Angus Andrew of Liars

Thursday, 31 January 2008

There are few things more potentially gruesome and frustrating in the realm of journalism than the thought of a time-monitored interview. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal; part of the job for any professional musician is self-promotion and it makes sense that one would want to get his or her name into as many markets as possible so a certain amount of time management must come into play, but that puts an extra amount of pressure on interviewers to make sure the job gets done. When confronted with a time-monitored interview, a writer has to expedite the flow of information and hope that it doesn’t come at the expense of flavour while carefully wording questions with the understanding that there may simply not be time to follow up on what’s said in each response. Sometimes you simply have to take responses to questions at face value and move on.

Some musicians are, of course, aware of this and make the most of the situation. I did an incredibly fruitful ten-minute interview with Rob Zombie where he issued much of the information I needed without needing to be asked which left me time to ask a couple of additional questions specifically for colour and those little bits of minutiae that die-hard fans would want to read about. Conversely, talking to Sean Lennon was like pulling teeth as, on a fifteen-minute budget, his answers were often incredibly short and required follow-up at every turn. Then there was the interview I did with former Get Up Kids lead singer Matt Pryor. Still holding the record for the shortest interview I’ve ever done (the interview happened in 2004), Pryor solved the problem of having only a fifteen-minute time limit by making sure that no one wanted to talk to him longer than that. Monosyllabic or terse and insulting at best and totally silent at worst, I kept Pryor on the phone for eight minutes and fifteen seconds before giving up and voluntarily letting him go with nothing usable on my tape recorder.

As an exercise in multi-tasking, Liars singer Angus Andrew was a great interview. In addition to being politeeven affable and good-humouredand talkative, Andrew left little or nothing wanting while he stood in front of his chiropractor’s office and laid out his band’s plans for the coming year as well as discussing The Liars’ most recent, self-titled release on the day before the band was to begin a national theatre tour in San Francisco. After I transcribed it, I couldn’t believe that the following conversation took only fifteen minutes.

Ground Control: Hey Angus, how’re you doing?

Angus Andrew: Oh, I’m alright. How’re you?

GC: I can’t complain, how’s your neck?

AA: It’s actually my lower back that’s the problem.

GC: Oh really?

AA: Yeah, it’s pretty screwed man. Where are you calling from?

GC: From just outside Toronto, Ontario.

AA: Oh wow.

GC: Now, are you at home? Or did you grab a chiropractor on the road?

AA: Yeah, I’m in L.A. The tour starts tomorrow in San Francisco so I’m doing the last bit of chiropractic I can do before we leave.

GC: Oh—I gotcha. I know they told me I’ve only got about fifteen minutes, so unfortunately I have to dispatch with a lot of the pleasantries. So what’re you expecting to see on this tour? I mean, you’re going out behind the self-titled album, what sort of reception have you already seen for the self-titled one?

AA: I think it’s been pretty great actuallyI think that we wrote these songs with the particular intention of playing them live. We wanted to play songs that were more straight up rock you know? A lot of these songs are exactly thata couple aren’tbut it’s been really fun for us. We’ve brought on the help of an extra guitarist, Jared Silverman, and that allows us to have that bit more beef that you need when you’re doing heavy rock. Having him there also allows for a bit of soloing and stuff like that which is all very new for us. We’ve been experimenting with a very traditional way of doing things.

GC: I was going to ask about that because I checked out a couple of the new tracks and I’d heard Drums Not Dead about 150, 000 times in the office I used to work at for a while and from what I’ve been able to gather, the two are very, very different records. It’s always been the conventional wisdom that self-titled records are the albums that bands make when they want a particular sound to be associated with them. Was that the case with this one?

AA: I don’t know I really believe in that idea. That’s certainly not what we were intending. I think what we were looking for on this album was to sort of simplify all of our processes after what was the quite heavy process that Drums Not Dead ended up being. I think we were just looking for some instant gratification and simplicity in the sense that we wanted to remove ourselves as much as possible from the way that the listener was going to approach the record. I think quite often we’re known for giving the listener quite a bit of information in terms of concept or theory or whatever and this time we wanted to strip it back to a more traditional way of releasing a record where it’s a picture of the band on the front and very straightforward music inside. I think we wanted to try that for once and I think the motivation for that was to let the listener have their way with the music rather than us have our way with them [chuckling].

GC: I can understand that. So obviously the experience was very good while you were in the studio; how have the songs been received by the fans that have been at the shows?

AA: It’s been great! In a lot of ways for Liars fans that have been with us through all our records, its an easier listening experience so I think that a lot of fans feel like it’s a cherry on the top; a present that doesn’t require too much thought but that they can throw down to. I’ve heard that quite a bit; that people are glad to have something that’s a little easier listening for once [chuckling].

GC: I can understand that. Have you noticed that there are a lot of new faces in the crowd as well?

AA: Sort of. We did a tour where we opened for Interpol around the States and that was certainly an eye-opener in terms of that. I’m not sure how well we gelled with their core audience [laughing] but I do think that we blew some minds on that tour just by the simple things like making mistakes onstage. When you go see a big arena show, you don’t really expect to see that, but we certainly have a lot of that sort of thing going through us [chuckling]. I think kids that see that get a different impression of what it is to be a band that tours and makes music; you don’t necessarily have to be professional about it [laughing].

GC: I see what you’re saying, but even so it has to have been a treat to do the arena-sized shows, and this tour will be all theatres right?

AA: Oh sure, yeah. I love the change-up. When you go and do the arena thing, it’s really exciting because the acoustics, the PAs and the size of the stage are all really new things and exciting and really worth the effort to put on a good show and utilize them. To a certain extent, you can be successful or unsuccessful at doing that depending on the night but it is difficult, in a way, for us to be performing fifty feet from the first person in the front row and I think we’re looking forward to coming back and doing these theatres and looking deep into the eye of the beholder as it were.

GC: As far as the sets are concerned for this tour, are you going to be relying heavily on material from the new record? Or going through all four?

AA: It’s pretty exciting for us to take a look at it and realize that we have a bit of a back catalog to work with, and fun to be able to go through and pick up songs that we haven’t played for a while. We’re going to do that on this tour and pull out as much as we’re able to pull off. We intend on doing a lot of material from the new album, but that set-up doesn’t always allow for some of the older songs to work. In this rock format that we’re currently working in, it’s important that we look to some of the rockier songs from our past.

GC: See, I was curious about that because I could see some of these songs mixing with the stuff on Monument, but because the newer songs seem to be more structured and Drums Not Dead really didn’t seem to be….

AA: It’s quite tricky when we put it together and it’s not only a matter of which pieces fit together and look good, it’s a matter of practicality; ‘What is the equipment that we need to do that song versus that song?’ and that sort of thing. As I say, we’re doing material on this record that is more straightforward and we’re relying less on any kind of electronics or stuff that we’ve used in the past to make those particular types of sounds and hopefully just get by with using drums, bass and guitars.

GC: So what happens after this tour? You’ve got twenty? Twenty-five dates on this one?

AA: YeahI dread to think of it, but yeah. After that, straight away we go across the pond again for a ‘round Europe trip to do a bunch of different things: we’re going to be the curators for a festival in Austria and stuff like that, so it’ll be a good time.

GC: Any chance that we’ll hear a new recordor hear about you going back into the studio anywaybefore the end of 2008?

AA: Yes, certainly. We’re always chomping at the bit to get back in. Once you’ve done a significant amount of touring on any album, it gets exciting to get back into the studio so I think you will hear that we’ll be doing it in L.A. for the first time and for the first time really trying to do it together as a group instead of individually which will be the new thing. I definitely hope that we’re on that before the end of the year.

GC: Has there been any writing done already? Or is that something that you have to take time out and focus on to do and it isn’t a matter of spontaneously writing while you’re on the road?

AA: Not so much on the road, but we did have that little Christmas break and both Aaron and I have been noodling, but with no real thing in line yet because we have so much touring left. I think what we’re doing right now is just making a few things for ourselves in order to get ourselves in the right mood before we attack the real songwriting when we have the chance to chill out after tour.

GC: Any of those songs going to see any stage performance during this tour?

AA: Ooohhhh…I don’t know. I mean, we did make a song that we might use for a split with the band that we’re touring with, No Age, and Aaron made a really great song for that so it might see some light, and then I’ve been working on a cover of a Bjork song for a compilation. Strike me down and kill me first, but I chose “Army Of Me” which I found out afterward has been covered about fifty times by another fifty artists. Hopefully we’ll be able to pull that out too though. Or maybe not. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to do that yet.

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