Sep 21, 2017
Follow My Footsteps: Liars, Back in Brooklyn
On the cover of the latest Liars record, TFCF, Angus Andrew sits alone in a wedding dress, looking like he left himself at the altar, and just in the nick of time. The sort of silly, semi-sinister image makes fine thematic sense. It fronts the first record in the band’s 17-year art-pop career made without the help of founding member Aaron Hemphill, or anyone other than Angus. Wanderlust—sonic, geographic, personal—has come to define Andrew’s songwriting and creative process so far. He left home to start a band, left New York to redefine it. “I just kind of liked the idea of being a bit of an alien,” he notes. “I’ve felt like that a lot since moving everywhere from Australia, you know?”
“Every record has been a Liars record because it feels like a record I would make. That’s why I never thought I could make a solo record,” says Andrew. “Because it’d just be a Liars record.” It happens to be a very good one, like the previous seven. The solitude shows up aesthetically in the record’s still, pastoral samples, its uncharacteristic bits of cut-up acoustic guitar. It’s the first time Angus has recorded in his native country, in an isolated home where he needs to pull up the boat to make a grocery run. But as different as it feels from the band’s previous work, an essential quality remains. Album highlight, “Cred Woes”, makes a career-level banger out of a mid-career crack-up, fretting over legacy and reputation, in the bright eyes of an indifferent new wave who were “all upper management in their teens.” In that one moment, at least, the album finds a bit of thrilling bravado. “To all the kids who are calling me out, they should follow my footsteps instead of foolin’ around!,” he belts in the song. It confirms Andrew’s suspicion that whatever intangible thing he’s been bringing to material of intense creative restlessness, that’s the thing that’s always been “Liars.” Wherever he goes, he’s there.
While in town to rehearse with his touring band, twin brothers Blaze and Reid Bateh of Brooklyn rock heroes Bambara, Andrew took us to visit a few key ghosts of his early days in Williamsburg. (The tour reaches Greenpoint’s Warsaw for a must-see show tonight.) Between deceased dive bars that now house Equinox outposts and high-rise condos that were, quite recently, nothing at all, we chatted about Liars’ formative days in the early 2000s Brooklyn wild, and how far away that seems now. “I really do feel like a tourist here,” he says. “That’s fine. You know? I mean, I am. And it’s easier, because New Yorkers really have a strict policy of how to go about their day. I turn up my Australian accent, ‘Is a MetroCard supposed to work? I dunno!’”
Angus pops up just sparingly in Lizzy Goodman’s blockbuster ‘00s rock history, Meet Me in the Bathroom, a frustration for long-time fans and scene veterans who still count Liars as the coolest band of that era, and among the most exciting New York City has ever produced. He’s mentioned mainly as Karen O’s hulking boyfriend, and a Williamsburg art-weirdo in contrast to the glamorous coke bros of the Lower East Side. But how can you hear tell of a “Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, but Australian,” occupying the margins of the story, and not crave a deeper dive into that dude’s experience? So, we asked him.
“I just think I never planned on being a New York band, it just happened that we were here at that time. It was great, you know, certainly,” says Andrew.
“I owe everything to that moment.”
Loft (Metropolitan Ave. and Union St.)
“Aaron and I moved here from L.A. in ’99 and everything changed pretty quickly. [We were living in a loft with] a whole bunch of different characters. All friends of mine, but from different walks of life. A loft where the freight elevator goes into it, but something crazy, like $8000 bucks a month, split between eight people. We’re really all trying to make it work, but not being able to pay the heating. The guy who put it together was a used car salesman, that worked in New Jersey, but was into the idea of living here. He was Australian and he had moved over here.
I remember being on the rooftop on Y2K, and looking out over New York and imagining. Everything was supposed to go dark. We were disappointed. We’d just moved from L.A. And so it was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to be here for this big momentous event!’
Eventually, we were.”
“When we were recording down there, we would hang out on the boulders. We put up signs around here that said ‘need a drummer and a bass player.’ Physical signs, that said, you know, you got to put your influences on there! So it probably said, ‘Joy Division.’ [Pat Noecker, bass, and Ron Albertson, drums] were the first two people who called up.
The drummer at the time was 40, we were youngin’s. But he was crazy. He was just like hanging out where he would do these sort of balancing tricks on the boulders down there, just like a kid. So, so inspiring, really. I titled the first song “Grown Men Don’t Fall in the River Just Like That.”
Coyote Studios (Now Urban Outfitters)
“The first record was recorded in two days. And that seemed like aaaaample time. The second day was like, ‘Yeah, let’s just freak out.’ We were a live band. We had played so many times around New York. One of the biggest critiques I had of what we were doing was…’It sounds way too clean. Way too polished.’
At the time a record deal was more like ‘We’ll buy you a van so you can keep touring.’ And you were like, ‘Yeah!’ Like 5 grand for a van, or something like that. We didn’t go with that…a lot of our friends did though. The idea was they just wanted to keep you going. We said no and then kept on touring back from Seattle. Our last show of that tour, which was at Brownies, was when we got a call from Mute (Records).
So many of the bands that I grew up here with…we all signed all different things. The experiences I heard from them, the things I know they went through, it ended them. For different reasons. But certainly on the bigger, more commercial labels you couldn’t have done what we did and have them say it was cool. The second record we made was basically taking a big shit on the first record, and I remember playing it to Daniel Miller who runs Mute, and he said ‘Maybe…just turn the vocals up a little bit?’ That’s been the case the whole time. I’ve just thrown curveballs at him, and he always just been like, ‘Awesome.’
If we had signed the Sub Pop deal…not to badmouth Sub Pop, it’d have been great I’m sure. The longevity has been thanks to Mute.”
“Is it the same sort of food, now?
I literally remember sitting in Kellogg’s Diner, we’d just signed our first deal with Mute and it was for five records. I remember saying, ‘Man, the fifth record’s gonna be a Christmas album?’ You know? I could not project.
And now it still just feels like each record is…‘Is this still possible?’ Somehow it is.”
Photos by Devon Banks
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