It’s one thing going into a concert for your favorite performer and knowing what to expect. It’s another thing going into a Liars concert entirely.
That’s because Liars — comprised of Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross — is consistent in their inconsistency, welcoming listeners to join them on their adventures into unknown territories both lyrically and atmospherically. But that isn’t a detriment by any means. It might throw people off, but in a world where everything has to have a plan in order to feel fully realized, Liars embraces the chaos of uncertainty and immediacy. That — amongst other things — absolutely characterized their performance at The Fonda Theatre Friday night in Hollywood during which they brought out the best they had to offer.
All photos by Bryan Honig
Having listened to their latest and most daunting album yet, WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”), it not only felt right but also oh-so satisfying to begin the night’s performance with a recording of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” The track’s vintage style and slow pacing set the eerie atmosphere that accompanies Liars studio recordings right out of the gate, and it evoked memories of terrifying scenes from The Shining or even the video game Bioshock. Slowly fading into the dreamy synths of “The Exact Colour of Doubt,” you already had a strong suspicion about the direction the night would take — you just didn’t know how exactly it was going to take you there.
Upon hearing those synths and Angus’ launch into his alluring vocals, the lights shone through the thick haze of smoke that surrounded the proscenium, creating a very effective and contrasted picture. Even with its changing array of colors, the lighting never drew attention away from Liars’ demanding stage presence, simply encompassing and accenting their haunting personas.
Liars’ more electronic tracks from the new record were enthusiastically received by the crowd, especially when the house track “Brats” and “No. 1 Against The Rush” had everyone’s bodies moving and their fists pumping. Though perhaps they were more enthusiastic when the band switched gears for rougher past material like “Scarecrows On A Killer Saint” and “Pillars Were Hollow And Filled With Candy So We Tore Them Down.” Either way, with Angus shaking his long hair and the band juggling different instruments on stage, they made it easy to fully enjoy every offering.
Before the show, I was able to meet with the guys backstage to ask a few questions about their return to Los Angeles, WIXIW, and the creative process:
Welcome back to LA guys! You’re now stationed here whereas you were in Brooklyn before. So what’s the difference like as far as recording on the West Coast versus recording there?
Angus: We actually lived in Berlin for about four to five years in between. That’s the major difference, really. The difference really being that [Aaron and Julian] are from LA, so there’s a lot of helpful hands, as opposed to being in Berlin where we were mostly on our own.
So for the two of you from LA, is this a homecoming for you to be here tonight?
Julian: Yeah, it is. It’s always a little bit nervous, though. We just have so much family and friends here, and it’s exciting to be playing here again.
For your new album, WIXIW, or “Wish You,” has the move to Los Angeles had any influence on the sound of the record?
Angus: We had actually recorded here in LA before for our previous album, Sisterworld. That album was about Los Angeles. This one was the kind of offset, about the transfer of the move.
As far as the sound of this album, you go into a much more electronic direction this time around. Is there a reason you went that direction?
Angus: Part of the reason is that the electronic thing is pretty practical, and we wanted to be able to record ourselves. Sonically, in that way, what we played would end up on the actual album. In the past we’ve done work where we write and then we go into the studio where we’d have to sort of recreate it. So one of our goals was to try and capture the immediacy of working within a computer, and obviously it was something we hadn’t done before. It was sort of a challenge that we took on, and it was a bit exciting.
Was there any kind of instrumentation that you hadn’t used before this album?
Angus: Most of the stuff that we made was with sounds that we hadn’t used before. We used a lot of software with instruments that we hadn’t really dealt with previously. We also worked with a lot of physical analog synths that we hadn’t played with before.
I’ve heard a lot of people comparing WIXIW to Radiohead’s Kid A, as far as its haunting, very textured sonic construction. Do you like that comparison?
Angus: I mean, it’s always hard to be compared to something when you’re trying to be original. It’s certainly not something we’re aiming for, but it’s something that we understand is important to put into context, and I’m sure there are a lot worse albums that you could be compared to. I think it’s also worthwhile pointing out that we toured with them and then we made Sisterworld, which was just a totally opposite kind of record to what we did now.
I read that Angus mentioned in the press release for the album, “If we aren’t confusing people, it’s not us.” I think it’s that sentiment that keeps listeners like me right on the edge of my seat with each forthcoming release because I don’t know what to really expect. So should I stop asking questions about it?
Angus: In terms of that quote, I think the point I was really trying to make was that it’s more about confusing ourselves. If we’re not challenging ourselves and putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone, then it’s something that’s not normal for us. What we’re used to is trying things that we’re not good at and experimenting in ways where we don’t just sit back into a sort of formulaic way of working. I think it is a bit confounding for some people, but as you mentioned, I think the hope is that it’s a good thing. It’s not necessarily a negative aspect of us. It may be a little more difficult to keep up with what we’re doing, but it’s challenging in a way that I would like to be challenged.
Aaron: I agree. I think we can settle on a subject or an interest that’s very expansive and can keep us interested for two records or three records, but it’s less about changing our sound. We don’t set out to say, “Hey guys, let’s make a different sounding record!” It’s much more natural than that. We’re keeping ourselves interested and staying true to what we want to make. If we still want to write songs after this record that are based in electronics, it’s more about how we’ll go about it.
Julian: It’s interesting because there isn’t much of a discussion before the beginning. It’s like we’re all surprisingly on the same page. We were all interested in making an electronics record, and it’s all about trying to challenge ourselves and make it a little bit more scary, rather than staying in our comfort zone.
I also want to ask about the music video for your single, “No. 1 Against The Rush.” It’s already on my list of best music videos of 2012 so far. Did you guys have any creative input into that? And if so, what was the genesis for the idea?
Angus: Not so much, really. Our creative input — and I wouldn’t really underestimate it — is really sifting through different treatments and proposals that we get from different people who want to make a video. It’s kind of a harrowing experience because there are a lot of ideas and it’s really a big job for us to find the right one. Most of the time, for us it’s really trying to focus on the simple elements of the treatment. For example, this one was all shot in LA at nighttime and using that as kind of a character. We immediately connected with that, but as far as the storyline, that sort of stuff is extraneous to us and not so much something we get too involved in.
Julian: With the director, Todd Cole, we had the mood that he always includes in his videos, and he always has things that you’re looking for. It’s interesting to see what he can put together stylistically from the treatment.
Finally, is there anything special that we can expect from tonight’s LA performance or any performance for that matter?
Angus: Well, you know, some things are going to go wrong and it’s not going to sound exactly like our record. All the things that you would normally hope wouldn’t happen when you do a live show will happen. For us, it’s much more interesting to hopefully allow for an occasion where something accidental can happen, and that makes it exciting. We’re not professional musicians and we’ve been doing this for ten years. When we get on stage, things tend to fall apart.
Julian: That’s one of the things we like.
Angus: Yeah. We’ve often admired proper musicians who’ve tried to help us, but we actually came back to realizing that one of the best things is not being able to do it very well.
So, kind of like improvising.
Angus: Improvising is almost giving us too much credit. [Laughs]
You can still catch Liars on the road! Check out their list of North American tour dates down below, and be sure to check out WIXIW, out now on Mute Records.
Liars North American Tour Dates:
7/05 – The Fillmore Theater, San Francisco
7/07 – Doug Fir Lounge, Portland
7/08 – Neumos, Seattle
7/09 – Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver
7/11 – Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City
7/13 – Bluebird Theater, Denver
7/14 – The Granada, Lawrence, KS
7/15 – The Waiting Room, Omaha, NE
7/17 – Minneapolis, First Avenue
7/18 – Mad Planet, Milwaukee
7/19 – Metro, Chicago
7/20 – Magic Stick, Detroit
7/21- Lee’s Palace, Toronto
7/23 – La Sala Rossa, Montreal
7/24 – Paradise Rock Club, Boston
7/25 – U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC
7/26 – Union Transfer, Philadelphia
7/27 – Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH
7/28 – A&R Music Bar, Columbus, OH
For more info: