Liars’ Frontman Angus Andrew Talks Exploring Uncharted Territory on ‘TFCF’
Liars have always been a vehicle to probe the unknown for frontman Angus Andrew. Whether that meant concocting freakish drones with contact mics or approaching the guitar as an artist rather than a musician, it seems that novelty has always allowed (and forced) the group to grow. That parenthetical is particularly apropos, as Liars underwent their biggest change of all when founding member Aaron Hemphell quit the group earlier this year and left Andrew as its sole creative force.
Already isolated in the remote bush of his native Australia, Andrew had no choice but to deal with the emotional fallout of severing a 20-year creative relationship while he reworked his songs as a solo project. As he faced his fears and doubts in the wilderness, he also connected to his instincts and the world around him in profound new ways that informed Liars’ forthcoming album “TFCF,” short for “Theme From Crying Fountain.”
The somber new record stands as resounding proof that Liars is every bit as compelling when it’s a one-man-show – and Entertainment Voice caught up with Andrew to see how he’s handling all these sudden changes.
“TFCF” is your eighth album, and Liars have always avoided pigeon holing. So, what feels different for you this time around?
Quite a lot of things, really. I mean, first of all, I think the way the music was put together was kind of technically different. I sampled myself playing a bunch of instruments and then put them all together in the computer when I was living in the bush.
I also used a lot of really traditional instruments that I have never used before, like the acoustic guitar, which is a big one for me. And it’s also the one where Aaron had no longer been part of the process.
You worked with Aaron Hemphell since the beginning of Liars. I understand that the parting ways was amicable, but would you like to tell us a little bit about how that went down?
Well, we hadn’t worked together for a long time. And our creative relationship wasn’t so much about collaboration; it was more about critiques. I’ve always written songs on my own and then sent them or played them to Aaron. I always took his opinion very, very seriously.
And then over the years he started to make less and less music, and he stopped making music for Liars a couple records ago. But I was still just making the music and sending it to him for his opinion, which, like I said, was really important to me. When it came around to this record, he decided he was going to have a baby and he didn’t want to become part of the next touring cycle. So he said, “Just make it without me.”
And it was really sad for me, you know? Because even though we’re still very close it was tough to get the grip on our creative relationship deteriorating. That’s really what became the subject matter for this record, was sort of documenting the collapse of that relationship.
As the sole member of Liars now, how does it affect your creative process? How does it feel to have total creative control?
The thing is, like I said, the creative process hasn’t changed because I would always just work on my own anyway. The difference comes in this idea of going with your gut instinct, or waiting to get other people’s opinion and see how they feel about it. So the new thing is going with my gut, my instinct – and that’s pretty exciting, to be honest. Daunting, sure.
But I enjoy scary creative situations, it sort of brings out some of the best work in me. I’ve enjoyed the idea of freedom in that sense, but I miss a lot of the things too about working and collaborating. But it’s quite exciting to be on my own.
Let’s talk a little bit more about being in the Australian bush? The band has never been afraid to relocate, and imparted a specific feel to past records. How do you think the bush affected this record?
What’s interesting is the last couple of records we made were in Los Angeles, “WIXIW” and “Mess,” and they were both very heavily computer-oriented albums. A lot of the sounds of the songs were made within the computer, and in that way they developed naturally as these sort of computer-derived songs. With a sort of minimal, grid cleanliness.
What I found when I was out in the bush is this amazing idea of the sounds that are around you. Like the trees and the birds and the water and these things, they’ve all got their own rhythm, and those rhythms kind of fall in and out of time with each other in instances. So that really inspired me to try and make the music this time much looser in terms of its relationship to time. Everything became a lot more organic and embraced the idea of things falling apart instead of being tightly wound together.
I know you were pretty much alone in nature. You had a microphone running most of the time where you would capture things like bird songs. What revelations came to you from being closer to nature?
The big one was this idea that there’s no straight edges in nature. Whatever that saying is, “No right angles,” or something. I think that just bled right into the way I was making the music. That’s just for the music itself.
And yes, I did have a microphone recording all the time outside, so with every song I wrote there’s also a companion track of external sound. If there was a thunderstorm, then that’s what I was hearing in my headphones while I was writing the music. It all has a huge influence, I think.
But aside from all that technically, there’s also the idea of being in solitude. And I think there’s something to be said for that and the way that it can sort of make you more introspective. More personal, you know? Which I think came out also, because it sort of lends itself to that.
Just as a final question about place, do you think there’s any significance to the fact that you returned to your native country?
Oh, sure, yeah. I mean, I left Australia before I had begun making music at all. I’d made records all over the world, but I’d never once written a song in Australia. For me it was a little bit daunting. I’d always thrived on this idea of being the sort of “outsider” in all these places that I’d lived, and I could see Los Angeles or Berlin from this external perspective. But then, what would happen when I went to my quote-unquote home? Would I lose that skill?
It was a little scary, but it was important for me for a lot of reasons, too. My dad was just in his last year of living, so I got to be with him. But that was really important that I was there, and so in the end it was a really good decision for me.
Liars also has a strong visual art component. Could you talk about the album cover for “TFCF?”
Yeah, basically the concept that I was trying to get at was, that for all these years I felt like I was married to my bandmates. So, here is me without my groom, so to speak. You know, it’s confronting. I could have quite easily put an image of a fountain on the cover or some pictures of where I recorded the record, and I think that would have all been fine. But this is the sort of creative decision that keeps me up at night. And that’s important to me. I just wanted to be honest and say, “This is me.” So, it’s awkward, definitely. [Laughs.] And I’m still struggling with it.
And when you speak of visual art, it’s true. I’m less comfortable calling myself a musician than I am just as an artist. Because even though I’ve made quite a few records, I still think that the idea of a musician is not really what I’m trying to do. I’m communicating through music, sure, but it’s just as much the other things that go into making a record that are part of the art, too. Like you talked about, the cover and things like that, too. For me it’s a multi-media event being in a band.
I think Kim Gordon has expressed similar sentiments – that she just considers herself across the board an artist, and not necessarily a musician. And when you went to CalArts, it was initially for photography. Do you think that being a gifted artist in more than one medium gives you an advantage in any way? Or that some of the skills carry over?
No, I mean, I’d look at it in a different way. I really admire people that are super good at doing certain things. Like guitarists who can sit there all day playing awesome stuff. I admire that a lot, but I also don’t wish that really upon myself. Because I think there’s something that you get from approaching instruments or media in a sort of naïve way that allows you the chance to explore that instrument or medium in a fashion that may not seem right to other people, but that actually can work.
For instance, my wife is a classically trained bassoonist, right? And I play her some of my music and I can see on her face that she’s like, “Yikes!” Because she’s like, “That doesn’t really work like that.” But that’s not what I’m doing, I’m not trying to make music that’s “correct.”
So, instead of touring with collaborators, you’re going to be going out with a backing band. Does that feel substantially different? Or what do you look for when you’re picking out someone to play with?
Well, I can just describe what it was like when I went into my first rehearsal with the guys that I’m playing with: we just went down into the studio and played 20 Liars songs that they had learned and I was just blown away. Because there were songs that they had learned to play that I had never even actually played live myself. At the time it just seemed like too difficult or technical to play, or whatever.
So, right now, we’re playing songs from every album, and as I said songs that I’ve actually never been able to perform before. I’m really having a bit of a blast. It’s really been an interesting project putting this show together.
Liars creates such good art, and you really juxtapose a lot of interesting things, especially on your records. But what should people expect when they see you live?
I mean, it’s not going to be perfect. [Laughs.] But that goes without saying. It’s a lot of energy, and when you go to see this show live, I think people can get a really good idea of how Liars has worked and evolved over the albums. To play songs from every album – I think that’s eight albums – and to hear those songs with each other, it’s quite revealing as to how they actually connect. People tend to think that we do these radical, different changes from record to record. But actually, in the context of things, you can find that there’s a lot of similarity.
Anything you’d like to say directly to fans?
Oh, no: I did a Reddit AMA recently, and I think that covered it. I think that was one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done in my life, but I did it and it was quite fun. So I just spoke directly to the fans then and that was interesting.
So, I guess read up on that, then?
Yes, please read up on that.
Liars “TFCF“ is available Aug. 25 on Apple Music.