The Overachievers: An Interview With Liars

Ben Hewitt talks to Liars about their 2010, the success of _Sisterworld_ and the ideal strength of weed

Of the many records to pass through The Quietus’s bunker this year – and we do have a (sometimes distressing) policy of listening to everything the postman delivers us – none received as rapturous a response as Sisterworld by Liars. A worthy winner in our Angst Music For Sex People end-of-year list, it was a bilious and blistering attack on Los Angeles and its dual horrors of rampant crime and insufferable yuppy pretensions that managed to extend way beyond the scope of the City Of Angels.

With that in mind, The Quietus caught up with a jet-lagged Liars to find out how 2010 had treated them, as well as discussing strong weed, the horrors of music industry showcases and the response to Sisterworld.

So, Liars, you are one of our Quietus Artists Of 2010. What kind of year have you had?

Angus Andrew: What kind of year has it been? Just really busy… when did our record come out?


AA: Yeah, since then it’s just been non-stop. We haven’t had a break, it’s just been touring since then. We never do anything else…

Julian Gross: You come home, and you’re already panicking about going back out…

What have the high and low points been?

AA: I suppose releasing the record was a high point. I’m trying to think of a low one… it’s all a bit of a blur, I don’t really remember. Aaron, come on, you’ve got a better memory than me.

Aaron Hemphill: A low point? I’d have to think about that…

AA: A low point – that I think turned into a high point, interestingly – was maybe the first show that we played this year for Sisterworld at South By South West.

AH: Oh, yeah.

AA: Bit of a low point, that one. We’d never been to it before, so I suppose we were a little uninitiated into what it actually was. We left there feeling a little bit disgusted with the music industry and how it works. I remember, we were talking about how people went to ‘see’ bands, but didn’t actually go to listen to them – it was a big thing there. Your job was to see as many things as possible, which meant if you just saw them down the street, you’d ‘heard’ them.

But what was interesting and cool after that, was that we jumped on a plane and went down to Mexico for this pretty weird DIY festival which was interesting – especially after being at SXSW, because it was so different. And there was this real edge of fear – kind of like terror – running through all the bands and the promoter about the safety. So a lot of bands didn’t come. Most of them were supposed to be bus in from America which was, according to media, practically suicidal. But in the end, we went and we played and had a great time.

Did any of you foresee how well-received Sisterworld world be?

AH: I was talking to Zoe [Miller, Mute Records] about this last night… the record is a success when we’ve completed it, and we feel we’ve upped the ante or met the expectations we had for the material, and when we’ve made a record we want to hear and felt was missing in our environment. But generally we’ve accepted that how see it as a completed record is very different to how the public is going to hear it. And I think we’re fine with that.

AA: If we feel we’ve done well, it isn’t going to be affected by what the reviews are. I still feel the same way about it as when we finished it.

Yeah, I meant less in terms of critical response and more just general reactions – the man-on-the-street, as it were.

AA: Oh. The problem with us being on the road all year is that I don’t know if we’ve heard anything…

JG: That’s the first time I’ve thought about that. Is there buzz on the street!?

A lot of people I’ve spoken to like Sisterworld, yeah. But then, I don’t know that many people, so read into that what you will.

AA: Maybe we’re a bit blasé, then. But I think the people we respect tend to like our records anyway.

JG: I know they don’t hate it. I remember what that feels like [laughs].

Is there anything you’d have done differently with the record, looking back?

AH: [Laughs] It’s not very productive to look into the past.

AA: We’ve learned that from past records; once you’ve put the fucking cap on it, there really is no point in talking about what you should have done. The question is what you’re going to do next. It is useful to think with the next record: ‘We didn’t do this, so we have to try some of that’. That’s way more productive.

You said you remembered what it’s like to release a record that’s hated…

JG: Yeah, when Drowned came out [They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, 2004 album by Liars], and there was a very mixed response that was very cold.

That ties into something I wanted to ask about Sisterworld, actually; I really like They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, but I think sometimes people being aware of a concept before they hear a record means they form an impression in advance. There’s a preconception. So with Sisterworld, and the concept of LA being discussed a lot just before and after the release, did you ever feel that might get in the way?

AA: Yeah! That’s our internal dilemma you’ve hit on the head there. Since our second record, we’ve gone back and forth with the idea of how much do we relate to the listener about out ideas – especially if they’re conceptual. It’s been back and forth, like the Liars record which is stripped clean of all meaning and is a good example of us experimenting with another way of doing it.

But in the end, that project really made us understand that what we do like doing with records is making them into this bigger thing. That’s what’s interesting about making an album; getting a bunch of songs without trying to connect them or think about them as a whole is just kind of boring. Whether or not that works better for the listener is a point we’ve crossed beyond, and now it’s a point where it’s something we’re not concerned about. You have to get back to do what’s interesting for you, and with the last record, we thought ‘This is something we want to discuss.’

But even for all the talk of LA with Sisterworld, it’s not a theme that’s purely specific to that city – the ideas spread wider than that.

AA: Yeah, we were always trying to emphasise that it was a universal concept, and LA was just the point where everything climaxed for us. [Laughs] What a horrible word that is…

JG: It [LA] iwas a loose structure; it’s not, like, ‘This record’s about what it’s like being inside of a spaceship floating in space’, or ‘This song’s like the sound of sheep’.

AH: But I think the broadness of the concept, for want of a better word, isn’t because we failed to be specific; it’s more that we succeeded in knowing where to stop describing the concept.

Angus, with you living in LA for less time than Julian and Aaron, did you find it strange writing about the city from an outsider’s perspective?

AA: Well, part of the dynamic was that I had a slightly different perspective. We all did. That’s something that I’ve utilised for most of my life anyway, because I left Australia when I was young, so being anywhere – in America, or Berlin – I feel like an alien.

I guess that makes it pretty useful in terms of observation.

AA: Yeah, I like it.

Do you know what the reaction in LA has been to Sisterworld? As in, do people agree or disagree with the vision of the city you offered?

AH: I mean, we haven’t had other bands challenge us, or saying ‘That’s not what LA is about’. [Laughs] But I don’t talk to many people, man…

I wanted to ask you a bit about the Sisterworld remixes. How did they come about, and do you have any which are particular favourites?

AA: As a policy we don’t have favourite, but it came about because we were thinking about the record… we were working more on the artwork and forgetting about the music for a bit, and we were talking about what it would be like to take some of the different ideas we’d been talking about, which were different perspectives on the city, and taking it to another level which was other people taking a perspective on our perspective. But really, the hope for it was to allow a bit more discussion in terms of what a remix is. We were really adamant about how it’s so boring when you get your song remixed by a DJ or a producer, and it’s just a 4/4 beat which ends up sounding pretty standard.

Did you listen to any of them and think, ‘Fuck me, I wish the original was more like that?’

AA: Sort of. For me, one of the most interesting things is to hear some of the lyrics I’ve written, with a particular idea in mind, and hear someone remix it in a way which gives a completely different meaning. It’s pretty scary.

Yeah, they’re more like covers…

AA: Yeah, and I think that’s where the nice grey area should be. It doesn’t need to be just one or the other; the space in between should be explored more.

Your live album came out this year as well, and I saw your gig with Factory Floor earlier this year. How have the live shows been in general?

AA: Oh yeah, Factory Floor. And we recorded that, too, which was interesting – something we’ve done this year is record us playing live, which we’ve never done before. That was pretty interesting. It marked some sort of step for us, because I think in the past the idea of recording ourselves live was really distasteful.


AA: I just felt that it was a bad of example of what was going on in the room. [Lsughs] Namely because I’d be hanging upside down from the ceiling, or something, and you wouldn’t hear my vocals. But I think now we’re a bit more excited about what we’re able to put together sonically on the stage.

AH: I think it also re stresses the interpretation theme of the album; we don’t care about translating it. There’s no regard to the form of the record. There’s no tether to anything.

What are your plans for 2011?

AA: We’ve got a few things going on. We’ve got a short trip to Japan and South Korean, but I think we don’t want to be doing too much. I think we want to just burrow away a bit and start to think… [trails off]

About the next album?

AA: Yeah, we’ve started to think about it, but it’s really difficult when you’re still immersed in this thing [Sisterworld]. You have to allow for cut off, and allow yourself to go somewhere else.

It’s probably too early to start discussing concepts and sounds, but will you start work on it next year?

AA: Sure. We’ll start working on it as soon as we can, because that’s what we like to do. Really, it’s always been the case for us that we’re pushing the label for the chance to just make records faster.

How much weed do you have to smoke before you go onstage?

AA: I don’t think anyone really knows that. I don’t think I even know that. It’s some huge number that’s really hard to imagine.

I guess it increases the longer you’re on tour.

AA: Nah, it’s nothing to do with being jaded. It’s more to do with the quality of the weed…

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