We Are Scientists
By alexander laurence
This is the latest new cool band from New York City. The last few that I have
heard have been uninspiring. There is some hope here though. We Are
Scientists remind me a little of The Moving Units and a few of the more recent British
crop of groups. There are even songs like “This Scene Is Dead.” Like The
Rakes there is a focus on everyday things and their real life. None of the
abstract poetic bullshit you get with Interpol. This music is catchy. It is
danceable. It rocks out. It’s lovely. “Can’t Lose” is a very original sounding tune.
There is a lot of dynamics in their sound. They have been playing a lot of
shows recently. I saw them at Cinespace around Christmas. They played a cool show
at Noise Pop. I spoke to singer Keith Murray at the Independent in San
Francisco. They are touring in May and June with Arctic Monkeys.
Keith Murray, guitar and lead vocals
Chris Cain, bass guitar and backing vocals
Michael Tapper, drums and backing vocals
May 27 2006 8:00P Commodore Ballroom Vancouver
May 28 2006 8:00P Sasquatch Festival Seattle, WA
May 29 2006 8:00P Roseland Theater Portland, OR
May 31 2006 8:00P Warfield San Francisco, CAJ
Jun 2 2006 8:00P Soma San Diego, CA
Jun 3 2006 8:00P Wiltern Theatre Los Angeles, CA
AL: How do you feel about doing interviews?
Keith: Theoretically I don’t mind them. When they become a large percentage
of my life, then I have a problem. I haven’t done one for a few days so I am
washed clean. I have had some time off. Some interviewers have taken issue with
our interview mode. When we are together, we don’t ignore the question, but we
tend to go off track easily. We are trying to amuse each other and using
interview questions as launching points. I like meeting new people but you end up
saying the same thing over and over again. You become sick of yourself. And
when your band members are listening to you, you start to feel like a whore.
AL: You know each other pretty well. You have heard the stories?
Keith: Right. So we just try to amuse each other to avoid the shame of
repeating ourselves. Some interviewers might think that they have nothing to write
about. We feel if they just publish what we say verbatim, that they will have
an amusing published piece.
AL: That is what is going to happen here. I like the Andy Warhol old school
style of just rambling on in real time.
AL: The band has been around a while. It’s not a new band although you just
came out with this first album. Were their some EPs from before?
Keith: Yeah. We did some stuff ourselves in friend’s bedrooms. We would press
up 500 or 1000 copies. We would have something to sell at shows. This is our
first legitimate record. We had three EPs in the past.
AL: Was there a lot of bands before this?
Keith: Not really. Michael and I had played in campus bands. It was very
non-professional. We did that when we were in school. Chris didn’t play an
instrument when we started the band. We started the band to avoid the soul-killing
boredom of having day jobs. We lived in a house with a basement. I had
instruments in the basement. We just started the band as a diversion.
AL: The gigs happened very fast?
Keith: Not really. We stayed in the basement for a long time. This was in
Berkeley. We had moved back to Los Angeles. Michael was still in school at this
time. We played at parties at the college we had gone to. We all went to Pomona
College. We never played in LA. When Michael graduated from college, we all
moved to New York City, and started playing real shows. It was a very gradual
AL: How did you end up in Berkeley for a while?
Keith: Me and Chris wanted to move to San Francisco after we graduated. New
York is the gravitational city for all college kids on the east coast. San
Francisco is like that on the west coast. I grew up in Miami. Coming out to
California was good. After college, we didn’t have jobs, so San Francisco is a good
place to loaf around. Everyone was actively looking for a job.
AL: When did you figure out it was more than a practice band? When did you
say “We have to bring this to the people?”
Keith: I don’t think that we ever consider it as something that “has to be
brought to the people.” We like doing it, but I am not sure if it is imperative
that they hear it. Luckily some people demand that we bring it, so we
AL: You are not a Christian band, then?
Keith: We are deeply Christian but we publish our own periodicals about that.
Nobody likes Christian bands so we are not going to bother.
AL: How do these songs happen?
Keith: I will bring songs to the band that I think are done. There is a level
of shame in playing them songs and saying “Here’s a song that I wrote, what
do you think?” But no matter how much I think it’s finished, they tell me
it’s nowhere near finished. They dismantle it. We totally rewrite it based on
some key items that were in the songs. Some lyrics and a basic chord progression
remain. The original songs tend to be quite simple because I am writing them
by myself. They get very complicated very fast. Michael is really into
AL: Many songs can fall into rock clichés? There are signature sounds and
beats than can sound very generic.
Keith: One of our proudest moments was when we played Conan O’Brien right
before this tour. After we finished the song Conan came up and said “That was an
interesting and odd time signature.” After we had walked back in the green
room, one of the guys in the studio band came back and said “All of us guys in
the band were wondering where is the 1 in that song?” I told him “It’s
anticipated my friend.” We were pleased that we had confounded some professional
AL: When did you work on this album?
Keith: We all had full time jobs right before we recorded this album. We
weren’t signed at the time. We got signed right after SXSW in April 2005. We have
been touring pretty much after that. We have done short weeklong tours up and
down each coast.
AL: What sort of jobs did you have?
Keith: I worked for a film production company in New York. Chris worked for
an advertising agency. Michael wrote database software for a Japanese bank. We
had to quit pretty good jobs to pursue the band. We had to think really hard
if we really wanted to do this.
AL: What are some of the bands that you have toured with?
Keith: The Grates are one of our new favorites. Editors from England are
amazing. We like Arctic Monkeys. We haven’t toured in America too much yet. We
have toured with Oxford Collapse.
AL: What other non-musical hobbies do you have?
Keith: Chris and I used to be into cinema in an intellectual esthetic sense.
Now we have time only for really horrible horror films.
AL: Did you like some of the French New Wave Directors of the 1960s?
Keith: We used to manifest an interest in that. We used to go out of our way
to see all the John Cassavettes and Hall Hartley films. These days we just
want to see Michael Bay’s remakes of classic horror films.
AL: Some of the song titles of your songs are provocative in themselves? Do
songs like “This Scene Is Dead” have anything to do with the rest of the song?
Keith: Yeah they do. Most of the songs come from a line in the song. So the
titles don’t really exist separately in a world outside the songs. We have one
song called “That One Pop Gem.” I am sad we don’t play it anymore. We have a
new song called “It’s A Hit” that has replaced it.
AL: Do you think that some people are missing the humor in your songs?
Keith: Humor does involve a certain level of willful translation. Sometimes
we are not good enough to make the translation happen, or the audience doesn’t
make the translation happen. We do banter a lot on stage. Sometimes we keep
talking till the audience is silent, staring at us. We think it’s high quality
AL: What are the sets like now?
Keith: We play all the stuff from this album and a few b-sides. We don’t play
any old songs. We are a band that gets tired of our songs. Our set is usually
built on the latest fifty minutes of music that we have. The oldest song in
our set is the first one to get shed. It causes dismay for the fans of the old
songs. But we think we can do better.
AL: What do you think of Noise Pop?
Keith: I have never been to Noise Pop. I have had a weird fetishized view of
it, because I lived in San Francisco in 1999 and 2000. I used to see Creeper
Lagoon and MK Ultra. I was into Mates of States. I may have been to a Noise Pop
show. I had always wanted to play a Noise Pop show, and didn’t realize this
was a Noise Pop show till we got into town.
AL: Are you coming back to San Francisco soon?
Keith: We are going to focus on the United States for the rest of the year. I
wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t come back to San Francisco three of four
AL: Does touring bring you all together?
Keith: Touring is not divisive; I do enjoy moments when we are not on tour.
We don’t get to see a lot of films when we are on tour. But it is possible to
read a lot of books.
AL: Are you reading anything good now?
Keith: I am reading a book about Post-Modern theory. I tried to read Thomas
Harris and it was pretty good. But I can read fifteen pages of this theory book
and go to sleep. It’s a textbook by a professor.
AL: I was reading some Nietzsche last week.
Keith: We were on tour with Mystery Jets. The guitar player would smoke these
cigarillos and read obscure Greek Philosophy. He was stoking the fire.
AL: Does the band have any shared politics?
Keith: We tend not to be vocally political. We have a liberal academic stance
on things. I hate when bands talk about politics.
AL: People are always looking for the villain. Is the next We Are Scientist
record going to more evil?
Keith: Yes. We intend to destroy many young minds.
AL: Do you like to see who shows up to shows?
Keith: Yeah. We have different crowds in each town. In Vancouver, there were
a bunch of hipster kids in their twenties. Last night we were in Portland and
it was an older crowd. It was weird. It was like people who came from their
AL: People seem to drink a lot in San Francisco?
Keith: We are a hard drinking band.
AL: When is the Robert Pollard / We Are Scientists tour going to happen? You
can just set a big bathtub of beers and hard liquor on the stage.
Keith: Yeah. And we can all sing “I Am Scientist.” People think that is
where our name comes from.
AL: It’s not true?
Keith: No. We should have a crate of beer on stage. It’s hard to drink and
play an instrument at the same time. Robert Pollard can hold a beer and a mike
at the same time. We try to drink before the show. I drink three beers before
the show. Then right before we go on, I have two whiskeys. They seep into you
during the show......