Wish You Were Not Here - Liars

The newfound introspection of Liars
Clash Magazine - Liars
It's early one summer morning, and Liars are clutching coffees in an East London hotel lobby. "'WIXIW' is a very simple sentiment," says Aaron deliberately, the band's bottle-blonde guitarist. "What's important is the duality of 'wish you'," adds frontman Angus. "It could be 'I wish you were here', or I wish you were dead.'"

The album 'WIXIW' is all about this tug-o-war with the soul. There's a brooding intensity to the lushly-layered and hypnotic electronics that often teeters on the brink of claustrophobia, as on the anguished vocal and offbeat D'n'B whomp-whomp of 'Octagon'. The record was made in a remote woodland hideaway, and you can hear the isolation in every synth pulse.

"We wanted to make something more purely personal and instinctual," says Angus. "I hate the idea of being influenced by extraneous things. You know, you can't not be aware that Nicki Minaj is huge and Maroon 5 have big songs. That's why we moved into a cabin in the woods to write this record. It was in the forest two hours north of Los Angeles, so really we had nothing. With other records, I've listened to the radio, and without my knowledge I can be influenced by, I dunno, Cage The Elephant!" he laughs. "But even when we were in the cabin it was difficult. We wanted to watch the NBA finals on TV, but even when you're watching a basketball game there's all that earworm music in the background! And you know, you're lying in bed at night with 'Super Bass' in your head."

As Angus sings on 'No 1 Against The Rush', the simmering, tripped-out first single from 'WIXIW', “this culture's a disease”. Or is it 'dis-ease'? As he puts it, you can decide to work on Wall St, or you can decide to work in Soho. This isn't a case of pop snobbery though."It's also about insecurity," he continues. "I made the mistake early on when we were writing this record of listening to a Queen song. And I got on the phone to Aaron and I was just freaking out! Like, 'will we ever be able to write a song as good as a Queen song? With so much emotion and beauty?' So then I was like: 'Okay. These are the rules.'"

If Liars hadn't written a new rulebook for this record, it would be cause for concern. Since their spiky 2001 debut album 'They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top', their Twitter-unfriendly discography has read: Witch-hunting ('They Were Wrong, So We Drowned'), TIME-SIGNATURES ('Drum's Not Dead') and noisy garage ('Liars'). Most recently came 2010's riffathon 'Sisterworld', with its pop structures and traditional 'rock' instrumentation, which Angus now remembers alongside 2007's 'Liars' as a "we're in a band, let's write a song" kind of record. 'Sisterworld' was a searing, often brutal-to-breaking-point album inspired by the violence Angus experienced while living above an LA drug den. Sample lyrical couplet – the screamed 'LA! LA! / HELP ME! HELP ME!' of 'The Overachievers'. Thematically, you couldn't get further from the intimate, inward-looking 'WIXIW'.

What's surprising isn't that Liars have 'gone electronic' on their new record, but that it's been this long coming. If you hadn't heard Liars' music, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they'd been synth-based all along as a result of their initial, erroneous grouping in a 'scene' of New York electronic artists including The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem in the early 2000s. Around the same time, there was a worldwide shortage of Stargazer eyeshadow and Babyliss straighteners, later traced back to Angus' then-girlfriend Karen O. No-one seemed to notice that the very title of Liars' debut album 'They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top' was a LOL @ at those that would label them.

'WIXIW' is out now on Mute. Liars tour the UK in October.

Words by Owen Myers
Photo by Cameron Alexander


The full version of this interview appears in the August 2012 issue of Clash Magazine.

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