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Liars Break Down the Electronic Influences That Shaped ‘WIXIW’


On their sixth album, WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”), Liars have dispatched the dissonant guitars and jarring rhythms in favor of rich tapestries of burbling analog synths and hypnotic machine beats. Scorching with electronic influences, the result is multi-textured body music with songs ranging from lush ballads (“The Exact Color of Doubt”) to tribal stomps (“A Ring On Every Finger”) to glistening psychedelia (“WIXIW”) and even a mutant dancefloor banger (“Brats”).

WIXIW emphasizes not just different instrumentation than their previous records but a totally revamped songwriting process. Using software like Pro Tools and Reaktor, they collaborated on laptops instead of writing compositions separately. “[2010’s] Sisterworld was largely a pretty much traditionally recorded album, says the band’s Aaron Hemphill, “like guitars with amps and a studio engineer to place the mic. We really wanted to eliminate the figurative and literal space between the sound and the capturing of it.” Below, the band reveals some of the man-machines that helped guide it.

Hemphill: One thing that inspired us to use more electronic instruments was we played a Mute Records festival. We’ve always been aware of the history of Mute, but I think we really sort of wanted to be more a part of that. Mute put out a compilation called Mute Audio Documents and it’s a collection of all their singles from 1978 to 1984 and that was really inspiring. It has to do with the scope of music produced over that time and how certain people used electronics, be it Robert Rental or Thomas Leer or Fad Gadget, all of whom we’re big fans of. There’s an excerpt from an album that Boyd Rice did with Frank Tovey, who is Fad Gadget, called Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing, I think it’s track 2, but it’s really beautiful, and they made it in the studio without any instruments apparently, just made it on the spot.

LISTEN: Boyd Rice & Frank Tovey, “Extraction 2” [from Mute Audio Documents]

There’s also a track by Robert Rental called “Double Heart.” Robert Rental did a lot more experimental stuff, I guess, he was on Industrial Records, which is Throbbing Gristle’s label, with Thomas Leer. They did a record called The Bridge, which is also great, but he did these two singles, with “Double Heart” being one of them, that were pop songs. The fact that he would make that on his own after doing so much experimental electronic music is exciting to us.

LISTEN: Robert Rental, “Double Heart” [from Mute Audio Documents]

Hemphill: We’re huge Can fans. I never met anyone who doesn’t like Can, and maybe I wouldn’t like them too much. We listened to Can when we first started writing songs and it’s just so inspiring. They had a huge impact on Daniel Miller, the Mute founder, and I think there’s a huge connection with Can and electronic music in sort of like the structure and the duration and repetition. Also, there’s a huge studio component to what formed their records, much like dub. Dub is very organic, but it’s altered in the studio. It was a signpost for things to come, where a lot of music could be finished work or composed without holding an instrument. “Bel Air” on Future Days: That’s a beautiful song.

LISTEN: Can, “Bel Air” [from Future Days]

I know that Ege Bamyasi and Tago Mago are Can’s most popular records, but I also really like the Malcolm Mooney stuff a lot. I think the thing about the Malcolm Mooney era is the instruments sound a bit more raw, especially on Delay. Like if you were to just start writing songs, it sounds like the gear that you might have. There’s another Malcolm Mooney track, “The Empress and the Ukraine King.” It’s beautiful, so basic. There’s something about his voice too, where it’s like this really warm sound in a more raw-sounding instrumental structure. He definitely is the opposite to what those guys’ agenda seems to be. I couldn’t imagine him doing more than one take and it being something that gets better.

LISTEN: Can, “The Empress and the Ukraine King” [from Unlimited Edition]

Angus Andrew: “I was always super into Bjork. Every record since Debut. I love Post, but the one that really made me obsessed was Vespertine, partly because she collaborated with Matmos, who made the production of the album super crispy and beautiful. “Hidden Place” is a great one.

LISTEN: Bjork, “Hidden Place” [from Vespertine]

Speaking of Matmos, their album The Civil War came out just around when we were making our second record. I remember being blown away by their use of found and natural sounds and instruments mixed with electronics. It got me super-excited about sampling. I got to see Matmos open for Björk at this time and will never ever forget the experience seeing them perform much of this album live — not to mention being able to give Björk a huge hug that left me completely bedazzled!

LISTEN: Matmos, “Pelt and Roller” [from The Civil War]

Hemphill: I’ve always felt that Radiohead had a musical theory approach that is far beyond us, in the sense that there seems to be some knowledge of form that we don’t really possess. We’ve done a lot of interviews regarding our new record, and Kid A has obviously come up a lot. I would have to say that is their most interesting record for me, but I also really like The Bends. I feel like that album is pretty straightforward pop songs and I think for us that’s a challenge to make something that attempts to be poppy. That’s a frightening thing for us to do that.”

LISTEN: Radiohead, “Just” [from The Bends]

Hemphill: Parade is my favorite Prince album. I understand that’s a controversial choice, but it’s so eclectic, it’s a really bizarre record. I hate to root for the Yankees, but “Kiss” is maybe one of the best pop songs ever written. It has “Anotherloverholenyohead” following it, and then “Sometimes It Snows in April.” There’s so many weird tracks. And then there’s an awesome song called “I Wonder U,” which is my favorite song on that record. It’s only a minute and a half, and either Wendy or Lisa or Wendy’s sister singing it, but it’s an amazing track. The production on it is really bizarre and I would say that it’s electronic.”

LISTEN: Prince, “I Wonder U” [from Parade]

Andrew: That’s what I put on when I want the whole band to dance on tour.

LISTEN: Autodidakt – “Shit Your Rack (Proxy Remix)”