Over the course of seven albums – culminating with the just-released Mess – genre-defiant trio Liars, led by Australian expat Angus Andrew, have developed a reputable penchant for stylistic divergence. Speaking ahead of a relatively swift return to tour his homeland, Andrew charts the evolution of Liars from a “sunny and plastic” LA.
“Experimentation for me is synonymous with learning,” Andrew says. “What working and experimenting with sounds on [2012 album] WIXIW did for Mess was thatI was able to manipulate the computer in ways I didn’t know were possible. It allowed me to be more impulsive working with electronic music. WIXIW was experimental, but it was also very laboured. It took a long time to get from A to B, and I think that experience allowed me to be more immediate with Mess.”
After a laborious slog during the construction of WIXIW’s sonic foundations, Andrew’s trio relished a more streamlined approach to Mess. “To be honest, the thing with Mess was that there were less challenges,” says Andrew. “The challenge I put forward to us when we started was that we wanted to make it really quickly. When you set that kind of parameter, you don’t fall down these K-holes, which is possible if you have too much time. So it made things very immediate. Honestly, it was the most fun I’ve had in a recording session I’ve had in a while, just because we set those parameters.”
Mess builds upon the electronic bent of Liars’ previous LP, at times flirting with EDM elements without going all-in. “Generally, the way I think about music is never in these categories,” says Andrew. “I understand it’s the way people talk about music, but definitely when I’m making music myself, I’m not conscious of these kind of ideas. I certainly wasn’t trying to make something that would fit inside a grouping of ‘electronic dance music’. I think there’s a similarity because I’ve sort of co-opted this language that these kind of artists use to my own end. Without really getting involved in their conversation, I just wanted to steal some of their tools. I think that the result is not worth putting in the EDM category. But I don’t know, I’m not even sure how to define these kinds of things. It’s not something I give much thought to.”
That aversion, or apathy, toward pigeonholing defines Liars as outsiders even well into their second decade of existence – not quite a conventional rock outfit, not exactly in line with Boiler Room fare.
“Mate, I’ve felt like an outsider as soon as I left Australia,” Andrew says. “The career of Liars, we’ve always been on the outside. We’re never really trying to do what people expect us to do. It’s ostracising. It is weird – this kind of music is mostly generated by DJs and producers, and so it’s definitely a weird kind of environment to step into. That’s why it was pretty scary to do that when we did WIXIW, but when it came time to make Mess I just didn’t care anymore. I’m not interested whether what we do fits in with what people think we should be doing.”
Liars’ acerbic tones and Andrew’s booming vocals often combine for largely aggressive compositions. “I want to be clear that the aggression doesn’t come from the obvious ‘I want to hurt people’ kind of way; it comes from anxiety, the nervous energy that I live with as a person, that I think is a common modern-day issue of having this unnerved, panic-stricken anxiety,” he says. “When I get to perform music and make music, that’s a way of channelling that energy. I’ve definitely tried to make more mellow music, but it just doesn’t happen. I have this side that needs to be unleashed, and that’s the point where it can come out.”
Themes of mortality and entropy creep throughout Mess, both biological and technological – blurring the distinction between the two through gritty soundscapes. “‘Left Speaker Blown’, that song is about the idea of it being great to be a musician and an artist, but it does take its toll,” Andrew says. “It’s difficult to continually put your soul out there for people to decide what they want to do with it. That can be wearing, gruelling. There’s an element of it with me that is an understanding that it takes a toll; it evolves in a way into something interesting and different as to how you are as a person and how you react to it. When I was younger and making music, I felt different about it. It’s interesting how it evolves.”
Sustaining meticulous quality control throughout their existence to date, Liars build a steadily snowballing momentum with each release – in spite of, or due to, that unwillingness to pander to expectation.
“That anyone even wants to listen to the music is something I don’t take for granted, I never have. Even from the first record, I was just excited to put a piece of music to vinyl and be able to play it. The thing that I am very aware of is that we’ve changed so much stylistically from record to record that there are people who prefer some of our records to others. That’s an easy statement to make. I’m OK with that; I’m an artist doing what I want to do. It’s not about trying to please people.”