Liars are one of our most consistently inconsistent bands.
Over eight albums and 15 years their music has shifted at every turn, moving from genre-to-genre while still, somehow, retaining a coherent identity and an ineffable strangeness.
The new record, 'Theme From Crying Fountain', is their biggest act of shapeshifting to date. It’s a brilliant, sometimes bewildering, set of dark pop, broken electronics and found sound that reflects singer – and last Liar standing, with Aaron Hemphill having departed the band – Angus Andrew’s new home in rural Australia.
We caught up with him to find out more about the album, and what comes next.
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How did you approach making TFCF? Am I right in thinking you recorded music in LA and then pieced the tracks together in your studio in Australia?
I mean “music” is a stretch, maybe. I was sampling myself, playing as many instruments as I could get my hands on in LA, while being aware that I needed to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct in order to create the things that I wanted. I’ve listened to hip-hop all my life but for some reason it never dawned on me that that was a way of making things.
Did you take that approach because of Aaron’s departure?
Yeah, I mean I’ve always written solo before, but I would create demos and things like that and then have the guys play the music properly. In this case I needed to have some things recorded well for the final pieces.
The natural world has a real presence on this album, I’m assuming because of where it was put together...
I get influenced a lot by the places where I make music and this was an entirely new environment for me. Particularly being in amongst the Australian bush, which is fierce, y’know what I mean? It’s loud and it doesn’t let you ignore it. I jumped into that and let the weird rhythms of the nature, the trees and the ocean influence it. They all have this constant movement thats sometimes gets into a pattern and sometimes doesn’t. That’s how I wanted the music to sound.
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I was sampling myself, playing as many instruments as I could get my hands on...
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It’s a constant texture on the record that really leaps out in specific moments, like the screaming bird on 'Staring At Zero'.
Yeah, only a small amount of that got onto the record, but I was hearing a lot of cockatoos – they’re very loud. I had a microphone set up outside the studio that was always on, recording everything as I was making the music. It would amplify things into my studio, and there was an instance where a cockatoo landed on the microphone and just screamed into it.
Are you particularly outdoorsy? Liars have played with that sort of imagery before on things like the interior art for 'Sisterworld'.
I mean, I’m not a hiking kind of guy or anything like that, but I like to be in that environment. Particularly when I’m being creative. It’s really great because there’s an isolation factor which is important to me. To be alone for a long time allows things to come out that you can’t really get out if you’ve got all this other stuff going on.
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There were a lot of very heavy emotions...
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I’ve seen you say elsewhere that you wanted this album to be confrontational. In what sense?
Well, first of all, it’s a very emotional record for me, with Aaron leaving and also my father was in the last year of his life and I was taking care of him while I was writing the record. There were a lot of very heavy emotions. I think “confrontational” maybe comes into the artwork. Just being on the cover in a wedding dress is a little confrontational, I think. For me it was not shying away from the fact that this was just me – and very raw me. This was the kind of decision that kept me up at night, which generally is the kind of creative decision I want to make.
Something that scares you a little?
Yeah, scares me a lot! I think the best work I do comes from that area, when you’re uncertain about it, it’s frightening, but you need to allow it to happen.
How comfortable is the wedding dress to wear on stage?
It could use some more work! Thankfully I have a couple of weeks right now before the next US leg and I’ll be visiting many a tailor, I assure you. I tend to lose veils and bits and pieces very easily.
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There are gentler moments on the album too. You get the old acoustic out on 'No Help Pamphlet'!
I’m generally interested in pursuing anything that I haven’t tried before. That’s an example of a song where, you make it and then you’re like, “Did that really just happen?!” For me those are really great moments. There have been sweet, soft moments on each record, just buried I suppose.
Has Aaron heard the new album?
Oh yeah, of course. He was one of the first to hear it. We’re still very close. From the beginning, I’ve always had so much faith in his opinion. I had to send it to him straight away.
How important is the visual side of things to you?
The special editions of the last few albums have all been fairly elaborate. When I’m getting towards the tail end of writing the music I get very antsy about the visual aspect of it. I am less of a musician and more of a visual artist, I think, so when I have music that I’ve made I immediately take it out into the world and try to imagine it in that environment.
I shoot a lot of video and take a lot of photographs. I really enjoy trying to place the music in a visual language. It not only helps me understand the record it gives people some much needed context. I really enjoy that part of the process.
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I am less of a musician and more of a visual artist, I think...
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Where did you meet your new touring band?
In New York. They’re from Atlanta, Georgia, but they live in New York. They’re two twin brothers [Reid and Blaze Bateh] and they have a band called Bambara. They were fans, so when I met them for the first time we went into a studio and just played 20 Liars songs. Some of them were tracks from older records that had never seen the light of performance for technical reasons, so it was pretty exciting for me. It’s all testament to these guys - they’re proper musicians and I’m just really enjoying playing with them.
Have you spoken about recording together?
I haven’t particularly talked to them about it, but I’m always looking for the next way to make a record and what angle I want to take. The one thing I’ve never done is actually make a record with other people in the room. With all the Liars records we just worked on our own and then we’d send ideas back and forth and critique each other.
I’ve never been a person who has gone into a room and jammed. Something about that is a bit attractive to me, I have to say, and the fact that these guys are so good and so in tune with me, it feels like maybe we could do that. So yeah, I have given some thought to it, but we haven’t really discussed it.
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It’s the 15th anniversary of the band’s first album this year…
Is it? Y’know, it’s ridiculous how long this has been going on. Certainly when we made the first record I had no inkling that this would turn into my whole life. It shocks me when I think about it, but at the same time, each record I look at as a brand new project, so it stays incredibly fresh for me. I don’t really get good at doing any one thing – I just try and do another thing really badly!
People often try and relate music to some sort of mathematical, technical kind of thing. My approach is the opposite. You throw things in a cauldron and see if it tastes right. It’s a little less science and a bit more magic in my world!
How has your relationship with Mute evolved over all that time?
The simple answer is: I owe everything to them. I’m not sure another label would have had the patience that they have with me. [Label owner] Daniel Miller has always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. You know, I’ve had friends who are in bands that started out when I did on other labels and I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories. I’m just so grateful to them. I’m not sure Liars would be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for them.
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I’m not sure another label would have had the patience that (Mute) have with me...
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Before this album you were working on a soundtrack for a movie… Is that ever going to see the light of day?
Yeah, interesting question. It’s for a movie called 1/1. It’s the first full soundtrack that I’ve done and I learned pretty quickly that the movie industry works in a whole different time warp than music. The film’s done and the music’s done and it’s just sort of waiting for release, which I think is mid next year. By that time the music will sound like it was made by completely different people, but I guess that’s the way this sort of thing works.
Was that recorded in LA?
No, for that one Aaron and I went to Denmark for about three weeks and just went very deep into the script and some ideas from the director. It was an interesting thing to do, and hopefully everyone will get to hear it soon.
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'Theme From Crying Fountain' is out now.
Words: Will Salmon
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