INTERVIEW: Charming Liars’ Kiliyan Maguire talks staying creative, their singles approach and hopes for what 2021 could look like
(photo credit: Amelia Tubbs)
When Blame by Charming Liars popped up, it hit as a perfect summer anthem, and instantly piqued interest after seeing the band’s name for years. Blame is only one of the many singles Charming Liars have released over these past few months, one each month with Golden State, Favorite Show, and the latest Flames. While a lot of acts have been oversaturating your Instagram feeds with content, that isn’t the normal for most creatives in these never imagined before times. So it was incredibly refreshing to, in sitting down with frontman Kiliyan Maguire over the phone of course, get a true look into someone’s approach to creativity in these times as well as a bird’s eye view into what it was like to have a tour get cut short when on tour in another country like the band found themselves in.
If you’ve listened to the band in the past, the new singles are a significant departure from their debut record that dropped only last year which was definitely more of an industrial vibe. In the words of Maguire, “Each song is a little bit different, it’s a departure from the album and it wasn’t intentional but I think they’re definitely lightening up a little bit.” It’s the kind of music we need in these times, some shimmery tunes matched up with breathtaking visually artistic music videos, to escape from so much that’s obviously going on in the world right now, and I’m fully here for it.
To jump right in, you just put out the video for “Flames”, and you’ve been steadily releasing these singles. From looking at “Blame”, I know you did something kind of similar where you had an artist do images and visual representations for these videos. How did you connect with the artist for “Flames”, it’s so intricate. Is it something where the artist (Esmay Luck) came up with the ideas, was it something where you gave guidelines of what you wanted to do? How did that video kind of come together?
Kiliyan Maguire: Well, “Flames” has a lot of imagery in it, a lot of literal imagery. So when we were thinking about putting a video together, it was hard to think of anything except for the actual actions happening in the song. The de Niro line, or different things like that. We kind of were just able to put together a bit of a Pinterest board on the direction and we just let the artist Esmay do her thing and it translated really well. I was really happy with the way it came together. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, to watch art get created from the ground up. I love those videos and we thought it would be a great idea to just incorporate that. Especially in a time like this, where we can’t necessarily use filming crews and things like that like we have in the past because of the pandemic and everything. So it was an interesting way to kind of support artists too.
And was it something where you knew these artists from the past, did you search them out from seeing their other work? I know you had a different artist for “Blame” and obviously very different kinds of visuals.
KM: So yeah for “Flames”, the artist who did it (Esmay Luck), is a lovely artist who is actually a musician in a band called The Luck that we’ve known for years. And she just happens to be an incredible artist when it comes to watercolors and things like that. So she was a pretty obvious choice to reach out to when we were thinking about doing this kind of video. Then we’ve had other artists on the past singles too who are newer to us that we hadn’t known before. Like the artist who did our “Favorite Show” single artwork and different things like that. Or “Golden State”. It was kind of cool because we got to work with a lot of different visual artists in the past couple months but Esmay was the one we knew the best. So yeah she was the one who put together our “Flames” video.
That’s awesome! And as states start to reopen at different times, and starting to see drive in shows pop up, production may get to start to begin again. But because of the times we’re dealing with, do you think this is something you may continue to do in the future even if you are able to start shooting your own videos, as you’re able to potentially record live videos and stuff like that?
KM: I think so. For us, it’s not that we want to stay away from the live video aspect, but we’ve always just wanted to not oversaturate our video streams with just that.
Or being able to create videos. Like being able to have videos that you film and put together.
KM: Yeah, I think for us, each cycle we normally have a couple live videos. Those are kind of our more performance based videos and then like you said, something a little different with the artists, we’ve done other things in the past. But I think we’ll always continue to try to do different things but we’ll probably always do a few performance videos in there as well.
Then from reading about it, from looking at it, pretty much every month you’ve released a new single. Starting with “Golden State”, “Blame”, “Favorite Show” and now “Flames”. From reading about it, I know this was intentional. It was something you were going to do before this pandemic hit. How has the reaction been to these tracks? To me, it’s a significant departure from the debut album. How have you seen the fan reaction from this different way they can interact with you?
KM: It actually worked out really well. Like you said, we had planned to release these songs this way even before the pandemic hit, one a month. And that’s been perfect for right now because a lot of people are at home. And they have the time to digest new music, new films, and things like that. So it’s been really neat to kind of see. Each song is a little bit different, it’s a departure from the album and it wasn’t intentional but I think they’re definitely lightening up a little bit. Compared to the first record which was a little darker sonically and lyrically. For me whenever I write lyrics, I try to be as honest as I can with who I am at that moment. Who I am in this cycle. I’m kind of just gleaming with a little more sunshine so I think that’s just showing thru in the art. And the way people have reacted to it has been very positive. We released “Favorite Show” maybe about a month and a half ago. Out of all those songs, that one is one of my all time favorites. It’s gotten a lot of good reactions, all of it has but that one in particular people seem to really like.
And I know at least from looking at the breakdown of the members, you and the two others, Karnig and Mike. Karnig has production listed for him. Is that something where you guys produce your own music together or is it something he does live? How has that affected these new tracks? This new record that you’re working on? Maybe something you changed in this recording process?
KM: So from the very beginning, the way we’ve written music hasn’t really changed or evolved very much. Which is kind of a good thing because the way we usually do it it’s one of two ways. Either A, I’ll go into the studio and Karnig will play it out, kind of a soundscape. What I like to do is just listen to it maybe once then go right into the booth and record the first lyrics and melodies that come to my mind. Because, if you have to overthink it to write it, you have to overthink it to listen to it. And I feel like my best stuff just comes on the fly.
Or I’ll maybe write an acoustic song, the bare bones, and sometimes that’s even the more difficult process. Just trying to take on the singer-songwriter Jackson Browne kind of song and turn it into one of the songs that we have on the record. So it’s kind of one of those either A or B process wise, but it’s really cool having Karnig do all the production and everything like that. Because it’s very organic and it’s all done in house. So there’s no outside parties which I like.
Then I wanted to ask you, I’m sure there were a lot of plans for the band. You had planned to go out with Palaye Royale in the states, and you had gone out with Angels and Airwaves. Obviously that’s not a thing we can do right now, hopefully they’ve been rescheduled for the future. But how have you been working together creatively? Are you seperate right now from each other, are you connecting online with your bandmates? Still trying to keep up the process.
KM: So the first couple weeks, we were separated and we were doing the self quarantine and stuff like that. During that time, it was really strange. Like you mentioned, the tour had just got cut short and we had to come home. But during tour, you’re being super productive but then when you get home, it just all stops. And it was the first time that I really, in a couple years, just kind of put down the guitar, put down the pen. Just kind of took in the moment. Didn’t necessarily pursue writing anything new or anything. I just kind of wanted to unwind a bit. Then over like the last two months, Karnig and I have been meeting in the studio. I get in the door and I just go straight to the vocal booth so we can maintain some separation. We’ve just been working that way. With the videos, the artistic videos and stuff like that, there’s just a lot of emailing and stuff like that. So we’ve definitely been creating. It’s been a little slower with everything that’s been going on but we’ve been staying relatively productive.
I mean this is an unheard of time. At least I know from friends that were on tour, I’m sure you were in a very similar situation, but they had like a thirty hour drive home. It was this kind of one day where music just stopped. I just remember that day very clearly, just knowing the day that all of these tours were going to be cut short, they were all going to be canceled. It must have been so shocking and so crazy to you because this is something we’ve never experienced really before so I can understand.
KM: Yeah it was really weird. We had just played in Poland the night before, a sold out show. Incredible, one of the best shows of the tour. We had heard rumors kind of circulating through the camps, like maybe a few shows would be chopped and we assumed that was probably going to happen. Milan was coming up in a few weeks after Poland and we figured that was probably not going to happen. In Spain, there were a couple shows in about a month and we figured those weren’t going to happen. But it was nuts because we were driving to Budapest, and we got the call, “Hey, X, Y, and Z shows are gone”. So it was like okay cool let’s drive towards Prague and then we get the call, “Hey the whole tour is canceled. Get your tickets home”.
I can’t even imagine being overseas during that. Being not just able to drive home.
KM: Yeah I’ll tell you the drive home was really the scariest part. We were in Europe then and a lot of countries were closing their borders down, like everybody kind of did during that time. I think we got out of the Czech Republic right before they decided to close their borders down. It was wild just driving, we were flying out of Paris at the time, and literally just seeing Hazmat suits and police blockades on the streets, on the freeways and stuff. It felt like something out of a movie. Just a really surreal moment then just getting home and being like, okay I’m going to stay in my apartment and unwind after that.
That’s what I’ve heard a lot. You’re maybe the third or fourth interview I’ve done in this time. Just because as a writer I’ve been doing it for around ten years. So it’s so hard and weird to think about what this is going to mean for touring and releasing records and that kind of thing. Then maybe to end on a semi positive note, how have you guys been maybe focusing on your mental health and taking care of yourself? Maybe how do you think 2021 is going to be? Considering it is most likely the time where we’ll start really seeing touring again. If you have a viewpoint yet, what you think it’s going to be like in 2021?
KM: It’s so hard to gauge that. I’ve heard so many different stories. Some people say concerts are going to be in drive in movie theatres or they’re going to be undersold by half or a third. I think 2021 is going to be a very busy year. I think that a lot of bands that have postponed touring this year, obviously those tours are going to happen in 2021. There are going to be a lot of records coming out in 2021 I can imagine. Obviously there’s a lot of bands that had written records that they were planning on coming out this year that are now going to come out next year. Or it’s the quarantine record, everybody’s at home and they have all of this time to write and create. I think 2021 is going to be a very interesting year. Not only for touring but for the world in general. I think it’s definitely headed in that direction.