"Why start a band if you're just going to do the same thing everyone has done for the last 50 years?" asks Liars bassist Pat Nature.
Adopting that rhetorical statement as mantra, Nature's band reins in odd sounds, group shouting and walls of noise on its debut, They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, sending the mash careening through unorthodox bass-driven melodies for a result that at once takes a stern punk stance while being unapologetically infectious.
"It's a search for new sounds," Nature continued, explaining the New York quartet's ethos. "It's the experimentation of trying to find sounds in untraditional areas that you gravitate toward because they are unexpected."
With the album's first single, "Mr Your on Fire Mr," just beginning to get its legs, and a three-track Fins to Make Us More Fish-Like EP set to drop November 12, the band's hooks and innovative approach can hardly be attributed to experience — and thanks to the lack thereof, Liars maintain their freshness.
"This band is more about not what we learn, but what we collectively unlearn," singer Angus Andrew said in his deep Australian drawl. "A lot of the best art is the most uninformed. Bad drawings are great, and we work off that premise. If we don't know how to do something, then that might give us the one up."
One thing Liars don't know how to do is keep it short and simple. Their album, issued last year on Gern Blandsten and reissued this year by Mute, sports a 13-word title as well as songs with names like "Grown Men Dont Fall in the River, Just Like That," "Nothing Is Ever Lost or Can Be Lost My Science Friend" and "Tumbling Walls Buried in the Debris With ESG"? Why are your titles so damn long?
"Why are everyone else's song titles so damn short?" guitarist Aaron Hemphill fired back.
Liars buck convention with such aplomb that they've risen to the top of New York's "next big thing" set, along with Interpol, Radio 4, !!! and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with whom they recently toured, supporting Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The two buzz bands will tour again beginning October 23 in Cleveland on a co-headlining tour carrying the biggest cachet of cool since the White Stripes and the Strokes played together this summer.
"It feels right to be on tour with them," Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O said. "I think it's the most exciting bill ever. If I was a teenager, I'd be on cloud nine. It's going to be a real high-energy, raucous show."
It also promises to be one fueled by friendly competition.
"If we have to go first, we'll try to make them step up to us," O explained. "And if they go first, we're going to have to rise to the occasion because they're so good. We're constantly trying to outdo each other, so that's going to make it a really fun and crazy show."
Like Liars' laurels — Rolling Stone, Spin, The New York Times and others have pinned them as among the best in the Big Apple — praise for the YYY runs deep. The bassless trio that also features guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase will play the stripped-down Stripes to Liars' supercharged Strokes on the upcoming jaunt, and their five-song EP, Master, released by bedroom indie Shifty last year and given a larger display in July by Chicago's Touch and Go, sparked a label bidding war.
Flattered but not swayed, the band rejected the offers and instead decided to record in Brooklyn's Headgear Studios on its own dime, just like the Strokes, and then test the contractual waters. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have 17 songs in the can, which they'll prune to 12 for an album due in February.
"We're just really protective of what we're doing," O said. "We don't want to put ourselves into a position where we're subject to any outside pressure or being told what to do. That makes sense to us because we've basically done everything ourselves from the beginning, so we're kind of just going along on the same path of 'do it yourself.' "
Master dances from garage rock ("Bang," "Miles Away") to bouncy, edgy pop ("Mystery Girl") to avant-garde noise ("Art Star"), and Karen said the new album promises similar schizophrenia.
"We're consistent that way," she joked. "Consistent with not being consistent."
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' decision to remove themselves from the industry's clutches is also a reaction to months of relentless hype.
"It's really exciting because there are so many opportunities that have come up that have made the experience really wild and crazy, but it's gotten a little too wild and crazy," O said. "The problem with all of the attention and all of the hype is that it quickens the pace of things. So we have to put the brakes on and re-sort ourselves out. Things were moving a little too fast for us, and we just basically wanted to write songs and play shows."
Liars, conversely, realize that hype and loftily expectations can be construed as a kick in the pants to keep them from taking it too easy.
"As much as you try to ignore the press, it still gets to you," Andrew explained. "It's just another factor that you have to deal with, and you become better for it because you're challenged in that way. People might say, 'No, you're not really that good, and you're on the cover of a magazine.' And I'm glad they're thinking that, because at least they're thinking about us. But maybe we do have to be better ... or maybe we shouldn't be on the magazine cover."
Liars/Yeah Yeah Yeahs tour dates, according to Liars' publicist:
- 10/23 - Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
- 10/24 - Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
- 10/25 - Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
- 10/26 - Chicago, IL @ Fireside Bowl
- 10/27 - Newport, KY @ Southgate House
- 10/28 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Laga