Keith Murray is quite the navigator. Shortly before our interview, the We Are Scientists frontman is bravely wandering the streets of Barcelona in an attempt to locate the venue the band is scheduled to headline that night. He is distracted by two things: the start our conversation and the unwavering beauty of Spain. “[Barcelona] is insanely awesome—I could easily spend the rest of my life here.” He pauses for a second to think about the sentence he just said, and seems briefly intrigued by it. “I guess if I wasn’t lazy, I could make it happen.”
Murray’s jovial mood is tested when I mention that their latest album, TV en Francais, is slightly more sublime than the rest of the extensive Scientists catalogue. Francais is most notably polarizing when juxtaposed to their debut, With Love and Squalor. The frenetic energy of Squalor was carefully encompassed by aerosol guitar crescendos and ferocious vocal fricatives. In short, it was my shit. “It was a lot of people’s shit,” he states almost matter of factly. “TV en Francais is simply a broadening of our application. Our first album, in terms of genre, was one-dimensional. It was one thing done a bunch of different ways. TV is more mellow than what we often produce. I’m actually ruminating over how weirdly mellow all of indie rock is becoming these days.”
When I throw Beach House under the bus because I believe that’s who he has in mind, Murray focuses his sights on other bands. “More like Grizzly Bear and The National. New York has been known for music that’s agitated and muscling its way into attention. Now it’s gooey and pleasant. It’s not only necessarily trying to lull you, but it’s like ‘relax and give me $10 for our album!’ In comparison, we made a terribly aggressive album [with Francais].” As an avid fan of The National, I immediately quip that singer Matt Berninger’s lyricism is cutting. Murray incredulously scoffs as he poses the question: “Cutting against what?”
Almost instinctively, a defensive (albeit bratty) attitude starts to emanate from my end of the conversation and seeps directly through the phone line. Murray remains unrelenting on his stance. “[Berninger] expresses the unease of a privileged person. Cutting lyricism has an aggressive aspect to it. Rage Against The Machine has cutting lyricism. Even though I have my qualms about Arcade Fire, they are far more cutting than The National.” I realize my folly for choosing the word cutting, citing hip hop as my go-to genre when I’m in need of words with a larger purpose. I am forgiven, and soon our talk zeros in on Murray’s love of Weezer and his strange appreciation of Katy Perry. The latter fascinates me.
“She just scratches a pop itch I have. When it comes to making music, my aim isn’t to solely engage in artistic expression—I also want to make something catchy. It’s amazing how vacuous the lyrics are that I admire—it’s hard to write dumb gripping pop songs.” His jovial mood soon returns, which is a nice way to end things. “Teenage Dream was a great Katy Perry song, but in pop people always focus on the avatar associated with the music.” When I lament over how listeners are too interested in the lives of musicians as opposed to what they create, Murray is shrewd with his insight. “Context in any art form is essential in order to appreciate the art.”