Call me naïve, but, I had no idea that there were such things as musical scientists, but I stand corrected. While these two musical masters of We Are Scientists do not consider themselves to be scientists, at least in a professional sense, they still manage to put their musical intelligence to the test; especially in their newly released album, Helter Seltzer. And if you’re wondering where the album name came from, don’t get any ideas about mass serial murderers, because the name is actually based on the bandmates’ love of seltzer. Created with Katy Perry’s former keyboard player, guitarist and vocalist Keith Murray said the album contains some “great poppy synthesizer on it, and drum samples,” but still with those amazing Scientist melodies.
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Keith about Helter Seltzer, in addition to everything else going on with the Scientist, including a possible new album in the works!
Hey Keith! First off, thank you for taking the time out to chat with me today.
Do you have a few minutes to talk about your upcoming album and the tour?
Yes. I’ll give you three minutes.
Perfect. A question per minute, then!
So, you and Chris [Cain] are about to kick off your tour in the U.K. prior to coming back to the U.S., do you plan on performing any tracks off your new album while touring?
Yeah! Yeah, I mean, it’s slightly tricky since the album is brand, brand new, because nobody has actually had a chance to hear the songs, much less become overly familiar with them. So, despite the fact that we would love to just play all 10 tracks off the new album and then a smattering of old songs to complement it, we understand that it’s not that simple. Like, I definitely don’t love it when I show up and bands play all the new stuff that I’m not at all familiar with (laughs). So, I think we’ll probably play like three or four new tracks, probably the ones that we previewed already, and then the old classics.
Absolutely! Good call (laughs). I always feel like I’m not a good enough fan when I’m caught in one of those moments (laughs). Now, delving into the band’s history a little bit, you and Chris originally met in college, but what made you both decide to start a band together, especially under that name? I have to assume you guys really like science!
No! Actually, I don’t even think either of us has really discussed science with one another. We started the band just because we were already best friends. We had beginnings of a multimedia empire going, where we both had day jobs already going, and we were living in Buckley, California. We would essentially send each other short stories in creative writing instead of doing our work all day. And we started a newsletter that we published only for ourselves and when we started the band we also used the website kind of as a creative fountain and it just turned out that the band took off. So that was the arm of our creative enterprise that became the focus. The band name came about because both of us were incredibly nerdy, skinny, nonathletic-looking guys, and we once got asked if we were scientists.
Yeah! (Laughs) Purely based on appearance.
Wow. That’s actually pretty hilarious.
(Laughs) Yeah it is.
Now, Helter Seltzer was just released. How would you describe the album to fans, without giving too much away?
I like the idea that there can be a spoiler for the album! I want you to have to say that this will be a spoiler alert (laughs). Like, some of the drum sounds will be electronic—I’m sorry for having spoiled it!
I think over the course of the five albums we kind of have been arcing more toward an interest in the melodies of the songs being the hub. When we started, I think we focused pretty heavily on the rhythm section being upbeat and dancey, and a little phonetic. So, I think this album is really the next logical point on the timeline that’s been heading toward, you know, more considered arrangements. So, I think the palette has really expanded on this one.
Right, right. And you guys have been working on this for about a year, correct?
Yeah! I mean, we were probably from the very beginning of writing it, I would say, it was probably a year. We took the longest we ever had to actually record the record, because Max [Hart], who produced it, who is a friend of ours, kind of pitched the idea initially, that we would rent just an empty place in Brooklyn and build a studio in there. For about three months, we would go there every day and we would do, you know, maybe 15 minutes of work and sometimes maybe work all day. But we sort of established a three-month period to go through the songs I had written up until then, and kind of just mess around with them, and not feeling like we had to commit to any of them.
It was a much more leisurely recording experience, which was fun. I don’t know if I would necessarily have that approach again because I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we rented the space for three months, and that’s exactly how long it took. But it was really nice to have that luxury for the first time.
This may be a little too early to ask, since the album hasn’t even been released yet, but have you guys been getting any ideas for future work, now that Helter Seltzer is finished?
Yeah! I mean, I’ve already written a bunch of songs that I think should be on the next record. Obviously, we won’t even have a minute off of tour before November, which is, I think, when our current tour schedule stops. So, that gives us a pretty long time to forget about these current new songs that I’m working on (laughs).
We’ve historically been very bad with writing on tour. It’s not very conducive to doing personal creative work, so if history’s any indication, I won’t have any new songs written by November. But right now, I’ve got 11 or 12 that I really, really like, and it makes me glad that I do have all this time to marinate in them, because I think right now, I think it’d just be like, “Yeah! Let’s just make a 10 song album right now!” and it might just because I’m really excited about these songs. So it’ll be nice to have some time to get perspective on them and then try to write 10 more that may beat them, and then just choose the best ones. I’ve already written like 40 songs, only 10 of which I think are awesome, but you know, that’s how an album is written!
Exactly! I’ve heard that you guys are huge fans of stripped down acoustic music. Would you maybe consider throwing something like that into your next album?
Hmm…maybe! Maybe, there was a song on our last album, called “Courage,” that we did a version of that was just creative acoustic. Then, at the very end of that session, I think we had an extra day left, and then we said, “What if we just try a more full-band version of the song?” And we ended up vastly preferring that one. So, I think we probably would, I just think it’s kind of always hard, for us at least, to tell when the novelty of an acoustic arrangement is what’s compelling us rather than the fact that it’s actually the best way to present that song. So, I don’t know, I think it’s always sort of that nagging doubt for us—like, “Are we just being lazy by doing this acoustically?” (Laughs)
We Are Scientists will be performing on May 11 at Irving Plaza in New York City and May 14 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia. Their new album, Helter Seltzer, is available now. For more information, visit their official website atwearescientists.com.