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Liars is a three-piece band consisting of Australian-born Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion, guitar, synth), and Julian Gross (drums). Although initially lumped into the New York dance-punk scene of the early 21st century, they have come to be categorized by their dramatic stylistic shifts between albums, while retaining a consistent interest in rhythm and sound texture.
The genesis of the band can be traced to Los Angeles, where Andrew and Gross were enrolled at Cal Arts, studying photography and graphic design, respectively. Hemphill had studied microbiology in Junior College in San Diego, but was currently employed in LA at a record store. Upon meeting, Andrew and Hemphill began their collaboration on four-track recordings. Once Andrew had completed art school, they relocated to New York together. Although Gross was not a member of Liars' NYC-period roster, he was often taken along on tour for hawking the merchandise and providing comedic banter. For the time being, two musicians from Nebraska, Pat Noecker (bass, formerly of Neuromancer, Urethra Franklin, and Opium Taylor) and Ron Albertson (drums, formerly of Mercy Rule), filled out the band's rhythm section after responding to a well-placed want ad.
New York City days:
This line-up (Andrew/Hemphill/Noecker/Albertson) released the first Liars full-length, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, in October 2001. The album was recorded in a mere two days. Despite lackluster promotion by their record label, Gern Blandsten, the energy of the album eventually bought Liars their fair share of hype amidst the much-publicized dance-punk scene of New York. The band was not averse to this attention, but the problem of being pigeonholed (expressed already in the album's title) became an even more pressing challenge for them to overcome.
As a four-piece, Liars were only to release two more short EPs. The first was entitled We No Longer Knew Who We Were; it was an official release of the bands' early demos recorded in 2000. The second, however, showcased new material. Fins To Make Us More Fish-Like (November 2002) showed progression from their signature sound, but without any material that would seem significantly out of place on their debut. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is "Every day is a child with teeth," which concentrates more on sound texture and tense, stuttering percussion than the more danceable rhythms for which they had come to be known.
Due to differences of creative methods, it was agreed that Noecker and Albertson would leave the band to pursue other work. Both joined the shortlived band No Things. (Noecker is now in These Are Powers). Meanwhile, Andrew and Hemphill reunited with Gross to form the next (and current) incarnation of Liars. The first release from Liars as a three-piece was a split EP with the band Oneida, called Atheists, Reconsider (released December 2002 by the Arena Rock Recording Co.). Liars contributed a cover of Oneida's "Rose and Licorice," as well as two originals. "Dorothy Taps the Toe of the Tinman" is a 7+ minute sound collage of kitchen-sink percussion, ambient drones and static, and cut and paste spoken words. "All in All, a Careful Party" is probably the first characteristically confounding Liars "pop" song. It relies on repetitive, eclectic percussion, non-traditional instrumentation, chant-like vocals, and great attention to sonic texturing.
This newfound experimentation paved the way for Liars' next full-length album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (recorded in March and May 2003, released February 2004). The band relocated to a cabin in the woods of New Jersey for the recording sessions, and along with producing visionary David Andrew Sitek of TV on the Radio immersed themselves in both non-fiction accounts of witch trials and traditional witch folklore. From these sources, Andrew created a generic fairy tale which is told through contrasting viewpoints in the lyrics. This commitment to the material at the heart of the album - a "story album" (as opposed to "concept album"), according to Andrew - resulted in a thematically rich piece of work that can often feel more atmospheric than musical. To some, the non-traditional instrumentation and song structuring furthers its feel of concept over musicality, along with Sitek's signature harmonies and sound looping. Many critics responded negatively to this aspect of the album, and though it had its fervent supporters, it infamously garnered the lowest possible scores from both Spin and Rolling Stone magazines.
Creatively unfazed by the critical response to their unexpected experimental leap, the band relocated once again to Berlin where they would eventually record their third full-length, Drum's Not Dead (recorded in 2004, released February 2006). During the interim between the recording and release of their previous album, Liars had already begun the work on what would eventually become Drum's Not Dead. Based on the ideas of Chris Cutler's electrified drum kit Liars began experimenting with modified drumsounds. After much experimentation (and reportedly an entire album's worth of material cast aside), the group completed the album in an East German broadcast center that allowed them a multitude of different acoustic environments for recording. As the title suggests, the album is heavy on drums (often run through various effects pedals), backed mostly by atmospheric guitar work. Andrew also relies more heavily on falsetto than in past work, which gives the album a more ethereal, less gritty sound than is often associated with Liars. Along with the music, Drum's Not Dead was released with a DVD that contains three full-length video companions to the album: Drum's Not Bread by Julian Gross, The Helix Aspersa by Angus Andrew, and By Your Side by filmmaker Markus Wambsganss.
The rhythmic electroacoustic experimentalism was not only used in the studio set up, but continued in their live performances during the Drum's not dead tour. Microphones taped on Gross drum kit and the percussion set of Hemphill picked up the live played rhythms and were modulated heavily by digital real-time processing spring reverbs and pitch shifters forming multi layered drones. The creation of this set-up is outlined in the cd booklet for Drum's not dead.
The band officially announced their album Liars on May 24, 2007. It was released August 28, 2007 on Mute Records.
Other musical contributions:
Aaron Hemphill also played on TV on the Radio's song Blind. Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio tells of a humorous experience involving Aaron Hemphill of the Liars: "I remember coming home one day and Aaron was on the floor with a guitar, like there were a bunch of pencils in it, and he was tapping on it. I was like, what's he doing? And Dave said (whispers), "Playing something on 'Blind'.''"