Liars' Angus Andrew on Making Music with Computers, What the Hell WIXIW Means, and Dire Straits
Most artists like to call themselves unpredictable, but few fit the description so fully as a little three-piece named Liars. First dipping into dance-punk with their 2001 debut They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, the L.A.-via-Berlin-via-NYC-via-L.A. trio has since experimented with all sorts of moody, atmospheric, and often quite dissonant sounds. On WIXIW (pronounced "wish you"), the band's sixth record, Liars have once again pivoted, this time to a far more melodic soundscape dominated by synthesizers instead of guitars. SF Weekly recently spoke with Liars frontman Angus Andrew about his band's new direction ahead of their show this Thursday (July 5) at Great American Music Hall. (The show was recently moved from the Fillmore.)
We're enjoying the new record, WIXIW. What inspired you guys to go with more electronic instrumentation this time around?
There are a lot of reasons. We had done the last couple of records in a much more traditional way, quote-unquote, with traditional instruments and songwriting. We had this ongoing issue where we would normally record songs ourselves as demos and then go into a studio and recreate them. I guess we've always felt like there's something a bit lost in that translation.
Our hope was that by working within The Computer [Andrew emphasizes like this A Lot], we'd be able to instantly record sounds we've made, and be able to rely on them sonically to a standard that they could be on the final record. There wasn't that gray area between the initial idea and the final product. So in a sense, it was kind of a practical decision, but also an ongoing interest and excitement in exploring a whole new sonic frontier and palette.
Were you conscious of the implications of changing course as you guys were writing and recording the record?
To be honest, when we get into starting to write stuff, I try to try to block all those ancillary or extraneous ideas out of the head. I think that one thing we've always felt is that we try to make things initially for ourselves. We concentrate on what's exciting for us with the hope that if we do that genuinely, then people will be able to connect with it. It's always been a modus operandi to block as much out as possible and make something from the gut.
I'm sure that in preparation for your live dates, you've been figuring out how to recreate WIXIW. What sort of changes have you made to bring the record out in a live context?
It's a real trick. One thing about working within The Computer [Again!!] is that you lose the physical connection with the sounds you're creating. There's not this immediate idea like "Well, I'm hitting this piano key or this snare drum and this is the sound I'm creating." With The Computer, it's just all this mouse clicking. It's a question of trying to find out after you've made it how to reconnect with it in that physical way. That was one of our biggest goals in putting our live show together: making sure there was some of that connection.
Going to the title for a second, you've said that WIXIW is a made-up palindrome that conveys a sense of mystery. What was the process of coming up the title?
It's a word that Aaron [Hemphill; percussion, guitar, synth] came up with when he was working on a song, and he sort of titled it with that off the cuff. It just seemed to emanate this kind of strength or superstitious kind of quality that, in the end, we couldn't deny. The process was really weird in that sense. But once we surrendered to it, it became a lot more comfortable and we were happy to use it.
It seems in keeping with the often solemn and serious mood on your recordings. Conversely, the band cultivates an undercurrent of humor and lightheartedness within the Liars universe. You take funny press photos, you play around with album cover images, like the porn Photoshop job for the It Fit When I Was A Kid. Are you aware of the dichotomy that you're playing sometimes very serious music, but also seeming like a bunch of fun-loving guys?
There's a point where you realize that you don't want to take yourself too seriously. The dichotomy there is that you want to take your work very seriously. We're not preaching. We're not trying to convey this Oasis rockstar idea. We're idiots as much as anyone, so we try and show that. At the same time, we're passionate about our work and try to convey our ideas succinctly. I think being open to both sides of the coin is good for us.
You're doing a pretty madcap set of dates this summer. I think I counted 19 dates in 23 days, and a world tour in the fall. Any place you're excited about visiting?
I'd be remisce if I didn't mention that we're going to Australia at the end of the year. [Angus is Australian]. That's always a big deal for me. I don't often get to go down there, and we're playing a nice festival, and I'll get to see my family and all that stuff. But it's more than that. It's exciting to be out anywhere, to be honest. It's so great to be in a position when you have new material that you're excited about playing, as opposed to maybe if you speak to me in two years and I'm saying "Oh my God, I don't want to play this WIXIW stuff anymore."
Any records you've been listening to that you think is going to be on heavy rotation on the road?
What's great about this time is that when we're making a record, we're really make an effort to not listen to music. For me, it's important to block that out in order to focus and create something that's our own. What does become exciting is when you get to the point when you can pick up your iPod again and listen again. It's kind of a revelation.
So I dunno, in the last couple weeks I've been heavily into Dire Straits.