A Casual Chat With We Are Scientists
Here’s a little something about my adolescence. My high school campus was HUGE so I spent a lot of my time walking from class to class with something playing in my ears. But there was recurrence, I always chose We Are Scientists to keep me company. I found comfort in their guitar-heavy hooks and lyrics about a youth I felt was passing me by (I was 16. What did I really know?). It’s been almost a decade since I picked up their record With Love and Squalor and I haven’t put it down since.
About a few weeks ago, I had the honor of sitting down with the guys of We Are Scientists, Keith Murray and Chris Cain. We talked about making music, Netflix, and a soon to be Poorly Drawn We Are Scientists art account.
HEM: First off, thank you for coming here. This is pretty huge for me. I’ve been listening to you guys for years. And speaking about time––you’ve been making music for nearly two decades. How do you keep it so fresh? How are you staying enthusiastic to keep making music?
KEITH MURRAY: I think the key is writing better music.
CHRIS CAIN: Yes. It’s exciting to know we are still writing cool songs that we’re excited about. I think that some parts of this job do get old for sure. There are elements of travel that become a drag. Especially when you’re visiting places that no longer hold any of the allure of the strange. The music is still just as fun as it always was. As long as we are able to make songs that surprise and excite us, I don’t think that’s going to diminish at all. The only thing that makes a town that you’ve been to ten times interesting after the eighth, or ninth, or tenth time is if the audience is super psyched. It’s the people and the songs. The other stuff can become a drag. And the problem is if even if the show is awesome, you’re still spending the other ten hours of your day traveling between towns. That stuff has lost its luster a little bit.
KEITH MURRAY (laughing): Yeah. Sitting in the van isn’t as exciting to me anymore.
CHRIS CAIN: Although now we have Netflix!
KEITH MURRAY: That’s true! As our boredom with sitting in a van has increased, our distractions have––via technology––
CHRIS CAIN (Interjecting): ––Multiplied!
KEITH MURRAY: ––have blossomed.
HEM: What are you guys watching on Netflix?
CHRIS CAIN: Great question!
KEITH MURRAY: Oh, boy! Just last night I started Nicholas Cage’s USS INDIONAPOLIS. It’s a real piece of crap, everybody.
CHRIS CAIN: Is it a blow-by-blow historical retelling of the sinking of the Indianapolis involving all the shark eating, and stuff?
KEITH MURRAY: I mean, it’s ripped from the pages––it’s inspired by real events.
CHRIS CAIN: Inspired the name of a real boat.
KEITH MURRAY: I would say it was as inspired by, like the historical episode involving the USS Indianapolis, as it was inspired by Pearl Harbor. And I don’t mean the event Pearl Harbor, I mean the Michael Bay movie, Pearl Harbor. It pretty much just said: You know what did a really good job of adapting real life?
CHRIS CAIN: ––Of abusing history?
KEITH MURRAY: Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. But what if when that battleship sank sharks showed up? Can we do that? Yes, we can!
CHRIS CAIN: Is there a historical episode where that happens?
KEITH MURRAY (laughing): Exactly. They sent the researchers out.
CHRIS CAIN: I just started Staircase.
KEITH MURRAY: Oh, Staircase!
HEM: Staircase is so good. Oh my god, what episode are you on?
CHRIS CAIN: I’ve only watched the first episode, but I’m excited.
HEM: You’re in for a ride. It’s intense.
KEITH MURRAY: It’s so good.
CHRIS CAIN: I’m actually looking to extend the tour at this point. I do not––
KEITH MURRAY: Chris, good news?
CHRIS CAIN: What? It’s not over?
KEITH MURRAY: This tour will never end. But the bad news is the tour is going to be longer than eight hours.
CHRIS CAIN: What if I told you I have yet to watch Breaking Bad?
KEITH MURRAY: I haven’t watched it either, so I can’t be excited for you.
CHRIS CAIN: It’s like sixty hours, I think.
KEITH MURRAY: But what if it’s no good at all?
CHRIS CAIN: Everyone says it’s good!
KEITH MURRAY: Everyone says Burger King is good.
CHRIS CAIN: True!
KEITH MURRAY: I know, I know. As I said it, I realized what foolishness I was spouting.
CHRIS CAIN: Certainly not a counterargument.
HEM: Definitely get into The Keepers when you have the time. Also insane.
KEITH MURRAY: I intended on starting that, and never did.
CHRIS CAIN: What’s it about?
HEM: Initially it’s about a nun that was murdered, and it was covered up by the town. I think it’s somewhere set in Baltimore. I’m not entirely sure. Don’t quote me.
KEITH MURRAY: Baltimore is a good nun murdering town! That sounds about right.
HEM: And it turns into this whole conspiracy about the Catholic church and how they were involved. And then other people were murdered. It’s insane. But you should definitely get on it.
CHRIS CAIN: Is it a series?
CHRIS CAIN: Great.
HEM: This is kind of where I’d like to get into a different segment of questions. This is more geared for you.
CHRIS CAIN: For We Are Scientists?
HEM: No, for you Chris Cain. In your opinion
CHRIS CAIN (interjects): What’s the best murderer show?
HEM: Feel free to answer that. But my question is: in your opinion, after some years of touring, who is the more superior Keith? Is it Carne (WAS drummer), or is it Murray?
KEITH MURRAY: Tread lightly, old friend.
CHRIS CAIN: Yeah, I mean, it is the case that my loyalties like with Murray. Obviously I’ve known him a longer time. He’s been a crucial, to use the Robert McCammon, figure in my life forever. But I also know his foibles intimately. So, it’s a real toss-up. Fortunately––
KEITH MURRAY: ––You’re still in the blush of a newfound interest in Keith Carne.
CHRIS CAIN: Yeah. So even his foibles are entertaining to me.
KEITH MURRAY: Yeah, they’re fresh foibles. They just make him more human. Their numbers make him something more or less than human, to also quote Robert McCammon.
CHRIS CAIN: What is Keith Carne in the eyes of God?
KEITH MURRAY: Oh boy.
CHRIS CAIN: Well, which is the superior Keith? Damn, I mean, I feel like that’s––
KEITH MURRAY (interjects): –-What about even in just the business’ hierarchy, Chris?
CHRIS CAIN: On paper, I know factually––
KEITH MURRAY: ––Can it just be said explicitly that I am his superior?
HEM: Oh, that’s such a good point!
CHRIS CAIN: In a purely literal way Keith Murray is the superior. He pays Keith Carne’s paycheck. Keith Carne gives him nothing.
KEITH MURRAY: YES! And I mandate how he spends that paycheck.
CHRIS CAIN: You give him guidelines.
KEITH MURRAY: He doesn’t always follow them.
HEM: So it’s an allowance at that point…
KEITH MURRAY: I mean if he doesn’t do his bandly chores, he doesn’t get it, and in that sense it’s an allowance.
CHRIS CAIN: And he’s not allowed to spend it on certain things.
KEITH MURRAY: Not too much candy, I tell him.
HEM: Checkmate. I kind of want to end the interview on this question: I’ve noticed within the fan base, there’s a lot of intensely creative people, and it’s so cool to be a part of that. I want to thank you for even giving them the spotlight for creating an art piece inspired by your music. How important is that to you to showcase their artwork?
CHRIS CAIN: I think we both enjoy showcasing it and are also sometimes leery of showcasing it because it can seem a little braggardly on our part. It’s kind of like posting a positive review on our part. I feel like posting fanart work is like: see these fuckers love us? I understand that that could also establish our credibility. But we are both sort of the personalities that shrink away from braggadocio.
KEITH MURRAY: I also feel like we get enough pretty bad fan art that I’d feel bad posting some and not other fan art. In We Are Scientists’ world, specifically with our old product manager at EMI (UK), there’s a very famous bit of fanart that just slays her. It was very, very bad. This was back in 2006 or 2007, and she consistently posts it and I feel really bad because I don’t want the person to ever see it and be made fun of. I mean I don’t want to describe it in case it’s out there. But it was very specific and weird piece of fanart. I liked it! There’s nothing wrong with it. It was conceptually bizarre, and it had more heart than it did skill. So, I always think of that whenever we get stuff I think about our product manager publicly celebrating its awfulness. I don’t feel good about that.
CHRIS CAIN: It’s always awesome whenever somebody bothers spending their time drawing a picture or working on a cover. Especially in the current internet climate you can be setting them up for really nasty feedback if it’s not objectively very good, which has nothing to do with whether it’s flattering or night that they did it.
KEITH MURRAY: Right.
CHRIS CAIN: We do occasionally repost stuff that we get from fans, but mostly it’s like a couple of fans who we’ve sort’ve have a relationship with. We try to be fair about just not reposting most other stuff. Not because we don’t appreciate it. I think it’s amazing that people do it. I have a huge file of stuff saved on my phone of fan art. I love seeing it. It’s not the hardest thing in the world about this job, but it’s interesting an question. What do you think we should do?
HEM: From the standpoint of a fan it could go either way. For example, with Twitter: the most popular artwork is the one that gets seen the most with all of the retweets and all of the likes. It shows up on everyone’s timelines. That’s just algorithm. I think what you guys do is pretty fair. You showcase a good amount of artwork. I’m good friends with Ashley Bailey and her stuff is really good.
CHRIS CAIN: We used to commission her to do the top of Facebook Page. For about a year and a half she did seasonal drawings of us for our Facebook banners. She’s a professional artist, and stuff. So I always like posting her stuff, that’s easy. But I hope it doesn’t make fans whose stuff we don’t post feel bad. I hope that in her example I hope it doesn’t because we’ve been posting her stuff for about five years, and we even paid her a little bit to do some specific things. I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings that her stuff gets posted and theirs doesn’t. But once you start—where do you draw the line? Then you think, I don’t think people will make fun of this, I’ll post it.
HEM: You know what’s interesting, more recently, and they’ve done this with Hippo Campus and with other bands too, where there’s certain fanbases that do it [make fan art] on purpose and start accounts that are called Poorly Drawn [Insert Band Name Here].
KEITH MURRAY: But are they getting other people’s art and posting, or they’re creating?
HEM: They’re creating it.
KEITH MURRAY: I’m way into that.
HEM: They’re like little doodles on like Post-It notes.
CHRIS CAIN: So the band creates the place to post them, or the fans made it up?
HEM: These are accounts created by fans, and run by fans. I mean, if we can get that started…
KEITH MURRAY: You know what we should do? Is post your (referring to Chris) portrait of me or James Woods. I think we’re okay to demonstrate your fan art.
CHRIS CAIN: Did we even get a photo of it? That’s in Ashley Bailey’s little notebook.
HEM: We should post that in the article.
CHRIS CAIN: You should post it as an illustration for the fan art question. Here’s Chris’ awful drawing of Keith Murray.
KEITH MURRAY: It’s either a terrible drawing of Keith Murray or a great drawing of James Woods.
CHRIS CAIN: As a drawing it does shine a light onto a strange confluence that no one’s ever recognized before.
KEITH MURRAY: I do think I look a lot like James Woods now.
CHRIS CAIN: I had never thought that before, and then my hands did this thing and there was suddenly a piece of evidence.
KEITH MURRAY: Yeah, your eyes were rolling into the back of your head when you did it.
CHRIS CAIN: There’s suddenly a piece of evidence that Keith Murray and James Woods are eerily interchangeable. Your acting style is, and I don’t know if this is the right adjective, but Wooden as well.
KEITH MURRAY: Goddamn it. It’s Woodsen.
CHRIS CAIN: That’s not what I meant.
KEITH MURRAY: Hey!
HEM: And that’s all I’ve got, so thank you guys!
KEITH MURRAY AND CHRIS CAIN: Thank you.
We Are Scientists’ new album MegapMegaplex is out now! Check them out on tour at www.wwearescientists.com. If you like good music and even greater banter, go see them live. Trust me, it’s not a show you want to miss!