An Interview with We Are Scientists

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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.
-Shelley Peckham

Will NOT Comply: Wilco guitarist Nels Cline sticks with non-commercial fare

I’ve been fortunate to be involved with every Wilco show since their first show in Madison at Club de Wash in November 1994. The band had just formed out of the acrimonious split that occurred between Uncle Tupelo frontmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. I had a birds-eye view of the last throes of that collaboration at an Uncle Tupelo show I presented at the Barrymore in March 1994, one of the last shows the band did before breaking up.

Jay Farrar (vocalist, guitarist), Jeff Tweedy (bassist, guitarist, vocalist), Mike Heidorn (drums)

The original members of Uncle Tupelo sitting From left to right: Jay Farrar (vocalist, guitarist), Jeff Tweedy (bassist, guitarist, vocalist), Mike Heidorn (drums)

Jeff and Jay at that point were not talking to each other. The tension was palpable, with Jay walled off and aloofly cocooned, and Jeff noticeably upbeat — perhaps relieved the end was near. I remember that the Bottle Rockets opened the show, and vaguely recall Brian Henneman joining them onstage. That the line-up, apart from Jay, essentially became the band that only months later debuted as Wilco. (I also remember staying up all night at a hotel on E. Wash — the Aloha?–with Jeff and the guys, joined by Mark Spencer of Blood Oranges — who was touring with Freedy Johnston. The Bushmills did us in as we watched the 1967 Casino Royale spoof on late-night television — starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles — it was a hoot.)

A lot has happened to Wilco since, more than can be captured in a single paragraph. The Reprise to Nonesuch saga resulting in the ground-breaking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — expertly captured in the great documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a Grammy nod for A Ghost is Born, and several line-up changes, including the addition of avante-garde jazz guitarist Nels Cline.

Jeff Tweedy & Wilco

Jeff Tweedy & Wilco

That Nels would join Wilco in 2004 was no real surprise Wilco fans, even those who preferred the early days of A.M. and Being There Cline is highly revered in No Wave and free jazz circles, an area of interest for Tweedy and Co. spurred by their collaboration with NYC producer/musician and Chicago transplant Jim O’Rourke. (O’Rourke and Tweedy had recorded a record together with drummer Glenn Kotche under the rubric Loose Fur, which led to Kotche joining Wilco in 2001.) Cline was also a member of The Geraldine Fibbers in the 1990s, a band that played the East End around 1997. I’m not sure, but they might have opened for indie supergroup Golden Smog, another one of Tweedy’s side projects.

Drums

Nels Cline Singers: Nels Cline (guitar) Devin Hoff (Bass) Scott Amendola (Drums)

Fans of Thurston Moore, Marc Ribot, Elliot Sharp, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman — you are strongly encouraged to check out Monday’s show with The Nels Cline Singers at High Noon on Monday, June 2. An instrumental trio, The Nels Cline Singers offer an evening of improvisational jazz that rarely comes to Madison, at least not since 1993-94, when John Zorn visited Madison twice in the span of six months.

Doors or this mind-blowing show open at 7pm, and Painted Saints (featuring Paul Fonfara — interviewed in this week’s Onion) kicks off the evening at 8pm. This is an 18+ show. Tickets are $16 adv and $18 dos, and are available HERE. See you there!

– Tag Evers

Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder

Steveland Morris was born in Saginaw, Michigan on May 13, 1950. He has delivered to us 35 U.S. albums , & 28 major studio releases. The singer/songwriter has scored more than 30 Top Ten Hits, 11 #1 Pop singles, winning 19 Grammys (and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in ’96) and a host of other awards, including, most recently, Billboard’s 2004 Century Award. (http://www.steviewonder.net/).

Wonder signed with Motown Records as a pre- adolescent at age twelve, and continues to perform and record for the label to this day. A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays the piano, synthesizer, talk box, harmonica, congas, drums, bongos, bass guitar, organ, melodica, and clarinet. In his early career, he was best known for his harmonica work, but today he is better known for his keyboard skills.

Factoids:

Born prematurely, he became blind due to the high level of oxygen in his incubator. In 1954 his family moved to Detroit, where he became active in a church choir.

His daughter, Aisha Morris, was the inspiration for his hit single “Isn’t She Lovely.” Aisha Morris is a singer who has toured with her father and accompanied him on recordings, including his 2005 album, A Time 2 Love.

Wonder is an activist for civil rights and championed the effort to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, was a driving force behind 1985’s USA For Africa campaign has (http://www.steviewonder.net/), & has endorsed 2008 United States Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Several artists have acknowledged Wonder’s contributions to music, including opera star Luciano Pavarotti, who once referred to him in a concert as a “great, great musical genius”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevie_Wonder)

A history in video. Enjoy the stroll.

Fingertips Part 2, 1963

Superstition, 1973

If You Really Love Me, 1981

I Just Called To Say I Love You, 1984

Part Time Lover, 1985

For Your Love, 1996

From The Bottom of My Heart, 2004

This W(eek!) in Shows

Watch out Madison music fans, lots of shows to check out this week highlighting talent in smaller rooms. Catch them before they are too big to get cozy with!

Today Friday April 25

SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD

Genre: Bluegrass

“Slap your knee to these guys and you’ll be sore the next day.” – New York Press

Split Lip Rayfield- Truth and Lies

With THE JAVELINAS Friday 9:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $12 adv – 21+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Sunday April 27

THE ACORN

Genre: Indie/ Folk Rock

“..a melodic hodgepodge of brass, rumbling drums, intricately plucked guitars, and Klausener’s plangent vocal melody do more than their parts to propel a charming, inspirational lyric. Elsewhere, the group avoids generic world-music traps, using dynamic shifts and evocative instrumentation to forward the narrative…” -Pitchfork

The Acorn- The Flood Pt.1

With special guests JOHN CRAIGIE + MARTY FINKEL Sunday 8:00 pm @ Café Montmartre 255-5900 $8 BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Monday April 28

LIONS

Genre: Rock

Lions create a blend of retro riffage, artful noise, melodic interludes, and revolutionary attitude with a live show that has been described as “furious” with “a full- frontal assault” that will leave you “half-deaf and disoriented.”

Lions- Metal Heavy Lady featured on the Guitar Hero 3 game

With DROIDS ATTACK and UNITED SONS OF TOIL Monday 8:30 pm @ The Annex 256-7750 $7 – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Tuesday April 29

FOALS

Genre: Pop

“The British band takes cues from recent dance-rock and post-punk revivalism as much as the early-’80s stuff that inspired the revival in the first place” -Onion AV Club

Foals- Balloons

2 Free Song Downloads Here

With WORRIER Tuesday – early show 7:00 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $10 dos – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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THE MEDIC DROID + A CURSIVE MEMORY

Genre: Techno/ Rock/ Power Pop/ Indie/ Alternative

The Medic Droid

Free Song Download From The Medic Droid

Genuine sound that dances with ACM’s overwhelming sense of raucous energy and refusal to take themselves too seriously.

A Cursive Memory- Everything

Learn More About Both of These Bands or Enter to Win Tickets Here

With special guests SINGLE FILE and THE WHITE TIE AFFAIR Tuesday 6:30 pm (doors open 6:00 pm) @ Orpheum Stage Door 255-8755 $8 / $10 dos – all ages BUY TICKETS NOW ! Tickets also available at Strictly Discs

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Thursday May 1

CHRIS PUREKA

Genre: Americana/ Indie/ Acoustic

One stark, solo acoustic guitar builds into layered swan songs and raspy serenades that resonate with unassuming depth and candor.

Chris Pureka- Interview and Song Momentary Thief

Plus MARTHA BERNER special early start time Thursday 6:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $10- 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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PETE FRANCIS (of DISPATCH) + MATT POND PA

SORRY EVERYBODY- THIS SHOW HAS BEEN CANCELED BY THE ARTISTS. WE WILL FILL YOU IN IF WE LEARN MORE- REFUNDS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE POINT OF PURCHASE!

Genre: Folk Rock/ Indie/ Pop

“Pete Francis (of Dispatch) presents a style combination of Funk, jazz, reggae, folk with musical influences of Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis, which culminates into a sound that takes you on an amazing ride.” -CD Baby

Pete Francis- Shooting Star and the Ambulance

“Employing handclaps, sing-along choruses, and guitar solos with equal measure, the more intricate musical arrangements punctuate and add layers to Pond’s slow-burning guitar melodies.” -The Boston Globe

Matt Pond PA- Sunlight

With special guest DICK PRALL Thursday 9:00 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $15 adv and dos – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW !