‘We just wanted the album to sound incredible’: An interview with Chris from We Are Scientists

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Fresh from announcing their upcoming 4th studio album TV En Francais, The Edge caught up with We Are Scientists bassist Chris Cain to learn more about the new record, their upcoming UK tour, and the dangers of poison ivy.

The new album TV En Francais is slated for a March 3rd release. What inspired the title for this record?

When we were in Miami, we noticed this strange trend where cheap motels all have signs saying ‘TV En Francais’ and I was a little confused by it. Apparently it’s because French Canadians love to move to South Florida, and it’s such a prevalent demographic over there that offering French TV is a substantial incentive to stay in the motel, like advertising HBO or something.

And from there it sort of evolved into this really interesting metaphor for relationships, and the way two people experience things through this hazy filter. It’s like although each partner will have some idea of what the other one wants, you don’t really know what each other wants, you really only have this basic understanding that’s maybe like watching a TV show in French.

This is the longest break between records the band has taken; what was the process of making this record like?

It wasn’t a particularly difficult record to make. We did a year of touring on [third album]Barbara and then we kind of had a weird gap year where we weren’t ready to record yet, and we kept getting these weird offers for shows in really cool places that we’d never played before. So we spent a year just playing awesome shows in Colombia, Russia, Bali and places like that.

Once we started writing the record, it went really smoothly. We had a delay for a couple of months where [vocalist]Keith had to have throat surgery. We had basically gotten to the end of the recording process, just recording vocals, and Keith wasn’t really happy with what he was able to do, so he went and got surgery and he needed two months to heal. Overall it probably took about a year longer than it could have; it took about a year longer than it did to make Barbara, for example.

What sort of stuff were you listening to when making this record? Are there any influences that really come through when listening to the new album?

I think there are less influences on this record than on any other one we’ve done. Obviously we were listening to stuff and maybe regurgitating it on some level, but there weren’t any real influences we tried to channel. On all the other albums, there has been some conscious level of channelling certain sounds, but not this one. I feel like with each record we’re carving out our own sound, and this album is probably the farthest we’ve gone in that direction. It doesn’t sound like another band – it just sounds like We Are Scientists.

Which of your previous three albums is TV En Francais closest to sonically?

Probably Brain Thrust Mastery. Each album we have a sort of pendulum in terms of our production. Like the first album [2005’s With Love and Squalor] was very straightforward and just sounds like three guys in a room. Then on Brain Thrust Mastery we were on Virgin, they gave us a bunch of money, so we just though ‘fuck it, let’s go for it’, and really threw everything but the kitchen sink on the production for that one. But that got kind of frustrating, as we had to add a fourth person live to make the songs work and there were still songs we couldn’t do. ‘That’s What Counts’ we played like twice because we needed a saxophonist. ‘Lethal Enforcer’ is another song we really like but we couldn’t really play it. So on Barbara, the focus was making songs that we would be able to play live.

We kind of went the other way again here, we just wanted the album to sound incredible, and if it sounds different live then that’s fine. I’m sure in four months we’ll regret that decision. But overall yeah, we put much more effort into production on this album.

In the video for the new single ‘Dumb Luck’, just about anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. What’s the worst bit of luck you’ve experienced on stage or in the studio?

Well nothing that would have even made the blooper real for the video. I’ve never really had an accident. When we first moved out to New York we went out to Keith’s grandfather’s cabin in the woods, and after the first night Keith had this really bad poison ivy all over his body. It turned out that it was an extreme allergic reaction, and he was in hospital for a week, he had these huge blisters all over his arms. The doctor actually made it known to him that unless there was a change pretty soon, and like if the wounds were as deep as they thought, that they might actually have to amputate his arm. But everything was fine, we got a second opinion and the second doctor was like ‘what? No way, we don’t have to amputate your arm’, so it was fine.

How difficult do you find it picking the first single for an album, and is ‘Dumb Luck’ a fair representation of the new album as a whole?

I think the one, two combo of ‘Dumb Luck’ and ‘Make It Easy’ – which is going to be the next single – is a really good introduction to the album for people. ‘Dumb Luck’ is more on the rocky, upbeat side, and ‘Make It Easy’ is more mid-tempo, and that’s pretty much what the album is, there’s only really one slow song. It should give people a really good idea of the album. With ‘Dumb Luck’ I think it’s always good to come out of the gates with something rocking. If you start by putting out something more mid-tempo it might scare people; they might think we’ve wussed out.

The Business Casual EP you put out at the back end of last year features a cover of ‘Take My Breath Away’ from Top Gun. How did the idea for that come about?

It was actually pretty meaningless really; we just wanted to fill out the EP. Basically the album was taking a while due to record label stuff, so we just wanted to record a couple of songs for the fans just as proof of life and that we weren’t dead. So we recorded really quickly, three songs in five days, so it was very rushed. Anyways, we wanted to do a cover to finish it up and after about ten minutes of discussion we just decided on ‘Take My Breath Away’.

Andy Burrows of Razorlight has been drumming for you since 2009 and features again on the new record. In recent clips from live shows you seem to have a new drummer. Is Andy still part of the band?

He’s sort of an active collaborator. He’s not our touring drummer but we’ll continue to have him along for short last minute things, probably more so stuff around England. But he’s doing his own solo stuff and is recording right now, I think, to put something out before the end of the year. But he’s very much not the dude that is touring the world with us; he’ll just show up here and there. He’s still part of the band at a certain level, and an important level. We’ve actually got an amazing new drummer, he’s 27 so he’s got plenty of energy. He’s actually a drum teacher when he’s not touring. As luck would have it his name is also Keith, so now we have two Keiths in the band, which is much better for me as I don’t have to learn another name.

You return to the UK for a tour in March, including a date at Southampton University. How are you feeling about the tour and are there any new songs you’re particularly excited to play live?

I’m very excited, this will be the most substantial UK tour we’ve done since maybe 2010, so it’ll be great to get back into those rooms and get in front of a UK crowd.

The tunes I’m most excited about playing are probably the ones we haven’t played yet, like we’ve been road-testing quite a lot of the new songs for a while now. ‘Overreacting’ is one we’ve never played live, I’m very excited to get that puppy out there, and also a song called ‘Don’t Blow It’ – that’s gonna be a real hot piece.

Four albums in, how difficult does it become to pick a set list when touring?

It’s getting tougher and tougher. We have about forty or fifty songs to choose from now and – unlike a lot of bands – every single one of our songs is awesome. There are no songs that we don’t get occasional requests for or think one night it would be cool to play. It’s borderline excruciating at this point, like you’re rejecting more than half of your songs every night, and I think that process of rejection is becoming tougher than the enjoyment of including the eighteen or so that we play.

Can we expect to see you at any English festivals in the summer?

Yes, definitely. I think this will be the beginning of about one year of constant touring for us.

Your first album With Love and Squalor was released in 2005 in amongst a sea of indie rock bands. Is it strange to see that a lot of your contemporaries from that time are no longer making music together? Why do you think you’ve been able to have more longevity as a band?

It’s tough. I guess for us, we would certainly stop if we didn’t feel like the songs we were writing were interesting or exciting to us. So I would assume that the reason we’ll eventually stop is that we’re not really inspired, and if we’re not really feeling the new material, what’s the point of continuing? Some of those bands have probably experienced horrific accidents, so that’s probably why. But I mean the first big tour we did in the UK was the NME tour in 2006 and it had Mystery Jets, Maximo Park and Arctic Monkeys, and all three of those bands are still tearing it up.

Finally, what artists have you been listening to recently?

I love the Arctic Monkeys record; I think the Arctic Monkeys record was probably my favourite of the year, that and the Vampire Weekend record. I’m also really into the new Au Revoir Simone record at the moment. I don’t really keep a very close eye on forthcoming releases, so I’m always surprised when stuff is coming out. During the Grammys I think Kendrick Lamar and Daft Punk were the only two artists that were mentioned during those four hours that I really liked, everything else on that sort of level of music I’m not really interested in.

We Are Scientists’ new album TV En Francais is released March 3rd, and is preceded by the single ‘Dumb Luck’, which is out now.

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