“In my earlier transient life, I spent some time living in Santa Barbara,” explained Liars lead singer Angus Andrew in his signature Aussie accent. “I believed in the saying, ‘They’re changing the world in California’ and drove my car from New York looking for the ‘California Adventure.’ I ended up in Isla Vista. What a trip. So I’m looking forward to coming back.” And what better way to return than with a successful band in tow-and a slot opening shows across the country with none other than rock gods Radiohead?
Despite spending his time in I.V. playing the quintessential role of “guy on couch,” Andrew’s travels west had both a vision and a plan. He even managed to sneak into a couple classes at Montecito’s Brooks Institute of Photography. Why? He wanted to see if he could hang. “I could,” he explained, “but I decided instead to go somewhere more liberal and went to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.”
Leaving Santa Barbara to embark on his artistic adventure was probably the best decision he could have made. It was during college at CalArts where Andrew not only picked up his first instrument (the bass), but also where he met fellow artist Julian Gross, who would go on to become Liars’ drummer. From there, the duo invited their friend Aaron Hemphill-an inactive student at CalArts who ran a local record store-to live in the school’s music studio and play guitar in their band.
It was just after graduation in fall 1999 when the boys took off to New York City, where Liars officially was born. “On New Year’s Eve we sat on top of a building at midnight, waiting : for the millennium,” Andrew recalled. “And the rest is kind of a whirl.”
“When we got to New York we made our first record. We thought it’d be awesome to put something down on vinyl,” he continued. “Then we got scooped up in this hot New York band scene. To be here now, with Radiohead, it’s bizarre.”
So what was the concept that got the Liars’ ball rolling? And what kind of record did they hope to lay down on that first vinyl? “I find it difficult to categorize our music,” the band’s leading man went on to say. “Passing through customs is always interesting. We say we’re in a band and can’t say what kind of music we play, and then it’s really unfortunate when they ask us our band name.”
As far as genre placing, Liars are industrial rock, sometimes slightly electronic, and full of beats. They’re experimental and yet use mostly traditional instruments, similar to Massachusetts’s Folk Implosion. “We were very naive and, at that point, not all music was made by musicians, but artists rather. One didn’t need to know chords to express ideas with sound.” So Liars, it turns out, are artists. And the delightful sounds they make? Well, let’s just call it “art rock.”
One example of their art rock star status would be the story behind an instrument that was invented specifically for the band, designed by and gifted from a fan in Holland. “A fan contacted us and said he wanted to make us a guitar. This thing-it’s five feet long and weighs more than our whole band put together,” Andrew laughed. “It’s huge and heavy and involves mallets, etcetera. Well, we lugged it halfway around the world and used it. It’s called a mood swinger.”
And for a more straightforward sound description, all one needs is a list of Liars’ early influences. “We were really most inspired by Sonic Youth and Suicide, and after our first record, we toured with [Sonic Youth]. It was a bit of a head trip,” Andrew revealed, later confessing he didn’t necessarily believe their album was worthy of the praise it had received. “We wanted to pull back and make a record we could be more proud of.”
“We heard from Radiohead after our second album, Drum’s Not Dead,” he explained. “Not a critic favorite, but one we were proud of. It was a complete surprise.” Touring with Radiohead is a bit of an experience, as one can imagine, for a plethora of reasons. Not only can Radiohead easily be considered the big brothers of rock music, having influenced so many younger acts since the launch of their own musical careers, but they also frontier an exceptional form of touring. Call it organic, or green, their tour simply involves a lot of biofuel and reusable containers-it’s a place where “Styrofoam” is a dreadfully dirty word.
“We’re happy to go along. Of course, the truckers didn’t like converting their trucks from diesel to biofuel, but it’s inspiring,” said Andrew. “Radiohead makes up for others by caring about what they do while hauling things around the world. And they make it easy for everyone, catering for all the masses of crews and roadies.”
Liars open for Radiohead at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday, August 28. Visit sbbowl.com for details.