WIXIW Were Here

31 July 2012 | 2:38 pm | Brendan Telford

"We felt that we had to be adamant about how we felt the word should be interpreted because we hadn’t created it to be obtuse. A lot of time could be wasted through misinterpretation, which isn’t the point here."

More Liars More Liars

The arrival of a new Liars record is always met with a heady mixture of anticipation and anxiety. The three-piece – frontman Angus Andrew, guitarist Aaron Hemphill and drummer Julian Gross – consistently offers vastly different sonic soundscapes, rarely traversing the same musical territory twice. Yet an approach that could alienate has proven to be their ingenious calling card, as each album becomes a microcosm that stands alone from its counterparts; an exemplary, stand-alone product in and of itself. This modus operandi hasn't changed with their latest record, WIXIW (pronounced wish you), the palindromic title coming from a rushed, makeshift title by Hemphill for what became the title track. Andrew feels that rather than being particularly obtuse, WIXIW provides a multi-layered reading that perfectly encapsulates the internal thematic nature of the album.

“On the most basic, visual level, I found it hard to get (WIXIW) out of my head,” Andrew explains. “It was such a visually striking set of letters strung together. But the fact that it is a palindrome in some ways is even more important. I like the idea of starting off at a given point and ending up in the same place. In many circles this is deemed a negative thing, this idea of ending back at square one. But in terms of making a record, or any creative process, I think that it is a really positive and reassuring result. But also, the word when pronounced as 'wish you' is open-ended; it can move in a multitude of directions. The way you could finish off that phrase could be vastly different – 'I wish you were here' as opposed to 'I wish you would leave', for example. Having a word that holds such contradiction in its usage holds great power, and I think that many of the songs on the album mirror that – they ask for one thing, but really want another.”

The band has gone to great lengths to ensure that the public understand the pronunciation of WIXIW, which seems like yet another contradiction for a band that seems to revel in confounding their audience. Andrew insists that the knowledge of the word is just as important as its mystery.

“We felt that we had to be adamant about how we felt the word should be interpreted because we hadn't created it to be obtuse. A lot of time could be wasted through misinterpretation, which isn't the point here. We felt that it was more powerful by letting everyone know that it was actually a common and universal phrase. The spelling then informs itself – it's done in such a fucked up way that it's telling about how we go about creating our records. There are moments when we feel there is something simple in what we are trying to convey, yet it invariably becomes shrouded in a lot of confusion.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

That said, WIXIW is still a confronting listen for a band whose only predictability is in their unpredictability. Prominently foregoing guitars, the trio rely heavily on electronics, samples and effects to create their tense and intimidating aural world, with nary a note of angular angst in sight. This sinuous evolution and invention of the Liars aesthetic can be equally freeing and restrictive.

“I feel that we are incredibly lucky to be able to defy categorisation,” Andrew opines. “Yet when the only thing that people expect from you is the unexpected, it becomes in itself a challenging prospect to live up to. People get excited about what ways we will approach things next, but I don't think we have made that into any kind of formula. In fact, there are moments where we as a band feel like we have attacked similar notions and concepts across a few albums, but other people approach it from a different angle and it changes for them. I guess that is almost a genre in itself.”

The new focus on synthetic musicality on WIXIW led to a number of changes, one of which saw Andrew collaborating on songwriting duties with Hemphill. Notably an insular person, especially when it comes to constructing creatively, Andrew admits that it was incredibly difficult to alter his process.

“I have been used to the process of being able to work on my own, to go off and work on your ideas until you feel like you're at a point where you're confident enough to bring them to the rest of the group, for as long as I've been writing songs. When you work in a collaborative situation you have to give up that opportunity of gaining confidence on your own. I went through a process of heightened anxiety because of that uncertainty. I found it hard, but I also found it a different kind of rewarding experience because I felt like we had all agreed on every single detail within the process of making the record.”

Such challenges were further exacerbated by foregoing the musical instrumentation that the trio were familiar with and delving into the electronic world. Whilst much of the process involved exploration through trial and error, there was nothing accidental with the end result.

“One of the goals from the onset was to veer away from the way we had mostly recorded in the past, what you would call a demo kind of way, which we would then take into a studio and get engineers and basically recreate what was there. We have always felt that there is something being lost in translation during that process, because although these people are amazing and gifted at what they do, we ultimately are left out of that process. There is a magic that's created when you first make or discover a sound that is near impossible to find again the second time around. By working with computers we knew we could create a self-contained world that was ours alone. That was the first impetus, but it evolved as we grew more excited with the notion of experimenting with new sonic landscapes where instruments and the ways to play instruments were constructed in ways we never knew existed.”

In the end, all of these elements coalesced into an album of a personal nature, both thematically and lyrically. Andrew asserts that there was nothing predetermined when it came to the songwriting process, despite the deliberate nature of past records.

“Normally we start out the album making process with a discussion about what concept or theme will inform the record. More often than most it's an objective subject matter like Los Angeles or witch trials, yet in those instances we're projecting our personal feelings on these things as a way to talk about them and ourselves. With WIXIW, the decision was to focus on the process of making the records as the subject matter. I didn't realise it at the time, but this was effectively like holding up a mirror to ourselves and the result was a much more introspective and personal record that we've ever made. Very scary.”