sinister.”
Where do the strange images and lyrics come from?
“I'll blurt out words as we go along, and sometimes they're completely non-sensical, they need to be reined in. That's what's great about Aaron, I'll say 'This is what I'm working with', and it'll be 'I'm a whale, you're a freak, we need some sunlight' and he's, 'Yeah, but maybe instead of 'I'm a whale' it can be 'I'm aware'. I get blown away when he says that - 'Oh my God, what was I thinking?! A whale?'”