When Liars bandleader Angus Andrew recently decided to set aside his guitar and venture into electronic territory for the group’s sixth effort, “WIXIW” (pronounced “Wish you”), he admits he didn’t realize just how deep that rabbit hole went. But he couldn’t help tumbling down it.
“It wasn’t until we were six months into experimenting that we actually had to slap ourselves and say, ‘Look, let’s stop messing around with fun sounds and figure out how to make a song out of them!’” he says. “We had this catalog of really great, interesting sounds, but nothing that even remotely resembled a tune.”
The group came up with so many curious synth noises and samples that Daniel Miller — head of their chic imprint Mute — stepped in to provide some extra concept-streamlining production.
He warned them to narrow their vision, says the Manila-born, Australia-bred and Los Angeles-based Andrew, who brings Liars to San Francisco tonight. “So that we didn’t get too caught up in it. But of course, you do. Within any computer program, there are 100 instruments and 1,000 ways to make them sound. For me, it ended up being a logistical nightmare.”
When Andrew listens to “WIXIW” today, there are countless notes, chords and flourishes that he doesn’t recognize, can’t remember making.
But they sound incredible, with his vocoder-muffled voice riding herd on a thrumming “Brats,” the brook-gurgling “Octagon” and “No. 1 Against the Rush,” whose rhythm seems to be composed of thunking, rubberized metal blocks.
It was a noise Andrew grew so obsessed with, he sat on it until he could meld it with music. “It’s a difficult — but fun — way of working, slapping objects together or miking your dog in the back yard,” he says. “But then it takes this extra step to make it into something listenable.”
The ex-photography student started the process via “Amateur Gore,” a Tumblr page where he paired sounds with surreal images, like a snapshot of his microphone jammed inside the engine of bandmate Aaron Hemphill’s car.
Then, the two musicians repaired to a cabin in the California wilderness where they made field recordings of crows and other spooky forest noises.
Stylistically, Andrew was also inspired by challenging music made by his longtime girlfriend, bassoonist Mary Pearson, in her duo High Places.
While previous Liars albums had lyrical themes, like witchcraft or Hollywood, this time Andrew simply studied himself. What did he learn? “That I’m full of doubt and fear,” he says. “And that making a record doesn’t necessarily make you want to pop a bottle of champagne when you finish it!”