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Artist Spotlight: Charming Liars writes their ‘Golden State’ anthem, talks tour memories and quarantine

Charming Liars have had a busy few years. The international (Los Angeles and UK) rock group has been churning out music- most recently, a pair of singles that are pointing the band in a lofty new direction. With the abrupt postponement of their European tour with Palaye Royale due to COVID-19, the band is now sequestered in their homes, waiting out the quarantine with their fans. Atlas spoke with lead singer Kiliyan Maguire about the band’s new music, tour memories and the potential effects COVID-19 will have on the music industry.

What’s been the inspiration behind your latest singles?

They’re definitely a little different than all the stuff we had on Flesh and Bone. To break it down, we have a song like “Golden State”. For me growing up, I was born and raised in southern California so the Golden State is very much in my bloodstream. It was kind of my rite of passage growing up here- I had to write my song, my Golden State anthem and that’s where that song came from. It’s interesting, lyrically, where it grew from. Growing up just outside of LA and then moving to LA, I have a lot of musician friends that are from all over the world and a lot of people that just move to LA for a million different reasons or move to California in general.    

Unfortunately, sometimes, the state or just the city of LA can kind of chew you up and other times it can be very, very giving. It’s just a song describing the atmosphere for people who move here aspiring to be something more and seeing the outcome of seeing what the city or what the state can really do to you. I love California; it’s a beautiful place and I don’t think I’ll ever live anywhere else- maybe Arizona one day- so that’s where that song came from. 

And “Blame”- we actually wrote that song awhile back and lyrically, it came from some autobiographical standpoint and there was some embellishments of course as well. It didn’t seem like it was the right time to release it when we had written it. And then we got to this stage right now where we’re shifting- I wouldn’t say “Blame” is the direction indefinitely we’re headed sonically- but there’s definitely some tastes in there that are definitely pointing in the direction we’re headed. That’s definitely where those two songs sprang from.

I didn’t think it was possible, but your sound has gotten even bigger. It sounds like you’re about to fill a cathedral.

Thank you! We’re trying to figure out which cathedral that’ll be but one of these days, we’ll figure it out.

Do you have any memories that really stand out from touring over the last few months?

Most recently, we were very fortunate to be on tour in Europe with Palaye Royale. Super cool guys, we had a great time. Unfortunately, this….whole coronavirus thing is happening. Unfortunately, a lot of the shows were postponed for later in the year and the tour kind of stopped abruptly. 

Here’s the crazy thing- these shows were so incredible! Palaye Royale fans are so diehard about that band, they’re so passionate about it, and it’s just amazing to see that. And more selfishly, it was amazing to see those fans be very, very open to us. By the second or third date on the tour, they were singing the songs back to us and that was really incredible. On the tour, everything pretty much stopped and we had to race to get back home because countries were closing their borders in Europe and there was the whole travel ban thing happening so it got really, really crazy. One day we’re playing a show in Poland and it was an incredible show and the next day we’re figuring out how to get home. There was guys in hazmat suits blocking the freeways- it was really surreal. I’ve read World War Z and The Hot Zone enough to be freaked out by it, but the way all these countries are handling it, it seems like….I’m very optimistic. That was the craziest thing that’s happened to me thus far this year.

It’s crazy- we flew out of….France and we were the last flight out. Every flight after us got cancelled. Talk about last minute- by the skin of your teeth. That was really weird and that was really crazy. 

I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but I think that the music industry is going to come out the other side of COVID-19 a forever changed business. Do you have any perspective on that? What do you think music is going to look like when this is all over?

You’re totally right- it is going to be completely different and it’s really hard for me to speculate on what the aftermath is going to be. I’ve seen a lot of positive things come out of this in terms of the way people have treated each other and I think that’s really the most incredible thing. The way I look at it is this is a really incredible opportunity for a lot of artists to build a connection with their fanbase. These artists [are] going through this just the same way as all their fans, as the people listening to the music, so it’s a really incredible opportunity to bond through this time. I’ve seen a lot of artists doing their online streaming concerts [and] there’s a lot more Q&As happening. Although people are staying indoors a lot more, I think internally they’re developing these relationships with these artists. 

If you started making music after the coronavirus- and maybe you’re an artist that just came out a year after the whole thing is over with- I think you’ll have missed out on that opportunity to create this bond with your fanbase. I don’t know about you, but this is my first pandemic! It’s a really unique experience. It’s really sad that all this is happening, but I’ve always been a glass half full kind of guy. I’ve been trying to look at it this way where it’s time that I have to come be more hands-on with fans and people so it’s been really cool in that sense and seeing the community really bond together in that respect.    

A lot of concerts are being rescheduled and postponed and that’s the crazy thing. I know a lot of friends of mine are hurting because of this whole thing. I don’t know, it’s a weird thing! I’m very curious and I’m hopefully optimistic to see how it all pans out, but your guess is as good as mine really.

Is there a song of yours that really resonates with you guys within the band and, on the flip side, do you see the fans connecting with a specific song more than the others?

Every song we do is a bit of a different moment in the evening. We try to really shed light on that with our performance. One song that has, throughout the years, always had this prolific, strange, ethereal connection between artist and listener is “Soul”. It’s a song we released in 2015, [it’s] been a little while since that song’s been out but what’s really cool about it is it doesn’t matter how many new songs we write and that we pair with that song. It’s like a fine wine- it works well with everything else that we do. When we play it, it’s this sense of unity in the room that I think is just really incredible. By the end of that song, I feel like everybody’s family. That is the one song that we play that I really look forward to doing every night. One- I don’t have to sing it because the crowd usually sings the ‘soul’ bit and that’s kind of nice. Also, to write something in your living room- as a writer I’m sure you can appreciate this- to write something down and just let it go into the ether and still, years later, looking out into a crowd and people are still singing those words back to you- it’s humbling. That song was my first experience of….that was the first time of having an a-ha moment- this makes sense, this connects and people are feeling this too. That’s that moment for me. 

What else is coming up for Charming Liars this year?

We have a couple tour dates in the mix right now. We didn’t get a chance to announce them and I guess maybe it’s good that we didn’t because everything’s being postponed. The tours that we had are getting pushed back because of the whole corona thing.

In the meantime, until we figure out when we’re going to be on the road again and we definitely will be, we’re going to be releasing a song every month. We’re two in- we’ve got “Golden State” and “Blame” and we’re moving into a new song probably next month or later this month. So it’s really just a matter of releasing new music and keeping things fresh. Like I said, this is a perfect time to connect with your fans and it’s nice to be able to give them something new to listen to each month and gauge the reaction and it’s been really fun in that respect.        

Have you done any livestreaming or have plans to do so? 

It’s been unfortunate because we as a band- our bass player is waiting this thing out in the UK right now, he’s right by the Cliffs of Dover, I know that. Karnig, our guitar player and producer, [is] not too far from me but I haven’t actually seen him since we got back because we’ve been practicing the social distancing thing. We’re hopefully going to get into the studio and do a livestream. We’re trying to get as much screen time as we can, but we’re still trying to figure out how logistically it’s possible.      

Is there anything else you want people to know about you, or is there anything you wish you got to talk about more that you may not get asked?

Well I’ll tell you how I’ve been spending a majority of my time during this whole quarantine. I read every day but I’ve been trying to read more because the first couple days, I was just playing nothing but video games. I felt like a zombie. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing, just spending time doing that and trying to write. It’s been a little difficult; there’s no shortage of inspiration, it’s just getting into the habit of doing it again. I guess just waiting it out like everybody else. I know you didn’t ask that question but I’m talking about it anyway!
“Golden State” and “Blame” are out now!

Story and photos by Olivia Khiel