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Members include Ron Albertson (born in Omaha, NE; left group, 2000), drums; Angus Andrew (born in Australia), vocals; Julian Gross (joined group, 2003), multi-instrumentalist; Aaron Hemphill, guitar, drum machine; Pat Noecker (born in Omaha, NE; left group, 2002), bass. Addresses: Record company--Mute Records, 429 Harrow Rd., London W10 4RE England, website: http://www.mute.com. Booking--The Billions Corporation, 833 W. Chicago Ave. Ste. 101, Chicago, IL 60622-5497, website: http://www.billions.com. Website--Liars Official Website: http://www.liarsliarsliars.com/.
Bubbling up from the same Brooklyn underground that produced the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Radio 4, Williamsburg's Liars came together in New York from different parts of the world to create an eclectic blend of ferocious post-punk and arty psyche-folk that can ignite a dance floor just as easily as it can perplex and often alienate. With a cannon of EPs, two full-length albums (one purely tough and danceable, the other a concept album about witchcraft), and some affecting lineup changes to their credit, Liars have proven to be anything but predictable.
The band got its start in November of 2000, when Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew, two former Cal Art students from Los Angeles (Andrew originally hailed from Australia), relocated to New York for a fresh start. Plopping down in the growing artists' community of Brooklyn called Williamsburg, Hemphill and Andrew began working out minimalist ideas for songs, recording bits and pieces on a four-track, amassing a collection of 30 or so songs. Both artist/musicians, however, were yearning to start a "real band," and began scouring the papers and record store postings for anybody looking to start a group. They finally decided to put up a "musicians wanted" add at a local record store, which was answered by bassist Pat Noecker (also known as Pat Nature) and drummer Ron Albertson, two transplants of Lincoln, Nebraska, who had done time in various bands in the midwest. The four began rehearsing, with the tall-and-lanky Andrew cast as vocalist and Hemphill on guitar and drum machine programming. Once the band solidified their lineup, Noecker and Albertson started learning a collection of songs first written by Hemphill and Andrew on their four track, and in a few months time, the band played their first show. Almost just as immediately, the band started touring, tightening up their sound in preparation for the recording of their first album.
In 2001, almost a year after the band started rehearsing together, the band hooked up with producer Steve Revitte, who is best known for his work with the Beastie Boys, to lay down songs for their debut. Recorded in two days and entitled They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (released in October of 2001 on Gern Blandsten), the record captured the Liars' rambunctiously weird live show, incorporating the massive and danceable rhythm section of Noecker and Albertson, the jagged guitar lines of Hemphill, and the samples, drum machines, and sound effects that provided an original atmosphere. On top of it all was Andrew's highly effected vocals, that whooshed in and out of the mix, brandishing powerful slogans like "Leave your work at home/put down the briefcase" and nonsensical lyrics alike ("You can't teach new tricks to blue jeans"). Drawing on influences like Gang of Four, Sonic Youth, the Jesus Lizard, A Certain Ratio and ESG, the album struck a chord with critics and fans alike, and soon the Liars found themselves as one of the more talked about bands from the burgeoning Brooklyn "post-punk" scene, one that also included the likes of the Rapture and Black Dice. Positive reviews for the album started spilling in, including approval from online indie-rock zine Pitchforkmedia.com, who gave the album an 8.1 rating. In their review, Chris Dahlen said, "I've played They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top a dozen times in the last couple days, and I get something different each time. Sometimes I find new sounds; sometimes I feel like I get less out of it with every listen. It's not clear where their tactics are going, whether it'll come together on the next album, or whether this fragmented style is the thing that makes them great. In fact, all that is clear is that it's rare that a band rocks this hard and still challenges you at every turn."
Following the release of the album, the band hit the road, supporting their idols Sonic Youth, as well as doing a collection of shows with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (whose singer, Karen O, started a relationship with Andrew). On touring with an influential band like Sonic Youth so early in their career, Andrew told Popmatters.com, "I think it's probably one of the most amazing things I'll [ever] do in my whole life. I think the best part was them asking us to go on tour with them. 'Cause, you know, it just meant so much to me. It was more important than selling hundreds of records."
That mentality, however, didn't stop Liars from releasing more records once 2002 came rolling around. The first release was the EP Fins To Make us More Fishlike, issued in November of 2002 on Mute Records, who also signed the band that same year (Blast First was to take on their releases in the United Kingdom). The band also issued a split release with Brooklyn-based psyche-rockers Oneida in December of 2002 for Arena Rock, called Atheists, Reconsider. Both releases would serve as an important turning point, as each would be the last time Liars would release any new material with Noecker and Albertson in the band.
Near the end of 2002, Andrews and Hemphill parted ways with Noecker and Albertson. In the biography on their official website, Andrew said, "Aaron and I had always been the songwriters, often times writing the drum patterns and basslines. We no longer really wanted to have our work interpreted by someone else; we needed to keep it as close to us and simplified as possible." The parting of ways was also a reflection of Andrews and Hemphill's growing distaste towards being pigeonholed as a "dance punk" band by the press. After touring the country numerous times, and being turned on to groups like Can and This Heat, Andrew's and Hemphill's tastes began to change. When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were asked to open for Björk, Andrew tagged along, and got to bear witness to the ways of electro duo Matmos (who was playing with Björk at the time) conjured up their strange sounds on stage. All of these newfound influences led Andrew, Hemphill, and new member Julian Gross (an old friend from Cal Art) into new recording and songwriting techniques. After Andrew and Karen O bought a home in the New Jersey suburbs, the trio convinced Mute to let them spend their recording budget on modest studio equipment, and commenced setting up a basement studio to record their next album.
With the help of Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio), the band started recording in an unorthidox fashion, laying down music that was much different than their previous album, both musically and lyrically. Featuring synth squiggles, tribal drums, atonal guitar lines, and other odd noises and samples, each song recorded strayed further and further from the danceable rock that the band was known for, and more into the arty terrain of Throbbing Gristle and the Silver Apples. The band also took on the task of tackling a "concept album" after Hemphill insisted the first track for their new album be called "Broken Witch." Andrew then got on the Internet to type "Broken Witch" into the Google.com search engine, but instead entered "Brocken Witch" by mistake. What he found was information on a German "holiday" that celebrates the night when the witches fly from Brocken Mountain. This discovery, Andrew decided, would make excellent lyrical fodder for their new album, and soon all the songs, already teaming with spooky sounds, soon had a set of words that were just as scary. They dubbed the finished project They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, and forged ahead with their new sound and new lineup.
Just before the release of their latest album, an EP of early demos was issued by Hand Held Heart called We No Longer Knew Who We Were, in September of 2003, featuring Noecker and Albertson. By this point, however, Liars were far beyond the sounds heard on the record, releasing the arty witch tales they recorded for They Were Wrong, So We Drowned on Mute/Blast First in February of 2004. The album received a collection of mixed reviews--some good (the Daily Telegraph in London said "this is an astonishing and often inspired collection of songs that evoke brilliantly the claustrophobic nature of such creepy folk tales") and some very bad (both Spin and Rolling Stone gave the album their lowest possible ratings). In the records defense, Hemphill told The Arizona Daily Star, "I think it's a success in a certain sense, to get any kind of reaction. I wish everyone would like it, but that's silly to strive for that. It makes more sense to us that there are mixed reviews, because our opinions, and what we thing is good in our songs--it's surprising when it fits with other people's. To me, (those reviews) can be a good indicator. Some people like it; some people don't."
by Ryan Allen
Group formed in Brooklyn, NY, 2000; Hemphill and Andrew began composing four-track home recordings; Noecker and Albertson joined group, late 2000; went on tour, 2001; recorded and released debut album, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, 2001; toured in support of the album with Sonic Youth and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; signed to Mute Records label, 2002; Noecker and Albertson left group, 2002; released EP We No Longer Knew Who We Were, 2003; released concept album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, 2004.
- Selected discography
- They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top Gern Blandsten, 2001.
- Fins to Make Us More Fish-Like (EP), Mute, 2002.
- We No Longer Knew Who We Were (EP), Hand Held Heart, 2003.
- There's Always Room on the Broom (EP), Mute, 2004.
- We Fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own (EP), Mute, 2004.
- They Were Wrong, So We Drowned Mute, 2004.
- Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ), April 2, 2004.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), February 28, 2004.
- "Climbing Out of the Trench: An Interview with the Liars," Popmatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/interviews/liars-020910.shtml (August 2, 2005).
- "Liars," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (August 12, 2005).
- "Liars Come Clean," Prefixmag, http://www.prefixmag.com/features.php?t=interview&f=liars (August 25, 2005).
- Liars Official Website, http://www.liarsliarsliars.com/ (August 20, 2005).
- "Liars: Pitchfork Review," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/l/liars/they-threw-us-all-in-a-trench.shtml (August 5, 2005).
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