I spoke to We Are Scientists frontman Keith Murray ahead of their gig at Southampton University. We talked break up albums, Keith’s ideal side project and his picks for a We Are Scientists crash course.
Hey! How are you?
KM: I’m okay! It’s a damn fine day on a darn nice campus.
How’s the early part of the tour?
It’s weird to note that we’re almost done with the UK. Our shows are always good in the UK, I’m not just buttering you up! I feel like it was fairly through routing, but now that’s it’s almost over I wish it were a little longer. But it’s always exciting to go to Europe and have the change of pace. I think by the end of Europe I’ll be ready for the US part of the tour. I don’t quite feel ready for it at the moment but by the end I’m sure I’ll be ready for it. Well, saying that, the European tour finishes in Spain so I doubt I’ll want to go anywhere after that.
TV En Français is the album you’re touring. It’s your fourth/fifth studio album…
We count it as our fourth. There was one early one but we don’t count that and don’t play anything from it anymore.
How has touring been – a good reception? Have more and more people been singing along as you go on?
Over the course of the tour, more and more people have been singing the lyrics so I think that means they’re getting more time to listen.
Or it’s just the same audience at each show?
Or that, but I think there’s more personal iterations of album and listening going on, and that it’s the same audience, caravan-ing behind us.
Musically it’s different from the first three albums; what was the aim when writing it?
It started out having a pretty singular intention and we wrote a bunch of songs under that rubric, and then we decided we didn’t want to make an album on any rubric so threw all those songs out. It’s funny that this album started with a concept we wanted and then we abandoned it and now it’s the one with the least sense of angling for anything, at least production wise. I think the songs go together thematically but there’s a spectrum of approaches in the songwriting.
Sounds like something you didn’t plan; are you still happy with it?
I love it. Obviously it’s a clichéd and anticipated thing to say but it’s my favourite We Are Scientists album.
Thematically, this album is darker than before. What was the inspiration for that? Did you want to be more ‘real’?
I don’t know that it’s more real. The last album was less about me personally than this album. I had been in a really long relationship that broke up immediately upon finishing the album, so I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a pre-break up album, which in retrospect it completely is. Thankfully it’s not a break up album; they’re almost universally insufferable.
Do you find that a breakup album or a ‘I’m finding fame difficult’ album is something that you want to avoid doing?
I guess if I tapped into some concept that meant a lot to me, I’d be into it. Like Weezer’s second album is about one thing and one thing only; he’s going to college and feeling too old to go to college and lusting after girls and feeling like a busted old man. I love that as a concept for an album, but mainly because it’s fairly unusual as far as concepts go. But yeah, the break up album is generally a fairly loathsome genre. It’s pretty solipsistic.
It’s not that happy either…
I don’t mind a morose album; I just don’t like a self-pitying morose album.
How would you summarise your band, by picking a few songs from your previous work?
Like what songs would I choose to be a crash course?
As a obligatory move I’d say… hmm.. maybe ‘The Great Escape‘ as it’s got that kickass solo, and ‘Can’t Lose‘ from that same album. ‘Lethal Enforcer‘, ‘Chick Lit‘, ‘Rules Don’t Stop‘, and this song from the third album called ‘Foreign Kids‘; I like the arrangement. From this album… it’s all too close to the mark! But maybe ‘Return The Favor‘ and ‘Don’t Blow It‘?
Interesting. I’m surprised you left out ‘Ghouls’, especially as it has the line ‘we all recognise I’m the problem here’ and this is a break up album…
True, but I do think that summarises the viewpoint in every We Are Scientists song…
You’ve been a band over ten years now. Did you mark the occasion or just move on?
There have been so many different stages. When we started I was playing drums and someone else was singing. Technically its been 14 years. When we moved to New York it was a marginal hobby, and it didn’t really start until 2004 so I guess it’s ten years as a legitimate band, but we’re a fairly forward thinking band. I’m not particularly nostalgic for any stage?
You’re renowned for your humour on stage. Is that an intentional thing you use to settle yourself on stage, or is it part of the ticket price?
Generally neither, but if it’s either one I’d be the latter. Sometimes if I’m not up to chatting then people are going to be like ‘they didn’t do the We Are Scientists show, they only played twenty songs’. It blows my mind when I see other bands and they don’t chat. Their job is so easy, but boring, like get out of here! It always blows my mind when people say we talk too much! You have definitely never seen a We Are Scientists show.
Anything specific for today?
If you did a side project, what do you think it’d be?
I’m already doing the things I want to do and I think We Are Scientists is able to accommodate anything I want to do. I guess maybe a metal band. Me and a friend discussed doing a 90s metal band kind of thing. Like that Nine Inch Nails album? I guess if anything then that: 90s industrial rock.
It’s definitely a forgotten genre… So what are the rest of your plans for 2014? Is there much or is it a case of just ‘survive the tour’?
Yeah that is kind of the temperament. We’re just working through each gig – just showing up, being pointed at the stage and going. We’ve talked about doing some recording as quickly as possible as we’ve got some songs but no actual plans yet.
You can read Annabelle’s review of the gig here. The bands most recent album, TV En Français, it out now on Republic of Music.