We Are Scientists have an unlimited capacity for clever wackiness.  The artwork for the new album, Barbara, contains a rather comical self-help booklet entitled Rules of Romance, including chapters with titles like “How to Dress When You’re Looking to Get Undressed.”  The band members have conceived all of their generally hilarious music videos themselves, and since the last album, 2008’s Brain Thrust Mastery, the self-described gifted beatmakers have created, written and starred in a series of comedic television shorts called Steve Wants His Money for MTV UK.  And, just a few days ago, the band released its own unofficial World Cup Anthem for England, “Goal! England.”

Singer/guitarist Keith Murray and bassist/backing vocalist Chris Cain are known for their cerebral humor, and the New York-based duo certainly lived up to their reputation for zaniness when we met up at a popular East Village Italian restaurant recently.  With the two of them ever jocular, the wine-fueled conversation ranged from visual and character assassinations, favorite movies and fourth-grade memories.

You’ve spent a lot of time in the UK in recent years.  What are your thoughts about U.S. audiences vs. U.K. audiences?
Chris:  Our U.K. audiences are better there because they’re more plenteous.

Keith:  The quality of the individual fan is probably very similar, but we have more fans there.

Barbara was recorded with Andy Burrows (formerly of Razorlight) on drums.  Will he also be touring with you this summer?
Keith:  Well, unfortunately, Andy has a solo record coming out a month after ours, so he has some amount of promotional and touring duties, so we have another guy that will be doing 99% of our shows.  But we’re going to rectify that with Andy on our next record — there’s going to be a clause in the contract that says that he has to have a three-year freeze on his musical output on either side of out next record.  Rules are rules! [laughs].

The new album is a little more upbeat than Brain Thrust Mastery, while a little slower than With Love and Squalor.  Was it a conscious decision with the new record to kind of incorporate more elements of the first one? (With Love and Squalor was technically the second album, but the first major-label release and is the one that the band refers to as the first album. Safety, Fun, and Learning (In That Order) was the actual first release, in 2002.)
Keith: The first record was certainly break-neck; that’s the only way to describe those tempos.

Chris:  Frantic would be another way to describe it.

Keith:  I don’t think we considered incorporating elements of the first one at all.  I think there were elements that we enjoyed and so they made their way onto the new one.  I do feel like we missed the three-piece live vibe that was also the vibe of the first record.  But I don’t think we wished to make the first record again, at all.

Chris:  We were shooting for Dookie, Green Day’s album Dookie — that was more the vibe we were going for.


Where does the title, Barbara, come from?
Keith:  Neither of us really remembers how the title came up, but it was one of about 50 different titles that were thrown around, and then whittled down to two or three that endured.  I think it initially came about because we liked the idea of giving the record a name rather than a title.  We just liked that it’s a familiar name, without being very common, these days.

Chris:  It’s also an anagram for We Are Scientists, so it seemed appropriate [joking, of course].

Do you have favorite songs from the new album?
Keith:  Tell her about “Pittsburgh!”

Chris:  “Pittsburgh” is good.  It’s just my favorite.  And happens to be the best song on the record, that’s all.

Keith:  Come on!  I think mine is a b-side that didn’t make it on.  I’m just kidding, of course.  I’m being difficult.

I heard one of the new b-sides, “Down the Hall,” which I really liked.  Why wasn’t that on the record?
Keith:  We wanted that to be on record, too, but we only wanted there to be 10 songs.

Chris:  And there were 10 better songs.

How long did it take you to record?
Keith:  Probably, cumulatively four weeks, but it was spread out over three months because of various conflicting schedules between us, our drummer Andy, who was working on his solo record, and our producer, Ariel Rechtshaid, who was working on two other records simultaneously.  So we had to take time where we could find it to record the record.  We had a session of drums in London, a session of guitar and vocals in Los Angeles, a session of drums and bass in New York, and then a session of guitar and vocals in Los Angeles again.

Would you ever consider producing for other people?
Keith:  I would definitely say that my weakness as a songwriter would be as a producer, I think [laughs]. Having other people produce songs that we’ve sort of considered complete has been pretty eye opening.  I’d say on this record Ariel’s contributions have been fairly minor, but have had tremendous effect.  Just the touches that he put on things made quite a difference.  I don’t feel like any of the songwriting really changed this time, whereas on the second record we spent a lot of time revamping songs with Ariel, which was fun and cool.  But this time, the songs essentially remained structurally the way they were written.  And I know that had we produced the record ourselves, they would not have been deployed as successfully.

Chris:  It would have sucked!  It’s like when a car comes off an assembly line, it’s done, but it won’t turn on, won’t run, and you’re like ‘why won’t this run?’ And then someone puts gas in it.  Ariel puts the gas in the car.

Keith:  Yeah, and he did the detail work, put the flames on the side and the eagle holding a human head on the front.

Chris:  And the monster truck wheels and tires.

Nice analogy! What is your songwriting process?
Keith:  There’s not really a procedure to it.  It tends to be pretty intuitively based rather than structured in any way.  Essentially the way it works is that I’ll try to write a verse and chorus that I like and then have Chris vet them and decide which ones we should actually continue.  Then I’ll ignore that song for as long as humanly possible and then at the last minute try to write a bridge or lyrics.  During the mixing process!

Okay, that’s funny.  What inspires your lyrics, is it personal experiences, experiences of others or pop culture happenings?
Chris:  Animal Planet.

Keith:  A lot of Animal Planet figures in [laughs]. Yeah, I guess personal experiences.  I definitely try to not write about stupid junk that has happened to me – that always strikes me as pretty boring.  I think I definitely try to make songs feel universally applicable.  I feel like usually it’ll be a personal experience that I’ll then try to make it not be a song about Keith Murray.  I think that’s what I do.

Chris:  You mean you can’t remember?

Keith:  Nah, I don’t know, I’ve had like half a glass of wine.

Chris:  He’s only had half a glass of wine [laughing].

The video for “Chick Lit” where you’re rounding up puppies, corral-style, is quite funny.  Was that inspired by Brokeback Mountain?
Chris:  City Slickers was more the reference point.

Keith:  Yeah, City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold was one of the few sequels that was better than the original.  It’s great stuff, worth revisiting.


Do you watch a lot of films and does that influence your writing at all?
Chris:  Only cowboy films, but we’re pretty thorough when it comes to that category.  We’re film buffs, yeah.  And the lyrics are very cinematic, transportive, escapist even!

Keith:  I don’t think any lyrics have ever been specifically inspired by film – I like to keep my worlds separate and pure [laughing].

Chris:  Although we do record our music in Dolby Surround, and THX when we can afford it.  Although we rarely issue the records in that, we just record it for that, and then we bump it down to two tracks stereo.

Keith:  So that if we ever get placed in Movie Tunes, the radio station that plays before movies, ours will really be pumping and will test the sound system of those theatres.

That would be interesting.  Are you ever influenced by stuff that you’re listening to?  Any musical influences for this record?
Keith:  I do feel like we sort of are getting to a place in the band where I think our music sounds more just like We Are Scientists than anything else.  So I don’t think we were listening to anything whose influence is readily apparent in the record.  Ideologically though, we were influenced by Weezer, which is where the 10 songs under 32 minutes idea came from.  I feel like they did that really well.

Chris:  And it was good.

I do think your sound is unique.  And the guitar I find especially mesmerizing for some reason.
Keith:  It’s like a cobra, a spinning-eyed cobra!

Chris:  That doesn’t happen with real cobras!  He’s seen The Jungle Book, but that’s not how real cobras are, real cobras hypnotize with a dance.  Their eyes vibrate in their head, but they can’t spin them – that’s just anatomically impossible.

I’ve heard of spitting cobras, but not spinning-eyed cobras.
Chris:  That should be illegal, seems to me.

Keith:  They aim and spit.  Sounds just like a cobra to me.

Is “Nice Guys” going to be the second single and how many singles do you have planned?
Keith:  Yes, and as many as the world requires of us.

Chris:  We’d be willing to make every song on the album a single, if that’s what it takes.  We can come up with 10 different single artworks, no problem.

I just saw the video for “Nice Guy” and I thought it was absolutely hilarious that the subtitles were not the actual lyrics but what someone might misinterpret them as.
Keith:  Or someone who didn’t really know English very well, in some cases.

Chris:  I’ve only heard one person think that those were the actual lyrics.  I had a phoner (telephone interview) the other day with somebody who was like, “Yeah I was watching the video and it was crazy because I thought the lyrics were totally different and then I read the subtitles and I was like, oh my gosh, yeah those lyrics are cool, too, but like…”  And I was like, wait, what!?!

Keith:  A lot of people seem to believe that they’re intentionally incorrect.  That’s fine, but it’s really weird.  I guess it says something about the impression people have about the way we run our organization.

Chris:  Yeah, pretty slapdash!

Seeing as how you come up with all of your video concepts yourselves, and now that you’ve created (and starred in) a series of TV shorts, Steve Wants His Money, for MTV UK, is there any possibility or interest in doing a TV show or feature film?
Keith:  Oh, yeah.  We’re talking to MTV UK about doing a full-length sitcom, but those talks are sort of on hold while we’re putting out our record and they’re sorting their finances for this quarter, but yes, there has been serious back and forth about doing something else with them.

Chris:  The feature film, hmm, I think that will come after series one of the TV show.  We’ll drop a hit single on the soundtrack, Will Smith style.

Keith:  If we’ve learned anything from Will Smith, it’s make a film, write the theme song.


Teresa Sampson, Photos by Teresa Sampson

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