Liars is a band that has never stood still. Its musical fascinations have led it from dancey post-punk to dark, atmospheric experimental music, to straightforwardly structured noise rock. It's looked to history and lore for source material—2004's They Were Wrong So We Drowned was about witch trials in the mountains of Germany, written in the woods of New Jersey—and other works have reflected the sounds and sensations of the environments in which they were written and recorded, namely L.A., New York, and Berlin. The one constant throughout Liars' fluctuating sounds and stories has been the songwriting partnership of vocalist Angus Andrew, who also plays guitars, and synths, and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill.
In May, however, Hemphill announced that he was leaving the band. Though the departure was on good terms, it's had a weighty sonic and thematic impact on TFCF, Liars' eighth LP. The record is almost entirely the creation of Andrew, who lived and recorded in a studio nestled in an Australian national park during its making. TFCF recounts Andrew's self-exploration as Liars suddenly became a solo project, and documents the impact of a new environment upon new music.
We caught up with Andrew to discuss Liars' latest sonic and structural transformations, the spontaneous nature of songwriting, and making music in a space of unclassifiable in-betweens.
INDY: Many of the songs on this record feel dark or ominous, and it also seems to be your most introspective record yet. But it also features perhaps the sweetest, most melodic Liars song to date: "No Help Pamphlet." Do you consciously subvert your melodic impulses in favor of less structured, more experimental songwriting?
Angus Andrew: No man, you know, people sometimes ask me, "Have you ever tried just writing some pop songs and making some hits," and I'm like, Man, I'm trying! Every time I sit down I'm trying to do something like that. I'm never shying away from or trying to expel anything. Honestly, it's just how things sound when they come out. That's a good example of a song where you write it, and you hear it and you're like, Woah...Did that really happen? 'Cuz it doesn't sound like me, and I don't think many people are going to think of it as Liars, but that did happen.
Those are the best moments. I really enjoy those moments where something happens that you can't plan for. I don't have the kind of skill involved to be picky about what happens, it's like, Let's just sit in the studio for a few months and just see what happens.
When I was thinking about that song it sounded to me like, Oh god, people are just gonna think I've just been sitting around listening to Syd Barrett and other sixties folk-pop stuff and really trying to make that happen. But if I tried to do that it really wouldn't turn out that way. It's really just the result of putting things together.
There are a lot of songs on this record that have multiple fidelities coexisting on a single track—a trebly, fuzzy acoustic guitar may be paired with a clean, bassy synth, creating a strange, almost dissonant effect. What was the impetus for mixing like this?
I was interested in using all sorts of different sounds. I wanted things to have an organic feel; I didn't want things to come out as if they were super processed by the computer. I think things got put together that might not ordinarily be put together. Part of what inspired me was being in nature, in this environment where—you know, this classic way of talking about it—there's no straight lines, there's no right angles; things come together in ways that you probably couldn't plan out.
I think that's where I was coming from: the sound of waves crashing on the beach, and trees, and the sound of birds—this symphony that's going on, but it's not "right." These things aren't working together; they're working in opposition in a way. But the combination of them is really interesting, and I think that worked with what you're talking about, with the different fidelities.
There's also such an interesting mix of emotion. "No Help Pamphlet" still features these sad lines like, "People are strings that we never untie."
Yeah. The record as a whole treads this line of bleeding over into a cliché. Because essentially it's a breakup record, but not in the typical sense of lovers—it's [between Andrews and Hemphill] a creative relationship—that's a very well-worn road, so it's a little scary. It can dip into some real pastiche, and you don't really want that. But maybe buffering right up to that line, and giving it a little bit of an edge, is what makes it work.
I understand that you recorded this record in isolation. Self-imposed isolation is a theme that's come into the work of a lot of creative types that can easily become pastiche. But it's also a real thing that you went through and experienced.
It's similar to the thing for me between just purely experimental and pop music. Neither one of them is right for me, because even though I love experimental sounds, and I love to listen to drones and all that, for me, the challenge is...it's somewhere in between, and that's where things become interesting. Sometimes it's too easy to put things in their boxes. And the challenge is to find something that's not so easily boxed in.