We’ve Got A File On You: Liars
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
“I’m not a big fan of revisiting the past.” This is how Angus Andrew responds when I ask him whether he read Meet Me In The Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s portrait of New York’s flourishing post-9/11 indie rock scene, from which Andrew’s band Liars emerged two decades ago. In light of his discography, Andrew’s disinterest in retreading old ground seems genuine. Liars quickly left behind the then-trendy dance-punk sound of their 2001 debut album They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top and have not looked back since, morphing with each successive release in response to Andrew’s restless creative impulses.
By the time Julian Gross and Aaron Hemphill left the band in 2014 and 2017 respectively, Andrew — a 6’6″ Australian with a haunting baritone bellow — was the only Liars member left. That changes with The Apple Drop, out this week on the band’s longtime label home Mute Records. After flying solo for 2017’s TFCF and its 2018 sequel Titles With The Word Fountain — computer-based albums recorded at his home studio in the Australian bush outside Sydney — Andrew has brought new partners into the fold.
Drummer Laurence Pike and multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell now comprise Andrew’s band, marshaling their conservatory-trained musical powers to manifest ideas he previously never knew how to pull off. He also worked on the lyrics with his wife, Mary Pearson Andrew, formerly of High Places (named a Band To Watch by this website way back in 2007). The new collaborators help make The Apple Drop the most ambitious and explosive Liars album in a while, one that swings the pendulum back toward the rock side of Andrew’s catalog without forgoing the bleary electronic undercurrents that have always been part of the project’s DNA.
On a call last week, I spoke to Andrew about the new album, the band’s early years, and lots of Liars extracurriculars in between. For someone who doesn’t like revisiting the past, the man was pretty game for this trip down memory lane.
The Apple Drop (2021)
You’ve talked about wanting to go back to a collaborative place with the new album, or maybe even more of a collaborative place than ever. What inspired that? Did you feel like you’d reached some kind of endpoint with the Liars records that you made by yourself?
ANGUS ANDREW: Yeah, in a very general sense, it’s a common thing to sort of bounce back and forth. Each record is sort of almost a direct reaction to the ones before. Like you said, the last couple of records were made almost entirely within the computer, by myself. I started to write demos for this record, after I had finished touring the previous record. And on that tour, I had been playing with a bunch of people in the band, and specifically these guys in Australia that I met who were super skilled musicians. I started writing demos, and then sort of immediately could imagine where those demos could go. But I was aware very early on that my limited capacity on my own was probably not going to be enough to see them get where I could imagine them going. I just was kind of yearning for that “back into the studio” kind of possibility of experimenting with acoustic space and stuff like that, which I hadn’t done in a while.
Did you have some kind of idea of what shape the music might take? Or was it really a blank slate kind of situation with these bandmates?
ANDREW: A blank slate. But I felt like I really just wanted to try and push the size and the sound of the music sort of larger than I had ever tried before. God, I just remember I took I took a trip somewhere and I forced myself to listen to Kanye, because I had never really gone in there. I listened to My Dark Twisted Fantasy, and I guess the main thing that I took away from that was just how big the ambition was to swing for the fences. I just really admired that. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to be able to make things. I felt like I should really just try and do something that is outsized and bigger than myself. When I when I started writing the demos, I could hear them going that way.
Are these musicians going to be the live version of Liars now for this album cycle? And do you intend to keep working with the same people for a little while? What’s the the near future look like?
ANDREW: Well, I mean, we just got told in Sydney that lockdown has been extended for another four weeks. So we’ve already been in lockdown for a month. We did some festivals here together. So yeah, they are playing with me on this new material and it’s really fun to play. Also, while I’m here and held hostage basically, we’ve organized to have another recording session of new material because they are really exciting musicians to play with. They are so skilled, and I just feel like while I have the chance to capture them, I should do it.
What makes these particular musicians so exciting?
ANDREW: They’re classically trained. They went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. They’ve been lifelong learners, playing with all sorts of people. I guess what’s exciting for me is any idea that I can imagine, there’s a way for them to help me execute it. I personally am not at a musical skill level that I’m able to realize all my ambitions, and I’ve never been in a position where I had those tools at my fingertips. That’s kind of what it feels like. I’ve often talked about making Liars records like I like to pick up new and interesting tools that I haven’t used before. And in a way I feel like working through these guys is like an incredible, new, and unique tool.
How’d you meet them?
ANDREW: It’s a bit of a convoluted thing. Basically, my manager also does… Oh, this is weird… He takes Pilates classes. And then he was in a class with someone in New York and talked to them about how I needed to find someone in Australia, which is strange, because I’m in Australia. But they connected me with Cameron, and then Cameron is childhood friends with Laurence the drummer. We came about that way. But, for me, they just feel like people I’ve known all my life. They’re so Australian, and it just feels like I’ve known them forever. So it makes it really easy.
You also worked with your wife on the lyrics. Is that the first time you’ve done that, or has she been part of your process for a while on that side?
ANDREW: No, that’s the first time I’ve done that. Really, the first time I’ve ever opened up to the idea of collaborating on lyrics with an outside person. For me, it’s just really helpful to get a broader perspective, and also super valuable to get a female perspective as well, which is obviously something I’ve never had. I had written the record, but then it wasn’t until she started to work on it with me that we began to see the record in a broader scope. When I was writing the record, I was imagining this inner psychological journey, reconnecting with ideas and reassessing things, but a very inward thing. Then when I started to work on it with her, we began to realize it more as this outward space journey. We began to try and craft the record more like a screenplay. That’s really where she came into it was this perspective and this idea of trying to move the listener through the record in a way that’s quite filmic, I guess.
Remixing A Song By His Wife, Mary Pearson Andrew (2014)
Back in 2014, you remixed one of the songs Mary released under the name 33. Is the experience of remixing different when you have a close personal relationship with the person like that? Did you have to tread more lightly?
ANDREW: I think up until this project, we’ve kept distance creatively. In terms of a remix, that is much easier when you aren’t in each other’s creative spaces as much. It’s definitely different now because she is also taking ownership of the results. I would say it’s much more difficult when you agree to work on something together. I think back then that idea of a remix, there’s a separation there. We actually agreed on that separation of creativity up until The Apple Drop, when we just kind of threw it all aside and jumped in bed together, so to speak. It’s not easy, because obviously we have a lot of respect for each other, but it’s difficult when you disagree. And it can feel personal when your creative tastes or ideals diverge. We’re still working on that.
Covering INXS’ Kick For Beck’s Record Club With St. Vincent & Os Mutantes (2010)
ANDREW: I remember there was a whole list of records that were being considered to cover. I had so much anxiety because [Beck] didn’t want to decide on the album until we got into the studio. That’s just not really the way I work. I had a lot of anxiety about it. Then we turn up at Sunset Sound, and I didn’t know who else was going to be there. So it’s Os Mutantes guy, who’s a shredder, and then Annie, who’s a shredder, and I was just like, “Oh, what do you want us to do here?” We started off the day just sitting around listening to these records, and I was pacing back and forth, like, “There’s just no way we’re gonna decide on a record and cover it. We need to get going right away.”
The INXS one was obviously one that I knew very well, and so I strong-armed it a little bit, just because I wanted it to land on that one so maybe I could have some chance of contributing in some way. It was weird. I turned up with a drum machine and I wasn’t sure how to contribute. I don’t think I’ve ever had the courage to go back and listen to those covers in fear of what I’ll hear. But it was a really fun experience. And of course he’s an amazing musician. The biggest takeaway was like, what is it like to stand in a room with amazing musicians? It’s intimidating.
How long was that whole process?
ANDREW: It was just a day.
Oh, you did the whole thing in a day?
ANDREW: Yeah. I think that was his whole concept, was to do it in a day. I think that’s why I was so anxious in the beginning. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to get through it all.
Yeah, you’re starting the day and you’re just sitting there listening to different records.
ANDREW: Yeah. Like, “Oh, cool. Let’s listen to this Cyndi Lauper record now.” And it’s like, oh my god.
Teaching Fall Out Boy How To Protect Their iTunes Library (2007)
One of the weirder Stereogum posts in our Liars archive is this incident in 2007 where you apparently were in some hotel in Tokyo with the band Architecture In Helsinki, and then you somehow ended up, like, finding out Fall Out Boy were at the hotel and they had their iTunes unprotected? Do you remember any of this? Basically the moral of this post was that you guys taught Fall Out Boy how to protect their demos so that people couldn’t just steal them off of the WiFi there.
ANDREW: Well, that’s that’s an interesting takeaway. That makes it out as if I’m somehow way more technically savvy than anyone else. I remember it was a weird incident of when — you know when you open up your computer and then sometimes you can see other people’s computer pop up in the sharing section? It’s almost like AirDropping or whatever. I remember clicking on it and finding all this iTunes music, which was just exciting in itself because before streaming you were trying to grab music any way you could come across it. That was probably the impetus for looking at it. I don’t know much about Fall Out Boy, but I do remember it caused a weird stir, because we had somehow come across the guitarist’s music and his solo work and then maybe I may have mistakenly implied that it was his solo work. And then I think he implied that it was just his work on Fall Out Boy or whatever. I don’t know. I saw them play at that festival that we were playing, and the thing that sticks in my mind the most was that it was like the first time I’d ever seen a band playing without cables connecting their guitars. And they were doing those spins that they do on stage, which I just was just like, “This is revolutionary.” That’s what I remember the most.
Scoring The Movie 1/1 (2018)
This was your first film score and the last thing that you and Aaron [Hemphill] did when he was still in the band. How did you get involved with that? How was the process different from making a typical Liars record?
ANDREW: We were called to a meeting with the director, Jeremy [Phillips]. He told us that he had written the script while he was listening to WIXIW. It was a no-brainer. We read the script on a flight. It’s just a heavy, heavy movie. So we both got off the flight and looked at each other like, “Oh, geez, this is gonna be intense.” But we had a tour set up where we were going to play Roskilde in Denmark. So we were able to set aside just two weeks where we got a house in Denmark and hunkered down and made that record. It’s just fun, really, when you just get to work with sound. I’m just as happy to make noise as I am a song, but I find making a song just that much more challenging in some way.
The only major thing that I remember from that is I went to a screening of that film in Los Angeles, and Judd Nelson came in with a backpack on. I just remember being so amazed by his presence. After the screening, I was in the bathroom and I hadn’t met him yet, and he came in. Then it was that awkward moment where you just washed your hands, so your hands are wet, and then you don’t want to shake hands. So we hugged, and I was just like, “Oh my god, I’m hugging Judd Nelson in a bathroom.” And I just felt so invigorated really by that. He’s a great, great guy, really passionate guy. He’s had such a strange and interesting career. It was great to be connected to him.
Remixing “Mr Your On Fire Mr” For The Saint Laurent Fashion Show (2013)
ANDREW: That was interesting. That came about because Dean Spunt from No Age’s wife works for Saint Laurent, or did at the time. So she set up a meeting where we went and met Hedi Slimane, probably at some fancy place in Silver Lake. We were just in awe of being at a table with him. He was talking about how he was really into punk and rock ‘n’ roll and these things, which was just a little ironic because it was at the stage where we are between WIXIW and Mess where we were just completely inside the computer, working with soft synths and stuff. The furthest thing from our mind at that moment was the aesthetic he was looking for, but it was a great opportunity. He asked about extending that song to some incredible amount of time, which was really what it is. It’s not really very remixed, it’s just an extension or something. It was really difficult to do only because that’s from our first record. There’s no files for that material. There’s no sort of separation of the instruments, etc. It was a little bit weird, for sure. I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to it since then. I can’t really even imagine what it sounds like.
I can’t either, because we had a post on it and it was on some SoundCloud account that’s since been since deleted. I don’t know what it sounds like.
ANDREW: It probably just sounds like that song being played 10 times over. I don’t know. It’s a pretty short song and then he wanted it for like 25 minutes. That was a challenge for sure.
Debut Album They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top And The Dance-Punk Era (2001)
What what do you remember from that time and the dance-punk scene you first emerged into?
ANDREW: At the time, it was very difficult to stomach the idea of being so easily pigeonholed. That was just the general sense from putting out the first record that I got was like, “Wow, people really like to tell you who you are,” and I just never really wanted to be so easily defined. I never wanted to be part of a scene or anything. I just was totally opposed to everything. I had sort of moved to New Jersey to get away from all of it. When I look back now, I am super grateful and more understanding of how lucky we were to be in New York at that time. It was a really, really special time. I think it had something to do with 9/11. I felt like, at the time, I just couldn’t put down a pen because it felt like it was so important to speak, and the world was looking at New York. I think that’s possibly a big reason why there was sort of a New York revival then. I don’t know if many people like connect that with 9/11. But unfortunately, I think there is something to be said about that.
Most of all, I just imagine all the great music that was happening then that you don’t hear much about now. We were sharing a studio space with Black Dice and they were working on Beaches And Canyons. I just remember going into the rehearsal space and seeing like a whiteboard with this flowchart of the music. I just had never considered how you could think about music in that way. That was great, really inspiring. And the Twisted Ones were a big deal. They were people who were putting on these loft warehouse shows, which is really where we got our start. We didn’t get to play in Manhattan much, it was mostly just in these spaces. It’s a little bit forgotten, the other side of it, I suppose, when there were so many super successful bands out of New York at that time.
Backlash To Sophomore Album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004)
You were talking about not wanting to be a part of a scene or easily pigeonholed. With the second Liars album, you successfully avoided all that. I remember at the time, as a college kid who was reading Pitchfork and lots of record reviews, that people reacted really negatively to that album. Is that the impression that you had at the time? Or were people giving it a warmer reception than I was seeing on the internet?
ANDREW: No, no, no, absolutely. We heard straight away that it was like the lowest score that Rolling Stone was able to give it or something like that. But yeah, we heard a lot of positive things. I remember feeling as an artist that this was the goal, that you were supposed to polarize people’s opinions of the work because that meant that people were talking about it or arguing about it. To me, that was a huge success in that way. It was a fun record to make. It was a crazy time, because we made that record when I was living with Dave Sitek and Karen [O] in New Jersey in a house and we built out the basement. It was cool because the TV On The Radio guys were working on their record. I don’t know what it was called at that time.
It was a really interesting time. I remember talking to Tunde about lyrics. He was just sort of in a position where he was like, “Oh, I don’t know what this is gonna be about,” and I had already stumbled on this whole folklore, witch idea, and it was such a deep well of content to write about. I remember talking to him about it, like, “You just got to find something like that and then just go all the way into it.” For some reason, I always think about that, when I talk about lyric writing. Find something that you can really dive into and then everything will just sort of fall into place. Which it did for that record.
The “Scissor” Video (2010)
ANDREW: Yeah, that was intense man. Around that period in time I was going through back problems. I had some troubles with that. I was not having a great back day when we were set up to shoot that, which was shot off the coast of Los Angeles in the winter. I remember one idea I had to try and help myself in that context was to cover my body with VapoRub, and then put a wetsuit on top, but it was weird. When you get out in the cold somehow the VapoRub actually can kind of magnify the cold more than it heats you. I was in quite a lot of discomfort shooting that thing, but I guess it’s part of the performance in a way. I just was enthralled, really, by the concept of the video, because it involved water. I love the idea of something below the water, in context with Sisterworld, because we were trying to look at the other side of Los Angeles that people don’t usually talk about. For me, the ocean was a really good metaphor for that.
The stuff that comes flying at you, was a lot of that computerized? Did you have projectiles actually coming at you?
ANDREW: A whole bunch of the rocks were actually made out of Styrofoam. We were able to throw them around and fill the boat with them and things like that. It was a really, really elaborate shoot. Almost one of the most elaborate, but we’ve just done one recently, which is probably more. I really loved how that turned out. I still talk to people these days who who bring that video up.
Touring With Radiohead (2008) And Thom Yorke Remixing “Proud Evolution” (2010)
ANDREW: It was a really great opportunity to go on tour with them. We had never done a sort of cushy support situation where we were playing stadiums before, so it was really enticing in that way. I do remember it just being a complete car crash for us in terms of the performances. We were just the kind of band that encouraged things going wrong and breaking things, and I guess that doesn’t translate so well when you’re in an outdoor amphitheater in North Carolina or whatever. It felt like a lot was lost in translation in terms of what we were able to put forward. I think just as valuable was being able to watch them perform as a band, which was really interesting.
I do remember that I, for some reason, turned up to that tour with like a rainbow strap on my guitar. They were touring In Rainbows, and there was a constant running joke with them about that strap of mine and how I should give it to Thom, etc. But that was kind of dorky. Yeah, it was cool. He remixed a song. It was funny though. He named it “500 Quid Remix,” because that was the most that we could afford to pay him. And I found that pretty interesting, that even now it’s still called that, which is a little weird. It’s very nice for anyone to appreciate your work. So I’m grateful for that.
A Liars Poster Appearing On Julie Taylor’s Bedroom Wall On Friday Night Lights (2007)
ANDREW: As far as I know there probably isn’t a more random intersection of Liars and mainstream culture. It just didn’t make sense seeing our poster in the coach’s daughter’s bedroom. I mean, maybe Tyra would listen to Liars, but Julie’s a bit of a stretch.
Tyler, The Creator Samples “Leather Prowler” On Odd Future’s Radical (2010)
ANDREW: This was pretty exciting when it happened — ancient history, really, in relation to how much music consumption has changed — but I remember people getting upset about it, writing to us, asking how could we allow this to happen? What? We were stoked. At the time Odd Future were still pretty unknown outside LA, but the idea of somebody adopting our music and repurposing it was so punk, I just loved it. Especially because it wasn’t just a sample of the beat on loop. Instead the new vocals were recorded right over the original ones, making it feel just that much more intense.
Covering Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” For Mojo(2012)
ANDREW: I forgot that.
What was the deal with that? How did that come about?
ANDREW: Oh, God. I don’t know. I mean, it would have been a specific Fleetwood Mac thing because I certainly don’t think we would have just picked that song out of the out of thin air. I’m sure it was part of some compilation that was all Fleetwood Mac covers and I guess we signed on for that. But yeah, gosh, I had totally forgotten about that. But we’ve done some other covers in our time, like I remember we worked pretty hard on a Doors cover of “The Soft Parade,” which we did around the Drowned record, the second record, which is funny because I was super into the Doors then. I was trying to channel Ray Manzarek and I bought a Fender bass keyboard, which I wrote a lot of songs on for the next few records. Always been super into the Doors. What else did we do? We did a “Sex Boy” cover, the Germs song. We did a Bauhaus Flat Field song. Covers are fun.
We once posted a news item about some Duran Duran tribute comp for which you were supposedly going to cover “Ordinary World.” But I’ve looked up the comp on streaming and it looks like maybe your cover is not on it after all?
ANDREW: I guess it just never happened. There was a point where they were talking about us doing that with Grace Jones and I was like, “Oh my god, this is gonna be so cool.” But it just never eventuated. I don’t know. We never made it. But I am a fan of Duran Duran so I would have made that song.
Covering “Army Of Me” For Stereogum’s Björk Tribute Album Enjoyed
ANDREW: Super fun. Yeah, that’s actually how I kind of met my wife, sort of. She did a cover on that compilation. It was the first time I became aware of her music, by listening to that cover. We actually ended up meeting in Austria on tour, but that was where I first heard of her. But Björk is probably top whatever number of my favorite artists, and so to be able to do that and to imagine the possibility of her hearing it was just so exciting. But I have not heard that in a long time. I wonder what I would feel about it now. But yeah, really, really great record. Great music.
Collabs With Xiu Xiu And Gone To Color (2021)
You have a song with this group Gone To Color on their new record. It seems like it’s these these two producer guys. How did you get linked up with them?
ANDREW: I don’t know. They just contacted me. But is that out?
I don’t think your song is out, but they’ve been like releasing singles, doing the rollout.
ANDREW: Wow. I feel like I worked on that years ago. Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like they just contacted me and asked if I would sing I’m not sure what I did.
You sing on it, yes. It’s called “Suicide.”
ANDREW: Yeah. Intense, man. I’m not super familiar with them either. I just heard from them. They asked if I would do something and I did it and then I didn’t hear really anything from them since.
Well, I guess the record’s coming out. They released a song with the Ade Blackburn from Clinic and with Carson Cox from Merchandise and someone from the Luyas. It was one of those kinds of records where they have a different guest on every song.
ANDREW: Yeah, I did that Xiu Xiu one [“Rumpus Room”] more recently. That was cool. I did something with !!! and Holy Fuck, as well. I’ve done a few of these guest spot sort of things which is just always super fun and easy when you’re not responsible for the results. [Laughs]
The Apple Drop is out 8/6 on Mute.