An interview with guitarist Aaron Hemphill

    With their heavy dose of punk-funk-rock-garage music, the Liars have gained an infamous reputation for a raucous live set, allegedly one of the best around. The Brooklyn-based band has steadily accumulated hype — enough to make any self-respecting music fan cautious. Their debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, garnered generous accolades, with everyone from Vice to Rolling Stone to Spin singing their praises. What I had been missing in my personal music rotation was a band that plays music so raw and intense that I’d have no choice but to love ’em or hate ’em. I was cornered by the Liars after one listen, but the choice here was simple. Their crazy, funky, abrasive-yet curiously catchy-sound won me over. Prefix Magazine recently sat down with Aaron to get his thoughts on stalkers, his lack of lyrics in the liner notes and what it’s like to be part of the “Band with the tall Australian guy.”



    Prefix Magazine: What were your first impressions when you guys first met?

    Liars: Well, it all depends; we all give different answers depending on how it’s asked. Me and Angus go way back and Pat and Ron obviously go way back. Our first impression when we met as a group?

    PM: Yeah.

    Liars: Well, it was really scary because we basically put up a sign for them. And you know if you’re in a band you never want to put up a sign. So we were just at our wit’s end. So, yeah, we found these two guys [Pat and Ron]. But god, we wondered what types of people would answer it our ad. And when we met them, they were like really honest guys and seemed to like music a lot. From there we really just became cool with each other, ’cause we immediately went on tour forever, and you get to know people really fast.

    Our immediate impression? Me and Angus thought they were Christians because they were from the farm. Ron’s not (from a farm), but they were from the Midwest. We were kind of scared they’d be like holy rollers.

    PM: So we at Prefix Magazine did the typical generic Internet search of “Liars” and “rock” on the Web and up pops a band from Pennsylvania called “the Liars” and some other band called “Liars, Inc.” Have you guys run into any confusion with these other bands?

    Liars: We have actually. We didn’t know there were other bands by that name, but we knew it was a pretty common name, and we knew there had to be another. But that’s just how it is. Actually we played a show in Boston and they got a picture of the wrong “Liars.” It was a picture of these really big, husky guys, and it was funny. I mean, it’s all in good humor.

    PM: Have you guys been at all surprised by how big you’ve gotten or how the buzz has been built? It seems pretty fast.

    Liars: Angus and I wrote the songs. We had about 30 songs before we met Pat and Ron. So we kind of went through an adolescent period that a band would normally go through. I mean, we still kind of are a young band. But Pat and Ron basically learned the songs and we toured immediately. In the two years we’ve been a band, we’ve toured as much as a band that’s been around much longer. So that might explain it.

    As far as me personally aware of any buzz, it’s really difficult because every band we’re friends with has the same thing going on, and it is very scary at times. But we feel very lucky and fortunate.

    PM: I recently saw you guys perform at the junkyard lot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Did you expect that kind of turn out? By the time we arrived, the show had already been sold out for a long time.

    Liars: I knew because, well, obviously the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a big draw and Oneida is a great band. I think it was a good event. I know it sounds really crazy, but I don’t know how many people were there. I can’t visually picture how packed it was. We do things that put us in the listener’s or audience’s shoes. Like would I wanna go see that if I weren’t playing?

    PM: How would you describe your sound and who were your musical influences?

    Liars: I think our influences are things we can’t really do. I think when your very clumsy and honest and very humble and you just try to do it because it inspires you, it’s much more interesting and people can latch onto it, rather than if we were all super skilled and could replicate something. I mean we really like hip-hop. Each component influences different things. Like the beats, I really like drum and bass, and it’s like emulating that. And none of us are that good, so it never sounds exactly like it. So mistakes are what often creates everything.

    Lately I’ve been real into R&B and soul, like D’Angelo. I mean it’s all things that I’m inspired by. I can’t sing like D’Angelo, but I bet it’d be pretty interesting if we tried. It’d have this other form of something. And I think that’s how all that music came up anyway. I mean maybe D’Angelo was inspired by Sly Stone or Marvin Gaye, and it’s totally different. But it was lost somewhere in translation. It became its own thing.

    PM: Do you guys have any stalkers yet?

    Liars: Stalkers?

    PM: I ask because when I mentioned I was interviewing you guys, some girls were like, “They’re so cute!”

    Liars: I think one thing probably, among many things that sets us apart from let’s say the Strokes, is that Angus has a girlfriend-it’s a well-known fact. [Ed. Note: Angus has been dating Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O for a year and a half.]

    Basically, another thing is how we interact with people. I never go into situations thinking, “Oh they saw our band” or “know our band.” We’re more like, “Hey, thanks for coming to the show” instead of being like “Hey” [in cool-guy voice].

    It’s good to be a mysterious band, but I’d rather it be what we do creatively as opposed to what are personal lifestyles are. We’re all very cautious of not coming across as these unapproachable people ’cause I think that’s what creates fanaticism-when it’s not something you’re going to relate to, it’s just something that expands…

    I mean, our whole philosophy is that anyone could be doing what we’re doing, and that’s how we hopefully keep on our toes and stay fresh. We never forget the fact that anyone can do it and do it just as well. I think that falls into that. I don’t know of any stalkers, but I really don’t pay attention. I guess that would be me accepting the fact that I’m in a different position than that girl when really we’re the same. I just happen to be playing that night.

    PM: What do you think of the whole friendship you have with the other bands in the whole New York scene? Do you think it’s strange because you’re not originally from here?

    Liars: I mean, a lot of the bands, like Black Dice or the Rapture, who we don’t really know but seem to be getting a lot of press, are from all over the world [Black Dice has a member from as far away as Japan, the Rapture has D.C. roots]. To make a long story short, the New York scene isn’t a sound — we definitely don’t all sound the same. But as far as what we all do, I think it’s all a very bookworm scene. I mean, we don’t party, and most of us aren’t party animals. But we do have fun. The only time I think the bands go out is to see their friends’ bands play. And we’re all into records and sounds and talking about music. I think it’s a lot different from someone that might not know. We all share the same ideas.

    Hopefully we all inspire each other. I think it’s more humble than a scene like, “We party at this bar.” It’s not like that. ‘Cause it’s like if you see Black Dice, you’re like, “Oh god, I better go practice.” So, it’s really cool that way.

    PM: How had touring in Europe been?

    Liars: The last tour, for lack of a better word, was most normal. It was most like what we would have done in America where we toured every day with the same band. Aside from that we’ve been really, really lucky. We got to go on tour with Sonic Youth, and we’re gonna get to go on tour with Suicide. So we’re very lucky, and they’re very different circumstances. But, no, it’s been pretty great. And I think the basic fact is I never thought I’d be able to go to Europe or see the world, playing music in different countries. It’s hard work and very exhausting, but when you think about it, it’s like a dream come true.

    PM: You guys put on pretty intense shows. Do you ever have problems getting up for the next show?

    Liars: I think each show is different. It depends on our mood. We could play the same set-and I think this is also how we’re sort of lucky-we could play the same nine songs two nights in a row, but one could just be chaos, and you see the song in a different way. Or the next show could be real quiet and pretty. You need to take advantage of that as a performer because when you hear a record and hear a mellow song, but when you see it live and the guys are just rocking out and going crazy, or vice versa, it changes how you see the song. So I think it’s all dependent upon mood. There’s two extremes and none of us can plan it.

    PM: What’s the deal with not providing the lyrics in your CD jacket?

    Liars: I think it helps to make [the music] more yours instead of us telling you what it’s about. We’ve had people write us and submit what they thought were the song lyrics, and it’s really great. A lot of times it’s better than what we would have come up with. And I think it just makes it more fun. A lot of bands we’re influenced by don’t do it sometimes. I don’t know. It’s not something that should be a studious thing. I mean, we do put a lot of time and effort into our lyrics, and the object of our lyrics is not to be read as a piece, but to be felt as a mood. It means, people are picking up on it even better if they create their own. So, I think that’s the objective.

    PM: Do you guys ever think it’s funny that almost every thing written on the band mentions how tall Angus is?

    Liars: Well, it’s a pretty big deal. I think it really surprised me what people latch onto. It surprises me what people pay attention to and what we’re concerned with. I mean I can understand. He’s the singer and he does weird stuff. Yeah, I understand that, it’s pretty freakish. When I first met him, I was like, “Whoa, that’s a tall-looking, weird guy,” with his Australian accent and stuff. The one thing I’ve learned about attention being paid to people through being friends with other bands is how different they are. Idealistically, you want to be like, “Oh, maybe Courtney Love isn’t such a jerk.” But then I also know that our scene, for lack of a better word, is an exception.