Impact caught up with bassist/backing vocalist Chris Cain from New Yorkian indie-rock band We Are Scientists, who filled us in on the established band’s style progression over the years, their thoughts on indie music today and their friendship with Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows…not to mention the story behind their bizarre band name.
What has been the highlight of your tour so far?
The best show was in Glasgow. The crowd was just really amazing. There was a strangely high percentage of people jumping up and down. You always get the first few rows, but it’s very rare that the whole room appears to be dancing.
Do you think your style has developed at all since With Love and Squalor?
I think there’s been a fairly natural progression in the song writing. We’ve never made a conscious effort to change the style or throw a curve ball. To some degree, I think it all sounds like We Are Scientists.
What was your most satisfying or enjoyable album to make to date?
Definitely Barbara. The songs have remained to some degree linked in their style and sound, but our behind the scenes abilities have grown lightyears since With Love and Squalor. We’ve definitely got much better at managing the process of creating a record. This record was really strss-free and pleasant to make. Previous ones have been, to varying degrees, sort of agonising!
What would you say your most agonising or stressful moment was to date?
Definitely during Brain Thrust Mastery, there are many moments to choose from. We were arguing a lot as a band about what should happen in songs and some of those arguments got fairly stressful. I remember recording the drums early on on that record. Our producer and drummer were actually screaming at each other.
Is that what spurred on your change of drummer?
Yeh we all really p*ssed each other off making Brain Thrust Mastery. Nobody was right; it was just a matter of taste, or creative differences as the cliché goes. The way we handled it with each other wasn’t great. By the time the record was done, I think we just had no interest in going out on tour with each other for a year and a half. That’s why we parted ways.
Why did you ask Razorlight’s drummer to drum on your most recent album? Are you good friends?
We were casual friends with them through the scene. We knew he was a very sound drummer and a really nice guy. When we asked him, he was still in Razorlight and we wanted him to do 2 or 3 songs. We were going to get a couple of drummers to do different songs. Then soon after we asked him, he quit Razorlight and he said he’d love to do the whole record with us. At that point we’d never played with him, but once we got into a practice phase with him it was really apparent that he was a dynamite drummer!
How did you end up becoming friends with Razorlight then?
We never toured with them or anything, I’ve never met Johnny Borrell. We met Andy because we had mutual friend in New York. When they came to New York at some point we ended up hanging out with him. It was purely separately from their show. Andy’s the only one who we’ve kept up with.
Do you think there’ll be future collaboration with Andy Burrows?
Definitely. He hasn’t been touring with us because he’s put out a solo record this year and he’s been quite busy with that but we’re definitely going to do more things together.
So you said before that you wanted various different drummers. What was your reasoning for not wanting a permanent member?
It wasn’t so much that we didn’t want a permanent member but that we didn’t have a good candidate! Ideally we’d definitely prefer to have someone who was writing the records with us and touring with us but so far nobody’s made themselves apparent.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
A lot of people see you as quite a similar band to Maximo Park, what’s your take on that?
I’ve heard that once or twice, it doesn’t seem really obvious to me but I’m certainly not offended, I think they’re a good band!
I think it’s because you both have these catchy, uplifting medlodies and then this dark, sinister or quite melancholy subject matter. Is that based on personal experience?
Yeh the lyrical content is all very personal experience based. Some of the songs on this record are a little bit more fictional. It’s half and half.
Is the album name Barbara based on anyone you know personally?
Not really, we just like it as a name for a record. We thought it was gently funny but also evocative of some kind of feeling that we were trying to get at. The genesis of it is random. We certainly didn’t decide to use it for random reasons, but there’s no Barbara that the album’s named after. We liked the woman’s name and we liked the fact that Barbara was sort of of an older generation. We were thinking a lot with this record in terms of social mixers: like cocktail parties and very genteel environments where quite barbaric transactions between the sexes occur. A Great Gatsby–esque kind of vibe or Fitzgerald vibe. Barbara has that semi-hidden linguistic tie to words like barbaric. There isn’t a hidden specific message that we were trying to get across, more of a vibe or feel.
I feel like the front cover is a useful guide on what we were hoping would subconsciously push people in the right direction. It’s a cocktail sword which to us linked the two ideas that we wanted to get out of Barbara – it’s a weapon but it’s not a real sword. The cocktail sword represents the modernisation of something very barbaric I guess.
And where did your band name come from? Did any of you actually ever study Science?!
Not beyond the required amounts! Keith and I used to look more similar than we do now. Right after college we both had glasses and buzzcuts, and we are obviously both skinny white guys. We were returning a truck that we had rented to move house and the guy who was accepting the truck back asked us if we were brothers and we said no, and then he asked us if we were scientists…strange question!
We were laughing about that moment, and then decided that We Are Scientists would be a good band name. We didn’t even have the band yet at that point. So we actually came up with song titles and a band name before we had written a single song or formed a band.
I’m glad we didn’t have to sit around and try to come up with things. In some ways I know the more normal way for it to happen is for you to have a band and try to come up with a name but I feel like that’s like deciding you want a tattoo then trying to figure out what tattoo you should get – it kind of feels wrong! Whereas if one day you’re like, this symbol means so much to me, I’ve never thought about getting a tattoo before but I want that tattooed on my flesh, that seems right. That’s a much more enjoyable way of going about it, it seems more authentic. So I think that everyone should not start a band until they have a good band name! That’s the mandate you need.
What do you think about the popular British indie scene at the moment? What do you think about bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, The XX, Foals? A lot of people think new indie music is generic. Do you think indie music is as unique as it was before?
I think the best new bands are coming out of the US right now. I do like all the bands you’ve mentioned. The XX’s record is really great, everyone loves it. I think Wild Beasts are amazing, but they’re not a new band. I like Two Door Cinema Club a lot. I feel like a band like them is the perfection of certain sounds that have been around a little while. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the next thing. I feel like some of the stuff that’s happeneing in the States has more the feeling of being the next thing.
What sort of bands are you thinking?
There’s a whole movement – bands like Surfer Blood, Best Coast, Warpaint, Waves. I think there’s a whole sound there that feels like the current thing. Some of the stuff that’s happening in the UK feels like it’s the last wave of indie to me, which I guess we belong to as well.
Do you feel like we might have exhausted new types of music and that music at the moment tends to be derivative of past genres and decades? Likes 80s’ electronic influence, for example.
There’s been so much great material in the last 50 years. In rock’s short life span, there’s been so many amazing sounds and things have developed so quickly and there’s still a big appetite for those sounds that have already fallen behind. It’s still very rich soil to till. I think it’s more that and it’s a little easier to go back. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that we arbitrarily 50 years in can’t think of anything else! Grunge was an original sound in the 90s, Nu Metal (as terrible as it was) was a new sound. I agree that the bands we’ve been talking about, including us, don’t represent a brand new sound at all but I’m sure something will happen. Hip hop is still developing in new ways.
What was it like touring with local up-and-coming Nottingham band Frontiers?
They’re really nice guys. Good, solid kids. It’s funny to see somebody so early in their careers. They’re doing well, they’re doing what they need to do.
Balancing the band with the rest of your life when you’re up-and-coming must be very difficult and stressful. What is your experience of this? Did you quit your job/school to pursue the band?
Keith and I definitely never quit anything until the band was a fully viable career. Before we were able to quit our jobs and do this full time we didn’t really tour that much. We had full time jobs and didn’t have that much vacation time. We never really toured much until we got signed. We’re definitely happy with the way we did it; its such a long shot! I don’t think anybody can really predict. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to bet on it. You can do the most important thing as a band in terms of reaching your goals, which is to continue to develop your song writing, but I don’t think you need a tour to do that. You can do some touring and just keep writing songs and eventually if you get to that place where you’re good enough and you get lucky, somebody comes along and wants to support the band. That’s the time to start dropping out of things!
What does the future hold for We Are Scientists?
I think we’re going to try to do an EP early next year. We haven’t started writing it yet but we’ve got some ideas. We’re interested in messing around with smaller release schedules, not doing a full blown record. Instead, just doing chunks of songs, digital releases, touring for shorter periods of time and then going back and writing. We’ll mess around with that next year. We might potentially do two EPs and then we really want to continue to f*ck around with humourous video stuff, like some kind of TV show.
What sort of TV show?
We’ve been talking to MTV and it’s always a waiting game with actual networks, we made something for them in 2009 that went pretty well. Either something for MTV or something internet-based that we could probably get some kind of corporate sponsor to pay for. We’d always be drinking Absolute vodka or something in the scenes!
Are there any bands you’d like to tour with?
We were talking to Futureheads about doing a tour. We played a show with them in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago and got talking. We’re thinking a mid-spring co-headliner in the UK and Europe. Maybe that would happen!