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The last time I spoke to We Are Scientists frontman Keith Murray was two years ago—and it was one of my favorite interviews that I’ve ever done. While navigating the streets of Barcelona, Murray and I talked about the veracity of their 2006 debut album, With Love and Squalor, bands who have musically and politically pushed the envelope (and the ones who haven’t), and his elusive sweet spot for modern day pop artists. On the heels of the release of their fifth album, Helter Seltzer, Murray and I are less adversarial and more interested in the creative process of We Are Scientists as well as their palpable evolution. “I think our longevity as a band can mostly be chalked up to the fact that we’re still legitimate friends who want to hang out together,” Murray explains. “And that we continue to be more and more excited by the music we’re making.”
Like every We Are Scientists record, I effortlessly consumed Helter Seltzer from start to finish. Can you talk about the reception the new record has received on the road so far?
It’s always hard for us to be objective about these things—we are so emotionally and creatively invested in the music that our own enthusiasm for the record tends to override anyone else’s demonstrations of enthusiasm. That said, our impression that this is our best album yet has been borne out by the reactions from a number of critics and fans, which is always heartening.
I believe today is the last day of your UK tour—they love you guys over there.
The other night in London we met a guy who accused us of having secretly written “Buckle” years ago and held it back to deploy as a secret weapon to use now. The value of such a strategy was never really made clear to me, but it was nice to hear that the guy was so awed by the potency of “Buckle” that he felt that it could be the centerpiece of a curious long-term professional gambit.
We Are Scientists has been a very musically consistent band over the years. With the release of every album, are you more concerned with making music that can stand the test of time or just expressing yourselves in the moment?
We never really get academic about the long-term viability of our stylistic choices when we make them. I think that being passionate about what we’re doing in the moment takes precedence over any clinical idea of how well the songs or their production will age. That said, it seems like as we get better as songwriters, our music is less impacted by any specific outside influences. Our first album was hugely reflective of what was going on around us in New York in the early 2000s, which included The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol. But with each album, we’ve been stripping away obvious allusions within our sound and are getting closer and closer to the undiluted essence of the We Are Scientists sound.
Speaking of your first album, With Love and Squalor turns 10 this year although you guys don’t look a day over 21. Looking back on your career during the last decade, how have you managed to navigate your way through an industry that is always changing?
There’s definitely been a huge learning curve—people in every facet of the industry are reeling from the profound evolution that the industry has undergone since we started. Our first record was put out by a major label that’s since been sold, re-sold, re-re-sold, absorbed, fractured, and largely dissolved, so it’s pretty difficult to feel like the people who are “leaders” in the industry actually have the faintest idea what they’re doing. While that kind of tenuousness in business practices can be frustrating, it’s also pretty exciting to be actively involved in trying out new tactics, platforms and methods of being a modern band. We’ve put the last two records out with an independent label in the UK that’s run by guys who are genuinely interested in embracing the opportunities that the changes in the industry offer, rather than bemoaning the fact that the musty old model is dead.
My favorite WAS lyrics are the ones that pack a little punch. I love the self deprecation of “Ghouls”, the ballsy nature of “Return the Favor,” the need to feel needed on “Buckle.”
I feel like the content and emotion of the lyrics are often directly influenced by the vibe of the instrumentals we’ve already written. It’s pretty rare for us to write a song that begins with a lyrical conceit, although the lyrics themselves do usually come from emotions or ideas that I’ve been dealing with or not dealing with as a whole. But for the most part, we write the music and melody first, and then work on writing lyrics that suit the existing mood. If everything is working correctly, the music and lyrics symbiotically influence each other until the song feels finished.
How does the content of these songs shape the mood in the studio when you record them?
Our general studio approach is less about amplifying the mood of specific songs and more about trying to foster a fun, casual, open vibe that keeps everyone excited about rolling up their sleeves and getting down to hard work. Also, we drink a lot of cocktails.
We Are Scientists with Prism Tats
Brighton Music Hall
7pm Doors/8pm Show