Album after album, year after year, unpredictability continues to define Liars. Every time a new record drops, you can practically throw out the rule book that seemed to define the last one. You begin to wonder what, if anything, could possibly bind this hodge podge collection into a discography. Being used to the convention of a band having a “sound” or a “style,” your mind craves some kind of uniformity, some sort of identifying pattern. But you won’t get that from Liars. Not unless you can see a pattern in the irregularity itself.
Then again, perhaps the evolution of their creative process isn’t as random as it seems. The way guitarist/vocalist Angus Andrew explains it, “The easiest way for me to think about it is that each record is a reaction to the one before. So in a way, we’ve gone into a project and lived in it and exhausted our feelings about the way we did that work. Then at the end of that process, we find that we need to look for something completely different.”
Unlike many musicians today, Liars never pander to listeners or create records based on what has “worked” in the past. They look inward and play to what they find interesting.
Liars in their Los Angeles office/studio.
On their most recent album WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”), the band ventured into electronic music—trading in guitars for Reaktor—a switch that proved to be a daunting departure from their comfort zone.
As Aaron Hemphill puts it, “We were really scared using these electronic sounds and even consulted with [producer] Daniel Miller, asking if it was okay to use certain sounds because we didn’t want to follow a heavily-treaded path already. And I think we came out realizing it’s the same as how we approached music to begin with, with guitars or drums. The idea is more important and as long as we follow our naïve instincts, it will be different regardless of who’s used the same sounds.”
Hemphill and Andrew scrutinize their gear.
The ripples of this realization permeate WIXIW, an album that embraces the palindromic shape of its title in several ways. “One thing we liked about the palindrome idea is that you start somewhere, you go through a process, and you end up at the same place,” explains Andrew. “I think normally that’s considered to be kind of a negative thing in my pursuits, but in a creative endeavor, it’s a reassuring and positive step because you start somewhere and you try a bunch of things, and if you come back to where you originally were, it’s kind of this re-edification of what you were originally thinking.”
Andrew at the keys, surrounded by notes.
The band is no stranger to inducing this type of journey through their process. Whether it’s the location they record and produce in or the overarching theme they want to explore, Liars is often itself an experiment of inspiration, seeking augmentation at the very root of their creativity. That’s what has led the band to seek out environments that remove them from the ordinary. Such was the case with They Were Wrong So We Drowned, an album themed around historic witch hunts and the lore surrounding them, titled with a would-be WTF statement from tried witches. For that one, Liars placed themselves in the wilderness of New Jersey, fabled for its supernatural spookiness, and delved into accounts chronicling America’s witch hunts in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“We did a lot of research for that record. It was sort of a research-based record in the same way that Sisterworld was,” says Andrew. “With those projects we sort of come up with this objective subject matter which you use as a way to all get on the same page and be able to study and analyze and interact with. In a lot of ways, after making this record, it looks like that’s the way to be able to shield or deflect our own personalities. Instead of talking about ourselves we talk about Los Angeles or something, but you’re projecting your own fears and anxieties onto those things and it’s easier to talk about it. In this record we left that space blank and allowed the process of the electronics and working more collaboratively inform the concept of it, so it inevitably ended up being a more intimate and insular record.”
A Reaktor session and a Dark Energy synth.
For WIXIW, much of their energy zeroed in on acquainting themselves with the new set of equipment they found themselves armed with. Fortunately, the internet has fostered growing communities of enthusiasts with their heads buried in virtual wires, and they love talking about the technical side of this science. This helped light the path for Liars.
“Reaktor has an online user library where people build unique pieces of equipment and you can further alter them within Reaktor, so it’s almost like a user friendly MAX/MSP for synths,” says Hemphill. “It’s not as technically demanding. So, really, we didn’t rule anything out including guitars later on. It was a pretty wide range of things.”
Hemphill at the computer.
This openess to new types of sounds, along with the band’s commitment to creating a great finished product rather than to sticking to a single format or instrument type has made WIXIW a balanced record, teetering at its palindromic center. They may have ventured into the unknown with this one, but as planned, they returned to their starting point unscathed, holding a record of the journey in the album itself.
Despite their clean return to square one, which in Liars’ world may have transformed completely since they first resided there, a new question has emerged. You don’t delve into the new world of instruments without also signing up for the embedded setback: the less than rock and roll live show. Now that the adventure of composition is complete, save for the touring component, Liars are feeling out the performance aspect of their new setup.
The Liars office building/studio.
“Well, it’s an interesting question right now because we just started touring, we just came back from Europe, doing the first round of shows with this kind of gear,” says Andrew. “It’s funny but like I was saying, everything tends to be a reaction to what we were doing before, and it already feels like it would be great to not use all this gear.”
That may be a hint towards a more stripped down sound for Liars next time around, because as any traditional-turned-electronic musician can appreciate, it’s nice to pull your limbs out of a sea of wires and breathe with a guitar. But if they follow their current pattern and react to WIXIW without the electronics, there’s no telling what will come out, and that’s what keeps things interesting.
As promised, here’s an exclusive download of “A Ring On Every Finger,” a song off of WIXIW. Get the full album here.