The first thing you need to know about We Are Scientists is that they are not, in fact, scientists. Shock! Horror! Yes, it’s true. In sharp contrast to rock and roll tradition, this Brooklyn-based indie outfit’s tour bus is devoid of any chemical experiments (for all we know).
“We have no affiliation with the field of science. I think we’re as happy about that as the field of science is,” bassist Chris Cain jokes.
The trio of Cain, Keith Murray (lead vocals and guitar), and Michael Tapper (drums) became We Are Scientists after graduating from college at the tail end of the ‘90s. Initially, the band was conceived with little more intent than to be a way to pass time. Cain acknowledges that their success in music came somewhat unexpectedly.
“I listened to music when I was younger, but it wasn’t really a passion for me, I wouldn’t say,” he admits. “I didn’t play any instruments until we started this band. Keith, on the other hand, has been playing guitar since he was twelve, I think. His parents forced him to take up guitar because his older sister had played the guitar her parents bought her for three months and then cast it aside, and they decided that somebody had to play that guitar.”
However modest their early motivations were, it quickly became apparent that they had more musical talent than they had given themselves credit for. After gaining popularity playing live gigs around Berkley, CA, the band released their debut album, With Love and Squalor in 2005 to much acclaim from the British press. As to why they rose to success so quickly in the UK while remaining relatively unknown in the states is a mystery to the band.
“I think our style of music is more mainstream in the UK,” explains Cain. “Beyond that, I think it’s just a bit of a crapshoot, I would say, really. I think there’s work involved in success anywhere—in music I mean. For us things started to take off in the UK, so we really just pushed it. We toured there really consistently for almost the entire first year, and sort of neglected the US where things didn’t take off as quickly. I don’t know, I think the UK gave us the initial spark, combined with our willingness to apply a solid year of hard work to seal the deal. Here, we’ve just never really felt that we’ve been in the same position.”
Now a duo following the departure of Tapper last year, Murray and Cain are carrying on, touring in support of their sophomore release, Brain Thrust Mastery. Heavy on 80’s post-punk and pop influence, the album is sure to bring to mind hints of modern artists as well. The urgent savagery of The Strokes, the witty charm of Kaiser Chiefs and the glossy dance-friendly euphoria of The Killers are present in high quantity. We Are Scientists explained that they wanted Brain Thrust Mastery to be an album that was “difficult to define, but easy to absorb.” Mission accomplished. Their myriad of musical influences and unique personalities addresses the former desire, and their pop sensibility and relatable lyrics satisfies the latter.
“Certainly I think our lyrics usually tend to deal with interpersonal relationships–often romantic, but not always. That’s really what every song’s pretty much about. It’s not the same incidents being retread over and over again, but there’s that theme.”
Despite their undeniably hip sound, the members of We Are Scientists haven’t been able to shake the “geek rock” label that journalists seem to love to affix to their descriptions. Cain, with the band’s signature good sense of humor, assured me that they don’t mind.
“I think it’s a label that, to be honest that we have sort of secretly fostered. It’s little more than a marketing angle…really we’re more the sort of jock, frat boy-type dudes, but I think that doesn’t fly very well in indie rock. It’s not really what the fans are looking for, so as the band started to take off, we sort of finessed it. Tossed on some glasses, dropped about 50 pounds of muscle and beefed up our vocabularies a little bit.”
Arguably just as entertaining as the music itself is the band’s website, where Murray and Cain offer responses to queries of advice from fans and review everything from the quality of a public restroom’s sink (“You’ve never felt manual vertigo till you’ve held your hands out there over the basin of the sink in the public toilet at the Ekko in Utrecht.”) to Cain’s moustache (“My mustache, were it a sandwich, would be a club. Were it a plane, it would be a MiG-28.”), which offers fans a rare opportunity to appreciate the band members’ personalities underneath the veil of their sound.
“I think it changes the way people digest the art if they know something about the creator,” Cain considers. “I don’t think it’s necessarily better. I don’t know if it’s even good. It’s certainly different, but I think that any art that’s published, one should be able to appreciate it without any knowledge of the author or creator. In the case of pop music, it does feel like there’s a strong urge for people to know something about the musicians. But I guess it’s unlike painting, for example. Music involves performance as well as composition, so it stands to reason that the personalities of these people onstage who are performing live for you have an image and voice you’re familiar with. I don’t know….music is a weird situation. I kind of think that in a painter or a dancer or in literature the artist should be irrelevant. That’s not to say that we aren’t curious about them, but I guess in music there’s something inherently legitimate about the inquiries of the artists.”
So what should concert-goers expect when We Are Scientists hit the stage at the High Noon Saloon this Wednesday night?
“They can expect a lot of magic tricks, and I don’t mean that in a glorified way,” Cain deadpans. “I just mean that we literally do a lot of card tricks and coin tricks onstage, which not everybody does. That’s a trick we picked up from Jimmy Buffet, actually—a rather unlikely source for an indie rock band, but it worked for him and frankly it works for us. They’re going to see a lot of synchronized dance, which is a tradition that goes back to the golden era of musicals and cinema, and also vaudeville.”
In addition to picking a card—any card, and shaking those jazz hands like nobody’s business, rumor has it that We Are Scientists will also be setting aside a decent amount of time to perform their unique brand of fun, indie “geek rock” that you won’t want to miss. Oxford Collapse and Brighton MA open the 8:00 show.
Filed under: Music News & Reviews, Music Shows This Week in Madison, Sounding Board Blog | Tagged: 80's post punk and pop, Band, Brain Thrust Mastery, Brighton MA, concert goers, Drums, geek rock, golden era of musicals cinema vaudeville, Guitar, High Noon Saloon, hip sound, Indie Rock, instruments, interview we are scientists, jazz hands, Jimmy Buffet, Kaiser Cheifs, lead vocals, Live Music Concerts Madison WI, lyrics, Madison WI, Music, musical influences, musical talent, Oxford Collapse, performing live, rock and roll tradition, Shelley Peckham, style of music, The Killers, The Strokes, With Love and Squalor | 2 Comments »