The Power Of Doubt: Liars’ Guide To New LP WIXIW

After all those weird and abstract hints on the Amateur Gore tumblr, here's the information from the horse's mouth: Angus Andrew tells Luke Turner about the themes and making of new album WIXIW, their increasing use of electronics, and relationship with producer Daniel Miller

‘The Exact Colour Of Doubt’

Liars albums have always ended with a quiet, reflective track. It was interesting that you chose to start this one with such a piece.

Angus Andrew: It’s interesting you say that, because I think it’s pretty much the first time ever that I’ve definitely tried to write for the first song. Normally you write a tonne of stuff and see how it all fits together, but on this one I really wanted to try and introduce the record in this way, which revealed this use of simple electronics, and also this theme of doubt. I wanted to make a song that would give the listener this brand new experience of what the record was going to bring to them.

An interesting footnote to that is that even though I was really excited about introducing that kind of sound, it’s also exemplary of what we went through with Daniel [Miller, Mute boss and album producer]. I was super into that first sound you hear, this pad, which is pretty simple electronic thing, and was pretty excited about it. That was one of the things Daniel was most critical of – that he wasn’t sure about that sound. Immediately that introduces the fear aspect that we went through with this record in terms of dealing with electronic sounds, and being new into that field: whether these things were, I don’t know, mundane to an electronic kind of person, you know what I mean? That’s why we wanted to have Daniel on board, to get his viewpoint, seeing he’s so involved in that area, and to get this critical feedback off that straight off the bat. It really put me in a really precarious position. I guess I knew bringing him on board would be beneficial, but I didn’t foresee the critique. It went through the whole record in terms of any electronic sound we’d use, even a kick drum or snare, it’s like he has this historical reference to everything. It mired me in a lot of that, which I found kind of hard.

Was it a kick up the arse you weren’t expecting?

AA: I was kind of expecting it of course, because that’s really why I wanted him involved, but maybe it was with things I didn’t necessarily expect him to be so critical of. I thought he would be wowed by that sound… but he certainly wasn’t.


AA: Equally, I thought this song was important to have as the second song, because it starts to showcase this contradictory theme that seems to run through the record. The first song is about wanting someone to be with you, but straight away on the second song it starts to talk about how they should leave you. You find that throughout the record, even within single songs, there’s this duality of wanting to be close to someone but at the same time being afraid of that and thinking it’s best that they leave.

This is one of a few others that was originally a lot longer, but with the kind of collaboration that we had – which was a lot more on this record than before – other voices started to tell me that it was way too long. That’s really hard to hear when you’re writing a song, and it’s not something I’ve really opened up to before. It’s all made within the computer. Still to this day I’m trying to figure out how I made some of those sounds. Experienced electronic artists would probably save some presets or whatever, but I never did that when I was working, because I get excited about things and move on.

‘Number One Against the Rush’

AA: I think the decision to bring it out first was that, in a way, we were battling with this idea of ‘how much do we want to reveal off the bat how electronic we get on the record?’ To me it seemed like some kind of halfway point. We didn’t want to come out with something that was just super electronic, and this one is kind of a good blend of the two. I think that was the major motivation behind that decision.

It’s an example of a song that we dealt with a lot on this record, which is where you have this really interesting sound – which is the first sound you hear, this sequencers – and then you have to deal with how to make it into a song. That’s a really different process to what we normally have gone through. Normally I’d sit with a piano or a guitar and figure out some sort of melody and create a song like that, but a lot of this record is made in a way where you figure out this interesting sound, and then it’s a question of how to fit that sound into a song – which is a lot harder to do.

Normally you’d think someone doing the melody first would come up with a more pop-sounding thing

AA: It is interesting. It’s kind of arse-backward, really. It’s definitely one where Aaron and I had a lot of back and forth with it, just in terms of how to make that happen. There ended up being quite a few variations. Aaron sings on this one as well. It’s another one where it’s contradictory in the way the lyrics run, and revealing again this pervasive doubt and uncertainty. It’s not just relationships, it’s more doubt with the idea of using this kind of process, using electronics, or the computer. That for me is really hard to get used to, especially not just stepping into it full-on for the first time, but also knowing that people know a lot more about it than we do. And so you can really be uncertain, like I mentioned at the start, whether this kick drum sound is really blase to the electronic community or not.

And then I think also this decision early on to force ourselves to collaborate a lot more. In the past we’d have banged these things out individually and taken them to their final step like that, where you can sort of work through it and develop your own confidence. But with this record we were revealing to each other very simple sounds and saying ‘what do you think about this?’ It’s a lot harder to be confident that way, because there’s automatically this injection of doubt as to whether that sound is a good sound or not.

‘Ring On Every Finger’

AA: When we started the record Aaron and I went off to live in this cabin in the woods, and we just took computers. We left Julian in LA to start messing around with live drums. He spent a lot of time effecting his drums and finding out new ways to get interesting sounds out of them. At the same time as we developed this bank of interesting melodic sounds, Julian was sending us these banks of really interesting drum sounds. It’s great, but at the same time it can be really overwhelming, thinking ‘oh God, I’ve got to figure out how to use ten different drum sounds’.

This song for me shows the beneficial aspect of using the computer, which is not only to create interesting sounds, but using it to do these things where you lock in with tempo and sequencing, so you can get any sound and make it fit, morph it into the tempo of the song that you’re working on. On this one it helped a lot with using voice samples, you could just go BLEAAH and figure out how to use that as an instrument. On this one I made this really interesting sound, I recorded it, loved it, and then Aaron walked in and was like ‘you know, you just played that with the neck broken on the guitar’. I hadn’t noticed, but that’s why it sounds like that. Then you’re like ‘oh shit, well now what are we supposed to do, travel with a broken-necked guitar?’

‘Ill Valley Prodigies’

AA: It’s a bunch of field recordings that I was doing around my house and my neighbourhood. I live in a pretty rough neighbourhood of LA, and there’s always a lot of shit going on, and there’s birds as well as a whole load of other weirdness. It was another example of being able to take sounds that you’ve just recorded out of nowhere and fit them into a tempo. Using an acoustic guitar was another weird step that I was into… I was always trying to look for this other side to just using these completely electronic instruments and ideas, and we used the acoustic guitar twice on this record. It brings in this warmth to the whole palette. The title is kind of a reference to the San Fernando Valley, which is what you’d talk about a valley girl in LA. It’s a reference to the positive aspects to a negative place, but in a lot of ways it’s a kind of reminiscent song for me, in terms of dealing with your demons – be that addiction or whatever, stuff that you need to get over.


AA: It’s all really complex analogue synths and sequencers. There’s no guitar on it. It’s a really, really complex song when you break it down into parts and how it’s put together. It was always my favourite song, and felt like the heart of the record. It encompassed for me a lot of the ideas that we were interested in, the contradiction in the vocals "I wish you were here with me / I wish you would not come back to me". It’s the reason we named the record as we did, because this track always felt like it was the heart or the soul of the record.

‘His And Mine Sensations’

AA: For me this was one I found kind of hard to come to grips with, maybe in terms of the poppy element, but it ended up being one of the most collaborative that we worked on. Aaron felt pretty strongly about it and needed to hold my hand a bit through it. That’s kind of where the title comes from, and is really the basis of the lyrics. For the first time, I think we’ve written lyrics about each other. I actually say his name in the song. For me it was one of the most positive aspects of the collaboration. I’ve said that it can be really hard, but when you have someone who’s confident about something and you’re not so, and helps you see what’s good about it, then that can be really beneficial.

‘Flood To Flood’

AA: It was actually one of the first ones that we made. This is one where we used live drums, it’s a very analogue song and not so to do with the computer. It’s about using interesting-sounding warm synths. It was a really hard one to mix, probably the hardest, because there’s so much going on in it. Someone like Daniel is always critical of it sounding muddy, but we came out of it pretty good and I’m proud of that one.

‘Who Is The Hunter’

AA: Out of all the sounds on the record, the most recorded is that bass guitar. It’s the most simple and straightforward thing you can do but it took us so, so long to get the right sound for that. It sounds weird, but you play it with one bass, then another bass, and then a little too much noise in it. We became really anal about that guitar sound, but eventually we got it. I think we felt like it was going to be interesting to have this song that starts with this simple bass that isn’t electronic at all and kind of gives a lot of space to the record, this organic space. It’s always interesting to be able to offset a lot of the harsher electronic things with this unexpected openness. It’s also interesting that on this track are steel drums, which is not necessarily a cool thing to have on a record, but I love how those sound and I was really excited to use them. It’s a very personal song, very introspective.


AA: It is quite a heavy one for this record. We actually made quite a lot of songs like this, but came to the point where we had to make this decision about how many we were going to allow on the record, and how much it was going to influence the overall sound of the thing. Definitely at one point we thought maybe we should just release a whole other record that’s intense and dancy like this, but in the end to me it started to feel in the vocal delivery that it was like an older Liars song that we’d have done. It’s another that was originally twice the length, and it’s really hard to make songs shorter. In the end I like it being briefer, and I think lyrically it’s got to do with the decisions that Liars make as a group. The major refrain in that song is "the option’s ours", which is definitely a good thing.

Were you surprised with what a departure this is, and how pop it is?

AA: That kind of thing is really hard for me to discern. Personally I’m not aware of it being that poppy. If anything, I could even say it could be a lot more difficult to listen to this record. I think these things tend to go over my head a bit, in terms of making songs, whether they’re catchy or poppy or whatever. It’s something that once you get deep into a record and have been working on it a while, those things lose their place in favour of ‘what’s this snare sound like?’ Maybe in the bigger picture, and later on, I can find that, especially if more people say it to me, but for the moment for me it’s not. It’s definitely interesting that you think that.

‘Annual Moon Words’

This still feels like a Liars closer track that’s giving you a wave while going somewhere else…

AA: Part of the whole WIXIW thing, with the title being a palindrome and starting somewhere and going through this long, intense process and coming out somewhere similar to where you started. I thought that this song shows that a bit. Even though we’d dived into this electronic world, in the end the final result is something that’s not too far from where we were when we began. I think that’s normally considered to be a negative result – that you’ve toiled and persevered, and then find yourself at square one. To me, it’s really positive. It gives me a nice sense that we know what we like.

Liars’ new albumWIXIW is released via Mute on June 4th. Liars play Field Day on June 2nd, 2012, for more information and tickets go here

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