In the conversation, the England-by-way-of-Australian Andrews discussed playing America (and not just SXSW), playing Australia & Asia (including audience strangeness in Japan & Tasmania), multi-genre bills, being in a band with his brother Ben, Steve Albini, cellar tape, aluminium, minimalism, maple syrup sub, and much more…
QRO: How long have you been in the United States?
Liam Andrews: We got here about a week ago; we flew into San Francisco and have been playing shows down the west coast and through Arizona.
QRO: What’s been the most receptive crowd for you so far?
LA: The shows have been slow to start with, but I’d probably say either San Diego or Tucson so far. The L.A. show was another version of this Australian Barbeque thing. That was one show, and the other L.A. show, we got put on last minute and it was a speed metal night, so it was a little obscure for us.
QRO: Did y’all pick up the tempo a little bit, or did you just do your regular thing?
LA: We just did our regular thing.
QRO: When you say the shows have been slow to start, but there were a couple good crowds, are those fans that heard of y’all before, or people who just showed up and seemed to be into what you were doing?
LA: Well, this is our fourth tour of the U.S, and it’s still a really hard place for us to tour, for people knowing what we’re doing and recognizing us. So, slow to start in that we’re using new gear, we’re traveling, slow to get in that zone of touring, I guess, because we’re going to be touring for ten weeks and it’s the first run of shows. Just trying to find our feet I guess.
QRO: When you say using new gear – do you bring your guitars over, or anything at all?
LA: Yeah, we just bring our guitars, and then we often hire gear or borrow gear. This time around we bought some gear when we arrived in San Francisco, just to make it easier. We’ve toured so much using random gear from show to show, and for the sounds we’re trying to create, it makes it very difficult for us.
QRO: Does anybody that’s loaning you gear worry that your drummer’s going to break their heads?
LA: We haven’t had that problem yet, so we’re lucky. But now he’s got his own kit here for the U.S.
QRO: What are you looking forward to most on the tour?
LA: To be honest, on Sunday after SXSW we start the tour with a band called Young Widows from Louisville. We’re doing about two and a half weeks, so we go up through Chicago and do all the northeast including some shows in Canada. So I’m really excited, just met those guys last night, and really excited to start touring with them and doing those shows.
QRO: Musically or otherwise, have you yourself been to America much?
LA: I’ve never been without playing, without the band. So we’ve been here four times in the last four years, and it’s all been to tour and record.
QRO: Is it common for Australian bands to tour here? Not super big ones.
LA: Not at all. You’ll find with most Australian bands, not to be disrespectful, but most Australian bands hat come over for SXSW, they’ll mostly do SXSW and fly home. Which for me is bizarre, is ridiculous. I guess it’s hard for bands to set up tours. We’ve done it for a long time and it’s been difficult for us, but we pursue certain avenues that have helped us out.
QRO: How long have y’all been a band?
LA: We started in 2003, so about six years now. We’ve kind of been touring pretty constantly since then; we’ve toured, the U.S. four times, we’ve been to the U.K., we’re going to Europe straight after this tour; we’ve toured Southeast Asia twice, and Japan, so we keep really busy outside of touring Australia as well. Australia being – there’s only really four of five major cities we can actually really play in.
QRO: And they’re not close together, you’ve got to go all the way around.
LA: Yeah, the shortest drive is probably from Adelaide to Melbourne, which is eight hours, that’s the shortest. We do drives that are like 22 hours to go play in Brisbane. It’s crazy.
QRO: I usually ask people what their most receptive crowds are, but I rarely ask it of bands that have played in so many places that I’ve never been to. What are the good or bad places to play for your particular sound?
LA: For us, Japan – we went there for the first time in November, and that just blew our minds. The response was incredible; the tour was so well set up. Everyone’s so respectful of just…. music. They’re so attentive, and a great response. We just did that after touring Southeast Asia, which was very different. Responses are amazing, very enthusiastic that an international band is playing in their town in Indonesia and places like that which we’ve played, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand. So it’s those kind of places that don’t get that kind of over-saturation of touring bands. Like in places like America and Europe where there’s just bands touring constantly, I actually prefer touring places that bands don’t go very often because there’s still that honest enthusiasm in coming to see live music and respect for the bands that are coming over to do that. They’re very appreciative of that kind of touring.
QRO: When you say appreciative you’re talking about people actually being quiet while bands are playing, or what else?
LA: Definitely in Japan, between songs everyone claps, they all finish and it’s just dead silence. It’s amazing; I’ve never experienced that.
QRO: And you weren’t playing cafes where people were sitting down and drinking wine.
LA: Not at all, they’re all rock clubs. Which are all really well set up. Coming from Australia, you get a lot of… people like to drink and people like to heckle and talk loudly. Which sometimes in our music, where we do have some kind of sparse silences, to notice that difference when going to Japan and places like that – the music’s a lot more effective when there is that silence.
QRO: Do y’all get heckled much?
LA: Not that often, except for in Tasmania. Tasmania in Australia is renowned for its bizarre heckling. They just yell out the weirdest stuff. But it’s like, they mean well when they do it, their way of showing appreciation is strange heckling.
QRO: So there’s some wit to it.
LA: Yeah, definitely. I remember once someone yelled out in between songs, “Please, somebody celetape my heart to the ceiling.” They just yelled that out in the middle of a song.
QRO: ‘Cele-’ what?
LA: ‘Celetape’. You know, like sticky tape. Tape my heart to the ceiling, or chest to the ceiling, something like that.
QRO: I guess they were moved romantically?
LA: I’d like to hope so.
QRO: ‘Cellar tape’, what is that?
LA: Celetape’s what’s you call sticky tape.
QRO: Cellar, like a basement, cellar.
LA: It’s spelled ‘celetape’ I believe. Celetape? I think so. Maybe it’s an English thing. Ben and I are both English.
QRO: So ya’ll weren’t born in Australia?
LA: Ben and I, the guitarist, we’re brothers and we grew up in South London, the London area. Until we migrated to Australia in the early ‘90s.
QRO: Is that with family, or did y’all –
QRO: I was wondering if it was a common thing for London dudes to just up and move to Australia.
LA: No, no, just our family decided to do that. I was still relatively young at the time.
QRO: And your drummer, where is he from?
LA: He’s born and raised in Melbourne.
QRO: What’s the scene like there?
LA: Amazing. Unbelievable. We’ve been to a lot of places, and the quality of Melbourne has had a great influence on what we do now. So many bands there, great live venues. It’s pretty amazing, really.
QRO: Are the bands – you said they’re good, is there anybody whose sound is pretty similar to yours, or do you stick out?
LA: Not that I know of, I couldn’t closely relate us to a band that sounds similar to us.
QRO: People seem a bit afraid of multi–genre bills, which is unfortunate. I guess I understand it as far as walk–in crowd, that if people came to see the headliner, they’ll be more likely to show up for bands of the same genre. But I like the ATP approach of just having somebody that the headliner thinks is good; that’ll probably extend to the bands a little bit. Or at least if they know the headliner picked them, maybe they’ll come out to see them.
LA: Yeah, I agree, I think mixed–genre lineups, I always find them a lot more interesting, for me and generally for people that come to see the shows. When you get like five bands that all sound the same, it’s not as interesting for me.
QRO: Do you get along with your brother?
LA: Yeah, I do. You know, we survive.
QRO: Are you older or is he older?
LA: He’s four years older. We’ve been touring for a long time together now. I mean, we have our arguments, we’re brothers, but we’ve somehow worked it out.
QRO: Does it help you get along to have another person who’s not related in the group?
LA: Definitely. But Rohan, I’ve been playing music with Rohan for so long now, we’ll have arguments too.
QRO: Have you played with other drummers too?
LA: Very, very rarely.
QRO: What’s the difference, playing with him versus playing with somebody else, as far as bass playing?
LA: I much prefer him. He’s – we’ve been playing together, just in My Disco six years, but probably all up, in various things when we were younger, ten plus years.
I see drum and bass as very interconnected, so I find the better relationship you have with someone musically, it just helps so much more.
QRO: Are y’all fans of Shellac?
LA: Of course. I mean, the band’s name is taken from a Big Black song. And we’ve recorded with Steve Albini, we love what he does.
QRO: Aluminum guitars.
LA: Yeah, we play aluminum guitars. Or what we call ‘aluminium’. So yeah, they’ve had a big influence on how we operate as a band.
QRO: What do you think about one of the trends they’ve been following over the past two or three records: the minimalist stuff that they’ve been doing, which seems to be reflected a lot in your music. Especially one thing the other night, when I think your brother, what’s his name?
QRO: Ben didn’t seem to be playing, but you were just holding down the rhythm, and the drummer was messing with the time and doing a solo.
LA: Yeah, yeah.
QRO: That’s one of my favorite Shellac things, when the guitar and bass will hold down the rhythm and the drum will solo, instead of the other way around.
LA: Yeah, of course.
QRO: I feel like they’ve been very mixed in the results they’ve have with doing minimalist stuff, sometimes it just seems to be so loose as to not have any kind of grounding. And maybe that’s what they’re going for, but it’s not very effective in a rock sense. Do you have an opinion?
LA: I think with Shellac, they challenge their listener. To the point of, it’s almost a joke. It’s almost taking a piss. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I listen to some of what they do on their records, I think it’s pretty funny. I find it quite humorous in how they’ve written their songs, and I’m guessing maybe that’s how they approach it.
QRO: Is there humor to your band?
LA: Not in our songwriting.
QRO: You picked the wrong Big Black song to name yourselves after for that, I guess.
LA: Yeah, definitely. No, not in our songwriting.
QRO: I’ve only seen part of one show – do y’all banter much, or o you play it pretty straight?
LA: We say very little. Very little.
QRO: Do you respond to hecklers or do you just let them do their thing?
LA: I generally just let them do their thing. Sometimes we’ll respond; it depends how we’re feeling I guess.
QRO: Like you’re giving them a satisfaction if you respond?
LA: Yeah. I like to just listen, and generally they’re always drunk, so it’s just nice to hear them ramble on. And it helps, like, cause we don’t say much during our sets, sometimes heckling helps. Breaks the silence in between songs when we’re tuning.
QRO: Do you feel like you’re constantly working to achieve balance between minimalism, not in a repetition sense, but in the not having a lot of things going on sense, where you have too little for it to be interesting if you’re not having everybody playing, but it’s too much and it doesn’t accomplish your goals if you have everybody riffing all the time? There were some times the other night when I thought, we need a riff here, or we just need a couple picks of the guitar. I feel like that’s probably – and again, I haven’t heard your record, so I could be completely wrong, but I imagine it could be a much bigger issue on records than live. Especially the other night at SoHo, there’s such a good visual presentation of the band, your drummer’s totally fun to watch, you’ve got cool looking guitars, and those kind of things will see you through repetition in a way that they might not on record.
So I think maybe live we get a little wilder on the less riffage, we might just drone out for a while and get in that hypnotic kind of rhythm. We often do that where we just get stuck on something and we can just keep going, and if we’re enjoying it, all of three of us enjoying, it will just sit on it. When we need to change, we’ll change.
QRO: Look at the audience at all to see if they’re enjoying it?
LA: No, not often. You know, sometimes, poke up. A lot of times, we’re playing to people who have never seen us before, so I don’t expect people to like, really get into it.
QRO: Good reason to tour.
LA: Yeah. No, not like get into it as in enjoy it, like if I’m going to look up at someone and see them thrashing out, I don’t expect that when someone sees us for the first time.
QRO: I was reading in the interview you did with the Vine, where you said that because you’re playing the same part over and over, you don’t have to think about what you’re doing, you can hone in on what’s going on around you. I don’t actually remember which one of y’all it was that said that. But it just made me think, that’s true of a lot of music, but it can go either way. The same effect could happen to the audience, in which because there’s not enough going on, they’re paying attention to the ceiling and what they want to drink next.
LA: Yes, true. I guess the idea is to get really caught up in the repetition, in this kind of hypnosis. That’s what I often find when we’re playing live, if we’re having a really good show, we can totally forget our surroundings and just sit on this jam for ages. And it can be really good, and often we talk to people after a show and they’ve felt the same way. The relationship between us and the audience, the connection can totally be there, it just depends whether or not you like what we do.
QRO: In what countries and cities do you find the live sound is best? Are there countries where you feel like clubs are set up properly, and countries where they’re not?
LA: Japan. Everything’s perfect in Japan. You get there, every afternoon a 3:00 load in, have full backline, excellent backline, the PAs. They’re in clubs that maybe hold 200 people…
QRO: So even for local bands, they wouldn’t bring their own equipment usually?
LA: No one owns anything in Japan. No one owns gear in Japan. Very few, so the backlines at all the venues are great, they’re amazing. The sound engineers are just very respectful; they’ll do whatever you ask. It’s often we turn up to places, and we’re a loud band, and we’ll turn up to places where our sound guys tell us to turn down – “You can’t play that loud!” and we kind of go argue with them, “This is how our guitars sound, you know, deal with it.” But in Japan, we had none of that. The clubs are maybe maximum 200 capacity. The PAs are massive, every band’s just so fuckin’ loud. It’s amazing, it’s really bizarre.
QRO: Do they just not have noise ordinances there, or what?
LA: No, I guess the venues are all set up really well to know that Japanese bands play loud, so they’re all well soundproofed. And often they’re like either in a basement underground, or five stories up in a club.
QRO: I wish the American rock underground had such a profound effect on city laws in America, too.
LA: With loud music, even in Australia there’s so many clubs that have noise restrictions. There’s a lot of places in Australia we can’t play cause we hit their decibel readings and they have it set up so that it clips the PA, you know, there’s places like that, and it’s tough.
QRO: You were talking earlier about going to places where they don’t get a lot of shows. Are there times when you go to places like that, and it’s a DIY environment where things are just not set up for a rock performance at all?
LA: Yeah, in Southeast Asia we’re playing – no one really owns much gear, and it’s all young punk kids that set up shows there. So most recently we’re touring through Indonesia, we’ll play on a tennis court in a town called Solo. And you just set up with this tiny little PA, and we’re playing through little combo amps this big that we could talk over when they’re listening to us play. It’s a whole other world. We go there expecting that, you can’t expect – they’re very poor communities that we’re playing to, you can’t charge for shows, you just lose money, but it’s a beautiful way of touring. Beautiful countries, and really amazing people.
QRO: Y’all speak any of those languages?
LA: No. We pick up a little bit when we travel, to be able to thank people and say hello, but otherwise, no, I don’t.
QRO: Which of the bands Steve Albini’s been in is most influential on your music?
LA: Probably Shellac. ‘Cause it’s the most recent, I guess. Hard to say, I mean there’s Shellac records I don’t like, and there’s big Black records I don’t like. But there’s records I really like. Rapeman records – I really love that Rapeman record. He’s just got a good thing going on, and I respect him for doing it.
QRO: It’s amazing for someone to be in three bands that are that good.
LA: I know, that’s what I mean. It’s phenomenal. And to be that good an engineer, he’s amazing to work with.
QRO: Was there anything that you were surprised by when you were working with him?
LA: I was surprised at how relaxed it was. It was probably the most relaxed environment we’ve ever recorded in. Really not stressful days. You know, we booked in six days down at Electrical and we finished in five. And for us, that’s really rare, we often take our time doing things.
QRO: That’s studio’s set up right, too, though.
LA: The studio’s immaculate! That’s the thing. And he knows – you know, you say, you might want this, and he’s done it before you even finish the sentence. He just knows that studio inside out. It’s so well kept, great staff that work there, everyone’s so helpful. Yeah, it’s really incredible. It blew my expectations.
QRO: Did y’all get to see Chicago?
LA: Did we…
QRO: Did y’all get to see Chicago?
LA: See? Yeah, we were there a week, and we played two shows either side of the recording. So you know, we got to see the venues and walk around the main streets and stuff like that.
QRO: Did you eat?
LA: We ate; there’s an excellent Mexican joint near the studio, we ate there most nights. And there’s also this place called Kuma’s, the heavy metal burger joint. Yeah…
QRO: Did you say ‘the heavy metal bloke joint’?
LA: Burger joint.
QRO: Oh, ‘burger joint’.
LA: Yeah! [laughs] There’s some cool places around Electrical Audio. We love – touring, it’s music and food for us.
QRO: My brother just became a philosophy professor in Singapore, and I think that’s about his favorite thing, the food stalls.
LA: It’s insane. You just get, these old women cooking all these beautiful meals, that for us, cost nothing, and it’s just like the best meal you’ll ever have.
QRO: I remember the travel stuff you were talking about earlier talking a long time to get from point A to point B; what are the disadvantages of being from Australia or Melbourne specifically? What are the hardships it inflicts on a band?
So it’s financially damaging.
QRO: Are there any patterns in how Americans react to Australians?
QRO: I guess you guys are from England, but how they react to what they perceive as Australians.
LA: No, not really. I think the first tour we did here, we probably had it the most, playing in places like Florida and that. A lot of people didn’t know where Australia was, stuff like that. Or we had actually on the first tour here, people got confused and thought we were from Europe, they thought we were Austrian. You know, you find finny stuff like that. Generally, I think more and more Australia’s being more well–known, particularly in the music scene. I think a lot of the electro music from Australia’s become very popular in America, so there’s a lot of bands doing really well from back home over here.
QRO: Do any of y’all in the band cook?
QRO: Do any of y’all in the band ever cook?
LA: Yeah, I cook quite a bit. At home; it’s hard on the road.
QRO: What are differences between the drinking cultures here and in Australia?
LA: I think it’s pretty similar.
We have really bad cheap beers, and so does America, and also we have really nice microbreweries, and so does America. I think it’s a very similar culture.
QRO: How about the eating culture. Portions pretty big over there, too?
LA: Not like they are here. They’re insane here. We’re – on the drive here, we did 15 hours from Tucson to Austin, and we’d stop in a rest stop and our friend who’s traveling with us from Australia, he’ll get a Coke, and it’s like a 44 oz. Coke, and this things fuckin’ bigger than his head!
QRO: It gets worse, man, too.
LA: Yeah, I bet! We don’t get anything like that. I think it’s illegal in Australia, to serve that kind of thing.
QRO: How would this interview be different if Ben or Rohan gave it?
LA: Rohan never does interviews. He’s never done one I don’t think. Not like, by himself. And if Ben did it, he’d probably be… you’d probably have a harder time understanding him.
QRO: Oh, that might have been good, though. Well, if this was a radio thing, that would have been great. But for me transcribing, it’s probably good that you were here.
LA: Yeah. One instance, when we were in the U.S., he went into a Subway, and he was trying to order a meatball sub. And the guy, the guy kept thinking he was saying maple syrup. He’s going “maple syrup what?” And he went on, he was like “MEAT–BALL–SUB,” and the dude’s like “Man, we don’t have maple syrup. [laughs] No one could understand him.
QRO: So did he get anything to eat?
LA: Yeah, I think he worked it out. I think our American driver was like “he wants a meatball sub.”