Liars are a band that has always struggled to stay loyal to any particular sound for very long. The one-time-punk, one-time-noise rockers have now decided to take on their most dramatic shift with the release of WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”), their sixth, and strangest, record to date.
I spoke with Aaron Hemphill, guitarist and sound-creator extraordinaire for Liars, about his band’s latest record. He talked with me about how the sounds on WIXIW were created, the struggle to stay sane, his thoughts on dissonance, and the challenges of playing live.
“The truth is, we didn’t try to force anything. We didn’t go into the studio one day wanting to make this record specifically, we just wanted to see what we could do with some new sounds.”
The first thing I noticed after listening to WIXIW for the first time was the sounds. The songs on WIXIW aren’t as much the focus as they are vehicles for Liars’ sonic experimentation. Each of WIXIW’s eleven tracks communicates something unique that is unlike anything on a rock album I have ever heard.
But then, WIXIW isn’t really a rock album at all. Liars have made some changes, and created their most electronic album, one that wears its musical exploration on its sleeve. I asked Aaron if the album’s direction was a collective decision.
“It was certainly a collective process. Me and Angus (vocalist) worked out some initial ideas ourselves, but once you get going, it really takes everyone to get it done. The album took a lot out of us.”
Tonally, WIXIW is tense and dissonant throughout, wafting hints of an implacable dread. The title track especially seems to encapsulate a very intense mood, and I wondered if this came from a personal place.
“Like I said before, we didn’t try to force anything. I could get into a discussion about tonality and dissonance if you wanted, but it wouldn’t necessarily apply to how we made this album. On the title track, we had that keyboard line, and it grew from there but it was really influenced by the way we were all feeling at that time. WIXIW was one of the hardest songs we’ve ever made, and I wish I could write another song like it, and I’ve tried, but I think WIXIW was a product of the state we were in at the time.”
The band’s struggle is evident in almost every track, where it is easy to imagine every sound having been squeezed out of a marathon compositional stress session.
“Sometimes we’d be working on a song for a long time, and then all of a sudden it would be done, and I couldn’t tell you how we made it. I don’t even know how some of those songs got done in the state we were in.”
To me, some songs seemed to hold more than just the sounds of struggle. The sounds on the album aren’t just one, but many, and each carries its own distinct textures. My second time through the album, the Middle-Eastern feel of Octagon and Flood to Flood surprised me.
“It’s interesting to hear what other people notice in the songs, but we were just experimenting and trying to create our own sounds. We weren’t listening to anything and trying to incorporate it into our music.”
It’s easy to imagine that all of the sounds on WIXIW are digital creations, but some of them sound truly unique. I asked Aaron if they did make all of their sounds digitally, or if they ever tried experimenting with something more organic to make some of the weirder sounds, like hitting bells underwater or something.
“It was a mix of both. Lots of it was done electronically, but we spent a long time making some really cool organic sounds. We tried miking a light bulb for instance.”
Liars had just returned from touring Europe when I spoke to Aaron, and were about to embark on a tour of the east coast. I wondered if the weirdness of the songs on WIXIW presented any unique challenges for playing live.
“Very unique challenges, yeah. It’s basically like writing the record all over again, working it out live. We are working with a ton of equipment we’re not used to working with. We made sure we didn’t have to use anyone but the three of us on stage though. We don’t have anyone else playing with us to get it to work.”
Liars last album, Sisterworld, was a popular one both for listeners and among other artists. It garnered a lot of remixes, and was eventually re-released with every track remixed by artists like the Melvins and Thom Yorke. The electronic nature of WIXIW led me to wonder if there is a chance of something similar happening with it.
“There actually already are remixes for No. 1 Against the Rush. We were going for something a bit different with Sisterworld, and want to go for a more traditional approach to remixes with WIXIW, although something like that isn’t out of the question.”
Of course, I had to ask: If they did release a remix album for WIXIW, would it be called MIXIW?
Liars have released music in so many different styles – with WIXIW being their most extreme experiment yet – I was curious to know if Aaron felt like there was anything left for the band to explore musically that they haven’t yet had the chance to.
“Tons of stuff, but we’re not like, “Oh we should go do a country album next”. It has to happen organically, but we are always driven to experiment with new instruments and sounds.”
WIXIW is a dense album that is not something I would label “easy listening”. But Liars latest record also offers so many reasons to come back and reevaluate it over and over, it simply must be recommended. WIXIW may seem like nothing but dark electro-angst at first, but like a true liar, after you’ve been around it long enough you’ll be able to see it for what it really is. WIXIW is about getting through tension, and it’s an album that forces you to do just that.
You can buy WIXIW now, and can see Liars live at the Biltmore on July 9.