Liars’ sixth studio album, WIXIW, is the group’s tenderest, most emotionally direct album yet. This being Liars there’s still room for post-punk misery, icy synth tones and chilly remove, but it all comes in a prettier package with head-Liar Angus Andrew providing some of the most romantic singing of his career.
On the day before the band’s first New York show of its current tour, I spoke with Andrew in his room at a stylish Manhattan hotel. Though Andrew is a towering and intimidating frontman on stage, often thrashing about and screaming into the microphone, he was a gregarious and thoughtful interview subject. Very tall, yes, but far from the often terrifying personality he exhibits on record.
After over a decade as a band Liars are still finding different sonic worlds to explore with each album, and in our conversation Andrew discussed how the band would interpret WIXIW’s synth-pop minimalism in a live setting, how Mitt Romney could inspire the next Liars record and whether he misses screaming.
WIXIW places such an emphasis on electronics, and that’s a different style than you guys normally play. Will it be difficult to play those songs live?
Oh, yeah. I liken it really to when you attack the live show, it really feels like you’re starting a new album almost, a new project. This material is more electronic and generated much more from within the computer. When [we were] making it I was really aware of this kind of loss of physicality with the sounds. I’m very used to this idea of hitting a drum and relating that sound with that physical motion. And this way of working is way more abstract. Sounds are created with key strokes and mouse clicks. And so you’ve gotta try to reimagine that for the live show so that it actually incorporates some sort of physical element to it, which is tough.
And do you feel like the older songs you’ve played have transitioned into a style like the new album, or are you gonna play them like you always would?
It’s interesting. All our equipment is entirely different than what we would normally use to play older material, so those older songs have had to adapt to new equipment. So in a way they have been affected by that. But still I think the hope is that you can generate this kind of intensity and physical presence to it as opposed to really trying to be too specific about recreating what was on the album, which I don’t think we’ve ever been interested in. I think it’s more like kind of a situationist approach to it. The hope is that things actually do go wrong, or have the chance to make mistakes, and that’s where I think it becomes sort of special for the audience member.
Now that the album is out how do you feel about the positive response to it? Do you guys feel a sense of relief?
I guess I’ll preface it by saying for me I’m a pretty strong believer in the process of making things and being, first and foremost, comfortable about what the process was and in knowing that then the end result, even the album, or beyond that, how people receive it is kind of secondary to me. Of course I really want people to connect with it, but the biggest thing to me is to feel comfortable about knowing that we took the road that we wanted take and that we did it trying all the things that we wanted to do. And there’s a point for me where I’m less maybe interested in reading or gathering the kind of results of the record. I learn more from immediate discussions I have with people I’m maybe doing an interview with or friends, for example. But it seems that I get the general sense that people are connecting with it, and so that’s good enough for me.
So do you read reviews at all?
I don’t. I’m trying to skirt around that because I think sometimes it sounds a little–I don’t know–pompous maybe for one to not do that, but in a sense for me it’s… it doesn’t help me much in my way of looking at the record or my feeling about it, and I think eventually I do get to that stage, but there’s a point actually like now where it’s kind of too early for me to get involved in that side of things. It’s a little easier to leave it to the side.
You’ve always been good at articulating shared reference points and musical inspirations for each record. Is that something you and Aaron [Hemphill] discuss before you start writing songs?
It’s surprising to me how natural that happens. It’s often the case where Aaron and I might have a very brief and sort of not very weighted discussion about something that we’re interested in, and we could be sitting around for five minutes, and we’ll pick up on some things that we’re interested in, and it kind of opens up a door that we’re both willing to walk through. It’s never been the case where we’ve sort of come to the point where we need to decide what to do and been on opposite ends of the spectrum where one of us wants to make a death metal record and the other one wants to do jazz. It’s always surprisingly a similar vein.
Location is often important for each of your albums, but you’ve been in L.A. for a while now. What’s kept you in L.A.?
It’s funny. We kind of realized this after making this record that in a way that there’s this formula we developed where we make two records in a place and then we move on, and it’s funny that in those two records they’re always quite opposite to each other. You know when we first moved back to L.A. from Berlin, I was really, really into L.A. and kind of the idea of it and America again in general. And I think practically it was a place that really worked for us in terms of really knowing people and being able to have a great space to work in and things like that. But by the time we started to make this record I think we all already were retracting from Los Angeles and trying to remove it as an influence, and I think by now it feels again according to the formula that it’s time for us to move on. So there’s not really a lot that’s keeping us there at the moment.
Do you guys have your sights set somewhere else?
No, not yet. That sort of thing develops over time while we’re touring. It’s funny how these things work in cycles because I remember the last time we left America from here to move to Germany was kind of like the Bush era, the Iraq War, and now this faint concern of the possibility that Mitt Romney could get in gives you that added incentive that maybe it’s time to flee again.
Yeah, move to Canada. This is also perhaps your most emotionally direct album. When you’re writing those types of songs are you tempted to muddle with them or make them less direct?
Yeah, it’s an interesting point. Some of the approaches we’ve had on records like with Sisterworld and I think of the Drowned record, we made this sort of clear approach where we’ve agreed on a subject matter, and that’s something to focus on and dissect and talk about. But in a way it’s also this kind of shield so that you end up not having to really talk about yourself but project your own sort of fears or anxieties onto that subject matter. With this record we didn’t develop this subject matter, and instead we let the process inform the concept of it. And yeah, it allowed for probably I think our most personal and introspective record. And I think it, like you said, is always sort of tempting to try and deflect that inward-looking thing because it’s obviously more difficult to be revealing your inner feelings. But this time I really think we let it happen, and it’s kind of interesting to me. I think it also speaks to this part of this record, which is sort of big for me, that there’s no point on the record where we’re shouting or screaming, which may seem pretty trivial kind of thing, but we’ve always done that at some point on a record, and it’s interesting to me that on this one we were going sort of more interior and felt less of a need to yell about it.
It’s definitely the prettiest Liars album. But did you miss screaming?
I didn’t. And it was sort of a post-production realization that that hadn’t happened. And it was kind of one of the things I was most proud of in a sense. It felt like the first time it didn’t feel like I really needed to ram these ideas down someone’s throat; instead it seemed to be coming more directly from the inside.
Do you think that has to do with things going on in your life?
I think it’s got to do with the subject matter being more introspective, maybe quieter and in general, more full of doubt and anxiety and fear, so there’s maybe less confidence about it. And then without this sort of objective subject matter that you kind of propel against, without that you sort of become quieter, and when you’re being more revealing of yourself I think it doesn’t necessarily call for that sort of intensity.
How important are creative limitations to your songwriting process?
I think it’s just to do with trying to be specific from project to project. I think as just an overall thing I don’t think there’s a limitation, like I really feel like uniquely we’re a band that has the free will and opportunity to make a bossa nova record after we make a heavy rock one, or something. So I’m really happy about there not being those sort of boundaries, but I think that if we do decide on a project then we are pretty clear about trying to stay within that idea. And I think most of all that’s because it just helps us focus and create something that we really intend instead of just allowing ourselves to go all over the shop, which is really easy to do and is part of the reason why when I’m writing I really make this strong effort to remove sort of these extraneous influences because it’s so easy for me to sort of get carried away with something completely different. It’s important to try to focus.
Can you think of a song on this record that you felt maybe you were getting carried away with and you had to sort of step back?
On this record, as with most records, but particularly with this one because of the way we recorded it with a computer, we just had so much material, and the actual way we started work on it just was to experiment with sound, like I said, and so for the first five or six months, we really were just cataloguing and creating sounds to the point where we just had too many. I literally had to say stop experimenting with sounds, let’s really try and apply these to the generation of some sort of song that can handle these sounds. Yeah, I mean “No. 1 Against The Rush” is a good example of a song where we had this interesting sound, which is the one you hear when it starts, but really no idea how to make something that was gonna qualify to use that sound. And that was really the difficult part of this record, editing out things that we could certainly have used, but you really have to focus on things to get it done.
I know you’re a big basketball fan. Is there an NBA team you think Liars are similar to?
Yeah, I think just because we’re such big Clippers fans, generally they are the bastard stepchild of the Lakers and have always been looked at with some ridicule by the rest of the league, so I like to associate with that. I don’t know if that’s really what Liars’ position is, but when you are a superfan, it feels like the two worlds run together, and there’s often time when Aaron and I, when the Clippers are losing, that we feel creatively dissolved. But then when the Clippers are doing well, suddenly everything in our world feels good too.