Liars Reinvent Themselves, Again
A pivotal challenge facing every musician comes from crafting a distinct sound. Although being labeled as derivative isn't the most stinging criticism, many bands are continually weighed against their predecessors' successes and unable their shadows. Discovering an original style, then, is regarded as a major accomplishment. That's why it's so unusual that the Los Angeles trio Liars have been shifting genres routinely over the last decade. After their vivacious, realized dance-punk debut in 2001, the band threw fans for a loop with their noisy dirges on 2004's follow-up They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. A heated backlash ensued as listeners bemoaned the sudden directional shift. But as each future record explored new territory, Liars found their unique aesthetic: constant transformation.
Guitarist and synthesizer player Aaron Hemphill admits that all the instability arose not just from a desire to skirt expectations, but from the band's lack of musical bravado.
"Our insecurity is knowing exactly what it is we're known to create, and is what leads to us to overcompensating and making different sounding albums," Hemphill says. "I don't think we're comfortable saying we're good enough at doing a certain thing to reproduce it. If I had the confidence in the fact that I was a great guitar player, I'd probably play guitar on every record."
The band's latest venture, WIXIW (pronounced "wish you"), displays Liars' newfound fondness for electronic and sample-based music. "We had used computers before to record," Hemphill explains, "but never as instruments." What's remarkable isn't the cutting-edge process, but the subtle tension that pulls at you through the album. Previous efforts were brash and begged to be played loud; WIXIW 's rich sonic textures require closer inspection on headphones.
Liars enlisted the assistance of Mute Records founder Daniel Miller, who has produced albums for synthesizer-based bands like Yazoo and Depeche Mode, to compensate for their inexperience. "His knowledge of electronic music was so vast that it helped us make sure we weren't doing stuff that was over-tread," Hemphill says. "It was a nice comfort to have someone to ask about the sounds we were creating that were new to us and reassure us that it's not really the sound you're using, but the application of the sound."
As usual, Hemphill and frontman Angus Andrews remain the master craftsman on WIXIW. This time around, however, Hemphill says the writing process was more meticulous not only because of their unfamiliarity with the genre but also because the two spent more time together.
"The point at which we started to collaborate was much earlier," he explains. "Normally, we'd complete more finished demos then share them later. With this record, we shared our work much earlier."
The two wrote and recorded the album in their Los Angeles studio. That was also the setting for 2010's Sisterworld, a record imbued by the city's treacherous violence. The place Liars are headquartered heavily influences the band's material. They begun in New York and then moved to Berlin before finally settling in L.A.
"We've made two records in each city we've lived in, and I feel like coincidentally the first of those two records has incorporated the environment more than the second one," Hemphill notes. "We can open ourselves and close ourselves off as far as environment. I don't think Los Angeles really has too much to do with this record. It was more of an internal record. We shut ourselves off to Los Angeles."
Even though Liars' electronic phase is only in its nascent stages, it's hard not to consider what the future holds.
"We're open to anything," Hemphill says. "We leave it pretty open as to where we could go. I don't think anything is off the table for us."
Anything except remaining static, that is.
Liars headlines Mad Planet with openers Unknown Mortal Orchestra on Wednesday, July 18. Doors open at 9 p.m.