Ahead of the release of their third album Barbara, and their appearance at Splendour in the Grass next month, We Are Scientist’s Keith Murray took time out of his busy schedule to call AU HQ and chat to us about the new album, returning to Australia, the illiteracy of the Jackass crew and the World Cup.
Are you in the UK at the moment?
Yeah I’m in London – going through the press push for the album release here.
I understand you’re about to begin a European tour, also?
It’s the festival season tour explosion.
I imagine that’s what Jon Spencer has always been warning us about!
*laughs* Unfortunately we didn’t heed his words. We can’t learn from his past mistakes… we’ve fallen right into the explosion again!
So how is all the press going? I understand you were on Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 yesterday, in which you premiered a song called “Goal England”?
Yeah it is, it is. We wrote an English football anthem that we hope will become their World Cup song. And then if they win – I’m not saying I think they should – but if they win, it would become THE World World Cup anthem.
At least for the next four years!
Well yeah, exactly. But I think in another four years we could write another one.
I can only imagine if you got one of those great South American commentators to sing it.
The song would take too long, the way they stretch their goals!
Twenty minute chorus!
You’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the UK lately I understand – that’s where your series of MTV shorts were filmed – “Steve Wants His Money”.
We Are Scientists have always had a great web presence via some hilarious music videos, but how did this one come about?
It was definitely a round about series of events – it’s only in retrospect that I realise how it happened. I’ll try to give you the short version of it. A couple of years ago, maybe three or four years ago, at Reading and Leeds festivals, we did a public Q&A at the NME tent.
Apparently our label were there and they thought it was totally hilarious, because I guess normally people in bands don’t know how to talk… or something? So for some reason our label was so flabbergasted by how we performed a simple Q&A that they decided that a good idea to promote our forthcoming album at the time, which was Brain Thrust Mastery, would be to go and do a Q&A tour of Universities. And we really didn’t want to that at all, it sounded pretty miserable.
So we met them half way and said that we’d give a presentation at Universities. And that ultimately turned into this fake hour long self help class, called “Brain Thrust Mastery” that was totally idiotic and clearly the two characters we were playing were charlatans. And then THAT turned into a series of webisodes that out label commissioned, to promote the second record, which we filmed with a production company, about us trying to get out of music and trying to become self help gurus who push our self help course called “Brain Thrust Mastery”. Then THAT production company decided that they could sell that show. So we didn’t end up using those things that we’d filmed for promotion at all, but by the time we came to a deal with MTV, the album had been out for a year, so they didn’t want to use that anymore because it was outdated. So then we had to write Steve Wants His Money. That’s how it happened.
There you go! And that’s a pefect segue way into discussing the new album, Barbara, which of course Steve Wants His Money is well timed to promote. At the time of this interview, it’s just about to be released – how have you found the reception to be thus far in the live setting?
It’s been good, I think because the writing of this record was so aimed to be well translated live, I think it’s fairing pretty well in early preview performances. This album is sort of designed to tick all of the live excitement boxes. So all the songs are pretty short, there aren’t any lengthy jams, and then we’re like “here’s the hook! … and we’re not going to waste anymore time getting to the next thing that’s a hook! … and now here’s the third hook part of the song!” So I think it’s pretty easy to digest these songs in a first listen in a live setting. I feel like it’s been going remarkably well for this record because of the type of songs that we’ve put on it.
Did changing the type of songs make for a different recording process?
The recording process was significantly different than our previous recordings, but this was more out of scheduling necessity than anything else. The guy who played drums on our record is a guy named Andy Burrows (formerly of Razorlight), who is a British drummer and was working on a solo record at the same time that we decided to record our record.
Had he left Razorlight at that point?
Yeah. We had originally been talking to him about playing maybe a song or two on the record. Our idea was that we were going to get a bunch of different drummer friends to play a couple of songs on the record. So we asked him to do that and he was excited for it. And then he quit Razorlight and called us up, and said “well, what if I played on your entire record?” And then we’re like, “Yes! The End. Let’s do it”.
We hadn’t, however, anticipated his solo record happening simultaneously, so that meant that we had to come to the UK for a few days to track some drums, and then he came to New York later on to track some more. One thing about this record was that it did happen very spontaneously, and very quickly, so that when it was time to record, we called up our producer (Ariel Rechtshaid), who’s made the previous two records as well, and we’re just like, “Ariel, we’re ready to record, are the mics set up? We’re coming over!” And he’s like “You idiots! You can’t just call me and tell me you’re ready to record! I’m in the middle of a project right now, and in two weeks I have another project!”
So we ended up, because we called him up and demanded we record the album immediately, having to work around his schedule. We came to LA to do it, the day after his last day with his other project, just show up at the studio and record for about a week on it. So it was definitely a very different process for us. And I actually think it was annoying to do it that way, it was logistically inconvenient, but there was something really nice about breaking it up that way, and not getting burnt out from being in the studio. I think next time I might like to do it that way, but have it all be in New York City. Not spanning about 20,000 miles of air travel.
Does having Andy on board help create a new sense of resonance with the British crowds?
I think we sort of have been more or less adopted as a British band. Our fanbase here has more of a nationalistic connection to us than I think people in America do. I feel that America still sees us as the novelty that comes over from the UK every once in a while to grace New York City. I do feel like it is a perfect and really exciting match for our fans in the UK, because these two bands that have been around as a staple of the UK music scene for 5 or 6 years now have combined forces!
Well hopefully the tour goes well for you all! Going back to the new album, I just saw for the first time the hilarious video for your new single “Nice Guys”, which features the best use of subtitles in a music video since Weird Al’s “Smells Like Nirvana”.
Oh no! Does that have totally fake subtitles too?
Only in the context of not knowing what the hell Nirvana are saying half the time. Did you have any injuries after any of your hardcore stunts?
You know, I had a couple. But I’m a quick student. The first few hours of me doing the stunt falls, the falls looked really poor, they didn’t look real at all but they were really painful. I think by the end of the shoot I got the hang of pulling a mildly realistic fall without any pain whatsoever. I’m pretty much a massive stuntman now.
You can float with the Jackass crew now!
I’m like a member of the Jackass crew, except that I’m literate.
… and you have career at the moment as well.
ooooooooh! Poor Jackass members.
Seriously, when was the last time those guys did anything?
They’re probably in hospital.
*laughs* It’s true!
So you’re coming back to Australia for Splendour in a little over a month – are you looking forward to getting back here? I know it’s been a while!
Hell yes! It’s been way too long. It is pretty weird that we’ve never actually played a festival down there before, it’s sort of just been our own shows. So this’ll be good. I’m pretty excited to get into the Australian festival scene.
It’ll be good fun. And you’re touring with the legends that are Ash for the sideshows – have you played with those guys before?
We played one show with them, maybe 3 or 4 years ago. It wasn’t really a festival, it was a show set up by Snow Patrol, whose drawing power meant that it was something like 40 or 50,000 people all in one place, there to see Snow Patrol. So they put together a huge six band bill, or something like that, and Ash were on that with us, so we met them, but we never actually got to see them. We were doing press while they were on. So I’ve never actually seen Ash!
We’ll it looks like you’ll get plenty of chances on this tour!
Do you do co-headline tours often? I remember back in 2006 you toured around North America with Art Brut.
I think that’s the only other co-headline tour we’ve every actually done. I think this co-headlining tour is more a matter that Splendour in the Grass will have brought way too many bands to Australia at one time to accommodate all the shows we want to play. So I think it was a matter of the Metro saying “well, I don’t want to have to choose between Ash and We Are Scientists, so why not make them do it together?” Which is awesome. It kind of makes it more fun for us, and the people who have come to see us.
Well I can’t wait to see you guys back down here, the new album sounds fantastic. It’s just a pity you once again miss the Summer!
Always in the Winter!
It’s not London weather though which is nice.
Yeah you guys have pretty mild winters. Your winter is esentially London Summer!
WE ARE SCIENTISTS + ASH SIDESHOWS ARE ON SALE NOW!
Tuesday 3rd August The Metro Sydney NSW
624 George St Sydney
Tickets from Metro, Ph 02 9550 3666, www.metrotheatre.com.au;
Ticketek Ph 132 849, or www.ticketek.com.au
Wednesday 4th August Billboard Melbourne VIC
170 Russell St Melbourne
Tickets from billboardthevenue.com.au, Moshtix Ph 1300 GET TIX (438 849), or www.moshtix.com.au;
Ticketek, Polyester and usual outlets
Also appearing at Splendour In The Grass (SOLD OUT).