Right before their show at the NEO bar in Zurich on the 8th June, I had the opportunity to talk to singer and guitarist Keith Murray of We Are Scientists about touring and their newest record «Helter Seltzer».
Indiespect: Congratulations to your new album «Helter Seltzer». You seem to be really proud of it. Maybe even more than you have been of the previous release. Or is that just a feeling?
Murray: Thank you very much. I think so. I mean it’s sort of hard to be ojective about it. I admit that I’m always way more excited about whatever our newest album was, than the last one. At the time when we made «TV En Français» I thought it was by far our best album. And I do like this one more than «TV En Français». But mainly I think this one is so different from «TV En Français», that it’s interesting to me. Yes, I think that’s an interesting album to us and that’s really exciting for me.
I: You animated the music video for the song «Classic Love» on your own. Where did you learn to do something like this?
M: I had taught myself. In 2002 or 2003 I bought a program called «Flash». A company called «Macromedia» owned it. It’s a web design software, for making animations on a website. If you click on a button it grows or if you swipe across something it changes, so that you know it’s a link. That’s normally the way you use it for. And I used it for animations. It’s pretty hard to use. I didn’t touch it since I first bought it. Now Adobe owns it and turned it in a program called «Animate» but it’s exactly the same. So, I learned it while I was making the «Classic Love» video. When I started, I had no idea what I was doing.
I: But did you have an idea of the story? Because it’s also quite spacy.
M: Initially the idea was just gonna be that one scene with the car. Because drawing so many different set-ups was gonna be a nightmare. Then I started getting cocky by the end of it and I thought… Oh, what if we go to space? What if we go to a stage? But it definitely took me way too long to make the video (laughs)
I: You have Keith Carne with you as your tour drummer for almost three years. I wonder what’s the reason why he isn’t a fixed member of We Are Scientists?
M: I think a major part of it is, that it seems really confusing for us to keep changing the presentation of We Are Scientists. I keep thinking of MGMT who started out just as the two dudes. And they have a full solid awesome band who are definitely part of the band but after that first record, they kind of established themselves as the two figureheads. When Andy (Burrows) recorded with us, we presented him actively as a part of the band but then he couldn’t tour. So people would show up and ask: «Why isn’t Andy here?». It just became kind of a headache. We always know that Keith (Murray – himself) and Chris will be there. And we do all the interviews because we have the historical presence in the band. We definitely regard him as a band member but as a business and as an entity it’s just Chris and me. And as well the initial writing of a record is just the two of us. Even though he recorded all the drum parts of «Helter Seltzer» and worked on it with us.
I: You were supposed to play at Rock am Ring and your show and later the whole festival got cancelled because of the bad weather situation. The organizer later said, that it was a mistake to cancel the whole festival. What’s your opinion about that?
M: It’s easy to say that in retrospect. We obviously really wanted to play. They told us that nobody was playing before eight o’clock or something. And I know Foals were on at the same time as we were. And I saw them when I was leaving. They were on a different stage and they were going to play a half hour show.
I: This was on Saturday then? On Sunday it got cancelled completely.
M: Yes, it was on Saturday. So, I was really jealous of them but I think they also kind of felt like everything was so confusing. Nobody really knew what time anyone was gonna be on. I don’t know how their show went. If people even knew when they were playing. I was like: «I wish we were playing» and they: «Well we kind of think it’s a kind of compromised situation.» So I don’t know. In retrospect it’s easy to say they should have let it open because no lightning struck that day. But I guess since the day before 40 people or something were hurt you don’t want to play with people’s safety. We were supposed to play in a tent so everyone would have been safe.
I: Did you ever have a bad weather situation like this when you actually played a show?
M: We played a show also at a German Festival. I think it was actually titled Hurricane Festival. It poured and poured and poured. I think there was a little lightning and we were kind of scared but they were like: «Yeah, don’t worry about that». I remember, I jumped out into the audience. I was holding my microphone and I was standing in water passed my ankles. Then I thought: «This could be a pretty bad idea». Holding a piece of electronics hooked up to a huge power grid standing in water might be a bad idea. So I just unhooked my microphone and took out the electricity of it and just yelled.
I: Last month you played two anniversary shows to celebrate your debut album «With Love And Squalor» which was released 10 years ago in the United States. In Europe it was released one year before. Does that mean we won’t get any chance to see something like that as well?
M: We don’t really want to do a tour of it. We’ve kind of only did it because it was easy. I really like that record but to me it’s just one of our five records. We did it in New York because Michael (Tapper) our first drummer is there. And it seemed like pretty easy to integrate it into a set where we would do that whole album which is only something like 30 minutes long. And then play a full set.
I: What was the reason it was released earlier in Europe? Was it only for label reasons?
M: It was because we were signed in the U.S. to EMI but we were doing much better from the outset in the UK. So we were spending all of our time working on that building momentum. And we weren’t really in the U.S. at all doing any of that. So I think the U.S. label was like: «Just do it in the UK. Set up the album and then come back here when you’re done». We spent all of our time in Europe.
I: You’re not a typical U.S. band because you’re that often in Europe. Maybe some people may even think you’re from the UK.
M: Definitely a lot of people who bought our first record in the United States thought we were British.
I: It was the same with the new record. The physical release was not on the same date everywhere. What’s the reason for that?
M: I’m still a little confused about that. I think essentially the reason was the same. Our label is based in the UK and doing the promotional ramp up in the UK takes a lot of our focus. I think they just wanted to buy some more time in other territories so that we could come along and promote the record before it actually came out. We don’t wanted to put out the record in Europe and say: «Don’t worry, we will be there in a few months». In this day and age it’s kind of hard to say whether or not that even really matters. It gets more difficult when the press is in multiple different languages. But if you do a piece of press that’s in English anyone that can read English can read the piece of press. It’s not that we do it for a British magazine that’s only available in the UK. So maybe it’s a bit an outmoded practice. We want the label to be happy, so we do whatever they think it’s best.
I: You will have the vinyl with you today?
M: Oh no, I’m so sorry. We’re sold out of them yesterday in Milan actually. It’s stupid, we should have brought more. We brought maybe like 200 copies. But it’s only been five or six shows. Pretty good! It’s funny, when we’re playing smaller shows you still try to do the math the way you would if it was a bigger show. You try of think of how much smaller the show is and therefore that’s how many vinyls or CD you would sell. But you forget that when shows are so small, that most of the people are pretty big fans and want to buy something. In this venue today are about 150 people and maybe most of the would buy a CD.
I: What’s the biggest show on that small Europe tour?
M: We’ve been doing some festivals. In two days in Valencia it’s gonna be 15’000 or something. I don’t know what the biggest one is… Maybe 300.
I: In your new music video for «Buckle» you throw a lot of food into Chris’ face. How did you decide who would throw?
M: We decided it that morning. Initially we were both going to have food thrown at us. We just thought it would imply more of a story if it was just one of us throwing things at the other one. But it was never explained why. But sure I pretty relieved that he would do it.
I: How do you come up with those special ideas for your videos?
M: They’re not very logically decided. Keith Carne our drummer is really into Jazz music and he is a trained Jazz drummer. On this drive today we were trying to remember a conversation that Chris and I were having on stage in Amsterdam. Our tour manager really wanted to remember one of the jokes from that. But none of us couldn’t remember. You know, they’re not written or anything. And also we were pretty drunk.
I: During the show?
M: Yeah… No I mean not drunk, I mean, uuhm… So, sort of all the conversations kind of meander and go to random places. And Keith Carne was saying that our conversations are like Jazz to him. Which seems like a really pretentious thing for him to say. I feel of that’s how a lot of our ideas start. We have an idea for one thing and it would just totally turn into another absolutely nonsensical thing we like a lot.
I: Maybe it’s a bit a silly question. What do you think is the best song you’ve ever written?
M: I think «Rules Don’t Stop Me» is my favourite of the record it is on, for sure. I also like «Foreign Kicks» on that one. I’m a pretty big fan of «Buckle». I don’t know if it is our best song ever but I really like it. I like «Make It Easy» from our last record. Also one of my favourites of all times for sure.
I: When you write a song, do you feel if people will love it?
M: Not really. I remember that with «Make It Easy», Andy Burrows who played drums on that one really loved that song. From day one. That was the first time I ever felt that early: «Man! I guess this song is really good». Because he was so excited about it all the time, we did a demo of it with the producer of our first three records Ariel (Rechtshaid) who is always just super busy now. He does like Justin Bieber and so on. He does also cool stuff like the last Vampire Weekend record which is awesome. And also the Haim record. So we did a demo of the song, actually in Vampire Weekends studio in Brooklyn. He had a day off and so we recorded it there. Andy definitely listened to that demo ten times a day for the next four months. (laughs)
I: Last year, you played a show in London with Andy Burrows is that right?
M: We try to play with him every time we’re all in the same place. He will actually be in New York when we’re playing the Late Show with Steven Colbert. And he is on tour with a guy called Tom Odell. He’s not really my musical cup of tea but «Another Love» is a really good song. Actually I haven’t heard the new album yet. I know that Andy wrote a bunch of songs on that.
I: So he’s not just a touring member now?
M: No. I think he met Tom because they wrote one song on the last record. And I think they’ve done really well and so Tom asked: «Will you please come and drum with me?». So yes, he’s going to be in New York with Tom the same night we’re doing the TV show. We’re playing an afterparty for that. So I’m hoping Andy can come and play and play a song with us. I really don’t know when we last played with Andy. Because anytime we’re around we say: «Let’s play a song together». It’s so sporadic.
I: You’re a New York based band but you didn’t grow up there. Is that right?
M: I grew up in Miami but I don’t want to go back. It’s so far away from anything else. It takes about eight hours just to get from Florida to Miami. So nobody ever really goes to Miami. We have played there twice, I think. It’s sad… for Miami. Nobody every played there when I was young. The only big national band when I was growing up were Bon Jovi. Because nobody could afford to go down there. I only got to see local bands who were – I realized in retrospect really bad. The only band that kind of came out of there was Marilyn Manson. They were my favourite band because they were a local band. I just saw them in venues like this size once a month. They were just the most popular band in Miami.