Read it on The GROUND Magazine
Endless choices lead to endless possibilities and while for some people this condition may result in anxiety and paranoia, Liars apply these side effects at the basis of their creativity and drive. They always manage to take unexpected turns with every release, miles away from their previous work and yet without compromising their identity. From punk-funk, garage rock, dance-punk and even modified drum sounds on 2006′s Drum’s Not Dead Liars’ attempt to experiment with electronic music created the introspective and self-analytical 2012′s WIXIW. Ahed of the release of their seventh album Mess, The Ground spoke to band member Angus Andrew who explains to us what it means to “not only face fear but chewing it up and spitting it back out in all its technicolor glory”. This is the new schizophrenic sound of Liars, aiming for the first time to create a beautiful and colorful mess out of the doubts and fears of our real, yet very fictional, existence.
“It is beautiful here in LA” Angus tells me as soon as I get on the phone with him, but it’s not another ordinary sunny morning in LA, it is the day after the Oscars. “All the celebrities left town” he remarks sounding relieved about it even tough Mess is the band’s third album recorded in the City Of Angels. 2010′s Sisterworld focused on the struggle of finding your own space and identity in a city like LA while WIXIW saw them intentionally retire into an isolated cabin in the wood to completely remove themselves from the ephemeral and plastic reality of the city. The recording sessions, aimed to analyze their internal anxieties, gave life to a beautifully crafted electronic piece of work. In line with their drastic musical shifts, Mess hides a new intention, to finally attack fear, and music, from a different angle in the same city where false promises and discarded dreams can turn out to be a source of inspiration or at least reflection. “LA can be enticing and it’s difficult to navigate away from that. I was living in Berlin before and that was perfect for avoiding all of this. I felt really nicely isolated because I didn’t speak German and it felt like being in a little bubble. I could cocentrate on my own work with no distractions but in LA is the exact opposite, I’m constantly defending myself from the onslaught of media and things trying to grab my attention. It’s difficult but at the same time possibly inspiring too”.
I think about how schizophrenic LA can be since the day before, as I was listening to Mess for the first time, I felt like I was being assaulted by the analogue synths and electric drum pads. It sounds intense and it literally leaves you breathless track after track, as you witness a direct moment of pure instinct and purposeful abandon. Unlike WIXIW this album doesn’t give you time to stop and think, starting with the opening track Mask Maker. “Generally with the whole record I just wanted to have a lot more fun. WIXIW was a great experience but it was very heavy and quite dark. It was a really tough record to make and it took us a really long time and I wanted this one to be the exact opposite. It had to be spontaneous and immediate to kind of get back to the idea of having fun with making music rather than struggling. The reason why I wanted it to be the first track is because it exemplifies this concept. When I did that vocals that you hear at the start, I spent a few hours in my studio kind of talking to myself in that voice and recording it. It got stranger and stranger as I kept going but I loved the feeling and spontaneity of it. If I had been in the mindset I was when we made WIXIW I propably would have thought about it for a month and then decided that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. Instead with this record I was like that’s it, that’s what we are doing, let’s just live with it! It is a good track to start.”
The doubts Liars always had about human conditions and relationships were the same they experienced with electronic music but in Mess they are almost nonexistent, at least the ones about electronic. “I always wondered how to rid myself of doubt” he sings in Voc D.E.D and questioning everything may just be the reason of their distinctive sound. “Particularly with WIXIW we where making a record for the first time with electronic instruments and what that meant is that we had a manual open all the time, trying to figure out how to use everything. It was very uncertain to me but part of that was a good thing because being in a mood of questioning everything brought out an interesting sort of sensitivity to the music. On the other hand it is also a bit of a plague and with Mess I wanted to avoid that and the best thing to do was just to work faster. It really helped to get rid of that doubt”.
It’s interesting that despite more than ten years in the music business, Liars’s journey has never been a process of reinvention or a strategy plan to keep their sound fresh all the time. Their journey may be defined as an anthropological one, a study on identity and the culture of our generation: anxiety. “I think this idea of too many choices which leads to a certain amount of paranoia and fear is a very common idea for a lot of people today. The song Dress Walker is about this kind of modern situation you may find yourself in. You are overwhelmed by all the possibilities, the amount of media that we get bombarded with everyday and all the choices you have in terms of life itself. Everything isn’t that compartmentalized as it used to be, even in music. You were a rock band or a jazz musician and now every rock band is an electronic artist and vice versa, everything is very mixed up in a way. Obviously it is a great thing but it’s also paralyzing. I personally feel overwhelmed with choices in every part of my life and it is not an easy thing to deal with. Sometimes what I try to do is to block everything out or say to myself I’m not going to turn on the TV or the radio, I’m just going to focus on these books that I have. Also having a walk somewhere where there are no billboards can help. Most people have strong feelings inside about what they really want to do and achieve but the problem is that they get pushed around by all these other stuff going on. For example, it is difficult for me to listen to pop radio because I know what I want to make musically but if I listen to a new Gaga song, suddenly I’m like Oh my God I really like that , but it’s really not what I wanna be doing.”
The universe of Liars, just like LA, is an endless dichotomy but when it comes to music their challenge is to produce uncommon sounds with common tools. Technological progress is ever-growing and this definitely contributes to Angus’ anxiety and his way of making music. He actually talks about the insanity of progress in the song Pro Anti Anti but not because he’s a traditional guy. “It’s just admitting that it is hard to keep up with technology. There are artists who embrace technology just like a photographer who is really up on all the new equipments and saves his money to buy the latest lens or camera but there are also the ones who just want to shoot images with their crappy old camera. It’s the same with music but I don’t love the idea of keeping track of the new trends, instruments and programs. I wish I was more technologically advanced but at the same time I don’t want to use the apps on the iPad to make music, it is not interisting to me. I see how it could be and I love that Björk is into that for example but it’s not me”.
Mess On A Mission is the first single off the album and despite its immediacy, it raises the problem of what is real and what is not. In the song, Angus almost commands the listeners to “trash the book the film’s half based on” but if life is a film, on which book is it based on for him? “I just have to go with my gut reaction and that would be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just because ever since I was a kid I really connected with the character of Charlie Bucket. He’s a very poor kid but with big dreams. The whole movie kind of speaks interestingly about society, greed and the way people take advantage of each other. Groundhog Day with Bill Murray could be another option”. It also seems necessary to mention and remind oneself that “facts are facts and fiction’s fiction” no matter how near of far we live from the Hollywood hills. Angus tells me “the most basic fact to live by is that you gotta be honest, with yourself most of all. That’s where our band’s name kind of comes from because we’re really trying to be honest. The biggest fiction is success, money, popularity and all these things that make for a good life. I think that’s just bullshit. The most important thing is to be happy with what you do yourself, that’s the key to living a good life”.
Julian Gross, the drummer of the band, is also the maker of the artwork for Mess and the long colorful thread that we have been seeing in the album’s trailers. Inspired by contemporary artist Urs Fischer and conceptual artist John Baldessari, Liars wanted to manipulate something in a live setting, as to express their uneasiness towards life in a fucked up, but most importantly vibrant way. “I love contemporary art, particularly conceptual art, that’s where I get a lot of inspiration from. The simple idea that the idea itself is the most important thing rather than the product and end result fascinates me. I love that because it removes this emphasis on technical skills. I like the idea that anyone who has a very interesting idea can put it forward without being a professional painter or musician. The idea of a ‘mess’ is obviously what we where trying to talk about and it is a very personal sort of subjective opinion. If you walked into my bedroom right now you would say that there’s such a mess but ,ayne for me it’s actually really clean. It’s just a way of seeing things differently and I like that about our artwork. One person can look at it and think oh that’s just a pile of strings but another person can realize that it is a very specifically placed and very worked on piece”. Where does he intend to lead his fans following that string in the trailers? “Hopefully it is leading people to think about how they asses what they see in everyday life. To make them think about, or second guess, whether they think what they saw is what it really is”.
Doubt and uncertainty once again. Mess may be a cathartic experience and a way to release some pressure on the subject but sticking to electronic music to finally find some sort of balance doesn’t seem the solution. The more unstable the territory, the more likely is the chance to find Liars there on a mission. “If I had to guess I wouldn’t bet any money at the moment. We spent quite a bit of time now with electronic instruments and I do find myself thinking about how nice it would be to sit in a room with an acoustic guitar and a microphone and just have fun. It is exciting to not know what we are doing next but I’m pretty sure it would be another change. For example I really love that kind of electronic music which uses a lot of acoustic instruments. The Civil War by a band called Matmos made me think a lot about how you could use traditional instruments in a way that was taking advantege of the modern technology and tools. Liars approach music in lots of different ways when making an album; you can be conceptual about it, focus on a particular idea and experiment in a way that you are pretty confident that you’ll end up being uncertain about what you are doing. All of these approaches end up giving you a different but interesting result”.
I can almost picture the trio in the studio dealing with this intricate net of sounds and possibilities but at least for this album they didn’t question too much what they were doing and part of that was in the better understanding of the tools they were using. Mess is a manipulation meant to create fun and color. It was necessary as Angus explains to me “you spend a year or two working on an album and then you go on tour for about a year and that whole time your mind and expression is based around that album. When we get past that point it always makes us want to try something different to experiment with and I think that’s really the way it works. I love the idea of being a band like The Ramones and being able to make a record over and over and make it sound awesome. I also admire people who can be great guitar players for example and choose to keep on playing the same instrument in order to get better at it but as you said before maybe I’m too schizophrenic for that!”
As the album comes to an end, Liars tastefully place Left Speaker Blown as the closing track. It is the quiet moment after a party or a concert. The moment where your mind is still while your ears are buzzing. Every intense experience needs to end like this and despite singing “I hope you never learn how to play music” this is a personal moment of reflection as you finally allow yourself to take a deep breath. “What I was trying to talk about is the idea that when you play music and write songs you express yourself in a way that sometimes could be a little hard for people to swallow. You are constantly putting yourself out there into the world with quite personal feelings more than a lot of people do. As a musician I do it on a regular basis so it makes you very vulnerable. The idea of what it is to be a musician is evolving so much just like technology and you feel certain obligations to keep up with it. Obviously nowadays it has so much more to do with everything except the music but I’m always very interested in the visual aspects. Nevertheless, if you just compare the different mediums of being an artist, the ones who really put themselves out there the most are songwriters. A visual artist or a painter certainly do the same but not in such a direct way of expression. Not even an actor could do that. Songwriters talk about themselves putting words to music and are really speaking directly from their souls”.
The world may be evolving too fast and forcing us to adapt and synchronize our personalities as easily as we do with our iPhones but isn’t this the endless conditions every human being faces over and over? LA, life, and a piece of work from a contemporary artist can be so full of nonsense and meaning at the same time and instead of looking for an answer, Liars let their sensibilities float on this beautiful mess; the only way to create music that never lies. “All I know is that there is an equal chance that what we are doing next is moving to Fiji or making a jazz record. The opportunities are wide open and that’s the only thing I can be confident about”.
Facts are facts and fiction’s fiction.
MESS is released on March 24th (25th USA) – Mute Records
Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/liarsliarsliars