by Nicole Rallis
Next month will mark We Are Scientists’s return to record stores, nearly two years after the self-proclaimed “hobbyists” and funnymen released their sophomore effort, Brain Thrust Mastery. Armed with a new drummer, We Are Scientists’s founding fathers Chris Cain and Keith Murray will release Barbara on June 15, a ten-track album filled with hooks drenched in infectious love, alcohol and self-doubt, wrapped up in the up-tempo rhythms that the troupe’s fans have come to love. With Barbara’s much-anticipated release merely weeks away, you could imagine our excitement when bassist and backing vocalist Chris Cain graciously took time out of his schedule to chat with TwentyFourBit about the new record, his current obsessions, hanging out with Kim Deal and Keith’s missed calling as a stuntman.
I know you guys have had temporary drummers in the past, and now you recruited ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows for this album. How did you guys meet up?
We have known Andy for a little while, a couple years, I guess. I think we just kind of met him on the road, a festival backstage type of thing. Andy is just one of those dudes that when you have, you know, even a glancing interaction with him, you kind of retain that incredibly positive impression. So when it came time to make this record we were initially considering doing a couple of songs with several different drummers, and he was one of them. But then he quit Razorlight, and it sort of became apparent through conversations that he would be able to do the whole thing, and we were all psyched about that.
Oh, awesome. Is he a permanent member now?
He’s umm… I mean, it’s a little bit screwy because of his solo record, which is coming out in July, in which he’s sort of having to do a lot of work on right now and will have to work on for the rest of the year. So he’s not going to be able to play with us all the time. I think for the most part a guy named Danny Allen, an Australian gentleman, is going to be doing the live drumming. But the idea with Andy is to do the next record together, as well. I mean we’re all really psyched with how [Barbara] came out, so we’re definitely all really interested in keeping it going.
Was there a particular band you guys were inspired by during the recording sessions for Barbara?
I think that Weezer is probably the patron saint band of this recording cycle. I don’t think we were paying too close attention to specific new stuff that they were doing. But I think Keith and I both really got into The Green Album, their third album. We were into it back in 2000 when it came out, but we both caught each other listening to it again regularly, and started talking about what an incredible record it was. It’s thirty minutes long and it’s ten amazing pop songs, and [the songs] are all super-hooky and super-efficient. I remember reading an interview with Rivers Cuomo back around that time, probably for press for The Green Album, and he talked about how he had made a science out of songwriting and had carefully analyzed Nirvana and Green Day and somebody else—I can’t remember who the other one was—and that he’d applied that to writing the songs on The Green Album. So, I think we really wanted to emulate, at least, the efficiency of that record and the poppiness, [but] I don’t think that Barbara ended up sounding much like Weezer.
And while you guys became known for being jokesters with your past efforts, I think, while Barbara still encompasses that lightheartedness, it also sounds a bit more mature. Was this a conscious effort on your parts to make a more mature album?
No, I don’t think it was a conscious effort. I think it hopefully would happen naturally, since we are in fact older. The lyrics, in my mind, are a little less heavy than the lyrics on Brain Thrust Mastery were. I think that while Brain Thrust Mastery has sort of kinetic and upbeat arrangements for the music, the lyrics were actually very anxiety-ridden, and if anything our lyrics since then have gotten consistently less anxious. I also think that on this record Keith is writing more from imagined perspectives, rather than from his point of view or the point of view of someone really close to him, or something like that. The narrators are more, sort of, creations.
Can you talk about what’s behind the track “Foreign Kicks”?
I’ve not really talked to Keith about those lyrics, so your speculation is as good as mine. He spent some of the summer in Athens, Georgia, while we were in the writing phase of this record, and made friends with a bunch of people down there. He was down there for a couple of months, so I think to some degree the idea of, you know, departure from someone who had become very attractive to you was kind of metaphorical for his inevitable departure from his Athens crew. But I’m actually not sure.
What’s your favorite song off the new record?
I think “Pittsburg” is probably my favorite song. I don’t know if it has special meaning beyond being musically my preferred track. [Laughs] I guess it makes me feel better than the other songs. The other songs make me feel good, and that one makes me feel extra-good when I listen to it [laughs].
After shooting the skate oriented video for “Nice Guys,” was Keith okay after all those tumbles?
He was. We shot it over two days basically, and he actually got better and better through the course of it at taking falls that looked good and didn’t hurt, which I guess is what stuntmen do. At first the falls not only didn’t look very convincing or kinetic, but they also… he was also really beating himself up. But it seems he has gotten the knack [for it]. I think he’s got a future in [stunts], if he wants it.
You guys have been on tour a lot, what keeps you occupied on your downtime?
We are hobbyists, I would say. We’re big readers and we’re big filmgoers, and we do tend to get into TV shows that are available on DVD, and [we] watch shitloads of them. Let’s see, recent obsessions include a British TV show from 2004 called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which is mind-blowingly funny. And one of the dudes in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace has another show called Snuff Box, incredible as well, and it’s more of a sketch comedy type of show. That dude’s name is Matt Berry, but both [he and Matthew Holness] are incredibly gifted comedians that we just sort of stumbled upon, and I recommend them highly. I’m also very excited about the new Lee Childs book, 61 Hours. It’s the 12th book [from] this British author Lee Childs, and the only books he’s ever written are these books that are detective fiction, I guess, technically they’re a little bit more like adventure than mystery. They feature what is in my mind the finest protagonist in serial thriller fiction, a guy named Jack Reacher, who is an ex-military policeman [who] got downsized out of the army and by choice is [now] a wanderer. He just wanders in each book, and he sort of serendipitously finds his way into some nefarious plot, which he then foils with his combination of physical prowess and mental acuity. Jack Reacher, hell of a guy! [Laughs]. A model American.
Are there any films you’re interested in seeing?
I’m a huge film fan. I just saw Iron Man 2, which I thought was a bit of a disappointment. Not that I thought it was going to be the greatest thing ever, but it was not as good as Iron Man 1, I felt. Let’s see, I’m intrigued and horrified by the film The Human Centipede. I believe it’s actually playing in New York right now, but it’s a movie made by a Dutch director, Tom Six, and I think it came out last year and did the circuit of horror festivals. But the concept, which is basically an insane fetish the director/writer came up with, is that there’s an evil doctor and tourists happen upon his house—these two girls—and their car is broken down in the pouring rain, and they [find] his house in the middle of nowhere. [They] knock on his door, he invites them in and basically takes them prisoner, making them apart of his insane medical experiment he calls the human centipede. [This] is an obsession of his, which seems to have kindled from his many years as a former surgeon for Siamese twins, which he’s now retired from, but he’s now obsessed with the idea of fusing people together by connecting one person’s mouth to the next person’s anus, forming a chain of people. So basically, they share one big digestive tract. Truly psychotic. And I’m not talking about the fictional doctor in the film anymore [laughs], I’m talking about the creator. That’s a movie that’s I guess piqued my interest, although I certainly don’t want to see it, but it’s the kind of movie I feel like both Keith and I are powerless from seeing. And Human Centipede 2 is already being made and it has been promised to make [the first one] look like Goldilocks, I believe is what Tom Six referred to. So that’s my big tip for film buffs, check out The Human Centipede.
And you’ve toured with some of indie rock’s heavy hitters, such as R.E.M. and the Pixies. What was it like to share the stage with such influential bands?
So far it’s always been a delightful surprise. I guess, just to see how little ego people at that level have, and [I’ll] probably will never get used to it. I mean there’s so much mythos built up around the idea of the “cocky rockstar,” but I have yet to meet one. So every time you hang out with, you know, Kim Deal for forty-five minutes in your dressing room, where she seems to be hanging out because she is just genuinely enjoying [a] conversation with this band that I have to assume that she’s never heard of, it’s impressive.
The album artwork on With Love And Squalor and Brain Thrust Mastery features you guys on the cover, but for Barbara it’s a sword. What was the inspiration behind putting a sword on the cover?
The sword is actually a cocktail spear, in the shape of a sword, but it’s not totally obvious because it’s a silver one. So it’s a silver version of a cocktail spear, which I think is a little confusing. But the idea was to simultaneously reference cocktails, which alcohol plays a big role in the We Are Scientists lyrical universe, but also I guess cocktails, flirtation, that sort of thing. [We chose] the sword specifically, rather than a stir stick because it’s also a symbol for combat, which I think is a side of romantic interaction that had not been highlighted in our lyrical universe.
How did you guys come up with the title Barbara?
I don’t know exactly how we came up with it. We were brainstorming ideas for months, and that was one that at some point had got thrown on the list. And names basically go as quickly as they come for the most part, and you want to wait and see what sticks. So, that was one of three or four that we were excited about, even after months of living with them. I think we ended up going with [Barbara] because we liked, sort of what the cocktail spear does as well, we liked the way that, that conjured an idea without being too specific. It kind of suggested a story, it’s a woman’s name, obviously, but it’s not immediately clear that we’re talking about a specific woman or who that woman might be. In fact, we’re not talking about a specific woman, so even if someone thinks we are, then they’re fishing in the wrong stream. But just, yeah it’s kind of eluding to this idea of romance, and again the name Barbara sort of triggers mythological routes with barbarian and barbaric, so it has this essence of combat.
The liner notes, which are really funny, are sort of an opposite self-help dating manual, kind of thing. What inspired you to do this?
Originally the idea came from just the fact that the song “Rules Don’t Stop” suggests some kind of play on the book, The Rules, the sort of notorious dating and mating guide from, I believe, the 90’s. I actually downloaded a copy and thumbed through it before working on the liner notes. It is truly a piece of shit [laughs], but it makes for good comic fun.
What’s next for We Are Scientists?
Well, we are deeply invested in trying to make this record work. You know, not necessarily to catapult us to a sort of canonical status, but it would be great if it could do as well as our previous efforts have, as a way to kind of make money. To continue making money, which we definitely enjoy doing, I think is becoming more difficult these days to really have a substantive career in it. We’re also really interested in pursuing TV with whatever time music leaves us. We’ve been talking to MTV about doing another show for them, probably a half-hour sitcom in a more straightforward format. That would be something we’re interested in doing separate from the band, and I don’t think we’d ever want to force those worlds to coexist to a large degree. I mean we’ll certainly license one of our own songs for the show [laughs], but beyond that…that should occupy the next 12 months, I’d say.