February 5, 2008

Liars ’fess up about punk rock, Pro Tools

Originally part of the dance-punk scene in New York, Australian-born Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross form the stylistically shifting band Liars. Reinventing their sound with each album, Liars have set the example for dynamic and experimental indie rock, while also transferring their studio aura to live shows. I was able to talk to Hemphill a few days ago about his recording process and the special approach to music videos for their most recent self-titled album:

Yusuf Siddiquee: So, what was your moment—how did you start making music?

Aaron Hemphill: For a long time I didn’t think about being in band. I started guitar when I was 11 years old. We saw a punk band named FYP in LA and they were amazing; I listened to a lot of punk rock. My older brother kind of raised me. He was into goth and punk, and that’s what I grew up on. Right before the second album, we played with Julian [Gross] in LA and he joined at an interesting time. We didn’t know how we wanted the band to function.

YS: Tell me about the differences among your four albums. What were the inspirations like?

AH: Angus [Andrew] grew up in Australia, listening to Snap and C+C [Music Factory]. He hadn’t heard anything that was not on a major label. Here with punk or anything, anybody has the ability to make a record. I took it for granted that people put out stuff themselves.

The common reason the albums are so different is that we generally get tired of a style. There’s so much emphasis on a record based on that style or sound. It’s a very natural progression, I think. To us, the albums sound pretty similar. With the fourth record, we made more traditional songs and made them clearer, but they are always constructed with the same technique. Angus and I always write songs separately on a 4-track or Pro Tools; we’ve always lived far away. We make finished songs and then trade, add vocals or guitar or whatever. Less than 30 percent of the music comes from actually playing as a band.

YS: Do you feel that you can represent your studio work on stage in a fulfilling way?

AH: Yeah we’re satisfied with our live shows and how it differs. The more different, the better; it shouldn’t be the same as the album.

YS: Do you guys have jobs?

AH: Julian designs various things for other bands, while me and Angus work on Liars or other musical projects. We’re always four steps ahead and keeping it moving; can’t survive off of reserve cash so we gotta keep working. Liars isn’t a side project, although for some that’s what bands are. As long as we have stuff we want to make together, you can’t put a timeline on [being together], it’s based on feeling. We put stuff out where no one else is providing, and we do what makes us happy.

YS: I’ve heard a lot about the video for your song, “Plaster Casts.” Explain the process this time around.

AH: With this record we wanted other people to make videos. You make a record and get friends to make stuff for you. As long as you pick the person out of good reason, it’s fine. We wanted to get someone to forget about what we think, and our friend, Patrick Daughers, got so excited. We all had a great time doing it, especially Patrick, since he usually does menial stuff. It was all him; [it] had nothing to do with us.

YS: Your second album received some harsh criticism. Do you ever agree with the naysayers?

AH: Yeah, there’s tons of bad reviews I see that talk about something that one of us maybe felt we could improve. It’s rare, but it sort of helps me know reviewers listen and that there is a listening process. It’s just one person’s opinion. That’s fine if people think our music is just a bunch of noise. A lot of bands I hated when I was a kid I later loved. I don’t wanna get into people’s business and tell them to try it again. It’s an experience you should have yourself; you know, six months later if you like it, great!

Liars will play the Metro on February 15 at 7:30 p.m.