Monday 29 October 2012 at 4:31 pm
Liars is currently touring Europe promoting their latest album WIXIW. We talked to multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill about honest art, Madonna’s Sex book and how being in a band is like being in gay porn.
Although this LA-based experimental rock trio are known for their dramatic stylistic shifts between albums and relocating for inspiration, throughout their 12-year existence Liars have remained stark, uncompromising and focused on pushing their own boundaries. Their sixth full-length, WIXIW, finds them entering the uncharted territory of electronic music, and the uncertainty of doing so resulted in their most vulnerable-sounding record yet.
‘It’s more important for us to feel like we’ve communicated feelings or ideas in a creative way than to try to figure out if it makes sense to someone else.’
Interview by Carly Blair, photos shot on film by Laurence von Thomas in London, UK
I heard that you guys chose the studio you used to record WIXIW because it didn’t have any windows. What was the appeal of that?
It gives us a space where we’re unaware of what’s passing around us. We don’t get to see outside time elapse or other things transpire. We’re there to work on the record, that’s what that space is for. It also provides a feeling of privacy.
I guess that lends itself to the more vulnerable process of making music that went into WIXIW... Drummer Julian Gross described Berlin as a cold, dark land. LA is hot and crowded and smoggy and dangerous. Both of those places are oppressive in different ways, which seems to be reflected in the mood of your albums. What would happen if you moved to a tropical island?
I’ve always thought that it wouldn’t do anything. The environment doesn’t have an immediate effect on the record unless we want it to. With Sisterworld [their previous album], we consciously chose to base the songs on LA. With this one, it was really about the process. I think that that could have taken place anywhere.
Especially if you’re locked up in a studio with no windows (ha ha)! your last album is your most introspective and vulnerable-sounding record, but the lyrics are still fairly abstract. Since you like to challenge yourselves, do you think you’ll ever write songs that are personal in a more explicit way? Well, to us the songs are super explicit and it felt like we were taking a chance already. It’s more important for us to feel like we’ve communicated feelings or ideas in a creative way than to try to figure out if it makes sense to someone else.
The word naked conjures up a lot of things; one that pops into my head is honesty. Are you trying to make honest art?
Yes. We are trying to be extremely honest, because the best work that we make is when we’re being honest with ourselves. I think when honesty in art gets brought up by people that are appraising or viewing or listening to the work, it can sometimes get thrown around or abused or change the value of the work really presumptuously. Words like ‘honesty’ or ‘sincerity’ lead to discussions as to whether the artist means it or not, or whether or not they would die for their work, or if the whole process is for real to them. I’ve always felt that that’s kind of a lie.
And it’s extremely subjective, also.
It becomes another way that value can be placed upon things, and it’s trying to add an absolute to art, and there are no absolutes... It doesn’t provide any answers or rules that lead to a simple answer in life. It’s not, ‘Oh, Bob Dylan’s more honest and he means it more so his music’s better than Third Eye Blind’ or something. It’s not black and white. The only reason we do it is because it makes us feel better.
Nudity has always been a subject of fascination in art. Do you have any favourite examples?
I like Madonna’s Sex book. I think for her to make a record like Erotica and then have that book be a companion piece was pretty amazing. I like the fact that it created a controversy, I like the fact that people think that the controversy is overhyped. And that also has to do with what you asked me before about sincerity. Whether or not she really means it, I don’t think it matters to me. She made it. It’s smart, and it has this great impact, and it’s fluent with the record. It’s a well-produced fantasy version of her, if it’s not exactly her.
That reminds me of your guys’ own provocative dabbling with nudity when you put out the It Fit When I Was A Kid EP, which featured your heads pasted on to the heads of gay porn actors In flagrante delicto. What inspired that?
Julian came up with that idea. I think he just wanted to show in a humourous way how close the band is, and what an ordeal it is to make a record together. You pretty much go through everything together, being in a band.
Liars play on 05 November at OT301 in Amsterdam. The show is free for Subbacultcha! members.