Organised Chaos

28 May 2014 | 11:08 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"I mean we are a band that values the accident above all…"

More Liars More Liars

"Take my pants off/Use my socks/Smell my socks/Eat my face off…” so commences the lyrical content of Mask Maker, before wobbly keys, smashing percussion and a mind-erasing sound take hold – quite an arresting opener from Liars' latest, Mess (album number seven). When “use my socks” is isolated for discussion, complete with the images of sock puppets that quickly follow, Aaron Hemphill (percussion, guitar, synth) cautions, “Ah, I don't know if that's – well, okay. If that's what you heard, yeah!” Oh, what does it say then? “I'm not really gonna tell you. That's cool, yeah.”  Oh-kay, cue embarrassment. “No!” Hemphill insists, warmly. “Any interpretation is fine, you know. I think that's why I don't feel compelled to tell you what it really is, because I think what you think it is is pretty real, you know?”

The Mess cover artwork features strands of wool in an assortment of neon colours, oozing from a loom/imaginary scalp. Has Hemphill seen Barbershop Play-Doh? “Yeah, definitely!” he enthuses, before admitting that although he didn't have Play-Doh as a child, “[He] was quite envious of people that had it”.

To help spread the Mess message, Liars got involved with some street installations throughout California and unsuspecting drivers witnessed already existing billboards partly obscured by jumbles of giant, colourful neon 'wool' during their commutes. It must be pretty hard to get council approval for such things. “Oh, yeah, we didn't get council approval so I don't know how much we oughta talk about this,” Hemphill confesses. There's photographic proof online and they look mad. “Oh, thank you. I'm glad you liked it,” Hemphill enthuses. 

There are some unidentifiable crunchy sounds that open Darkslide and Liars' sonic innovation suggests they welcome happy (studio) accidents. “Certainly,” Hemphill allows. “I mean we are a band that values the accident above all… and I could be some kind of pretentious guy and talk about the art of being a pure gesture and stuff, but [an accident is] something that you can't plan for, and it's something that you couldn't have thought of before, so it often tends to be a direction you wouldn't have thought you would go [in], or want to go [in]. So it's something that's important to follow and stress, and highlight in that regard, you know? We think so.”

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You'd almost wanna be recording everything in that case, because sometimes when something doesn't go to plan, or catches you by surprise, it's difficult to replicate. “I mean, there's been a lot of things that are very hard to replicate and they often tend to become quite precious but, I think if you're open, if you can keep your ears open to the accidents, it means you're open to incorporating things that you didn't necessarily plan for… You can't go into wanting to write a certain record, you just have to follow certain things that you do have control of, whether it be, like, what tools you're using currently, or following the mood that you're in, or the editing process. But, really, it's impossible for us to be like, 'Oh, we're listening to this band so we wanna sound like that band,' and I don't even know whether we have the ability to do that if we wanted to.”

Having officially fallen in love with Liars (and Savages) at Primavera Sound Barcelona 2013 (show-off alert), this scribe wonders whether the band previewed any of the tracks from Mess at this festival. “Yeah, yeah, we played about half of it,” Hemphill confirms. “That's one thing we haven't been able to indulge in since [third album] Drum's Not Dead, because we [usually] allocate time to write a record in one sort of sitting, whereas with Mess we just wrote it so quickly that we actually had a few shows to do and we decided to test it out on the road.” Did the band find it challenging to play new material, concentrating on technique while simultaneously paying attention to how the audience reacted? “We don't make decisions with the audience in mind,” Hemphill admits, “and I know that sounds very selfish, but, to us, we think that that's the best way to stay true to what we do: to just make decisions based on what we think, you know?... I hate to constantly say that, but I don't know what the audience does at our shows. I don't know if they listen – yeah, I hope so, but I'm not sure. I would assume so.

“You never know with a live show if people respond more to one song because it's just that moment. I mean, we never felt it a good idea to sort of take what the audience's reaction is for granted, whether that be positive or negative. So therefore it doesn't come into our heads. We just sorta do our thing… I think it's quite better to just focus on what you're doing and it creates a better work ethic than assuming you know the audience.”

Liars tend to change up their sound from album to album, even from track to track. “We know it's kind of demanding to ask of people that we change,” Hemphill muses, “but we put more continuity through our albums than maybe some people might think. We just really change the tools that we use, but we see that it can be difficult for people to constantly have to be bombarded with the different styles on a record. I think it's really important for us to underline that things are temporary, like, you know, especially in the art of music – that things are moving and living and that, if you enjoy something, you need to take part in that while it's around and not expect it to be some sort of consistent product that is always the same. Music and art isn't Levi's 501s, you know – you can't buy them 20 years from now and have it be the same and, if you could, I don't think it would be very exciting, personally. So I think that's just really what we try to live by.”