Liars on “Sisterworld,” Bret Easton Ellis, and Playing Dead

Unlike Barbados, Sisterworld is not a place you can actively visit, for you may have already created your own. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve gleaned from talking to Liars, the shape shifting, Radiohead-endorsed art rockers. Their upcoming fifth album, Sisterworld (out March 9th) finds the band shipwrecked on unknown territory: At the Liars website, the group members are clothed like Raggedy Andy, scattered amid copies of themselves, and wandering on a lifeless beach; in their new music video, “Scissor,” they are lost at sea, mercilessly pelted with ovular rocks, released by palms unknown. On an album that shifts between numbing guitar chugs and violins that edge mournfully against grooving drums, these cryptic, anxious images seem fitting.

We chatted with Liars’ Aaron Hemphill to dig into the mystery that is Sisterworld, including Bret Easton Ellis’ influence on the album and what it was like to play dead in a music video.

So what is the difference between the real world and the land of your album title, Sisterworld?

Well, Sisterworld is not a pronoun. It’s not a world we made for everyone to enter on our terms. Sisterworld is an alternate state that any person creates in order to help them deal with life on their own terms. And our album is titled Sisterworld because it deals with a wide range of emotion and reaction. I think we felt that all these different activities or actions that inspired the album — be they violent, romantic, or depressing — can tend to people who have found their way to deal with society on their own terms or who haven’t.

I was watching a clip from Judge Judy, about friends who got so drunk that one dude threw a television at the wall and killed the cat. This reminded me of the the album’s ninth song, “The Overachievers.” Specifically, the lyrics, “I bought a house with you / we settled down with cats. / There wasn’t much to do / so we just sat and watched the TV / and smoked weed.”  What do these characters suffer from?

Angus wrote that song, and I think you’re the first person to really bring up Judge Judy. He has said that song was inspired a lot by trashy TV, but it also deals with Bret Easton Ellis-type characters, where seemingly you have everything — and this will show you how loose the Sisterworld title is, and maybe to answer a future question, it’s not a concept — though characters of Bret Easton Ellis or in the song “The Overachievers” . . . may be imbued with material benefits, say, in Bret Easton Ellis, they have Porsches, they went to USB, and they’re just bored stiff. Given all those advantages, they still cannot manage to deal with life on their own terms. It creates this general sort of void.

Does this idea of the materially well-endowed go in hand with an earlier song on the album, “Proud Evolution”? I thought the song spoke about how we may gain a false sense of confidence based on our possessions.

No, no, actually, I mean, again, it’s not really for me to tell you what it’s about. Whatever you created is awesome, so I can’t tell you you’re wrong, because that’s an amazing way to look at it. I mean, some perspective on what it was written about, it’s more about a person . . . they have too much confidence in finding some sort of world that they thrive in when they could’ve bitten off more than they can chew. It’s not necessarily that they have a material thing, it’s maybe that they’re cluttered with ethical junk . . . you know again, it’s kind of difficult when you ask about meanings of songs because your perspective is ultimately more important at this point. But at the same time you’re conducting an interview . . . basically it’s really hard because we don’t want to ruin it for the listener. We don’t want to reign in control, that would make it a concept record. We really just want people to enjoy it for whatever reason, less so than whether or not they got it right. It creates a lot of anxiety for me actually . . .

Okay, I definitely understand not wanting to ruin it. Throughout the album, I noticed the lyrics kept coming back to LA. Like in “The Overachievers,” in which Angus switches between singing “LA” and “HELL A.” Do you guys just not like LA?

I love LA. All three of us are really happy here. We’re happy to work here and how that can fit into what some people describe as a pretty dark record is just a deeper analysis of people who haven’t found the sort of place in their lives that music provides for me or as a band. And I think that there’s differing examples of that on display in LA. We’re not trying to teach anybody a lesson or anything or open people’s eyes in a politically conscious way; it’s more, when we bring up a broad sort of theme, it’s nice if the listener just thinks about themself and how the relationship with their environment is and if it needs further investigation in things of that nature.

In the music video for the new single, “Scissor,” you and Julian play fantastically lifeless men on a boat, while Angus attempts to escape death from mystical stoning forces. What was it like being dead?

Well, that shoot was really grueling on Angus. It was really cold, it was shot in the winter, the water was really cold, the air temperature was cold, Angus had back pain prior to that, and he was in the water and it was windy for pretty much twelve hours and being directed to act. He did such an amazing job; I think he’s an amazing actor. So he’s out there swimming in the water and just freezing in wet clothes and Julian and I are in our dead guy, dry sweater costumes on the boat, and our only job is to basically take a nap under the camera. I think Julian and I really lucked out and it’s also worth noting the torture that Angus went through for the video’s sake

Were you thinking about a certain thing in order to look dead?

I’m only laughing because it’s probably something I would do, like Lee Strasberg, because I really like the whole method acting thing and trying to apply that to everything. But anyways, no, I feel very uncomfortable in front of the camera and what I really just tried to do was not think about the situation . . .  but I don’t know to what effect. I don’t know if I win the dead guy award of the year.

Well, if your mind wasn’t on anything in particular, than it might sort of be like being dead.

It could be or, who knows, who knows what being dead is like right?

Liars’ Sisterworld will be released March 9th on Mute Records.