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  • Interview: Liars

    Mon, 01 Oct 2007 09:14:10

    Interview: Liars - Liars' guitarist Aaron Hemphill breaks down the architecture of their new album and demystifies the band's experimentalism

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    Titling an album eponymously isn't that unusual a choice for a band, particularly bands who—several albums in—are looking to prove something to their audience (see Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, etc). Liars have never done much by the book, but their superb new self-titled album makes a rare attempt to color within the lines, at least in comparison to their three wildly eclectic previous albums. Last year's Drum's Not Dead offered a conceptual and cerebral listening experience, complete with three videos for each song. Liars take a more direct approach on this project, featuring fuzzy psychedelic pop, primal rock, ambient atmospherics and even a bunch of songs you can sing along to.

    Instead of celebrating with a headlining tour, Liars have hit the road as the support act on an arena-packing extravaganza with Interpol. Guitarist/songwriter Aaron Hemphill talked to ARTISTdirect about playing in front of those unfamiliar crowds, discovering a new way to write a Liars album and debunking the notion that the band doesn't care what you think about their songs.

    You and Angus [Andrew] went off and wrote individually for this album—how did that process change from your previous albums?

    Well, it's how we've always written the records—the difference was that we finished our demos more than we had in the past, in the hopes that the demos would be the finished versions. This is the first scenario where this was the only method that we wrote songs; the rest of the albums have been a culmination of the different ways we write songs—either he and I completing them in their entirety, or me finishing the music and him writing the vocals or vice versa. That's where the experiment was with this album.

    When you go off and write, are you starting with a clean slate? Or do you have leftovers and snippets still floating around from elsewhere?

    No. He and I work very differently. Angus writes constantly and he keeps things and has a really large body of songs that he's written and continues to fine tune; I tend to wait until it's time to write. I get bummed out if songs are old, and I throw everything away that doesn't make the album. With this one, I made maybe nine songs, and I deleted the ones that I didn't think were good enough. I don't want to rework them—I don't want to even remember them.

    Liars don't seem to have many boundaries, but do you ever write a song and think "Well, this wouldn't be right for Liars, but maybe I could use it somewhere else?"

    Yeah, we do. "Freak Out" was one of them. I almost didn't put that on the CD I sent to Angus. We don't know what fits for Liars or what will make a good record. That's always scary. It's not like we get comfortable. It's always the opposite, it's never how people view it… what we go through and what we fear about our songs. You always think that this song is the best, and then people don't even mention it. I think that's the greatest thing, too—you never know what you're going to get when you're creative. And when you're in a band, when your record is finished, you have this static object but you still don't know what you're going to get. You apply all these values to the songs—"Oh, this will be the romantic song that people make out to"—but really it's this other one. That's really awesome. It makes it so we never settle into thinking we know everything about ourselves or our music. It's always going to be scary, basically.

    When you guys did come together, how did you put together a track order for an album that's so eclectic?

    That's one of the most important elements, and we definitely pay a lot of attention to it. But it's also come pretty naturally. This is before anyone else has heard the record, and the songs always sound so different to us. You know, we've gone through so many stages of editing down tracks that it's not obvious that it's really an album yet. But a sequence generally pops up—with this one, Angus came up with it. There was less pressure with this one, because I think there should be a flow, but you can skip around on songs if you want. I think some of the songs on Drum's Not Dead—even though they may be really great in the context of the record, I think if you just put it on a mix tape, it wouldn't be as strong. With this one, our aim was to have just really fun songs.

    I interviewed Julian [Gross] around the time of Drum's release, and he talked about the companion DVD that came with that album and how you guys felt it was important to give the audience an extra incentive to actually buy the album. How did you come to step away from that approach on the new album?

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