mxdwn recently spoke with Angus Andrew, the founder and lead member of experimental group Liars to talk about his upcoming record The Apple Drop, which is out on August 6th, 2021. Andrew discusses collaborations from the record, philosophical themes, sci-fi inspirations, his creative process as well as his own mental health journey. The album is the result of collaboration with a variety of musicians who came together in a studio with Andrew, who then took the resulting hard drives back to Australia and began experimenting.
mxdwn: For this record, you had the opportunity to collaborate with a lot of impressive musical talents, including Laurence Pike, Cameron Deyell and Mary Pearson Andrew. Considering the fact that your last two projects were solo efforts, why did you think that this record would benefit from this kind of collaboration?
Angus Andrew: A couple of different things. The first thing was that I started writing demos for this record and I just knew immediately that the demos required, you know, expansion. And they needed to be developed in a way that it felt like it was bigger than me. Like I could hear how the songs might grow, but I felt immediately like it was beyond my skill level. At least you know, what I was hearing in my mind. Then I guess the other part of it is that I recently moved back to Australia, and so I had become, for the first time, connected to a musical community here. And I was in admiration of a lot of artists working in Australia, especially experimental musicians. So I really was hoping to work with a whole bunch of people, but it ended up being narrowed down to make it more possible. But yeah, I’m still pretty into the idea of collaborating. I guess I just had never have done it that much in my life, and now I’m way more open to it.
mxdwn: So, as you said, you’ve had other people involved with this project, but how are things different from a songwriting and recording perspective now compared to when you used to work with Aaron Hemphill, even though Liars has obviously released albums since then, but kind of that comparison?
AA: It’s pretty similar because with this record, I spent time in the studio with the other musicians and did a lot of experimenting and working with them. But ultimately, I took the hard drives full of material away back into the forest, where I spent about a year working on the material myself, just to, you know, construct to the songs, etcetera. And that’s really the same way I’ve always done it, you know it even back in the days working with Aaron and other Liars members. I like working with people, but I also really need time alone when I sculpt the work into something that I want.
mxdwn: Definitely, and kind of speaking to that, in other interviews, you’ve mentioned the fact that for this album, you’re really trying a ‘different way of creating.’ Would you mind explaining that a little bit?
AA: Well, I mean one way of thinking about it is that with each record, I try and find a different tool or a different way of approaching making music. And for me, that keeps everything super fresh cause I’m always learning how to do it, you know? It gives me the chance to use tools or instruments or software in a way that is kind of naive, like a kid playing with a new toy. It’s always very exciting, so with this one, funnily enough, it’s very similar, but it’s a bit more abstract. And I think that this time, the new tools or the new instruments were actually these human beings who could really play exceptionally well. So I was sort of able to utilize them as a new instrument, and it felt kind of like how I always feel when I pick up something brand new, where it just feels like the possibilities are endless. So in the studio with these guys, I’m just like trying to get as much out of them as I can because I just see so many possibilities. So it’s really kind of interesting to think of collaboration as kind of a new instrument.
mxdwn: That’s super interesting. So shifting a little bit talking about the two singles you’ve released already—“Big Appetite” and “Sekwar”—what about these specific tracks made you decide that they were the best choices to release as singles for the album?
AA: To be honest, I actually don’t make those decisions. I’m very bad at knowing, you know, knowing what the public might want to hear. I actually try and avoid thinking about that as much as possible. So the head of the record label that I’ve been with from the start of my career, Mute, Daniel Miller, I’ve worked with him on every Liars record and he’s picked every single from every record. At this point, I’m happy to go with what he thinks, because for me, my choice would always be track one, you know? Because it’s just obvious for me that that’s where I want the listener to start. But if you asked Daniel, he would probably say something like – he actually said to me that he wanted “Big Appetite” to be the single, but that might be hard for people to swallow. So he thought that “Sekwar” was something that was a bit more familiar, I guess? I don’t know, but to me, I kind of find all that stuff hard to think about, really.
mxdwn: So focusing on those tracks specifically, you’ve obviously released videos for them, and they’ve already been doing great numbers on Youtube, what does it mean to you to see that kind of reaction from your fans even though you haven’t released music in a while?
AA: Oh man, it’s another one of those things where I just kind of try to ignore whatever the reaction is. To be honest, like I really don’t find this part of the process that exhilarating, where you actually put things out in the world. My preference is always to be just working on stuff, and I enjoy the process of making things, but when it comes time to say ‘oh this is it’ or ‘now it’s finished,’ I find that really difficult and daunting, and I mostly just try to ignore it. But look, I’m super excited about those videos because they were great to make and I’ve been working with the director very closely from before the record was finished. We had a real vision for how these videos would work, and in the end, it’s three videos; another one is about to come out. And they’re all connected, which I’ve never done that before. I really loved the narrative of it.
mxdwn: Speaking specifically about the “Big Appetite” video, you’ve stated before that the selfishness of human nature is a theme that the track addresses. Is that a recurring theme for the record or are there other themes of humanity that also come up?
AA: I think that quote is about the song more than the video itself. So the song is kind of about that, and overall the record talks about or speaks to a journey through the mind, or physically away from a point and then going back to it. And the “Big Appetite” song sort of symbolizes in that journey, what you’re trying to escape from. Which is like, as you said, this kind of selfishness and greed in terms of nature. But yeah, the record goes in a lot of other directions even though it’s sort of following a narrative arc. The protagonist is traveling, as I said, like on a journey, but it references a lot of different parts of that journey; it’s not specifically sequential. It’s a bit more abstract, but this idea of nature and the finality of nature is what The Apple Drop title kind of references. Like gravity as this something that you have to accept it, and that’s part of what the album is kind of about. Accepting this kind of journey that you go on, and maybe that journey isn’t going anywhere, but you’re actually learning a lot on the way, and that’s kind of what I was thinking about.
mxdwn: With the videos that you kind of hinted at, both of them sonically and visually have a sci-fi-esque feel to them. Are there any specific TV shows, movies or media that you were kind of thinking about, or is it more just to the sci-fi genre in general?
AA: Yeah, I would say more in general, it was something that we sort of stumbled upon – this idea of how a lot of this journey could be related to a kind of a space travel kind of thing. And once we sort of opened up that can, you know there is so much material in there to unpack. I mean, I’ve always been a big fan of sci-fi literature, there’s a book called Seveneves, which was like a huge influence on the record and on the videos. Visually, like I don’t know man, it’s everything like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica any kind of you know as well as classics like you know 2001 and Interstellar and Gravity. I mean, all these movies and all this material is so interesting to me sort of easy to take from, so we felt like when we were making “Sekwar” and “Big Appetite” that we could just grab ideas and elements from all over the kind of sci-fi world, and ram them all together and that was kind of the big fun part of it.
mxdwn: Absolutely, so kind of moving away from the sci-fi aspect of it, your albums have had characters in the past, does this album have any characters or any characters from previous albums?
AA: Yeah, part of the journey that I went on was also to start to try and comprehend the records that I’ve made in the past. I’ve never been a big fan of listening to records from the past that I made because, I don’t know, I just want to always keep moving forward. But when I was making this record, what I wanted to start to understand was how this one would fit in connection with the ones from the past. And so, I started to imagine how some of those characters from past records would react to the music that I had made for this one. And so I’d sort of bring forward characters from old songs, years ago, and see how I thought they would develop in this kind of sonic landscape. And so it really helped me connect with the past, but also understand where I was going. So yeah, there are characters in this record, and a lot of them are influenced by the past characters.
mxdwn: For sure, and similar with the characters, obviously your albums in the past have had themes. Are there any themes that kind of crossover into this record, or do you think that the themes that you address here are very different from anything you’ve done in the past?
AA: Well, I think that one of the things with this record is sort of understanding the past a bit. I just wanted to talk about this idea of developing some sort of consciousness around your own work. To me, all artwork or music in some way is kind of grappling with a question, you know? Which is always trying to find some sort of meaning in whatever existence we have. When I boil it down, I kind of think that that’s the reason why we make things; it’s because we’re just trying to find meaning. So I think that it was great for me to look at all the parts catalog of records, and it would help me understand something about this life that I’m leading. But you know, in the end, what you realize is that you are still just always questioning and learning. Despite how accomplished, or how many records, or how far you feel like you’ve developed, there’s still further to go.
mxdwn: Yeah, definitely. Kind of shifting gears now, obviously this past year-and-a-half was tough on a lot of people. How was the process of making this record helped you from a mental health point of view?
AA: In the past, I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety, really since I began working as a musician. I’ve had the opportunity just over this past year to stop taking the kind of SSRI medications that I’ve been prescribed for 20 years and started to swap it out for psilocybin. That was an amazing big step for me mentally and also had a pretty profound effect on the sound of the record.
mxdwn: That’s great to hear. Kind of tying into that obviously this record has meant a lot for you, and in that sense, what are you hoping that your fans can take away after listening to the record?
AA: Oh, that’s a crazy question. The most honest way of reacting to that is that I prefer that people who listen to it to experience it for themselves and hopefully understand it in their own personal way. As I said before, I don’t try and project too far onto the audience and what they want or what they expect. Because in the end, the most important thing is for me to make the thing that I feel is important to make. And so, in terms of how the audience reacts and what they get from it, my hope is just maybe they’re just inspired to make something themselves.
mxdwn: That’s awesome. From both singles you can kind of tell that the record has a very cinematic experience/feel to it, you even likened it to a screenplay in other interviews. What about the sound of it do you think makes it so comparable to a screenplay for example?
AA: I guess it’s just, when, even from the demo stage before the songs developed, I could imagine them going wide in a sonic way. Where it felt like the songs, from a very early stage, wanted to be expanded in sound so that they felt cinematic in that way. I guess throughout the process, it’s just been about pushing those songs and sounds further and further, wider and wider, to create a bigger image. I think that just came from where the songs started; that was the impotence that was driving that process. As you mention, it ended up being something that contributed to the influence of the input. The way that we approach the lyrics was in a kind of more of a screenplay way, imagining the listener could move through the narrative arc of the record.
mxdwn: As the release date starts to get closer and closer, have you begun making any kind of preparations for a post-album release? Maybe even a tour? Or are you just like holding off on those kinds of conversations?
AA: Oh yeah, it’s a weird world right now, obviously, and we’ve actually done few shows down here in Australia. But we can’t leave Australia yet, in terms of international touring, so that’s difficult. But I have been plotting just getting back into a studio with the people that I worked with on this record. Because of me being here in Australia and those guys being available, I just kind of really want to begin work on something else. I mean, it’s as I mentioned earlier, I find the release of the record a bit fraught with all sorts of anxiety and stuff, and I’d rather just not acknowledge it, and I’d prefer just to make something brand new.
mxdwn: Of everything that we talked about, what aspect of the record are you most excited for people to hear if you had to pick just one thing?
AA: I think there’s a level of musicianship on this record, like a quality to the playing and the craft of songwriting that I think is unique to this record in the Liars catalog. It’s a sort of a symphonic record, which I’m really proud of in terms of the sonic quality of it. So yeah, I’m excited for people to be transported mentally in the same way that I was when making the record.