Keith Murray (right) and I made several connections the other night. We discussed our shared affection for Le’s Vietnamese restaurant (particularly the fresh summer rolls), our miserable upbringings in South Florida (he called my home county of Palm Beach “the epicenter of senility,” much to my delight) and the success his band, We Are Scientists, has enjoyed in England (appealing to my half-British heritage).
The one connection we couldn’t make was via telephone.
Murray, in a van returning to New York City after visiting friends in Kingston, N.Y., kept losing his cell phone signal to the cruel whims of the Catskills. Soon enough, though, Murray and bandmates Chris Cain and ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows will be far removed from the Borscht Belt and their adopted home of Brooklyn, embarking on a world tour that makes a stop at the Middle East Downstairs on Tuesday, July 13.
The band is touring in support of their fourth studio album, “Barbara,” which is rife with the tight melodies, firecracker pop and crisp harmonies that are the band’s hallmark.
The tour will eventually take We Are Scientists across the pond to their adopted homeland of the United Kingdom, where their popularity is what Murray calls “a good several orders of magnitude greater” than it is in the States. Despite not being big football fans, they even penned a World Cup anthem for the English team, “Goal! England,” that they released for free download.
It was there where, last fall, they were able to indulge their comedic side by filming a series of TV shorts for MTV UK entitled “Steve Wants His Money.” For cut-ups like Murray and Cain, being funny is second nature. But their first priority is always the music.
Perhaps this week, “Take Five” refers to the fact that it took about five dropped calls before we were actually able to have a proper conversation. But upon his return to the reception-rich environs of the five boroughs, Murray and I renewed our connection.
You grew up in South Florida – so did I. What was that like for you? I hated it.
I was definitely fairly miserable. There was a pathetic music scene going on in Miami and Fort Lauderdale when I was in high school. It was also really hard to find all ages shows. I was more than happy to get the hell out of South Florida. My entire family still lives there. Now, when I visit, I understand why they choose to live there. I couldn’t bring myself to move back.
Who will win the World Cup final this weekend?
[Murray confesses not knowing who is in the final. Upon being told, he is incredulous.]
Netherlands and Spain?! I’m getting all my World Cup news from you right now. I’ll say the Netherlands, because it seems like they probably will lose and I like to root for the underdog. As I say that, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
It was pretty painful to watch Germany really trounce England. We were at the Glastonbury festival and backstage, all of the TVs are normally dedicated to broadcasting whatever was on your stage, but they had all been tuned into the World Cup. It was a lot of pretty invested English fans watching their team get truly traumatized by Germany, who outplayed them handily.
How do you like playing in Boston?
We always have a really, really good time in Boston. Boston had a learning curve for We Are Scientists in the way that places like Glasgow and Manchester did where earlier on those were our worst shows. Our small shows in Boston always did really, really poorly. We did the Middle East Upstairs one time and it was pretty empty. We just broke the seal on Boston one day. We played the Paradise and were kind of like, “Ugh, nobody’s gonna come,” and it sold out really quickly. Every show we’ve played in Boston since then has been really awesome.
Our last Middle East show was with our new drummer Andy who was in a massive band in England that played Wembley Arena. The first show we ever played with him was at the Middle East Downstairs, and after the show he declared that his fave show he’d ever played. I’ll say our shows in Boston are pretty good. The crowd definitely is behaviorally very enthusiastic. New York is infamous for being sort of cold. Boston kinda gets into it.
The title of your album “With Love and Squalor” references a short story by J.D. Salinger. Was there a reaction in the band when he died?
Chris and I are both massive, massive J.D. Salinger fans. It’s hard to feel like much has really changed in my day to day now that J.D. Salinger is gone; he essentially disappeared decades ago. There was an outspoken group who was very excited about the chance that his family will betray his wishes and release whatever it is he’s been doing all these years. My reaction is definitely the opposite. I don’t want to know. I like the fact that he has this limited canon that is perfect. That shouldn’t be sullied with whatever he was privately up to in his little writing bunker for decades, which is sort of how I feel about David Foster Wallace. The fact that his unfinished novel is going to be cobbled together by his editors and released makes me feel very unsettled and not very excited about whatever it is they’re going to release that he wasn’t happy enough to release when he died.
That is the most horrifying prospect I’ve ever been asked to imagine. I feel like right now I should go home and destroy all my hard drives. We are heavy quality control maniacs. Even putting up things like B sides we aren’t really psyched about makes us sad. But I’ve also learned I’m a terrible judge of how people will react to our own songs. I was having a conversation today where someone brought up a song on the new record and said it was their favorite song, and my response was that it was me who was arguing another song should replace it on the record. I got outvoted and a lot of people like that tune. Turns out I don’t know anything about how to value our own songs.
You and Chris are known for being pretty funny guys. How does that influence your lives as musicians?
Comedy is both amazingly enjoyable and an incredibly difficult art to master. I would definitely, any day of my life, vastly prefer to watch a terrible a band than I would a terrible comedian. Bad comedy is the worst thing there is.
I think our deal as a band is that we’re still pretty excitable. It is fun for us to play shows and I think we do get overcome with glee at the fact that people actually show up. I feel like there is an aspect of our band that is based on our actual personalities as individuals, ideally not as much as it is about the music. But I think a thing we bring to our show is a promise that there will be this character-based entertainment as well. We’ve definitely played several shows where if we’ve been on tour for a while and are sick or hungover or in a bad mood and don’t really talk very much — which still probably means talking more than most bands do — people will come up and complain about the fact that we were quiet and not funny that day.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve watched on YouTube lately?
It’s sort of is unfair because it’s actually a TV show. We’re really, really obsessed with a TV show called Garth Marenghi Darkplace. It’s a British comedy show from 2004,and it’s pretty much the best TV show ever made. Anytime I’m near a computer, I force people to watch people to watch bits of Garth Marenghi Darkplace.
Our drummer today sent me that YouTube video of that guy freaking out about the double rainbow. That one I saw today.
Garth Marenghi Darkplace makes me laugh more, though.