In what will no doubt come as a shock to four out of five BrooklynVegan subscribers, Angus Andrew got to know Los Angeles long before relocating there with Liars in 2009.
“When I was younger—I think it was in '97—I went to an art-school here in California called CalArts,” says the groggy but charming Australia-raised singer, on the line from his home in L.A.'s Highland Park neighbourhood. “It's just a little bit north of L.A., and I spent almost two years there. It certainly gave me a taste of what life in L.A. was.”
It was at CalArts that Andrew would meet born-and-raised Californians Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross, this connection turning him onto the idea of making music. Andrew and Hemphill would do just that, relocating to New York, forming Liars, and becoming key players in a much-hyped, new-millennium NYC explosion that also gave us the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV on the Radio.
Flash forward a decade and Liars today have, arguably, proven the most consistently interesting of all those bands. Consider the way 2004's dementedly art-damaged They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (which found Gross behind the drum kit) abandoned the spastic dance punk that first made Liars with-a-bullet contenders in New York. Or how 2006's Drum's Not Dead played out like a user-unfriendly answer to PiL's percussion-powered oddity The Flowers of Romance.
Liars' latest, Sisterworld, continues the dramatic shape-shifting. This time out, the ever-evolving unit pulled a true shocker by turning in its most accessible record to date. If, that is, your idea of accessible is the way that “Here Comes All the People” starts out all art-jazz angularity before exploding into a blaze of sawing strings. Or the way that “I Can Still See an Outside World” fuses L.A. art-core with DIY glitch electronica. Or the way that “Proud Evolution” updates the exhilarating tribal postpunk of '80s pioneers Shriekback.
Sisterworld is also, in its own subversive way, the band's most surprising record. Even though Andrew spent the latter half of last decade living in Berlin, the perception of Liars is that they are still more Williamsburg than trucker hats and ironically worn '70s gym wear. Forget Brooklyn, though; Sisterworld is an atmosphere-drenched, creeped-out postcard to the city that Hollywood built.
“The imagery of Los Angeles that's propelled around the world is this kind of glamour or beauty, which is only a very small percentage of what goes on here,” Andrew says.
Indeed, the album unfolds in the same spirit as David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. or Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, both of which strip away the glitz and glitter of Hollywood to focus on the desperation and dashed dreams behind the faí§ade. Having been isolated in Berlin for the latter half of the last decade, Andrew arrived back in L.A. with a dream, only to find, like so many others before him, that dreams don't always come true.
“One of the first songs I wrote didn't make it on the record because it was, for me, a little too literal,” he says. “It was about a person from out east coming to L.A., succumbing to the dream, the gold rush if you will. Dropping everything to try and make it out west. That idea really stuck with me. And I like that the idea still reverberates where you can come out to Hollywood and become a star. I like to think about how many people still migrate to Los Angeles in an attempt to fulfill their long-life dreams and obviously don't make it. There's a massive pool of rejected people, bigger than anywhere in the world.”
That tension is all over Sisterworld, a record that suggests, a decade into things, Liars are only just getting started. What bodes well for the band's next album is that Andrew and company have decided to make L.A. their permanent home. And inspiration, as Sisterworld's piano-and-percussion-powered nightmare “Drip” proves, is often right in front of them.
“I was working on that song in a studio space that's in a pretty rough area of town,” Andrew relates. “It was meant as a soundscape to capture the space that I was in. It was like a womb where, right outside my door, I could see people die. I could come inside the space, lock the doors, and feel comfortable.”
Or, more accurately, as comfortable as one can feel in L.A.
Liars play Venue on Friday (April 30).