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Interview: Angus Andrews of Liars on his (creative) breakup album 'TFCF'

Angus Andrews of Liars
Photograph: Zen Sekizawa

Many bands experience turmoil and departures during the recording of a record, but it's rare to hear an album that bluntly addresses the dissolution of a creative partnership. On TFCF, the latest album from Liars, singer and instrumentalist Angus Andrews (who is now the sole member of the group) wrestles with the absence of his longtime bandmate Aaron Hemphill, who decided to leave the band while the record was being written.

Whereas previous Liars records revolved around unified explorations of experimental, punk and electronic influences, TFCF is a scattershot collection of tracks, filled with acoustic ballads and percussive synth anthems that reflect the tumultuous circumstances under which they were created. Ahead of Liars' performance at Riot Fest, we spoke with Andrews about confronting his creative breakup head-on and coming to terms with his own limitations.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Riot Fest

At some point during the recording of TFCF, your collaborator Aaron left the band. How did the album evolve once you realized that he would not be participating?

I had been writing alone, as I do, in the bush out in Australia. What I realized after I’d spoken with Aaron was that I had actually been writing these songs to him. I don’t think I was aware of it when I was in the initial phases, but when I went back and looked at what I’d been working on, it seemed pretty clear that my voice was coming to him, and that’s the way I left it. That’s what this record is about—the tyranny of distance.

TFCF is very much a breakup record, not in the traditional sense of a romantic partnership—but a creative one. In what ways did making this album help you come to terms with the end of that relationship?

I did see it as a breakup record and was concerned with the cliché that presented. But you’re right—it’s a bit different to talk about a creative relationship deteriorating. Obviously initially it was a very tough thing to deal with, but I started to finish working on the record and things started to come together. What’s great about [a creative relationship] is that often you have two people who are pulling each other from different ends. That’s the best scenario, and that’s how Aaron and I were—quite different. The underside of that is that sometimes you realize that you’re being pulled in a direction that maybe you don’t want to be pulled. To come to terms with the reality of it was understanding that now I was going to go in the direction that I wanted to go no matter what, and there would be no filter or discussion about it. That’s kind of a scary ledge to jump off but quite freeing. Being able to just make decisions and go with your gut is quite exhilarating actually—it’s a frightening idea, but the good work comes from there.

I read that you were inspired by the sampling used in MF Doom’s King Geedorah album and vaporwave while writing this record. How did reshaping material you’d previously recorded mesh with the themes of the record?

In a pretty practical and functional way, because I wanted to work deep in isolation in the forest. In that scenario, it wasn’t clear how I would have a drum set there, and horns and xylophones and all the things I wanted to play with. What I said is I’ll go into the studio in L.A. and I’ll record all these instruments that are sitting around in these big studios, as many of them as I can, and just take all that junk with me as audio files to the bush so that I could deconstruct and then reconstruct them. It wasn’t easy for me to say, “Aaron can you go into a studio a play a bunch of guitar riffs for me and send them to me in the bush?” I had to figure out how to get those things before I went.

It sounds like you realized what your limits were while simultaneously setting limits for yourself.

The limitation is me, musically. I’m not comfortable with the idea of being a quote, unquote musician, it’s not where I come from. So, how do you put together an acoustic guitar set of chords if you don’t know how to put those together physically in realtime? This is how you do it; you sit in a studio and play one chord for half an hour and then another chord for half an hour and then you cut it up and put it together and you’ve got two chords.

How much of a challenge was it to bring these songs to life in a live setting?

Normally with every record it’s just a super huge challenge because I write this stuff alone and then trying to figure out how to put it on the road becomes this whole other project. Surprisingly, putting this together was a bit easier. I had some contacts that were really helpful and I turned up in New York and met these two guys who are insane musicians and they had no problem playing this stuff that took me 20 years to try to assemble on a computer. I don’t take any credit for that because I just walked into the studio and we played 20 Liars songs—some of them were songs that the band never even played before in previous incarnations.

The circumstances surrounding TFCF seem singular, but do you feel like you'll ever replicate this process again?

For each record I’m looking for a completely different way of attacking the whole idea of making music. It’s unlikely that I would replicate the way I did this one, though I do learn a lot each time I make a record. Funnily enough, something more traditional might be the most experimental thing that I could try. For example, I’ve never jammed with a group of people, I’ve always worked alone. What would it be like if I actually stood in a room with some dudes and we jammed? That would blow my mind.

Liars performs at Riot Fest on Friday, September 15 at 2:15pm on the Riot Stage.

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