Before Headlining Spillover This Sunday, We Talk Sonic Evolution With Liars.
Pretty much the only consistent thing about the band Liars is its inconsistency.
Since forming in 2000, the trio has experienced a couple of lineup changes, and relocated plenty — from Los Angeles to New York and later to Berlin before recently moving back to Los Angeles. More drastic still are the sudden shifts of the band's sonic leanings on an almost album-to-album basis, going from punk funk to no wave, rock and, currently, electronic-based noise pop.
Change, it would appear, is the band's modus operandi. And it's a formula that's been working. With the lone exception of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, which many mainstream critics considered one of the worst albums of 2004, the rest of Liar's extremely diverse catalog is almost universally hailed by fans, critics and other bands alike.
So it's with some excitement that the band will return to Dallas for the first time in seven years on Sunday, when it headlines this year's Parade of Flesh-curated Spillover Music Festival. Ahead of that, we caught up with the Liars frontman Angus Andrew, who took us through his band's creative process, let us know in what direction the band's next album might head and the value of creating music others might find unlistenable.
You guys aren't doing South By this year, are you?
Was that something you consciously tried to avoid this year? What are your thoughts on SXSW?
It's cool for the audience. I think it must be fun. It's not the greatest thing for a musician. I think the idea of SXSW is checking off which bands you've seen than necessarily having the opportunity to listen to them. At least, that was my experience. It's a great thing for people to go to and for people to play, but certainly not something I necessarily want to do unless the right opportunity came up.
Spillover is going to be your first Dallas show in something like seven years. Is there any particular reason why you haven't been here in so long?
Oh, I don't know. Really? Seven years? I had no idea. Things just happen, y'know? Touring around the world means that there's some years where you have to take shorter routes, etc. I like Dallas. I theoretically could be a fan of the Mavericks if I needed to be. It'll be great to go back there. It's been a long time, and it's always fun.
It seems to me that, for Liars, the place in which each of the band's albums was recorded has a bigger impact on the final result than maybe it does for other bands.
Yeah, to an extent. It really depends on the particular album and how much you want the environment or surroundings to influence the record. In general, it's important for us as people to be able to move around — I think just to shake things up. By extension, that helps the music, too. We're not seasoned session musicians. It's more about trying to stimulate ideas and things. And there's really no better way to do that than to pack up and move somewhere you don't speak the language.
Along the same lines of not speaking the language, it also occurs to me that your albums kind of come in pairs, in that you have an album like WIXIW where you're kind of learning to use new equipment and to learn the language of those instruments, and that's followed up by an album like Mess where you demonstrate a mastery of those tools. Then the next album will be onto the next challenge. Is that a fair assessment?
Yeah. Bang on, man. You got it right. It seems to be how things have turned out, where you sort of bite off more than you can chew sometimes on a new endeavor and it's a big learning process. And then the chance to make another record as a sort of follow-up, you feel more comfortable using whatever tool it is. That's the way it's been going. In terms of what's next, I'm a very — for lack of a better word — schizophrenic personality. After working on the computer for the last couple of records, if I was going to make a record tomorrow, it'd probably just be like a blank room with a live microphone and very little else going on. It's interesting to get away from the computer and just hear sounds as they come through a mic.
Since you have been making more computer-oriented music, does your current live setup involve more electronics than instruments?
No. Because, when we play live, we still do a lot of songs from the other records. It just requires bringing out a whole bunch of stuff. We definitely try to slim it down. Live instruments are really important to me — for the live show, particularly, because it's all energy. It's a way to physically communicate the music rather than it sort of being in the program or in the laptop and all that.
Is lugging all this gear around on tour another reason you're thinking the next Liars record won't lean so heavily on electronics?
I've never really made records with the idea of how to deal with them after you make them. I always find that a little limiting in the studio. It wouldn't influence my creativity because that's really a thing I want to be able to let loose on [regardless of] what we really end up doing with it down the road. It's just the idea of different sounds and different ways of making music.
A lot of your songs aren't necessarily immediately accessible to a majority of people on first listen. Can you talk a little about the value of making music that challenges people a bit or maybe requires several listens to really get?
For the most part, it's selfish. It's just the music that I want to hear. It's a bit personal that way. I've never been able to put myself in a position where I'm trying to be creative or write songs with the idea of how it's going to be digested or how people are going to respond, because it automatically puts me out of my creative head. I just want to be able to do what's interesting to me, with the hope that some people will take the time to listen to it or will get connected to it.
There seems to be some awareness of that fact on an album like Mess, where the most accessible tracks are lumped together at the beginning and then it kind of gets less so as it moves on.
I think that's the point. It's certainly something that I considered, especially in relation to the album. I thought about the idea of, as you said, people who are willing to give more time or to explore the song. In a way, I thought it would be interesting to reward those people with the second half of the album. In this day and age, as I think you're pointing out, it's difficult to keep people's attention spans, particularly in the format of an album. It's really a weird way of trying to connect with people. With Mess, it was the first time I considered that and the idea of maybe giving those songs in the beginning something more easy to digest for people who have less attention spans.
What's it like putting together a set list that pulls from all these different-sounding albums and trying to fit them together? Do they kind of find some common ground in that you're having to perform them on the same live setup?
What's interesting is that even though it's a given that our albums sound quite different from each other, when we put together a set list, which has songs from different albums and we put them next to each other and we play them, there's more similarity than it's given credit for. In a lot of ways, it's conceptual. Stylistically, the songs are different, but conceptually there's a lot of similar ideas that run through them. It becomes really interesting, I think, for the audience to realize more of the connection between songs that they heard on our second record and the ones they're hearing now. Even though, on paper, they kind of seem quite different, they're essentially quite similar. It's really interesting. In a lot of ways, it's fun to see them connect. In a lot of other ways, I like to push it in a different direction where it does feel more schizophrenic, where you do go from one kind of style to another. I think that's representative of us. For me, when I go see a show, I like the idea of being jolted out of my comfort zone a bit.
The vocal effects on “Mask Maker” kind of remind me of Butthole Surfers, another band known for making challenging music and drastically changing things up between albums. Being from Dallas, I've got to ask if those guys were an influence for you growing up?
Yeah, I mean, certainly for me, but more as an idea than as a sound, which I think is totally acceptable. Certainly as a group of guys pushing the boundaries and doing exactly what they wanted to do. It's something that I like and associate with. They're a great band.
Liars performs on Sunday, March 22 at Trees, as part of this year's Spillover festival. Tickets are currently on sale here.