A decade into their career, it’s becoming hard to remember that, at the dawn of the 21st century, Liars were once labeled a post-punk band in the vein of Gang of Four and PiL, right alongside New York City neighbors like The Rapture and !!!. Almost as soon as they released their debut, They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top, the band decamped for Berlin and with each new record, they continue to flummox expectations, shedding sonic skins along the way. Brusque noise weirdness? See They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. Transcendent tribal techno? That’d be Drum’s Not Dead. Wait, how about fuzzy stoner rock a la the Jesus and Mary Chain? Check their self-titled record. Now comes the nearly unpronounceable WIXIW (think “Wish You”), which finds the band wholly embracing electronics, resulting in their most gorgeous album to date, though still laced with that familiar dread.
eMusic’s Andy Beta chatted with Julian Gross while the band was on tour in Holland to ask about art school days, gamelan and electroclash, and if it’s cool to just cop Daft Punk’s snare sound as your own.
So you and Angus met while both students at Cal Arts. I wonder how that discipline continues to inform the band.
The great thing about that school is they let you do anything. I did graphic design and Balinese gamelan. And there were times when we would be recording where I would remember these certain patterns that I wanted to translate over to the band, as gamelan is so percussive. In every sense — from the music classes I took like Balinese gamelan and African percussion, to studying different types of media — that discipline is totally there. When you’re in a band, there’s album covers and posters and videos and websites and all the different parts to being a band that you’re able to create and make work in, which is so exciting.
So WIXIW, your sixth album, is being billed as your “electronic” record, but how did you guys not make an electronic record when you were living in Berlin, the epicenter of minimal techno in the early ’00s?
I think our Drum’s Not Dead album was more of a response to the music of Berlin, where — when we lived there — it was electroclash music everywhere. Everybody had a drum machine and most of it sucked. We then made something much more organic in that sense. Where you live influences your life and what you’re thinking about in some way. Liars and Sisterworld had a very Los Angeles sheen to them, but WIXIW, which was also recorded there, had little to do with the city. AllL.A. had to do with it was that we were all living there and we all had studios in one place.
So what made you move toward electronic production for the new album?
The last two albums were rock-heavy and it was an experiment for us: Can we write a regular song with a verse, chorus and melody? We did. And after that, we were tired of it. We wanted to try something new and explore sound again and go back to experimentation. We wanted to get rid of the studio part, the placing of mics for sound. We wanted to get rid of the space between the microphone and the amp. Let’s just go direct and get rid of all of that: studio, engineer, demos, mics.
Is the process like reinventing the wheel?
In a way, but you don’t want to get too comfortable with something. We wanted to make ourselves a little bit scared again and start all over. Mistakes and doubts are all good things for us. If we keep it interesting for ourselves, hopefully it’ll be like that for everyone listening.
How much electronic music were you listening to leading up to making WIXIW?
We like hip-hop, house, jungle, technoâ€¦we’ve all been going to clubs since the ’90s. Backstage, Angus would play electronic music to get tight and amped up before playing a show.
The funny thing about electronic music is that it’s not very specific, so to speak. It’s always a pseudonym remixed by someone else. I almost never know who the artist is sometimes. There’s an anonymous part to electronic music that I also think is cool. We like that part of electronic music, its non-specificity. It was never certain artists and the closest that got for us was having Daniel Miller (Mute president and former member of The Normal) be with us during the process. We just had no idea what we were doing.
“Is that the signature Daft Punk snare sound?” If we do that, are people going to know? You don’t know these things, so you’re a little naÃ¯ve. Can we just use an 808 unadulterated? Does that sound like Trent Reznor? And so Daniel helped with what we’ll call “the electronic music protocol.”
A lot of the songs have this sense of purgatory, of pressure intensifying, but without release.
That’s how it was feeling. WIXIW wasn’t aboutL.A. or witches or drums and mountains; it was about looking inward. This record was about doubts, insecurity, and was more introspective for us. And it was a conscious decision to make it that way. There’s no screaming or yelling and that was intentional as well.
Not only is the title a palindrome, but it seems to be structured like one as well, with the title track precisely in the middle of the album. And it feels like that song itself has two sections.
People talk about ending somewhere different than where you started but with this record, we started and then came back around to where we were. It was more a 360 than a 180. We came back to where we started.