Interview with We Are Scientists: Returning The Favor

Whenever New York-based rockers We Are Scientists put out a new album, their fans might get as equally stoked for the accompanying music videos as they do for the songs themselves. Perhaps best known for their comical video clips, We Are Scientists went all out on the flick for new single “Dumb Luck”—a gory yet hilarious visual romp that depicts our unfortunate heroes suffering a variety of over-the-top and (very!) bloody physical injuries.

Memorable images aside, the band’s latest record, TV En Français, is designed to prove the music is what matters most. With hotshot indie producer Chris Coady (Beach House, TV On The Radio, Grizzly Bear) guiding the ship, guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain have concocted their most creative, engaging batch of songs to date. Though “Dumb Luck” boasts the memorable riff/hummable chorus formula that has become a WAS signature, overall the new album reveals some different sounds for the band. “Return The Favor” features an almost ethereal guitar line and vocal, while “Overreacting” breaks from spacey verses into a completely disco-drenched chorus.

A bona fide household name in the UK, We Are Scientists should be poised to make more of an impact worldwide with TV En Français, released in March. The band is currently on a lengthy tour—Murray recently phoned me from Spain to chat about the recent concerts, his new songs and what it’s like to get doused with fake blood. Read the full interview below:

How’s the European tour going?

It’s been great. Today is the last day—we’re in Spain at a small city festival, then it’s back to the United States tomorrow. It’s been the sort of tour that makes one wistful when it’s over. Especially on this last leg in Spain, there’s been plenty of sangria and tortilla to make us bummed to leave.

Any interesting stories from the road or gigs that stand out?

They’ve all been pretty good. Although there was a show in Cologne, Germany, that started out rough. The audience was a bit frosty at first. It seemed like they were really distant. Over the course of the show, it drew out our “A” game. About halfway through, and after several beers on stage, we just started going ballistic. I was pushing Chris into the crowd, and I went in with my guitar at one point and played a song in the audience. We ended up doing three separate encores and played practically every song we know. And it ended up being one of the best shows of the entire tour. It was out of sheer hard work and determination. Usually we feed off the energy of the crowd, but that night we were fueled by the crowd’s lethargy!

How has the new material been going over?

It’s been going over great. Especially live, I think the new songs slot in with the older stuff really well. This album sounds pretty different than our other releases. But we tend to play things live in a pretty high-energy way, and I think the flow of the set has been really good.

What’s it like touring in Europe compared to playing the U.S.? I know you’ve had some big chart success over there.

In general, I think our gigs have more of a feeling of an event over here. Our European shows are usually in bigger, theater-style places. On the other hand, when we’re in the United States, playing smaller clubs has its own charms as well. In clubs, there might be a little bit more of a punk vibe. Europe is pretty fun to tour in, I must say. I think that another difference is, when we’re in a country where English is not the first language, we tend to speak less on stage. When we’re in an English-speaking country, we tend to blabber a lot (laughs).

I’m sure you guys hear this all the time, but your videos are absolutely hilarious. And your website is really funny too. It seems you’ve always made a conscious effort to make humor a big part of what you do.

I can’t say it’s even that conscious of an effort. I think it’s sort of who Chris Cain and I are. We’re both very much into comedy, and the things we like to do involve humor. I think especially early on in our career, when nobody seemed to care about our band, it was a way for Chris and I to keep each other entertained. I think that’s continued as a general ethos.

The video for “Dumb Luck” is pretty bloody—was it a lot of fun filming that?

I think it would have been a lot more fun if we hadn’t shot it in the dead of winter when it was completely freezing out! (Laughs) Most of it was shot in an unheated warehouse in Brooklyn. So the day we were shooting it, we were actually pretty miserable. We were freezing, and getting squirted with ice-cold fake blood only made it worse. I find that because of the general discomfort of production, the worst part of making a video can sometimes be the day of the shoot. The finished product is great fun though.

Have either of you done any acting? In your videos, you seem pretty natural at it.

Not really. We keep waiting for someone to offer us roles in the Final Destination movie series, but no Hollywood producer has called yet (laughs).

Let’s talk about the new record. I think it’s really impressive—you’ve kept the catchiness the band has always been known for, but I sense maybe a little more rawness this time. And the mix is just great. Would you say this is the record the band is most pleased with?

I would say so. It’s our new record so I’m still really enamored with it, but I also think it reflects musically where my head is at right now.

How much of this record’s sound is due to your collaboration with Chris Coady? Can you talk about what he brings to the table?

I think his impact is pretty significant. We had a pretty big pool of songs to choose from and some of them were more raucous, and some were spacier and a little more atmospheric. It really came down to us deciding what type of record to make. We ended up leaning towards the less aggressive tunes. When we ended up going with Chris as producer, he was really excited about those tunes, so it was great to try something different. He’s incredibly skilled at putting a lot of vibe into a record. Especially on With Love And Squalor [2005] and Barbara [2010], we were full-throttle. I think on this album we wanted to explore a little more space, where you could just linger and enjoy the moment, which is fairly unusual for a We Are Scientists record. And that’s the real payoff.

The song “Overreacting” features some unique sounds for the band. Can you talk about how that song came together?

I think that’s a really weird one, and I believe it’s Chris Cain’s favorite on the record. I had some reservations about it because of the jarring shifts between the verse and the chorus, but that’s why Chris was excited about it. In some ways I think our producer even accentuated the left turn that it takes.

“Return The Favor” is another highlight for me—it might be my favorite We Are Scientists song.

Thanks. We’ve been opening our sets with that song recently. We always used to start with a fast, aggressive tune. It’s been a good experience to open with “Return The Favor” and do a slow build.

When you first wrote that tune, did you know you were on to something good?

I think that was actually one of the last songs we did for the album. It’s funny… When writing for an album, once I know that I’ve got enough songs where we can conceivably make a record, it sort of takes some of the pressure off of songwriting. You can stop thinking about it as a necessary evil, so then I end up playing around with something out of our usual style.

What are some of the bands that you enjoy listening to? Who do you consider to be your influences?

Well, some of my favorite bands in the world are Velvet Underground, Pavement and Weezer. I think you can hear some Weezer in our music. I feel that much of our sound, especially early on, was forged just by living in New York during the beginning of the city’s indie rock era with The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Rapture and Liars. I think those bands were influences just by us being part of that music scene.

You did a series of TV shorts called Steve Wants His Money for MTV UK. Is there any talk of doing another series, or maybe one that’s based in America?

We haven’t been in talks to do something. In terms of anything outside of music, we tend to only do things when people actively request it. That show started because MTV UK was looking for some video shorts to run at the top of the hour between shows. We haven’t actively been talking about it, but we’re always inspired to do things like that.

The band has been together for about 13 or 14 years now. Did you ever think when you got started that you’d still be making music all this time later?

Not at all. We initially started the band because we were bored after we graduated from college. I originally was the drummer even though I really didn’t play drums. Everyone thought we were crazy.

Are you excited for the start of the U.S. tour?

Yeah! As exciting as it always is to be abroad, there is always a comfort to being at home.

We Are Scientists will perform at Boot & Saddle in Philly on April 16 and the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on April 18. TV En Français is available now on Dine Alone Records. For more info, go to