“We’re Much More Domestic Now!” We Are Scientists Interviewed

Keith Murray on their self-produced new album, touring, and settling down…

To indie band We Are Scientists the UK is like a second home. With an dedicated fanbase, and a detailed network of professional contacts and close friends, their ties to Britain are extensive. Having played to UK audiences for more than a decade, experiences are numerous, and highlights are aplenty.

The New York group’s sixth album ‘Huffy’ constitutes an uplifting, genre-bending journey of free, playful exploration. Taking their songwriting to a new level is key, and the project marks We Are Scientists’ debut as producers. Free of any boundaries, or time pressures, the new record sees Keith Murray and Chris Cain embark on a project with a fresh, inspired creativity that sets off different ways of working.

Susan Hansen met the band in London and spoke with Keith Murray about the new record, the relationship with their fans, and some of their early memories of touring the UK.

– – –

– – –

Is it possible to sum up your experience of playing to UK crowds over the years?

It’s funny to try to answer that question by differentiating UK crowds, because we’ve definitely played more shows in the UK than anywhere in the world, and we found our footing here, we went from tiny venues to very big ones. I always compare our shows in other places to our normal shows in the UK.  

I don’t know that it’s necessarily a fundamental characteristic of the UK, other than the personalities that caused our fans in the UK to be so alive. I think for us, it’s just more of the relationship we have. I think we almost feel like a London band in many ways.

Over the years, you must have got to know your fans personally, do you know some of their names?

We do know many fans by name, we have pretty good, intimate relationships with several fans. We have a fan, who does needlepoint. Every time a new album comes out, she will give us a new one. It’s a hobby, but she has kept it up over the past five or six years, we’ve watched her from being a beginner to getting pretty good.

‘Huffy’ is a magnificent record. Did the process of making it differ profoundly from previous album projects?

It’s the first record that we have self-produced, and that comes with a lot of trepidation. You have nerves, initially. But the main reason we wanted to try to produce it ourselves is that the qualities of a project that a producer brings are usually their own character. An objective third party takes on the quality of his art, that’s an irreplaceable quality that producer has, and we did feel like we had to be extra careful about making sure we were be trying to be objective.

What inspired the decision to self-produce?

We were much more interested in seeing what would happen if we took out that external character. We love all the producers, who have made our records, and we’re close friends with all of them. This one sounds more like us than any record we made, a lot of that comes from not feeling the pressure of having someone else in the room listening, while you’re doing the tape.

It’s good to have a taskmaster, but it’s also cool to not worry about whose time you’re wasting, if takes aren’t going well, and you don’t really know what you’re doing. Being in the studio is usually pretty difficult, because I’m embarrassed in front of someone else. When it’s just the two of us, I don’t care, we get a little more creative, and just see what other options are more readily available.

In retrospect, we weren’t entirely sure, and we didn’t have a deadline, when we were starting the week. But if we messed it up, we could just do it again with someone, someone better than us, but we ended up really loving the process, and the result.

– – –

– – –

How did you go about self-producing, was there a structure?

Partly why we felt comfortable self-producing is that we’ve gotten very thorough in our demos, they’re thoroughly produced, they sound like they’re produced in someone’s home studio. A friend of ours owns a studio in New York City, he was on tour, we asked if we could rent the studio for six weeks, while he was gone.

There was a learning curve, being in a nice studio, we were thinking about the stages of recording, we know how we do it in our bedrooms, it’s different when you’re in a big, well-kitted studio.

That six weeks turned into about four months, because he was actually touring Europe, but then he got trapped. He couldn’t come back to the States, because he’s on a visa, he wasn’t allowed back here.

With that awareness in the back of your mind, how did you approach things on a practical level?

It’s fortunate that we came in with fully realised ideas that, if we had left them alone, we would have been happy with. In the big studio our process became tracking the drum etc., then spending another day just saying, okay we have that. It was just the stages that we took for almost every aspect, we would do the things we knew, and then take a day to so to explore.

It was important that we knew what would make us happy, and that made us free to see what might make us unhappy, if we tried. Some people thrive in scenarios where they’re called upon to perform, we thrive on just feeling there’s zero consequence. We have the studio, and we’re not wasting anyone’s time.

Did you find that your own approach to production was inspired by producers you have worked with?

We absolutely did learn from all producers, we’ve made records with three different guys, they’re all different temperamentally. But we learned the most from our friend, who produced the last two records, who was our touring keyboardist.

Max Hart is the one that we felt the most like when making a record by ourselves. Because he had been in the band with us, he’s a guy that we frequently hang out with. Our relationship is extremely casual. He is very good about being on the other end of the phone, if we needed advice, if something wasn’t working.

– – –

– – –

What do you like or dislike most about the process of studio collaborations?

Not too steeped in the technology, the physics and mechanics of things don’t interest me that much. There are a lot of engineers, their favourite thing is to get in a room and figure out the acoustics, the acoustical engineering of that space. I do not care about that at all, my least favourite part of making a record has been sitting around while a producer and an engineer measure distances between an amplifier and a microphone.

The new record sounds idiosyncratic and has character. We also weren’t necessarily doing things the correct way. There’s a lot of going with our guts, and our temperament is very DIY, that’s how we feel most comfortable. We are more excited, when things are hands on, when we’re figuring out why something doesn’t work. That appeals to us, it gets our gears turning.

The pandemic has been tough for many bands, how did We Are Scientists cope?

It helped that we had just begun recording, when everything locked down, it gave us something to focus on. Even under the best of circumstances, making a record feels like you’re quarantined anyway, so that process didn’t feel very changed, it was consuming us for many months.

We also started doing a weekly live stream, remote from one another, the idea of the live stream was just trying to amuse one another. It felt like we were producing a TV show once a week, live.

We love touring, but that has been very difficult, it can seem very hard to be productive in any way other than performing. Some people talk about having a great songs on the road. I’ve never written a song on tour, so we could talk about pursuing other stuff we’d like to do. We busied ourselves in ways that we couldn’t have done, if we hadn’t been trapped at home.

If it’s possible to pin down, how do you feel the band’s influences have developed over time?

It’s funny this. The more we make albums and write songs, the more we do it in volume. Now we end up having a lot of songs that are not directed by any genre impetus. I used to think, if I can’t picture the song being a radio single, why am I bothering writing it.

Now we’ll write a 100 songs for an album, 40 of them will be terrible, and then probably 20 of them will be pretty good things that should be on an album. We’ll have songs that we legitimately want to put out, and they all tend to sound different. Putting together an album now feels like finding the songs that suit one another, specific influence is much more vague to me now.

– – –

– – –

When you first broke through, did it feel as though you were being compared to the Strokes a lot?

No, we were just late enough after the Strokes. When I think about it now, compared with all of the New York bands that broke out, we were pretty different.

When you compare Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the Strokes, Wire or Interpol, they’re pretty different bands. We thought we were not like that, we were more often compared to British bands, or the Killers. We were contemporaries of the Killers.

You’re not new to music, does it become easier to separate work from play after a while?

It’s very different today than even 10 years ago. Touring would be waking up at noon, and being up until 5am hanging out, and we go back to New York. But we’re much more domestic now. These days in New York both of us have little music offices set up. There is a lot of time that’s spent, with more time working on stuff that we don’t even really use, more than we used to.

We were more invested in the social aspect of being in a band earlier on. It was in many ways the most inspiring part of being on tour with other bands, and most bands that you tour with become your best friends, they were all I wanted to listen to. I was being very immediately juiced on other bands, music, and keeping up on every act that was coming out. Now I stress about it less.

You have had many greatest experiences, what do you consider the highlights to be?

The first album tours were exciting, everything was brand new, and felt crazy. We did multiple tours with Editors, they were the first band we ever did a legitimate tour with, so they’re always our favourite guys. We did a US tour with Arctic Monkeys, that was super-fun.

It’s always a weird trying to sense what your place in it is. Sometimes the support band isn’t looking for new friends, sometimes the headliner isn’t looking for new friends, which is totally cool.

Do you still stay in touch with some of those bands?

Much less than we used to, when we were all in the same place. I just saw Tom Smith from Editors a few days ago. I see Arctic Monkeys when they’re in New York.

It’s a little bit like college friends, you’re always friends with them, but you don’t see them quite as much.

– – –

– – –

‘Huffy’ is out now.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photography: Danny Lee Allen

– – –

Link to the source article – https://www.clashmusic.com/features/were-much-more-domestic-now-we-are-scientists-interviewed

Related Articles