We Are Scientists im Interview: We don’t really like music that’s just funny
We Are Scientists feiern dieses Jahr ihr 23. Bandjubiläum. In diesem Jahr haben sie mit “Lobes” ihr neuntes Studioalbum veröffentlicht. Momentan ist die New Yorker Band, bestehend aus Keith Murray und Chris Cain, auf Europatour. Dabei machen sie Halt bei uns in Deutschland, unter anderem am 3. April im Hole44 in Berlin. Wir haben We Are Scientists vorab zum Zoom-Interview getroffen. Warum Musik nicht lustig sein sollte, wieso sie ihre Freundschaft immer dem Business vorziehen würden, und was Aktivkohle in einem Cocktail zu suchen hat, haben die Beiden uns erzählt.
Nina: You released your album “Lobes” in January. How did you approach the songwriting and recording process?
Keith: We’ve written a few of the songs around the same time as the songs of our previous album, “Huffy”. We’ve been renting a studio from a friend in New York, then the pandemic hit, and our friend was trapped in Ireland for like 9 months. So, we got to use his studio as long as we wanted.
Chris: We’ve had way longer than we thought we’re going to get. So, we really dragged our feet producing the album. That’s why we were able to make it so darn good.
Keith: Dragged our feet? We were working feverishly for months. At least that’s the thing we tell the press.
Chris: Sure, by dragging our feet I meant we couldn’t let go, you know? We just kept thinking about great new ideas, and we wanted them all on there.
Keith: Yeah, an important part for us when finishing an album is having a deadline that we miss two or three times.
Classic! You say that the song “Operator Error” brigades “Lobes” with your previous album “Huffy”. Also, you refer to “Huffy” as your daytime album, whereas “Lobes” is more like a nighttime album. Was the overall mood when writing the album, a rather darker one? Especially because songs like “Operator Error” and „Dispense With Sentiment” reflect on things like overthinking, anxiety, and low-level dysfunction.
Keith: “Operator Error” and „Dispense With Sentiment” were songs that were written along with the “Huffy” songs. We weren’t really in a period of darkness or cynicism or anything. I think those were just some of the songs that were written at the time with the peppier stuff on “Huffy”. But when we realized that we had so many songs that we loved, it sort of made sense to break them up into those two different vibes. But I do feel like the songs that we wrote after that for “Lobes” tend to be maybe some of the peppiest from the whole bunch. “Less From You” and “Turn It Up” were some of the last songs we wrote. So, I think we just thought that we’re going to make a dark record, and then we didn’t really. We also made it pretty fun.
Your music in general has a lot of energy and humor. How do you balance those elements with the more serious topics that you sometimes explore in your lyrics?
Keith: It’s definitely not an intentional balance that’s being forced when we are writing an album. We never think “Oh, we have all this darker stuff, we better infuse some with a lighter vibe”. We tend to just write a bunch of songs and then choose our favorites. And sometimes we’re maybe intuitively choosing a more balanced tone of the record and not have just one vibe throughout it.
We Are Scientists – Sentimental Education
Would you say that has evolved over time?
Chris: I think it’s probably less of a writing evolution than the fact that when we wrote our first album “With Love And Squalor”, we were younger and stupider and drunk like 20 percent more of the time than we are nowadays.
Keith: I think we just write better songs now, so they feel more serious when we actually correctly deploy the songs. On our first album, there was a little more ramshackle approach to the arrangements and the performance that maybe make it seem more like someone who just doesn’t have their shit together. Because the production and the arrangements are so much more unaccomplished. It feels like “Well, this person is just in a bad way, and they’re expressing that perfectly”.
Chris: Some of the music on this record is sort of the equivalent of a pratfall. Especially the drumbeats.
Keith: Consistently demonstrating a person clattering down a steep slope.
That’s an interesting approach to promote your music. Also, social media is essential if you want to promote yourself as a band and stay in the conversation. Nowadays, more and more social platforms are coming up. How do you handle that?
Chris: We have somebody in our management company who is in charge of making sure we post enough. But we make everything ourselves. And for the most part, the ideas are all ours. And sometimes we just do what they tell us.
Keith: Or they’ll tell us to do something, and then we make a bad version of it that doesn’t do the thing they wanted it to do at all. But we think it’s very good.
Besides your online presence, you’re also known for your comedic videos. How do you think humor and creativity intersect, and how do you approach incorporating humor into your visual content?
Chris: We really value humor in our day-to-day life with the band because we don’t really like music that’s just straight out funny. We tend to make everything else that we’re allowed to do as a band pretty funny. Our first thought is always “How is this gonna be funny?” like what’s gonna make it a little weird. I think that’s important when it comes to everything in life. Except songs. I don’t think they should be funny.
Keith: Songs should never be funny. A song shouldn’t be joke. Unless you’re in 100 gecs. Then it’s okay.
Do you create all the ideas for the videos yourself?
Keith: We do come up with them ourselves, and we usually do it about two days before the video is due. We’re feeling tremendous pressure. And that’s why they’re so fresh.
That’s how it works with everything, doesn’t it? You just need a close deadline and a lot of pressure.
Keith: That’s true.
Turn It Up (Musikvideo)
You’re releasing only one video for “Huffy” which is for the song “Turn It Up”. It seems really handmade, using a lot of TikTok filters.
Keith: It actually was really handmade. We sort of leaned into this aesthetic a little bit, and we accept the fact that it looks kind of handmade. We tried to use it more as an advantage rather than a liability.
Chris: Yeah, I think there’s so much really great looking visual effect stuff in the world right now. And we’re pretty bad at doing visual effects. So, since we know no matter what we make, it’s not gonna look professional, it’s kind of better not to try.
In the age of streaming, album covers, and music videos no longer have the relevance they once had. Nevertheless, you always get very creative, most recently with the cover of „Huffy“, for example. How important is this for you as a band?
Keith: I don’t think either of us really think of the music videos or the album covers as being a very primary part of our creativity. We like being creative when they make us make music videos or album covers. We always try to have the weirdest and most unique idea possible, just because it’s an opportunity to do something unconventional. And yes, it does seem like music videos are largely unimportant. In fact, our label told us that they didn’t want music videos for “Lobes” but they instead wanted a lot of short form clips to put on social media. And later on they decided they wanted a video for “Turn It Up”.
So, the full focus shifted onto social media then?
Keith: Yes, and it turns out to almost be harder to shoot these individual short clips than shooting music videos.
Why is that?
Keith: Because you need several little chunks rather than coming up with one single good idea. And they all need to fit into multiple different formats.
It’s also not that easy generating awareness on social media, so the ideas you come up with have to be extra creative.
Keith: Yeah, that’s what they tell us.
You’ve toured all over the world. What have been some of your favorite experiences on the road?
Keith: Oh, this is gonna seem incredibly lame. But we have a day off in Amsterdam tomorrow and last time we were there, pretty much all we did was going to a café across the street from our hotel called “Cafe Krom”, and it became my favorite place in the world because in the morning it had coffee and good orange juice which our drummer is dreaming about as we speak. It had a cat that sat on the bar. And, most importantly, it had a bar. And that was really all we needed. So yes, “Cafe Krom” is one of my favorite spots in the world.
Chris: We also went to a great wine bar in Paris two days ago. Sounds like we’re very focused on bars.
That’s absolutely okay. What is your favorite part about touring in general?
Chris: The shows are the most fun part, like the actual 90 minutes on stage.
When touring, you spend a lot of time together, and as it seems to me, you’re not only a band but also very good friends. How do you make sure that your friendship isn’t affected when also working together and spending so much time together?
Keith: Wow, slow down! If anything, we’re just close colleagues.
Chris: This is a misunderstanding. I’m this guy’s lawyer! But seriously, I think the key is that you in fact let your friendship affect the business. We would always prioritize our friendship. Which means a lot of times we don’t do things for the band that would probably be the right business decisions.
Keith: Like, Chris should have been fired ten years ago. But yes, I also think this is pretty much the key. We’re very bad at being a business, and we treat it as an opportunity to tour around and play shows with our pals.
With your album “Huffy” you couldn’t tour due to Corona. You are currently making up for this tour, but you already have another new album in your luggage. Does that make the setlist writing process more difficult?
Chris: Of course, we discuss it. But we’re prioritizing “Lobes” since it’s the most recent album. But really the setlist is “Lobes”, “With Love And Squalor” and “Huffy”. These are the three main records that we are playing on this tour. We probably cut two “Huffy” songs that we would’ve been playing if this tour had happened two years ago.
Do you take anything in particular with you from the lockdown time?
Keith: We actually had a pretty good time as we had access to our friend’s studio. So, Chris and I decided that we’re gonna be one another’s quarantine part. We got a lot of work done, and we were doing a weekly Instagram live. It definitely gave us a good purpose. It amused me a lot. I was very entertained.
Chris: And that’s where the name for our latest album came from.
Keith: Yes! If there was one positive thing to come out of Covid, it was that our album is called “Lobes”, because it was a joke on one of our live streams. Isn’t that positive?
Chris: It is!
We Are Scientists – Handshake Agreement (Musikvideo)
Absolutely! I remember you also mixed a drink for each song on “Huffy” during that time. If „Lobes“ was a drink, which one would it be?
Chris: It would be black! The original joke from the live stream is that “Lobes” is a black breakfast cereal. Also, a black cocktail would be pretty cool. You don’t see a lot of those. That was a great question. We really should create a “Lobes” cocktail in pitch black.
Keith: Our drummer Chris is suggesting charcoal as the black ingredient.
Nina: That would make it very healthy.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. This could be a health beverage. I mean it has to have a lot of alcohol.
Keith: Yes, it has to have a ton of alcohol. Almost like a medicine.
I’d buy it! What’s your go-to drink when going out?
Chris: Mine’s probably a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. I definitely have been stuck on Bourbon for a number of years now.
Keith: If I’m in a totally random bar, I go with an Old Fashioned. I’m very rum excited recently, but it’s really easy to make bad rum drinks, like make it very sweet, and then it’s like a tiki drink. Which I love. But they’re often extremely bad. We got a really bad one in London last week. So, if I think a place is gonna do it correctly, I’m gonna go with a Mai Tai or something. But otherwise, I’m Old Fashioned.
Chris: What’s yours?
Mine is Vodka Soda. I believe, if you only drink Vodka Sodas you don’t get a hangover. Which is not true, I can tell you.
Keith: In this case, I always go for Gin & Tonic. Which at least looks similar to a Vodka Soda.
Chris: Would you drink a cocktail that had active charcoal in it? It at least helps you keep your stomach settled.
I would probably feel even better the day after. I would definitely try it!
Keith: We got one sold! We’d call it “Lobe”.
Chris: Yes. “I take one Lobe”. Sounds good. Very simple.
Keith: Yes, let’s not get too fancy.
Also, it shouldn’t be too hard to pronounce, so that you can always order another one after already having two or three.
Chris: Exactly! You’re gonna want a fourth!
Looking forward to drinking my first “Lobe” someday. Thank you so much for your time, guys!
Foto: Danny Lee Allen
Interview: Nina Martach