Liars On Los Angeles: The City That Shaped Sisterworld

It was in response to the violence and alienation of Los Angeles that Liars created their new album Sisterworld. Here, they tell talk to Ben Hewitt about the underbelly of the City of Angels

Angus Andrew: LA is ten times more frightening than New York

In the news stories about violence are reported on almost as if they’re reeling off a list, someone died here and someone died here… and so let’s move on to this story about this dog who saved a kid… it’s a real obscure acknowledgement of what’s going on in the city. It seems that if you get out of your car, and spend any time in the real parts of the city, you get a different experience of what goes on in LA. I’ve lived in New York in all sorts of places, and in Berlin, and I’ve been to a lot of places around the world but I was surprised to find how scary LA can be.

Angus Andrew: In LA the downtown dream just fell apart and was given up to this homeless population

It’s an amazing example how it does or doesn’t work. The Downtown is the supposed epicentre of the city, but is a complete wasteland, and no one is drawn to it apart from the homeless. It gives you a weird bearing on how dislocated the city is. Downtown there’s this marauding population of nomadic homeless people, moving from one shelter to another, and it really becomes down there when the sun goes down, a whole other world. It’s not for the faint hearted. It’s a place that no-one in a normal LA lifestyle would ever see in their car-based routine – you certainly don’t go around walking, that’s just unheard of.

Julian Gross: If I move from LA I don’t think I’m going to smoke weed any more

There’s one hoop you have to jump through, but after that it’s easy to get weed. You can look in the papers, the ones where they’re free but in the end it’s all shady shit. There are these doctors that you go to, and you ask specifically for a marijuana prescription. They ask you what you want it for, and what are your ailments. For me it helps me sleep, when I’m on my tour and I’m playing a lot and my body’s hurting – though I don’t know why I’m convincing you! You get this card for a year, and for that year you can go to these dispensaries and buy doses of weed and you can have 12 plants at home.

Angus Andrew: Sonic Youth have a good perspective on LA

I think that people have the most trouble with understanding LA, in a geographical sense but also mentally – where is the centre point? People need that in a city to get a sense of bearing. It’s just not here, and there’s no way of understanding that here. People who come here expecting that, or trying to get that, are lost and never get fulfilled. What is here are these pockets where it can be really beautiful, and with the weather how it is, there are areas and spaces that you can find that are really welcoming. So that’s good, but it’s just harder to get a grip on it all. I always think of Lee Ranaldo in that Sonic Youth song where he sings “LA is more confusing now than any place I’ve ever been”. It’s true, but it’s confusing if you expect it to function as any other city does.

Aaron Hemphill: LA violence could learn a lot from Australian violence

I think if LA could release its mega-violence in short spurts of pub-like violence like in Australia . . . When we first went to Sidney I was so excited because we were going to see Angus and because I knew every Australian in New York City so I’d heard a lot about it. But literally in the mile walk from our hotel to the venue maybe at 8 in the evening I saw two girls fighting and they slid out of the pub on a pool of beer, I swear! I saw a man pick a fight with a phone booth. A few metres past that I saw a girl and a guy puking together in the street and then some pissed guy slipped in it and he wanted a fight as well. So I think it releases the pressure. And that’s why it’s not as violent there as it is in LA.

Julian Gross: You might be surprised at how you react to the violence of LA

It’s hard to understand those without going through it. How you react when you see a drive by, or see someone shooting into a crowd of people? When I first left Los Angeles I was 20, that was the key thing that made me want to leave. It was three or four AM, we were coming back from some club and then boom! there were these people in a convertible firing into a big crowd of people. We were right next to them. My adrenaline was running, we were in convertible so it was really loud and you could see everything, it wasn’t like ‘oh my God we’ve got to pull over, is everyone OK’. This adrenaline shot through me; I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t angry, and I had all these emotions that I realised were the wrong emotions. That really affected me, when I realised it didn’t make me sad, or any of those things. I got excited, like I was watching Mission Impossible. I must have seen or been in six or seven drive by since I was a kid. They’d pull up to our school and shoot people; that was the kind of high school I went to.

Aaron Hemphill: LA’s gentrification doesn’t always stop the violence

I live in Venice, which used to be real rough, and it was gentrified. It’s still really mixed, and it’s still an amazing place to live and I love it, it has a lot more urban characteristics than most beach communities, which are just made up of rich people. But it’s been gentrified, there are architects who ride their bikes to gallery openings at midnight through streets that were definitely not safe before. The other night a woman who was pregnant with twins was stabbed a couple of blocks from my house. So in a sense it’s shocking but it also reminds you that you live here, how do I put it, you live here for the diversity of people.

Angus Andrew: We have different perspectives on LA

The others love it here, it’s their hometown, so it is a little weird of me to critique it from this outsider’s perspective. But I think they’re aware of that, and I think in some ways are proud of how apocalyptic it can sound sometimes. Aaron lives over on the other side of time, over on Venice Beach, and he takes advantage of the classic Californian ideals of being by the beach, surfing and stuff like that. So his perspective is definitely different. If I spend all day badmouthing LA it’s not going to go down very well, but it’s sort of hard for anyone to argue the facts when they’re shown. At one point I was cutting out news articles that I’d found, and I had this giant wall covered in stories of murder and robbery and death, and when you face a wall like that it’s hard to argue.

Sisterworld is out on Mute Records next Monday, March 8th 2010

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