Birth, death and Australian wildlife inform latest from Angus Andrew
Upheaval is nothing new for Liars, which has made a career of uprooting itself both sonically and geographically, with founder and lone constant member Angus Andrew logging time in New York City, Berlin, Los Angeles and the Australian bush, among other locales.
“When I'm starting a new project, I generally do like to find a new space or even a new country to go and work in because it gives me a fresh sense of perspective, which I think can be lost if you stay in one place all the time,” said Andrew, who will be joined by a touring band for a concert at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Sept. 16. “Each record is a new experiment in how to make music, I think. Maybe it's because I was never traditionally trained as a musician, so I come at it more from an artistic perspective. … It's less science and more magic.”
Liars' latest, TFCF (Mute), provided terrifying new terrain for Andrew to explore following the amicable departure of founding member Aaron Hemphill, who had functioned as a necessary sounding board and sparring partner from the time the band released its 2001 breakthrough debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. (Befitting the current national mood, Liars tore down this Monument with its 2004 sophomore record, the murky, bewitching They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a left turn Andrew described as “sinking the ship … [to] start fresh.”)
“The idea of me being Liars alone was scary,” Andrew said. “Normally I get reassurance from my bandmates, and without that reassurance you're definitely left out there on your own to question if you're making the right decisions. But the way I look at creativity, if you're not scared … then it's too safe, and that doesn't lead to good work. The fact I was more frightened with this record, it made it feel as if it was that much more important.”
Unlike Liars' previous record, Mess, a comparatively linear effort — “Despite its title, that one was actually made within a grid in the computer and was kept in time, and it sounds clear and good,” Andrew said — TFCF is a more freewheeling, unpredictable affair, with rhythms built around the nature sounds the musician absorbed while living remotely in the Australian wilderness, not far from where he was born and raised (Andrew moved home, in part, to help care for his father, David, in the final year of his life).
“The Australian bush is very intense. It's very loud and there are lots of strange animals and creatures, and I was living right by the water, too, so there was this constant cacophony going on and these weird rhythms between cicadas and birds and trees that I was really inspired by,” Andrew said. “I liked the way these organic rhythms were falling in and out of time with each other. … For me, the environment and nature there allowed me to let [the sound] fall apart naturally and to allow things to fall out of time, because there's some beauty in that.”
Lyrically, the album can be a dark, depressive affair, with lines that sound colored by his father's decline and Hemphill's departure, Andrew singing: “Grief inside … it's uncomfortable”; “And it's time again/To explode your heart”; “We're sometimes literate/And then sometimes not.”
“As [my father] was getting older, he was losing his memory and getting frustrated by that,” Andrew said. “He's a guy who spent most of his life working with words, and for him to start losing ability with language was tough for him, and tough for us to see.”
At the same time, Andrew was dealing with another major life change that forced him to embrace the future even as he worked to come to grips with the past.
“My wife was pregnant and about to have a baby when I was writing this record, so there was also this promise for me that I kept looking towards,” Andrew said. “The fact was this was quite a serious record, so I did want there to be some resolution and a light towards the end, or at least an idea there was still life there.”