The Liars are all about perspective.
The trio’s fourth album, for instance, is accessible, but only when compared to records two and three, “They Were Wrong, So We Drowned” and “Drum’s Not Dead” (both on Mute), which were experimental forays into sound, into constructing concepts over building songs. So though last fall’s self-titled CD with 11 independent tracks is relatively approachable, that’s only in Liars’ world. By most standards – and we look to commercial charts for that – it’s still an album that might leave Madonna fans a bit perplexed.
“We are at the moment enjoying playing those songs because it’s kind of a new thing for us, where notes connect with other notes and make a melody,” Australian-born singer Angus Andrew says, reached on the phone traveling “somewhere in Missouri.” He’s being a bit cheeky – 2001 debut album “They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top” is aggressive and filled with the energy of a new band bursting with ideas, but it also showed us a group that knew the rules. The past years have just been about breaking them.
There’s a kind of parallel in Andrew’s building of his musical knowledge, which started from the obvious and led to a realization “that there was a lot more to music. It seemed there was a long journey to go on.”
He spent his early teens years “filled with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, those really accessible, commercial acts.” Those artists were huge for him, he recalls, “Then I remember very distinctly when hip-hop came in, like N.W.A. It opened up for me, a) dancing and b) this quasi-punk-rock approach, this sort of, ‘(bleep) you.’ ” From there, it was rock (Guns N Roses to grunge to Jimi Hendrix), trip hop (Portishead, Tricky) and, thanks to Los Angeles art school friend and now-bandmate Aaron Hemphill, a “crash course” of “people I should have listened to like Blondie and Sonic Youth,” a wide range of punk and post-punk bands that didn’t reach his ears Down Under.
“Up until this point my musical listening had told me you have to be a professional music player to do this,” Andrew says. “I was hearing people who hadn’t been schooled in music but had something to say.”
On “Liars,” he notes, “it seems we’re almost going backwards with a more traditional approach,” one that’s fueled, at least in part, by a remembrance of how important a role music plays when you’re young and trying to consume as much as you can.
“Liars” has plenty of variety, from less accessible – the drums-and-chant drone of “Leather Prowler,” the spacious, eerie “The Dumb in the Rain” – to immediate – the Jesus & Mary Chain-inspired “Freak Out,” the Portishead-like sensuality of “Sailing to Byzantium.”
“The record that we made previously, ‘Drum’s Not Dead,’ could be called intelligent or something, and the immediate reaction we had to that was to get to something visceral. We hadn’t had a chance to rock out,” Andrew says. “We wanted to sort of party a bit. And in other ways there was this element of connecting with our musical language or heritage.”
Liars had, he adds, been focused on trying to make its own language with previous records. Andrew and Hemphill were ready at the same time to return to a more common vernacular, as the two – Andrew living in Berlin, Hemphill in Los Angeles – independently wrote compositions that ended up coming from the same desire to write songs, to connect on a less heady level.
Recording of “Liars” was split between L.A. and Berlin, where Andrew has been in self-imposed exile for some three years. He doesn’t speak German – “I do really enjoy this idea of isolation,” he says – so he can’t pursue conversation that would satiate his active mind.
Andrew says he’s ready to live an English-speaking country again and plans a return to L.A. It’s been a good, successful experiment, but it’s feeling completed.
“It’s going to be great to come back to something that’s inherently from a different perspective,” Andrew says. In Berlin, “I wanted to not be understood.”
IF YOU GO
What: Liars in concert, with Early Black
When: 9:45 p.m. Thursday
Where: Plush, 340 E. Sixth St.
Info: 798-1298, plushtucson.com