The backstage room at Oxford Art Factory always leaves something to be desired, it’s certainly characterful and I’ve broken into it many times to steal words from the likes of Lydia Lunch and Alex Cameron. Yet speaking to Angus Andrew, the only original member of Australian-American rock band Liars (Mark E. Smith with manners), the room seems too small for the history and reputation of the group. Founded in 2000 with eight records under their belt, the sticky floored room does little to mirror the significance of the band, reflecting only the intimacy and immediacy one can share in conversation with Andrew. Engaging, enthusiastic and erudite, we back and forth about being married to the band and how landscape affects his art.
“Being in a band becomes very familial, I had a creative relationship that was completely intertwined. Everything is together.”
Upon noticing my British accent, Andrew comments that I’m not from around here and we begin to talk touring, specifically in the UK. He asks his new drummer, Laurence Pike, “How are English shows compared to the rest of the world?” to which Pike’s replies “Mildly forgettable.” “It’s a tough place to tour, it’s one of the hardest for me,” Andrew continues to explain, declaring the food and the cold don’t help England’s case. Stoke on Trent is very low down on the list of favourite places to play; “I had an opener there, who were a local band, and all the family and friends came to see these kids play, and the crowd was so into it that the opening band played their entire set again.” The second set by this band was so powerful Andrew recalls rowdy family members tearing the bathrooms apart. After profusely apologising on behalf of the English we move onto Andrew’s current image; the wedding dress.
“Its a confusing era,” Andrew muses when I ask if he feels the pressure of the current sexual politics. “Since I started wearing a dress, I didn’t think of it as a huge statement. I didn’t think, stupidly, every interview I did would mention this. I’m shocked by the fact that in this day an age a man wearing a dress is such a talking point.” I reference Kurt Cobain wearing a dress in the 90s, and ask Andrew if he feels times have changed. “It’s so complicated now, probably even more so than when Cobain did it. Now I’m appropriating or speaking from a position that I’m not allowed to ‘cos I’m utilising some feminine elements that I don’t have a right to as a man, and that kind of thing.” The discussion around Andrews’ dress causes him to reflect on how his former lyrics could be construed now, using the example of It Fit’s ‘Dancing my way across your lawn’. “It’s very stalker-y, and I’m going to come get you, and I wonder how people can frame that now?”
An acutely self-aware artist, Andrew tells me how at his most recent show in Melbourne a woman spent the whole gig trying to lift up his skirt. “Is it possible to think that if the gender roles were reversed in that scenario, could it have happened?” The female fan also got on stage at which point “we all got off stage”. The band agree that it’s very easy to get excited by the music, but “it’s interesting to consider if things were [sexually] different, and maybe that’s for a reason?” I joke that he should not be responsible for the thousands of years of Patriarchal oppression that one fan has sought revenge for on his wedding dress. The wedding dress, for Andrew, is less about sexual politics, more about commitment.
“The standard thing that I was thinking was that I, up until that point, had been pretty much married to my band mates. Being in a band becomes very familial, I had a creative relationship that was completely intertwined. Everything is together. So when that ended, I reflected and that image came to me, I also wanted to take control of that image in a more empowering way. And I think it’s a strong image.” As Liars toured in Europe, and Australia fought the ‘Vote Yes’ for marriage equality campaign, Andrew comments on how archaic it was to be asked about wearing a dress. “Are we back in the 50s? I was just shocked that it was even a consideration, and that late in the game too. Super conservative.”
Conservative in places maybe, but not devoid of inspiration, Australia has its place in Andrew’s creative world. We speak about music that influenced the band’s latest record, Titles With the word Fountain, “A lot of Australian music, that’s my focus, you name it I’ve heard it.” The rest of the band confirm that he studies hard for the playlists that he makes.
“What’s exciting to me about music [in Australia] is that there is a lot to find, there are not enough channels to get it out into the world.”
Andrew feels that there must be something to Australian artists and their idiosyncrasies; a respect for music as a real trade or skill, which was so intimidating that he did not pick up an instrument until he left Australia. “What’s exciting to me about music [in Australia] is that there is a lot to find, there are not enough channels to get it out into the world.” But it’s not just the people, rather the landscape which influences the creation of art. “When I was in L.A. I was interested in very sharp production and stuff made to a grid so it’s all super in time, so that was Mess. And then when moved here to the bush, where I live, I just listened to the rhythms of the environment where, the wind and the water, and things come in and out of time in this beautiful organic way. Speaking sonically, I just wanted everything not to be as clean, things falling apart. Out of tune and out of time.” Influenced by the undulation of cicadas, “there is wave. Where I live, people get pissed and wear earphones because it’s so loud.” Probably not as loud as watching Liars perform live, who command the stage with a prowess that only a seasoned band can, and the honest delivery of a reflective and present writer. Liars give us a true picture of an artist influenced by his not just his social environment, but his natural environment as well.