Interview: No.1 Against The Rush, Liars.

I've always found the most admirable bands to be those that compose the sorts of things I could never aspire to create, nor for that matter fathom the creative processes to power that which thrives beyond the aesthetically pleasingly packaged exterior. It's for that reason the likes of MONO, and the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Battles seem quite so otherworldly to so many I feel. Radiohead even, love or loathe, conjure songs from a great unknown. And it's as such that Liars are some of my all-time favourite bands. Such pluralisation isn't some shoddy slip of a finger, nor a result of a rather blasé editorial but rather a concerted accentuation of the actuality that the Mute Kraut practitioners are quite so restive when it comes to how they actually sound. Attempt tracing infallible parallels between recent history (Sisterworld) and present (ish, WIXIW) and you'll be left scratching what's left of your skull following on from the pure "mindfuck" that is the experience of absorbing the two records back to back. I've been equally fascinated by both efforts (although I ought confess to favouring the straight-up, atonal discordance of the former) yet with each I've struggled to figure from whence they came. It was, hence, both instructional and an honour to be afforded the opportunity to quiz the leanest of all the beanpoles, Angus Andrew, over the wifi. He's sat in L.A. where "it's fuckin' hot. Like brutal hot"; conversely I'm drying off in what is, as Andrew correctly intones in one, a "cold and drizzly" London. We're inhabiting polar opposites. He's WIXIW; I'm Sisterworld. Yet as with Liars' discography, we get along quite alright.

"I think one of the most interesting things about doing the live show is that even though I think it's kind of common knowledge that we make a lot of pretty different sounding records, when you start to put together a setlist comprising songs from those records it sometimes becomes clear just how similar those songs are to each other. I can definitely see how a song from our second record [They Were Wrong, So We Drowned] could've been on WIXIW, for example." To go comparing, say, Broken Witch with, like, A Ring On Every Finger is to draw tenuous parallels it must be said, although Andrew is a man of contradictions and complex juxtapositions. Tyrannical onstage, he's of a disarmingly tranquil demeanour over the crackle of a transatlantic line. "Obviously there are some stylistic differences, but I think I'm talking mostly about the sentiment, or the lyrical content – things like that. These seem to be pretty similar to each other even though, you know, they're considered to be quite contrasting."

Musically, though, WIXIW functions on a whole other level. "It's kind of our electronic record, but it's not really an electronic record. The approach maybe was conventional of an electronic album, but for us it was more to do with the sounds we could create", Andrew proffers sounding a tad at odds with the clutches of word his mouth exudes. This, their latest, undoubtedly signals a departure from the gloriously raucous brutalities of Sisterworld – a record I'd propose to be their magnum opus thus far. Rather more conventional than their regular modus operandi in almost every respect, if it wasn't quite the pioneers of the unpredictable vouching for the anticipated then few could've possibly anticipated its enduring impression. "On Sisterworld, and even the record before that [Liars] I think what I was really interested in was song structure." A tried and tested method, and one to have brought with it brilliance. However, although it ain't broke they inevitably had to go a-tinkering: "With WIXIW, all I really wanted to do was mess around with the setup rather than fret over how something might work as a song. And then technically, it was about learning to use the computer in a way we'd not used it before. As a songwriter and a musician, it's now an invaluable tool; something that when you really grab ahold of becomes this liberating element that's really fun. Even without the use of electronics, the ideas and techniques that we came across in making WIXIW are things that I'll be able to apply to any sort of music. Even if it's, like, samba or whatever."
Although samba may be a genre the three perennial fidgets are yet to touch upon – they've trawled the globe on their travels, thereby already tapping into South American markets anyhow – they're not so much sonic deviants as dervishes. WIXIW, too, serves as a prime encapsulation of this insatiable restlessness. With instruments largely ditched in favour of electronics and the glitchy propensities for which the band are increasingly becoming known, whilst a whimsical jittering between genres may not have made for a bedazzling début foray into the industry for Paris Hilton it darn well works for Andrew et al. They continue to flit with a lucid fluidity, although are there styles and times of which they may be more or less fond? Or is it all purely Proud Evolution? "Definitely, the book of Liars has each album as a chapter, and I can't see how you could read the book without any one of those chapters. So they're all as important to me as any other. What is sometimes interesting, from a sort of more personal perspective is to think back, or listen back to an old record, and remember what was such a big priority for me at the time. With something like Sisterworld, you know, I was really focussed on this concept of what is a song; how a song functions. I was really sort of stuck on that. And then, you know, by WIXIW I'd completely gotten over caring about that. So it's always interesting to look back on a record to see what was such a big deal at the time, and how now that can be almost meaningless."

Andrew here muses pseudo-methodically, as though imbuing the madness of the book of Liars with a subtly footnoted rationality. However, it's only his tongue waggling incoherencies once again. He listens back to past endeavours next to never: "I don't really know why I said that. Sometimes I do, just if we're putting a live show together and I need to reference some things but no, I don't. Aaron [Hemphill – guitars, and synths, and everything else] is better at doing that. If I do, all I do is to think about the various things that I would've done differently. It really doesn't end up being a very positive experience for me." Thus here arises the dichotomy, and with it the consequent disparities between the way in which an artist regards his or her work, and the way in which it is perceived by his or her audience. As far as Andrew is concerned, self-satisfaction remains immutably paramount: "Increasingly, I've learnt that if I'm gonna make the work that I feel the most excited about and I feel is our best work, then I have to really not think at all about how the listener is gonna perceive it. And so I really don't think that much about it – even after the process of putting out a record. I judge how well our record has done according to how I feel we worked on it, and if we achieved goals of some sort, or pushed ourselves in an experimental way. Or tried out some stuff we'd been meaning to try. That's what makes me feel a record has been a success. It's not really got a lot to do with how people hear it, and I think in a way that may be selfish or something, but it's the most pure approach I feel."

It may be deemed selfish perhaps, although conversely it exemplifies the gift of art in an age where much of it is a quite literal gift. Andrew determinedly relinquishes all responsibility and control once unleashed upon the world: "With all our records, once it's finished we get pretty antsy to move on and figure out something else. But because we've been touring on WIXIW since we made it, it still feels really kinda where we're at. I'm always really excited to try and figure out what the next thing is, so my head starts to veer off somewhere." Indeed such resolute work ethic, to an acute point, mirrors the changing landscapes of contemporary music. As previously alluded to, music is now oft regarded (: read disregarded) as an invaluable commodity in the sense that its pecuniary value has been peeled off over A.I. (anno interrete) time, our attention spans with it forever decaying.

And so here we are, conversing with faceless civility across Skype and a few thousand miles of land, and sea, and the in-betweens. Liars have of course been active for a protracted period of time – far longer than most contemporary bands that now tend to stagnate within weeks and months, in lieu of years and decades – and have therefore been about to witness the myriad ways in which the world has widened out into an intangible realm. Have they been embracive of all technological change, then? "It depends on the means, I guess. I think that we've always been interested in the creative aspects of technology, and we've been using computers in one way or another from the start, even if that's just making videos, or using Photoshop which I guess now sounds like a kinda ancient idea. The other aspects that are more difficult to manage are things like internet presence, and what you do to utilise and magnify that. I think that's been something we've struggled to come to terms with, particularly with the whole social aspect of it or whatever. And it's interesting that even though it's come up with previous records when we've thought maybe we should be doing something more interactive, it's something that we've always been a bit afraid of." Justifiably so – there be dangers round these murky online parts; parts made all the more eerie by Amateur Gore: "This is the first time we've really tackled the issue of trying to utilise the medium in a way we're comfortable with, and that's why we put together the Tumblr during the writing of the record – that was really our first foray into that kind of world. Often there's too much interaction between an artist and their public, in terms of a loss of mystique so we had to adjust both to using the medium, and not slipping into the banal. The kind of 'this is what we had for breakfast', and 'this is where we're recording.' It's something which is just a bit more interesting than that. It has to be thought of a bit more conceptually for us to feel really comfortable with it."

So it's a noncommittal um erring on the negative as far as the internet's concerned, although WIXIW stands as an overwhelmingly positive endorsement of the computer: "It was really, really exciting not only to incorporate more electronics, but also to just start with the idea to try and have fun experimenting with sound. So the main thing was this experimentation, whether that was analog or done exclusively within the computer. We just wanted to fuck around with as many things as we could and to come up with as many interesting sounds as possible." Heck, if it worked for Eno, and Main, and Throbbing Gristle before them it's surely a pretty surefire approach. "So the trick was to use the computer as a tool, rather than just as a 4-track which is pretty much how we'd always regarded it – just pressing record. We'd never really looked into how it could be used to manipulate an effect or anything."

And it was this manipulation of sound that birthed the inadvertently inimitable No.1 Against The Rush: "We built a weird sound machine together, just for the hell of it", Andrew avows with the gleeful relish of the grubby kids that waste away weekends constructing perishable dens in sylvan outbacks. It tramples on the borders of electropop; it's fucking great; and it's something I was never quite convinced they had in them. It is anomalous to anything to have preceded it, and anything to proceed it I should full well imagine. "It's just a good example of us collaborating a little more, actually. Aaron and I wrote the songs, and he and I have always had pretty different approachs and perspectives, so the interesting part for us is to figure out how those two things connect. But with this record, we allowed ourselves so much time to work on it, and spent so much of that time just messing around which is not something that we normally do."

Perhaps if the pair had always been a little more finely attuned we'd be in the midst of a somewhat more conventional band; one to have long since expired, even. Mercifully, we've instead a troupe of avant-electro torchbearers enlightening with an ever advancing style. Flouting convention, they also momentarily abandon conventional songwriting strategies in favour of subversive, self-challenging stratagem: "The sound that starts No.1 Against The Rush is one that came out of this long period of experimenting with just sound. And what happened with us was after we'd done that for about six months or something was that we had this catalogue of, like, 200 interesting sounds, but not one song. And the real hard part this time was when we'd say: 'OK, these are the sounds that we like best. Now how the fuck do we make a song out of them?' It's a kinda reverse way of working – mostly, you know, you write the song and then you add the layers of interesting sound, so this way round was really a mindfuck 'cause you've got this really interesting sound but no way to figure out how to turn it into a song. And with No.1 Against The Rush it then took us a long time to figure what'd be worthy of that sound at the start."

Irrelevant of the relevance of such an accolade, it's one of the most compelling pieces of music I've heard this year. Challenging yet irrefutably accessible, it charts the trio way out in a creative unknown that is, to the listener, already overtly familiar. But familiarity may breed stagnation in the giant petri dish of the illusionary postmodernism to which Liars belong. Do they fear predictability? Their back catalogue may feel like a genre swatch at times, although Andrew contends it's an in no way synthetic collage: "It's just we've this really natural urge to always be pushing our creative boundaries, and to keep ourselves really interested in what we're doing. It's like 'OK, we've worked in this way, for this amount of time, making this record' but then once that's done it feels really liberating to, you know, explore a completely different way of looking at, and listening to, music. It's all about trying to keep ourselves excited by it. It certainly doesn't make it any easier to make, nor to put it out, nor even for the listener – I'm sure it's not all that easy. But sometimes I think it'd be great if we were just like The Ramones or something, and we could just go in a room and bang an album out."

Thankfully, however, the task of defining (and with each and every record redefining) Liars is somewhat more complex than that of determining what it is, or rather was, Joey & co. were up to. Branded everything from dance-punk, to art-pop, to noise-rock; even avant-electro upon this very page, compartmentalisation comes as a precursor to their every manoeuvre. "It's something that I came to terms with quite a while ago. Even when we put out our first record, I was shocked at how journalists were describing our music, and as you say compartmentalising it. At the time I was really offended, and it frustrated me but more and more I've kind of come to terms with the idea of it being the job of these people – to try, at least, to put our music in perspective; to help give people a sense of where it is we're coming from. Most of the time it's completely weird, and wrong, but I understand the reasoning behind it. I know why it happens. I can't say that it makes it easy to hear whatever it is they may be saying, but I do understand it."

Attempt to define WIXIW, however, and you risk luring the utterly unconvincing. Skip to its closing moments, for instance, and the ferocious throb of forthcoming single Brats is disquietingly contrasted with the bumbling hum of Annual Moon Words. It's weird, and with it wonderful, and it works with an elementary fluency. It shouldn't, but it absolutely does. And the achievement of a thorough cohesion is a process to which Liars staunchly keep. "That's always one of the most fundamental aspects of making a record. That stage is vital", Andrew reckons. "We always make a lot of material, so the question then really comes down to what'll fit with what. In comparison to what we made while recording WIXIW, there really aren't that many songs on there. And I always really wanna emphasise to people how thinking about how a band makes a record is a really interesting part of the process – that kind of editing, and deciding what should be there and what shouldn't, is a real big step. So for us, with this record, it had a lot to do with trying to keep this mood together whilst at the same time allowing for some things to pop out. We made another couple records, and definitely another record that was all pretty much like Brats but the idea was to show people this more introspective way of working as that was something we hadn't really done before. So yeah, it's a really hard thing to do because you make these songs, and you do want people to hear them so when you decide they're not gonna be on there, yeah, it's hard, you know?"

One element of the process they could be forgiven for adopting a rather more flippant attitude towards is the releasing of singles. I struggle to make out any relevance to the format in an epoch which is, as previously alluded to, predominantly unperturbed by artists not receiving their financial dividend. There'll always be a place for albums, and unashamedly I'll go ahead and affirm that I'll always have a place for the physical (CD or otherwise) although singles? Such stuffs surely faded out with the demise of Woolworths... A medium of any worth, then? "Only in the sense that a) we get to make a video, which is sort of fun, and then b) it gives us an incentive to work on things like remixes. Which is also kinda fun. In terms of how people consume music, I'm not really sure whether they buy these kinds of things. I really enjoy, personally, being able to get, like, a 12" vinyl copy of a single with a bunch of remixes on it, but I don't know if that's something that's actually all that relevant for anybody else. For me, it's nice to be able to generate further work around one particular song. So I guess the question would be, well, why not just do that anyway?"

Quite. It seems counterintuitive that a label may prohibit such artistic expression and to such end, Death Grips' recent self-leak of NØ LØV∑ D∑∑P W∏B, whether cunning #conspiracy or impassioned counteraction to a deteriorating counterculture, was somewhat stimulating for a Monday morning. However one arena within which censoring the ceaselessly seditious is all but impossible is the live setting. And whereas the Sacramento industrial-rap innovators have continually bailed on UK commitments, Liars have a pretty prolific rate of return on UK soils. "I'm interested in the idea of having a show which doesn't all flow in the same vein – I don't want it all to be in one tempo, nor one style so it's really interesting to be able to juxtapose some songs that are really different to one another. I like it to be really jarring for the audience. I dunno – for me, I wouldn't wanna be at a show where I feel lulled into this premeditated idea of what's gonna happen, so it's good to retain some shock factor song to song."

The last time my eyes converged upon the trio, however, was out in the blinding rays of Victoria Park in a then fledgling June. It wasn't their best fit as far as live settings go: "I would say that there are easier settings, you know? But at the same time, I think it's always interesting to force things out of their comfort zone. And maybe that show wasn't great in terms of whatever, but I still think it's kinda interesting, and I like the idea that well maybe, you know, from now on you'll only ever see us play WIXIW live at night but then there was that time when we played it in the fuckin' broad daylight, and that was really weird, you know? And although it was really tough, I kinda relish that opportunity I suppose."

So there we have it – a once-in-a-lifetime kinda thang from Andrew and cronies. But aside from the fact that they're not best suited to being booted up in the mid afternoon sun, are there other hidden truths to Liars that they're only discovering with the release of each record? "I always feel like we're still just learning. You would think you get better at it, and it becomes easier, and it's almost the exact opposite. It's like the more you do it, the more you push yourself to find ways to make it harder. And I think that's kinda what keeps us focussed. I never wanna feel comfortable with what we're doing, and I like the idea that it's always, like, this new challenge, and that everything feels like it's a bit of a struggle, you know what I mean? That's the way to keep it fresh."

WIXIW is just that – a refreshing remodelling of a band to have pushed the envelope straight off the table long ago. The latest chapter of unmistakably uncomfortable awesomeness from the relocated Antipodeans, as they struggle to maintain our enthralment – listen after listen after record after record – they continue to cling to the cutting edge.

Liars play the Scala October 16th, whilst Brats is released digitally and of course on 12" vinyl October 15th.