Curious how the Liars are regarded amongst their peers, last week Noise posted this simple prompt on the redoubtable Hands Up Houston message board: "Fill in the blank: Born Liars are the most ________ band in Houston."
The results, some of which suspiciously appeared to come from assorted Liars themselves — Hands Up allows users to post under any name they see fit, such as "jerk" and "asshole" — were more than he could have hoped for. According to their friends, fans and the odd hater or two, Born Liars are...
"Likely to overdose."
"Stuck-up, played-out, coked-up — j/k [just kidding] I love Born Liars."
"Fuckable." (From one of the band.)
"Likely to get you kicked out of an art opening for causing a commotion, destroying property and hogging cheese."
And the last one, for which horribly conclusive photographic evidence exists and was even thoughtfully posted on Hands Up shortly thereafter in one of the many responses:
"Likely to piss on a member of Metallica."
The Metallica man in question, if you're curious, was drummer Lars Ulrich, in town for Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit. The shower was thankfully aborted at the last minute, which does nothing at all to lessen the legend.
Noise thought about meeting up with the Liars, but since an interview would almost surely involve several rounds of drinks, he didn't want to run the risk of conducting all or part of it in jail. Missing a deadline waiting on bail money is a tough one to explain to your editors. Furthermore, given the information volunteered by their Hands Up friends — which none of the Liars, some of whom have wives and children, bothered to dispute — perhaps it's best that, for the purposes of this column, their specific identities remain anonymous.
Besides, everything one could hope to learn about the Liars is laid out plain as day on the band's new vinyl-only LP Ragged Island: amplifier-abusing guitars, a rhythm section that shakes the central nervous system like a rag doll and lyrics about seedy Fannin Street, needing a ride home and, in general, "How It Gets at Night." That would be, per the boozy, Stones-ish rocker, "Out of your head, out of your mind."
Perhaps no one knows the Liars better than Rosa Guerrero, who runs Ditchwater Records, Ragged Island's label. Guerrero can usually be found snapping pictures of the band while dodging various limbs and guitar necks, among other things. It's not unusual to wake up the morning after a Born Liars show with some mysterious new cuts and bruises, which Noise is not ashamed to say he's done once or twice.
"They play loud and fast, and even their slow ones make you want to slug the person next to you," she says.
That was certainly the case at what Guerrero calls the Liars' most infamous show, one she skipped but her husband, Linus Pauling Quartet guitarist and former Free Press Houston music writer Ramon Medina, witnessed.
"That's the one where I believe a girlfight broke out over who knows what — does there need to be a reason at a Born Liars show?" she says. "Fists started flying, I think somebody got pounded with a stiletto heel and the band played on. It's all part of the show."
However honestly the Liars come by their debauched reputation, it tends to obscure the fact that they're serious musicians — the current lineup's other bands, past and present, include Gun Crazy, Hell City Kings, Insect Warfare and Homopolice — with a serious work ethic. Guerrero says they're already back in the studio working on the follow-up to Ragged Island, which will be their third full-length.
(By the way, Island will be released on CD later this year on Pat Todd of L.A. cowpunks the Rank Outsiders' Rank Outsider Records; the Liars and Outsiders will compete to see who can do the most damage to Rudyard's PA system Friday night.)
"I think they really know what exactly the sound is they're going for, and that makes things very expedient in terms of songwriting," Guerrero says. "This isn't experimental music, but certainly whatever it is they've been doing — or ingesting — it's working."
If anyone at Wicked Cool Records — the in-house label for Little Steven's Underground Garage — happens to be reading this, they might want to consider picking up the option on the Liars' work in progress. Ragged Island itself is like a mini-episode of Underground Garage, nodding at everyone from Pacific Northwest fuzz-tone pioneers the Sonics to British Invasion sneerers the Kinks and Yardbirds and contemporary Texas terrors the Riverboat Gamblers. It may not be rocket science, but it does rock. And then some.
"I really like 'em. I don't get that excited anymore about the type of music they do, but when I heard that album I was just blown away," says Sound Exchange owner Kurt Brennan, who likens the Liars to mid-'70s East Coast pre-punk legends the Dead Boys and New York Dolls. "I'm just so ancient that I remember that music when it first started, and I'm like, 'Ehhh, another garage band, another rock-and-roll thing,' but they're just really, really good at it."
The Liars' lyrics are littered with local references, and Guerrero says if she had to pick one band to represent Houston to the United Nations of rock and roll, it would be them. Why?
"It's basically the 'We don't care what you think about us' kind of attitude," she says. "That definitely comes across onstage. Certainly it could be argued that that kind of punk/rock and roll may seem anachronistic" — here she cites ear-bleeding bygones like Australia's the Saints and Boston's the Real Kids — "but Houston is a hugely anachronistic town."
Speaking of anachronisms, they don't come much bigger than a band releasing its vinyl-only LP at an actual record store. Brennan has the somewhat dubious honor of maintaining some semblance of order at the Liars' release party Thursday night at Sound Exchange. Given the combined tendency for rowdiness between the Liars and their fans — and the fact that free Lone Star tallboys will be on hand — how worried is he about any potential property damage?
"Oh, we always are with these shows," he laughs. "It just comes with the territory. It's not a party unless something gets broken or the cops get called."