Name: Andrew Liles
Occupation: Sound artist
Current release: Fearenze LP, a collaboration between Andrew Liles and Maniac, is out now on Archaeological.
Recommendations: In a way it sounds almost conceited for me to recommend something that I enjoy, after all who am I? People should discover their own art that moves them. My tastes change all the time and there are many hundreds of art pieces, music and books that interest me but this week:
Book: Kifwebe: A Century Of Songye And Luba Masks
Art: Alessandro Biffignandi
Listening: UFO - Mechanix
If this Andrew Liles interview piqued your interest, head over to his personal website for more information about his thoughts, music and current updates. Also, check out our Maniac interview, his collaborator on Fearenze.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started recording when I was about 9 - using a portable tape machine with a built in microphone, kids stuff. I heard a radio play that was broadcast in binaural and wanted to emulate it. So I narrated a story adding sound FX. Then I got a little more serious when I was 16, using drum machine and guitar.
My main influence when I was 10 was Mike Oldfield, then later JG Thirlwell (Foetus) and Steven Stapleton. I was always intrigued and fascinated with the idea that one person could make ALL the music, without having a band.
I wasn't good enough a musician to be in a band and my ideas were too leftfield to fit in with any band. They generally wanted to be the latest 'punk band'. I was into something different, but I wasn't sure what that was. I'm still not that sure.
I was fascinated with multi track recording and I still find it magical. The first time I overdubbed a sound it felt like magic at work.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Firstly I wanted to sound like The Sisters of Mercy or Foetus. But failed miserably. I wanted to sound like my musical heroes, everyone does I think.
I don't think I am searching to find my own voice, I still copy and I still learn. To me there is no point finding a singular voice, I want to be many things, Rock Star, Modern composer, Technical genius, Electronic pioneer. I have probably failed at all of those things, maybe it is impossible to accomplish the definitive 'Liles Sound'. I try to be many things and usually wind up a million miles from where I started or where I wanted to be. Creating is a continual process of learning and evolving, trials, errors, flukes and luck. I hope it stays that way for me, it's good to be a student all one's life.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don't really have a strong identity of 'self'. I am not overtly political or have a 'message' to convey in my art. I would struggle to establish what my personal identity is in any meaningful way, so I don't think it influences my creativity so much.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
It was always money. Money to pay for recording gear. I always had very rudimentary equipment. Then it was having to work long hours to pay for the gear. So, as with all walks of life, the enemies to my creativity were time and money.
I have never really had any creative problems, I always had ideas and the means to put them together but I was held back by not affording the right technology. Luckily by the late 90's, recording technologies became affordable. The CDR and Cool Pro Edit changed everything for me.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I have always wanted everything, every conceivable instrument. Over the years I have picked up dozens of 'real' instruments, but modern technology has furnished me with almost every sound I could ever dream of. The choices I made were always driven by finances.
In terms of a time line -
70's: Voice and tape recorder
80's: Guitars: Westone Electric, Nylon Acoustic, Kimbara 12 string acoustic. Amstrad tape to tape machine. Mattel Synsonics drum machine, Boss Dr Rhythm DR-110, Casio SK-1, Roland SH101, DOD guitar pedals. Various percussion instruments.
90's: Alesis HR16, Alesis HR16B, Alesis MMT 8, Cheetah MQ8, Akai X700, Tascam 424, Sirius Quasimidi, Sony MDM-X4 MiniDisc Multitrack Recorder, Guitar: Epihone Les Paul.
2000's: Cool Pro Edit, Guitars: Gibson Explorer, Tokai Thunderbird
2010's to the present: Guitars: Jackson RR7, Gibson Flying V, BC Rich Warlock, Tanglewood Warload, Danelectro '59 12 string
Alesis Sample Pad Pro, HX Stomp, Numark NDX 400, Korg Controller. Software: Korg, Adobe Audition, Arutria V, Kontakt, East West, Urgitone, UVI, Reaper, Bias FX
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Sampling changed everything for me and everyone else. Later it would have been affordable home recording using computers.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
There is no 'one' way. It is usually file sharing and talking about ideas. They tend to evolve organically. Some are fast, others very slow. They are different every time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have a fairly regimented day -
'Admin' emails etc from about 8-9:00
Work on music work until 9 -11:00
Work out on my rowing machine 11 - 11:30
Go for a walk to meet my wife 12:00 - 13:00
14:00 recording until about 16:00 - 18:00
TV until about 21:30
Sometimes if I am busy or inspired, more recording 22:00 - to 1
Then do it all again...
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don't think I have a breakthrough album, I am too obscure to determine if that even applies to me. The most popular selling albums are All Closed Doors, My Long Accumulating, and Dying Submariner.
What I am working on becomes the most important 'work', I don't really think about its merits or what the audience may think. It either stands on its own or fails. I don't feel any special attachment to any of my creations, I am not that self indulgent or narcissistic to say 'oh this is wonderful' about myself. Some are better than others but the listener should make that decision.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don't have an ideal state of mind, I am in a continual state of flux. Some days are better than others, but I have a very mechanical approach to what I do. I need to be in a calm and controlled state. There is nothing worse than a hangover or being wrapped up in personal problems. The things that distract me are worry and personal neurosis, they really kill my creative energy.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I'm not sure I can get into the 'hippy' mindset of healing with music. But in terms of life and living, music has always been cathartic for me and made me the person I am, defining me culturally and personally.
The best thing music can do is to entertain people, make them happy and escape the world for an hour or so. It's the best thing that music can achieve, it's what I want people to get from my music, escapism.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think everything is up for grabs and all cultural exchange should be explored. I think the more society highlights our differences whether it be gender or ethnicity, the more complex things have become, defining what can be evaluated as 'good' or 'bad' is becoming abstract and to some extent absurd. Art should be evaluated on its own merits not by why it was created or by whom.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I'm very mechanical in my experience of music. I don't see colours or have otherworldly experiences. In simple terms, if it sounds good to me that is enough. I'm not really seeking or, have I ever found, alternative experiences from listening to music.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I try to create something that doesn't exist, that maybe be something impossibly complex or as original as I can make it. If I achieve that on a personal level that is all that matters. I don't have a social or political message in my work, I think most people recognise that the world is a complex, cruel and unfair place, I don't need to remind them.
There are elements of some of my feelings that seep in to the music, but the older I get, the less I understand the world and the more hopeless and emasculated I feel within it. It's totally futile to wave a flag when you know nothing will ever change. My art is apolitical, a solitary pursuit for personal satisfaction.
Making music is an obsession and focus in my life that takes me away from the turmoil of the real world. It's a compulsion that masks my feelings and desire to take part in the real life.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can easily express life, love, death and everything in-between, and in many respects I can't give you a reason why - because the answer is in the question itself - words alone cannot express that.