We Are Scientists interview: Your Light Has Changed

"I definitely wake up every morning in London very upset with what I did last night. It’s always kind of hard to open my eyes in the morning in London."

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 17th Apr 2018.
Originally published: 5th Apr 2018

Image: We Are Scientists (credit)

As they approach the release of Megaplex, their “fun-bomb” of a sixth record, We Are Scientists passion and drive is nothing short of impressive. With nearly two decades of music-making under their belt they would be forgiven for slowing down but, in fact, they’re doing the complete opposite.

Drawing on the ever loving, always fun friendship between core members Keith Murray and Chris Cain and a drive to continue making music that delights and challenges them – the pair are as excited and enthusiastic about their upcoming music and tour dates as ever.

This includes a show at Sheffield's O2 Academy on Sunday 13th May, as well as a headline slot at Blackthorn festival, plus other festival dates at Texfest and Bestival and before all of that Henry Boon caught up with Keith Murray to get the full story on new music, drinking in London and plenty more.

Hello there.

How’s it going?

Good thanks, how are you?

I’m alright! We’ve been in London all day and it’s a pretty glorious day in London so spirits are very high! 

You just missed the terrible snow and cold so you’re doing alright.

Yeah, we were in Berlin and Vienna and it was brutally cold and snowing there so we got a good amount of punishment last week so we’re kind of in the same boat where we’re enjoying the lushness of the weather right now.

I think we’re out of the woods now, I think it’s gonna be alright.

You think spring is here?

I think so!

I’m sure you’ll be proven wrong, just because you’re being so brazen.

Yeah, you’re not allowed to be are you but I’ve got my shorts laid out and I’m ready to go!

*laughs* nice, nice.

Where abouts in London are you?

Ummm, we’re like Euston-y area – I’m at our management’s office, kind of by the British Library. There’s a very good pub across the street so in between interviews I keep running across the street and having a drink.

You should just do the interviews in the pub!

I wish I could. Unfortunately the vibe in the pub, especially right now, is very rockin’.

Ahh, too rowdy?

It would impossible to hear anything.

Fair enough, how do you like being in the UK?

I love it, unfortunately my wife lived in the UK for a while so every time I fly the notion of moving to London to her she rejects it because she spent so much of her twenties here. She just wants to enjoy New York City now. But I do love it here, we have so many friends and we come here so often that it sort of feels almost as familiar as New York to us now.

Very good, and the shows are good here?

Yeah! The shows are always great – audiences in the UK tend to be pretty boisterous as a rule.

Yeah, people tend to say that.

It seems like the idea when going to a show is that you’re going out for a night of exultant entertainment whereas in New York people can be a bit chin-scratchy when they watch you.

We just tend to get a bit drunker I think!

Yeah that is an important feature – we tend to get a bit drunker here as well!

Well good, everybody’s on the same page!

Exactly, we understand one another. 

So first day of the tour tomorrow?

Yeah, yeah – it just a really short run since we were coming out for all this promotion. We figure it would be ludicrous to come all the way out here and not play some shows so yeah a lot of smaller shows that couldn’t really fit in the grander tour in May. The small shows often tend to be the most fun, I think when people can see the whites of your eyes they tend to go a little more nuts. 

Yeah and you can see the whites of their eyes and creep them out.

Yeah, we can give them a dirty look if they aren’t doing due-diligence with their enthusiasm.

Exactly – if they’re not going hard enough.

*laughs* yeah – we’re stare them down and shame them.

Good. Have you got anything new for the live shows this time around?

We’re gonna play a few new songs, our philosophy has always been that we are here for the entertainment of the audience who have been good enough to want to come and see our show. We tend to shy away from playing too much stuff that people won’t have ever heard because I feel like sometimes that could be more pleasurable for the band than for the audience.

I don’t know, it’s definitely a point of argument – some people say they love hearing new songs, it feels special and it feels like you’re getting a peak behind the curtain but I definitely always find as an audience member myself that its cool to hear one or two new things but you really are showing up for the songs that you know. We’re definitely going to play the two new songs that’ve already released from the album and maybe one or two more depending on how forgiving the audience is appearing! 

We have enough albums now that there tends to be tonnes of variety in our set already so that mixing total unknown songs then seems like you’re maybe pushing it a bit too far.

 

Do you like to mix it up in terms of what you play or do you stick to a solid setlist?

Yeah, we definitely mix up the setlist a lot. We sort of have different philosophies on setlist construction. I tend to [want to] give the audience exactly what they want, give them the singles from every single album and then a few fan favourites. Chris tends to lean more towards rewarding people with surprises – deep cuts that we haven’t played in a while. It’s a fun balance, I understand both sides of the argument, I’m just always like “alright lets play fuckin’ ‘Dumb Luck’ from Tv en Français” and he’ll be like “okay yeah but what about song number eight which was really good!”.

And who tends to win those arguments?

Well I’m am left to do that actual writing of the setlist so I usually tend to win! Simply by disregarding him while I’m doing the physical labour.

Good tactic. Who’s playing in the band this time around?

It’s Chris and I, and a drummer named Keith Carne who’s been playing with us since Tv en Français so it’s a pretty steady line-up, it’s a pretty fiery trio.

You must have the touring life pretty much down by now?

We like to think we do! We’re very well practiced at it.

How do you keep sane on the road?

It definitely helps that we’re all legitimately still friends. When we go home Chris and I still tend to hang out. We’ll take two days off and then meet up again and go to a bar or go to the movies and hang out. So, we seem pretty rare in that aspect that its pretty hard for he and I to get truly sick of one another, we get tired of always being around other people but if I had to choose someone to always be stuck around it would probably be Chris.

So I think that helps us stay pretty sane! We chat a lot with one another on stage too, the kind of keeps the shows fresh to us without having to resort to indulgent musical aspects of the show. We can play eighteen singles and talk in-between them and we’re still delighted by how much fun it is to play a single and also how spontaneous it is to talk about a Wagamama we went to that day or something! 

Yeah, I guess it saves you from having to do any ten minute solos.

Exactly! Rather than take an indulgent guitar solo, we take an indulgent bit of banter.

That’s better, more engaging.

I think it is, at least it has a little more emotional immediacy than a guitar solo. Although as a guitar player I always think that guitar solos are delicious. They’re not! People want them to stop!

Well, they have their place.

Yeah sure, a Pink Floyd concert! 

You could be the Californian Pink Floyd maybe.

True. We are trying at least.

So tell me a bit more about the new record.

It’s hard to talk about an album that you’re excited about without feeling like you’re doing a weird sales pitch about it. For our first few records we would always do a long tour and then stop be like, okay now is the time to write a record. For the past couple we’ve been a lot better about just writing consistently and randomly and not writing every song hoping that this will be one of the ten songs that make our next record.

We’ve kind of gotten over that and as a result we’ve been writing a lot more music than we’ve ever been writing. This one, we had a huge pool of songs that we really liked that we had to whittle down for this record. I think it’s our most varied record and that’s because we had so many different songs that we could just be like, well what are the ten most awesome songs in this crazy collection of tunes we have? 

It seems to be the most varied. Obviously I’m much closer to it than anyone else. The children metaphor is an oft abused metaphor with songwriters and their songs but there is a chance that maybe I’m seeing idiosyncrasy and uniqueness that others might not but to me it seems like the broadest spectrum.

And so, the pool of songs that you’re choosing from, does that span your whole career or are they all fairly new?

We’re actually really bad at maintaining the historical pool of We Are Scientists songs. We tend to write a bunch of songs and then, even as we’re writing them we’ll say okay this one’s going on the record or this probably wont be on the record. So we do always kind of start from scratch on a record and all of these songs were written after the completion of our last record, although some date from before the release of our last record, they were written after had finished making it.

There are a couple of songs from this batch I think will probably make it on our record. There’s one song that I think is one of my favourite ever We Are Scientists songs but it just really didn’t fit into this collection of tunes for whatever reason. We were kind of trying to balance the variety with some holistic sense and that one sort of felt like an outlier so I think there are one or two that will survive and people will get to hear. We were trying to think of songs that complimented one another pretty well. 

So you’re already thinking about album number seven?

Yeah definitely, sort of like last time we’ve been writing since we finished it. 

So if there’s going to be album seven, is there going to be eight, nine… when does it end!

I dunno! That’s a good question, again I feel like my perspective on things is kind of… suspect might be a strong word but it’s certainly not the most objective perspective. I definitely only like our records more and more each time we make them. My favourite batch of records have been our last three. I guess I’m not losing my enthusiasm for making records, so at this point unless there is a drastic downturn in my perception of what we’re doing then I think we will keep doing it! Unless some outside force actively makes us stop.

Yeah or if you wake up tomorrow and decide that you’re terrible and you never wanna do it again.

I would definitely stop! If we made a record and I was like, oh boy this one is not very good, I would not make people face that record.

And I guess that’s what keeps them good, you’ve got to keep that passion otherwise it won’t translate.

It’s also funny that I think the more records we make, perhaps un-intuitively I feel more and more pressure that it has to be pretty damn good because it’s not as if we’re a brand-new act and therefore there’s excitement simple about the fact of our existence. I feel that there is an aspect of being a band on your sixth record that entails having to defend why you’re still making records! So for that reason we’re more and more scrupulous about how we feel about the songs when we’re making them.

Well, keep ‘em coming! So the way you see it, are there things about this record that mean people should keep coming back?

I think on our first few records, probably by virtue of being part of a very specific scene that was being celebrated at that point – you know the dancy punky, pretty New York centric scene that was happening – we slotted very well into that group of bands. When I listen to those songs now they feel very of a piece with many other bands.

Obviously I think our songs were better than those bands *laughs* but there were other bands where you could say oh, they kind of sound like so and so and you can hear a musical through-line. I think more and more we’ve shed those affectations and kind of just sound like We Are Scientists now which means that we can be a little more inventive with sounds that we employ.

I think we tend to be a little more playful with our arrangements and our instrumentation because we don’t really feel like we’re aiming at any specific external signifiers of a sound that we feel beholden too. 

Have you got any touring highlights in the UK, any best shows, places that you really love?

We always love London but we have way to many friends in London so London is always sort of a blur! I definitely wake up every morning in London very upset with what I did last night. It’s always kind of hard to open my eyes in the morning in London.

I think that’s how most of London feels in the morning. 

Yeah! We really love Glasgow, we always have a really fun time in Glasgow and for some reason our birthdays always seem to fall when we’re in Glasgow. I’ve had a birthday in Glasgow before and my birthday this year is going to be in Glasgow. I think that also lends to our sense of Glasgow being a particularly jubilant town. We haven’t really gotten to Cornwall very often but on our last tour we had a few shows down there and it was really gorgeous, I kind of want our booking agent to start flexing that muscle a little more! 

Yeah, it’s a little more mellow down there.

Yeah it’s gorgeous, Falmouth is incredible – we have a good time down there and we don’t get there often enough. 

Well, let’s make it happen! Alright, I’ll let you get back to the pub now.

Cool! Thank you, take care.

You can find We Are Scientists Sheffield tickets below. 

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