The frontman of Liar is guitarist Eric McFadden. Those in the know have known for some time that Eric is one of the most phenomenal musicians around these parts, a genuine prodigy and a true musical genius. He is the best guitarist I know of. He can play a dozen different styles each as well as that style's masters. He has had, and still has, various other bands -- go here for my Eric McFadden fan page covering his non-Liar activities. But Liar is the preeminent one, because of the richness that is possible with a synergy of two excellent lead instruments bouncing off each other... the other lead player being Sheila Schat, violinist. She came to Liar from The New E-Z Devils (a band that had many similarities to Liar -- they almost seemed like an imitation, except they were the older group) to replace Liar's original violinist, the marvelous Marisa Martinez Mead, who before she left the band got my vote as favorite rock'n'roll violinist ever. Marisa's playing style was more traditional than Sheila's is -- with Sheila, the sound is less melodic and more avant-garde, though the melodic element has gotten stronger the longer she's been with the band. (If you missed hearing them back then, get the first two albums. The second one now exists in two versions, the first being all Marisa and the second being half Marisa and half Sheila.) The rhythm section is Paula O'Rourke (known previously as Paula Blanchard), bass, and Paulo Baldi, drums. Paulo is a truly hot player. Paula is the one who inspired me to buy a bass (a cheapass Peavey Fundament with the frets taken off -- I get along better without them because I used to play cello). Paula and Paulo are also in the Ali Khan band. Paulo is also in a strings-oriented band called Deadweight, fronted by Benjamin Barnes. Paula has a band of her own called Tiny, with Sheila in it, and also a power trio called Captain Bringdown.
[L-R: Paula, Eric, Paulo, Sheila]
Eric's songwriting is uncommon. It combines a terrific sense of fun and (sometimes sick) humor with powerful emotion and confronting the ugliest demons eye-to-eye... and laughing at them. But nothing is allowed to upstage exciting and visceral music that brings out the finest playing, regardless of whether the sound is R&B, Spanish, bluegrass, country-rock, Mideastern, crypto-metal, or whatever else they come up with. He can also write some really weird stuff, but if that's something you enjoy (I sure do), you'll have to check out his less well known other bands; this side is de-emphasized in Liar. Between the tightly woven virtuoso musicianship, the top-notch songwriting, the uncommon versatility they display, and the plain old-fashioned fun they are to listen to, what we've got is something superior to the average band in just about every way it's possible to be.
(They even have good looks... though maybe no two of them would appeal to the same tastes.)
They sometimes haven't been as fully appreciated as they ought to be... the first time I saw them, I was the only person there who noticed what amazing stuff was going on up on the stage; the rest of the thin crowd hardly paid attention to the fact that a band was even present. But critics reacted very positively from the start, and helped them gain an audience which is now a lot more substantial -- these days, they pack the clubs. All they need now is a record company that's ready for the big time... everybody who's familiar with then knows that it's time now for them to be famous. A year or two ago everyone had them pegged as the obvious next big thing to hit, but somehow the momentum was lost. The personnel change probably was one reason, since it took some months for the new sound to coalesce. But another problem was that somehow a false rumor got around the record industry that they had already been signed to a major label. Maybe this had something to do with the existence of a Belgian heavy metal band with the same name.
So why aren't they signed with a major now? Well, it's like this. The record industry goes through these cycles, in which innovation leads to success, success leads to repetition, repetition leads to boredom, and boredom leads to innovation. The problem is that the typical large record company, when the boredom phase sets in and revenues drop, reacts by becoming more conservative instead of by looking for something new. They never learn. The innovation phase always seems to come about outside the major labels, which then belatedly embrace the new sound once some new acts start making money in spite of being unsigned. This goes double for commercial radio. As a rule, when the majors get into a boredom phase, they won't get out of it until (a) they're desperate, and (b) someone else leads them by the nose to where the action now is. Instead, when sales droop, they go on another crusade against ways that people can hear music without paying them.
Right now, we are deep into a boredom phase. Hip-hop and post-punk / alternative are moribund. Both have prompted record companies to invest in a sound with a minimum of actual musicianship -- such a thing as an instrumental virtuoso who takes solos is a foreign idea in both camps. And now that people are bored, what are they listening to? They're going back to old jazz, for chrissakes. Hell, I'm starting to listen to jazz myself. The hottest trend-du-jour at this writing is the revival of big band swing. What this means is that bands like Liar, featuring instrumental skill, are in all likelihood exactly what the record companies need for their next big thing... but they probably won't catch on until a couple of years after it's happening.
In spite of all of the above, it's still puzzling that there hasn't been more record company interest.
Some may ask at this point, "but what type of music is it? What kinds of bands does this guy like, and what kind of music should I be a fan of if I am also likely to like Liar?" As for categorizing them, the Bay Area Music Awards ("bammies") generally nominate them under a category called "Roots/Americana", which they won in 1998. As for what other bands go with enjoying Liar... that question just doesn't apply. Over the last two decades, favorite bands of mine have included the Pretenders, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Hüsker Dü / Sugar, and at one point Devo, with runners-up including Bruce Springsteen and the Clash. Not one of these is the least bit similar to Liar. Whatever "Roots/Americana" is, it's not anything I've been a fan of in the past. Among better-known bands that I have heard, the one that is most similar to Liar is probably Uncle Tupelo. This is a now-defunct bluegrass-flavored outfit that also featured a violin and got some critical raves in its day; it was about one fifth as good as Liar. A more obscure band that is a closer match was Harm Farm, the group that brought Morgan Fichter to California. They were a lot sillier than Liar usually is. (I worked at the same company as Harm Farm's guitarist T. Hallenbeck, but never managed to hear their music until long after putting up this page.)
Nothing I can say in words, of course, can tell you whether you're going to appreciate this band; if you're wondering, you can try some of these RealAudio links. If you want something to get you bouncing around start with "Babylon Milkbird" (an instrumental), if you want something grim try "My Condition", for something a bit weird try "Waltz Right Home", and for a barn-dance good time try "One Crazy Day".
The following is condensed from an appreciation of them I wrote back in 1997, as a new fan:
1967: John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
1997: Eric, Marisa, Paula, and Paulo.
Picture what the phrase "musical genius" means to you. Whoever that phrase brings to mind, be it J.S. Bach or W.A. Mozart, Louie Armstrong or Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa or Ani DiFranco... imagine that somehow this person decided that the best possible use of their superhuman talents would be to play in a bar band. What if you went to a bar that typically featured some bunch of retards playing hackneyed R&B for drunks, and one day you suddenly noticed that there on that dinky stage was the most talented musician you'd ever seen in your life?
Perhaps that scenario is just a bit of an exaggeration, but it catches some of the sense of what it's like to discover Liar. At first glance they sound like an ordinary bar band. The initial impression one gets is definitely of a traditional, old-fashioned kind of sound. The style includes the usual sorts of sounds in good ol' good time music: country, rhythm & blues, a bit of heavy metal, some flamenco... (flamenco??) And middle-eastern scales, gypsy sounds, Texas waltzes, bluegrass... Wait a minute, who ever heard of playing traditional rhythm and blues on a violin?
In short, Liar is very musically eclectic. But the startling part is when you realize that every one of the styles they waltz through is played with a skill to match the masters of the genre, those who have dedicated their whole lives to the form. For Eric McFadden, it seems that to pick up any new style, whether it be from Appalachia or India, is to make himself a topnotch master of it.
Guitarist Eric McFadden is the frontman of Liar. His technical mastery is dazzling; not only can he can play any style at superhuman speed, but unlike many big-name rock guitar gods with show-off technique, he can actually create music while doing so, rather than just meaningless twiddles and arpeggios. He's a player who can dazzle your head, melt your heart, or pummel your guts -- in any combination, simultaneously. He can make you kick up your heels, shake your booty, or bash your head against a post... without even taking himself seriously.
Marisa Martinez Mead is the violinist, and sings the lead vocal on several songs. She has a sweet soprano voice, which can turn to a ferocious growl when she pushes it hard enough.... On violin, she doesn't show off the kind of dazzling technique that Eric does, but she shows something that is, I believe, much rarer than grandiose look-Ma-no-hands technicianship: the ability to improvise true melody. (Frank Zappa called this the greatest challenge of all.) Which is not to say that she doesn't have a bag of tricks to pull surprises out of. Above all, it is the instrumental interplay between her and Eric that makes Liar what it is.
The bass player is Paula Blanchard. When she plays, I want to be her. Though her playing tends to be smooth and unobtrusive, and she is the least likely of the four to do anything flashy or attention-getting (her one musical drawback is that she tends to be shy and scared of solos) she is a supple and versatile musician.
The drummer is Paulo Baldi. He is a virtuoso player. But I have never seen a drummer so good who stayed so much in the background. His playing almost seems to go out of its way to avoid calling attention to how amazing it is, leaving the audience's attention on the other players. It's easy to take him for granted. But if you see them live, don't lose the opportunity to watch and listen to what he's doing. On a good night it can be stunning.
Together they form an ensemble so tightly synchronized that they seem telepathic; one could almost think that if one of them didn't know a song, they could pick it up just by standing near the other three. I've seen them switch the whole style of a song right in the middle, to accommodate an unexpected guest on stage, and keep completely together on the idea of what it's going to turn into, practically without even looking at each other.
By now you have gathered that this is a band that features superb musicians and hot playing. But another dimension is added by terrific songwriting. Even their lightest dance tunes can haunt you and give you pause. They are not just a good-time band, though they are a better good-time band than most any other I've seen. Liar pulls no punches when it's time for grimness, angst, viciously surgical confession, and general tortured-artist hell. As one song leaves you grinning like a fool just because of how much fun it is to listen and dance to, another can toss you into a maelstrom of rage or despair... One can make you giggle, and another -- or even the same one -- can leave you with a sense that you'd rather not run into these guys in a dark alley.
People differ in what kinds of music they dig. Some are delighted with the good clean fun of a yee-ha country barn dance, others are hooked by soul-baring cries of anguish, some enjoy the fine subtleties of master virtuosi exploring the limits of their craft, others crave headbanging punishment forcing their ears to worship Satan. If you're someone who can enjoy all of these at the same time, then you are Liar fan material.
"Live Long and Perspire."
They have two albums so far. Click here for my page describing them (with links where you can order them). Unfortunately, there are a number of fine Liar songs that aren't on either one -- most notably the incredible "Bitter Endings". If that song had been recorded, I almost think it could have been the single that got them onto radio or MTV.
Here are some Liar links -- a list that was once much longer, pared down as old stuff disappears. For other Eric McFadden related material, see my main Eric fan page.
over to my general (non-Liar) Eric McFadden fan page
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