When a record has been mixed using a computer, they say it’s been done “in the box”. WIXIW, Liars’ difficult sixth album (following their difficult fifth, fourth, third and second records) was made this way, but sounds like you’re trapped in the box with them.
Disembodied sounds abound – it’s a dark and paranoiac experience, like walking through a big city late at night and getting a nightmarish euphoria at hearing footsteps behind you. So it’s a considerable surprise that frontman Angus Andrews sounds so damn chirpy throughout this interview. His chirpy Australian tones are somewhat at odds with the constant buzz that his latest album emits, but it certainly makes for an easier conversation. ”We’re not actually that scary,” he assures me late in the conversation, “but when you allow yourself to go deep into making a record, it gets more frightening as you go, and that’s what comes out.”
WIXIW certainly sounds like an involved production; as opposed to its predecessor Sisterworld, the “intimidating” goal of which was “to perfect this idea of songwriting”, WIXIW is much more about atmosphere and unfamiliar sounds. “I would think it would be cool to be a band like The Hives,” Andrews says, entirely seriously, “where you’re just a rock band and you play and that. Each record feels like we’ve got to drop everything that we’ve learned on the last one and pick up something new and try and keep ourselves excited about it.” Still, it’s a surprisingly poppy effort – lead single ‘No. 1 Against the Rush’ rides its waves of synth noises and crashes them against a sinisterly melodic chorus, while ‘His and Mine Sensations’ is a low-key anthem. In fact, much like Sisterworld, it sounds like there is a fantastic remix album waiting in WIXIW‘s wings.
Yet, the notion of songwriting was somewhat brushed aside for the record. “Now I don’t care about that,” Andrews deadpans, insisting that the album was influenced by “trying to convey an idea through the sound and the song, as opposed to even writing notes or playing a chord.” As such, the notion of hearing it live is tantalisingly intriguing, and the listener is often left wondering how it will be recreated. Angus Andrews has the same problem. “There’s a lot of sounds on the record where I don’t even remember how we made them, and that’s the real tricky part of it.” Having posted numerous videos on their Tumblr page of running a glass of water through an FX pedal, and micing up a broom (noises which possibly pop up on the eerie acoustic ballad ‘Ill Valley Prodigies’), the band now have a bunch of trial-and-error rehearsals in which to work out how to play the songs in concert. ”I think more experienced electronic people make presets and they save shit,” laughs Andrews, “but for me it was a bit like a kid in a candy store.” Angus also hints that the older material may be attacked from an unfamiliar angle, in order to better fit with tracks from WIXIW.
The Tumblr aside, though, Andrews is proud to keep the band’s online presence minimal – “I’m really, really not interested in the overload of detail you get about bands on the internet, like ‘Oh, this is what I had for breakfast’” – which stoked speculation when the band cryptically announced that “their idol” was to be producing the record; “it wasn’t just ‘Here’s some information – digest it’,” he says, “I think that’s a big part of what we do.” That idol turned out to be Daniel Miller, the founder of their label Mute Records – chosen, Angus claims, because “I felt like it would be great to have some sort of electronic guru to be a bit of an advisor.” His label – and the Mute Audio Documents box set in particular – are major touchstones for the record, and Miller’s expertise certainly helps the album sound like a more organic, human work than many others in the field, which the band were striving for. “What I find scary about making music in the computer is that you lose the physicality of it,” Andrews explains. “Normally when we make something, I hit a drum, and I know that it was me hitting the drum, and I can connect with that sound in that way. But when you’re doing it through the computer you’re sort of sifting through sounds. So it was a real concern for me that I chose this snare sound, and in the electronic world, is everyone gonna be like “Oh, that’s the fuckin’ Chemical Brothers,” or whatever?”
Another curious influence on Andrews is the documentary American Movie, in which a hapless film-maker named Mark Borchard attempts to fund and film his horror masterwork, Coven (thirteen years after American Movie‘s release, it remains unfinished). One track on Sisterworld took its name from one of Borchard’s art directions (“Let’s get these scarecrows on a killer slant!”), but its hold on Andrews runs to more than that: “that documentary is something I can always go back to in terms of psyching myself up; whenever I watch that movie, I just get so inspired by the main guy, and his non-stop going for it.” By making every record in different circumstances, Liars continue to feel as excited as they did when they were recording their debut a decade ago; “I still feel that sense of childlike enthusiasm about making something and not really knowing how to make it,” Angus insists. “This time, it felt like we needed to block everything out so we would focus on the process of making it, and let that inform the subject matter. It could have been made anywhere.”
The record’s completion prompted another unusual decision – matching tattoos for every band member. I ask if this is something Liars feel compelled to do with every album: “No, never done that before!” When asked why, Andrews responds “I think it’s because that word has become this kind of superstitious symbol for us; visually, it became very powerful. It really was the only record title that I would want tattooed.” Which begs one last question – given his hands-on approach to producing the album, did their producer get one too? “Yes,” Andrews tells me, without missing a beat. “But I can’t say where.”
WIXIW is available now through Mute.