Tag Archives: we are scientists

Take Five with We Are Scientists

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.

If decades from now, when you pass on, they unearth a trove of secret, unfinished We Are Scientists compositions, would you want someone to release them?

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.

Take Five

Find of the Week

Thanks to a tip from Ryan of Ryan’s Smashing Life, I grabbed the most recent Static of the Gods album “Knowledge Machine” free from their Bandcamp site. I am listening to it as I type, and while I had been unfamiliar with the band before, I am absolutely loving them now. Appropriate parts shimmer, grandeur and pop-rock splendor. Jen Johnson’s powerful lead vocals really drive the record — imagine Karen O with a smidge of Asobi Seksu’s Yuki Chikudate, and a little Emily Haines snarl thrown in for good measure.

The bad news is, it’s no longer available for free. The good news is, it’s still awesome and at $8, worth the download. Plus, they’re playing June 25 at the Middle East Upstairs. In the meantime, have a listen.

New Releases

  • This week, I picked up the new Pernice Brothers, “Goodbye, Killer,” and the new We Are Scientists, “Barbara.” I highly recommend following @ashmont on Twitter — Pernice’s manager (and co-author) Joyce Linehan — if you want an ongoing backchannel to your listening experience (and to experience in real-time the barbs that led to the companion book “Pernice to Me“). Want to preview the album? You still have a few days to do so for free via Spinner.
  • Amazon MP3 offered a deal earlier this week — the new Mates of State cover album, “Crushes,” for $2.99. That deal has since ended, but the 10-song set is still available for affordable download at a tidy $5.99. Artists covered include Fleetwood Mac, Tom Waits, Dear Nora and Girls.

Live Music

Freedy Johnston is playing in Somerville on Saturday night, at the Rosebud in Davis Square. A year ago, on June 17, 2009, I saw Freedy Johnston for the first time, also in Somerville, after nearly 15 years of waiting. The show blew my mind. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I am unsure if I’m able to make it to this Saturday’s show, but you should definitely go. Brett Rosenberg will be opening. It’s $12. And when it comes to singer-songwriters, Freedy Johnston is a living legend, no exaggeration. Go.

Around the Web

In the News

Brad Searles pointed this article out to me — Michael Chabon’s essay “Tragic Magic: Reflections on Power Pop,” originally published in McSweeney’s #33. It’s a compelling examination of Big Star as exemplar of power pop, while also explaining what exactly what defines that genre:

True power pop is rueful and celebratory at the same time, glorifying desire and frustration, which is why so many power-pop songs concern themselves with the subject of Tonight, or Tomorrow Night, or Saturday Night, or some other night that will only be perfect for as long as it can be deferred.

Bonus: Second Thoughts

Stay tuned next week for the beginning of something special!

Take Five

Live Music

  • This past weekend, I had the delightful occasion to go to central New York with some awesome people to celebrate a friend’s birthday and graduation. Among the hostess’ friends in attendance was one Benjamin Costello, an Ithaca-based singer/songwriter. I had seen his name linked and touted in various outlets, but hadn’t yet pursued his music. I now know that the ideal way to get exposed to a new artist is on a back deck with a good drink and an intimate audience not exceeding a dozen. He’s a soulful singer and a talented musician, and a fun guy to boot.

Here’s an original I had the good fortune to see him perform live, “The Little Left Behind”:

And here’s a cover of the Weepies’ “World Spins Madly On”:

He often does live streaming video concerts, which I think is a pretty great way to spread your fan base. I look forward to the next one. Follow him on Facebook to learn more.

  • I am going to see Stars at the Paradise this Tuesday, thanks to Jay Breitling at Clicky Clicky. I won one of his Twitter contests. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter for great content, and contests. Thanks again!

Second Thoughts

Last week, Jennifer blogged about memory and song, and she specifically referenced R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People.” When she described that “bright yellow tape,” I was immediately propelled back into 1992. I was in full-on angsty teen mode then, and I remember sitting in the green armchair in the corner of the living room, scowling and scrawling horrible poetry into a spiral-bound notebook, listening to that album practically nonstop, flipping the yellow cassette over and over as if the next time I did so, I would discover the answer to some burning adolescent query.

The other day, “Find the River” came on my iPod, and I was instantly transported back to that green armchair — but not in a bad way. Rather, I saw where I had been when that album meant the world to me, and I saw where I am now, where the album still means a whole lot but my life does not seem to hinge on the integrity of the plastic-encased tape reels. And I felt pretty good about who I am, even who I was, and how a song like “Find the River” really epitomizes the journey between there and here.

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve.
Don’t be shy. Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.

It was a nice moment.

New Releases

  • I was excited to learn via a free song offered by Amie Street that We Are Scientists are releasing a new album, “Barbara,” on June 15. I am a tremendous fan of their pop-perfect rock, and that free song in question, “Rules Don’t Stop,” is quite promising.
  • I’m not really jazzed about the movie “Get Him to the Greek,” but Mike Viola always excites me, and he wrote a bunch of songs for the soundtrack, which is available via Amazon MP3 on Tuesday. Also, Mike is doing some limited touring this summer, so check him out if you can.
  • I am really enjoying the new LCD Soundsystem. It’s a party in a box.

Finds of the Week

  • Via Andrew Careaga, Filter’s 8th Coachella sampler, featuring free downloads of new tracks by Broken Social Scene (who may finally be growing on me), Tokyo Police Club, Hot Hot Heat and more.
  • Speaking of summer festivals, SPIN compiled a mixtape for Bonnaroo, which you can download for free. Great songs by The National, Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, Mumford and Sons and more.

Around the Web

  • Normally, I wouldn’t hype a newborn blog. But I’d really like to see my friend Annie keep this one up, because I think she would have some fun observations about music. And I thought that maybe blogging about it would apply a little pressure. So, here’s my plug for Music Moves my Feet, which begins with Annie describing a contest win that feeds her love of New Zealand (Zealander?) music. The second post is about knitting, but what can you do? Go, Annie, go!
  • One year ago, Jay Bennett died. Soon, the Jay Bennett Foundation will launch in his memory, supporting music and education. On July 10, a posthumous album, “Kicking at the Perfumed Air,” will be released as a free download and a CD for purchase. In the meantime, Paste links to a free download from the Bennett Foundation’s compilation, “Twice a Year.