By Team Backbeat
By Amber Taufen
By Jon Solomon
By Tom Murphy
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
Oops, Liars did it again: The trio made a concept record. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that they made an album and then wrapped a concept around it. At its core, Drum's Not Dead, released earlier this year on Mute, is a winding rock voyage that maps the inspired course from formulation to execution using two fictional characters, Drum and Mt. Heart Attack, as the base of emotion. Drum is basically everything puppies-and-rainbows about creation, while Mt. Heart Attack is the bummer cloud that rains on frenetic artistic passion.
"It came up after the fact, after we wrote it," explains Aaron Hemphill, multi-instrumentalist for the band. "It was more like, how do you give purpose to a song title? Because many song titles don't really have any meaning. I mean, what's the point in having a song title? To reiterate a word in the chorus? That not really what we wanted to do."
"We wanted to make titles to reflect what we were going through and what the inspiration for each song was," he continues. "So the whole Drum and Mt. Heart Attack characters were just different ways that we felt about approaching a situation. It was more of trying to offer guidance through the record. It wasn't the nucleus of growth; it was just a nice decoration to help people understand it."
So Liars really aren't trying to be super-weird? And this whole thematic concept wasn't some elaborate art-for-the-sake-of-art ego trip? Guess not, but that doesn't mean they dumbed it down, either. Drum's Not Dead is intense -- like is-there-something-in-the-Kool-Aid intense. And the beastly nature of actually making the album is well documented through the storybook song titles and hand-drawn artwork in the liner notes. Even more difficult to wrap the noggin around is the bandmembers' method of songwriting -- namely, not writing together. The three Liars -- Hemphill, Aussie vocalist/guitarist Angus Andrew and drummer Julian Gross -- do it Pink Floyd style and nix the jam sessions, opting instead for solitary confinement.
"We've always worked apart," Hemphill says. "That's how we come up with the bulk of our stuff. Even when we lived in Jersey, we didn't really write songs together. We'd complete them and then bring them to each other. It sounds like it isn't supposed to work, but it's the best way for us."
There are currently thousands of miles between the three -- one day, Andrew took a solo trip with all his belongings to Berlin, Germany, and never came back, while Hemphill and Gross ended up trading the salty shores of the East Coast for sunny California. But despite the transcontinental separation, Liars have remained a collective and even managed to convene in Germany to produce Drum's. Toss in a few sporadic European tours during those recording sessions, and it's like the boys never parted.
"I don't know why it works that way," Hemphill muses. "It's just kind of how we started the band and how we've always done it. It's really hard for us to work with people we don't know -- and sometimes, even with each other.
"We become very..." Hemphill goes on, pausing to find just the right, least offensive phrase, and then utters, "aware of what we are contributing. Whereas when we're alone, it's just more comfortable. I guess maybe we're just sort of perfectionists."
Guess, maybe, sort of? Hemphill should be anything but modest. As a founding member of the oft-misunderstood act, he should be pissing his pants silly with triumphant glee at the fair-weather fandom that he and his bandmates have encountered over the years. The buzz started in 2001 with the remarkably wordy They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. It was a well-received smash of punky dance rhythms and art-rock hysteria. The kids -- and, less important, the critics -- loved it. Liars snagged kingpin spots on the emerging underground Brooklyn scene where they once resided, bumping elbows with the likes of then-newbies the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes and the Rapture. The outfit was poised to be the über-hip godfathers for shaggy-haired children across the globe.
But then They Were Wrong, So We Drowned happened.
The 2004 album, which also marked the addition of Gross and the departure of former Liars Pat Noeker and Ron Albertson, shat all over the disco floor and gathered a load of stinky reviews. But not necessarily because it was a bad album -- rather, because it was a radical one. They Were Wrong moved the boys out of the city and into the dank, hooded and creepy woods of New Jersey. It delved into noise experimentation and banshee vocals, neurotic sound clips of birds and witchcraft lore. They Were Wrong did to the Brooklyn scene what Radiohead's Kid A did to pop music: It fucked up the formula.
And the kids and the critics hated it.
Spin infamously called it "unlistenable," and Rolling Stone dumped the album like yesterday's trash. But after a couple of years under the radar, Liars have crawled back into feverish favor with Drum's Not Dead. Like a told-ya-so slap in the face, the disc is a wonder of lung-collapsing melodic drone and hypnotically timed percussion that, as the current trend would have it, is everything that today's record buyer is itching and aching to hear.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city