The trio known as We Are Scientists first earned the praiseof fans and critics with three self-released EPs and spectacular liveperformances. Now the group has the chance to win legions of new admirers withthe release of their debut full-length, WithLove and Squalor—a mix of wit, quirkiness and infectious energy.
Ticketmaster recently spoke with We Are Scientists'guitarist/lead vocalist, Keith Murray, as the group prepared for the U.S.release of With Love and Squalor andtheir tour in support of the album.
Ticketmaster: Where did the band name come from? Keith Murray: It came from right when we graduated fromcollege. We had moved up to San Francisco and were dropping off the U-Haul van that wehad rented. You know how the guy comes out and gives the least possibleinspection of the vehicle to make sure it still has wheels and stuff like that?He came out and was half doing his job and half trying to make conversation. Wewere all standing around. We were skinny, really dorky, bespectacled and prettyweak-looking. He asked if we were all brothers, and we reported that we werenot in fact brothers. He paused and looked us up and down again, and he asked,"Well, are you scientists?" as if it followed logically. It had to be one ofthose two to explain our look. So we stupidly told him that we were notscientists. Now I kind of wish we had just lied and gone on a riff about ourwork in nanotech. We sort of decided that would be a nice band name. So we formedthe band so that there would be a band with that name.
TM: With Love and Squalor has already beenreleased in the U.K., which has made you pretty well known over there. The album's U.S. release date (January 16, 2006)is a short time away. Being from the U.S., are you eager to have your musicheard in the States? KM: It's pretty funny, because for a while we almost forgotthat the U.S.was an actual musical market. We had been in the U.K for so long and had not reallythought about the U.S.at all, which was really not the plan. Initially, the album was supposed tocome out at the same time in the U.K and the U.S.,but it just kept snowballing in the U.K. So it seemed unreasonable forus to even take a second off to play a tiny little show in the U.S. when thealbum was coming out in the U.K and we had singles coming out and radio playand MTV play. Every once in a while we'd come back and scratch our heads andsay, "Oh, yeah. Not one of these people has ever heard a We Are Scientistssong." So now we've got the whole process to start over again here, which iskind of exciting actually. It's like when you think back on the mistakes you'vemade in your past and you wonder, "What would've happened if...." It's sort oflike It's a Wonderful Life. What ifwe had not died in the U.S.but had instead formed a band and toured? Now we get to see what that alternatereality is like.
TM: Do you feel morein your element writing and recording new songs or performing them on stage? KM: At this point, we're definitely not a studio band. Weall pretty much hate being in a studio. So it's definitely not the recording...Upuntil now, pretty much all of our recordings have been on our own dime and incrappy studios...A lot of bands go into the studio and sit around and check outall these different options and all these directions a song can go in, whereaswe just go in and say, "Alright, here's how the song goes. We're gonna recordit. Let's do it." We still haven't recorded a major-label-budget album. Werecorded this album before we were signed. So maybe next time if we have sometime and money and a decent studio, we may sit around and check out all of ouroptions while we're in the studio. But at this point we still really like beingin our rehearsal space working out all the arrangements there...Most of all, wedo like playing live just because it feels like you're not doing something in atotal vacuum. It's slightly less solipsistic when you're actually interactingwith people than when it is just you sitting in front of your laptop, recordinga song, thinking it's genius. This way you get affirmation that it is genius.
TM: You recently madeyour national TV debut on The Late Showwith David Letterman. How was that? Were you nervous? KM: I was nervous more about the fact that it was a one-shotdeal. I kept worrying about things like my string breaking or the battery in mypedal going out. We've definitely played those songs many times in the past sixmonths, but there is still a good chance that we could mess up. After a while youstart psyching yourself out. Your mind doesn't really have to think aboutplaying those songs, so you start thinking about other things like the factthat Paul Shaffer is standing three feet from you, bobbing his head whileyou're playing. I think they should sort of bar him from the stage while you'replaying...although it was delighting me. A lot of people keep asking me what Iwas looking at to the right. It was Paul Shaffer, standing right there. But itwas great and totally surreal to be walking down the hall and have Jim Carrey yell,"We Are Scientists!" I feel now that ourwork is done. I can just sit in my apartment for the rest of my life.
TM: Tell me about thejobs you guys held before We Are Scientists became a fulltime gig. KM: It's sort of weird because we all had jobs that weresort of career-track jobs. I think a lot of bands when they work their day jobwhile they're trying to be a band are always thinking, "I can't wait till weget signed so I can drop this lame job." But for us, for the most part, when itstarted to seem like a distinct possibility that the band was going in adirection that would involve the need to lose the day job...I started dreadingit. I worked for IFC Films, which is the theatrical film division of the IndependentFilm Channel. And I really, really liked the job...Chris, our bass player, workedat an ad agency for a while. Michael, our drummer, wrote database software fora Japanese bank. He was the one who wasn't too unhappy about quitting his jobalthough he made way, way more money than the rest of us. I think I'm the onlyperson who's currently making more money doing the band than he was before hequit the job. Everyone else took a pretty steep pay cut for the band,especially Michael, who reminds us every once in a while about how he could besipping champagne right now in a hot tub.
TM: Do you have afavorite scientist or scientific theory? KM: I think an aspect of science that plays itself out themost with us is inertial issues. When we are not in motion, we will not beginto move until someone forces us to. And then once we get going...well, I guessthat's where the comparison ends because we stop pretty easily without muchprompting.
TM: Your drummerMichael won a Beard of the Year Award recently. Did that create some jealousyamong the other band members? KM: Well, when we started the band we all drew straws as towho would have what facial-hair feature. Michael got beard, Chris got moustacheand I got clean shaven. It's like with the Superfriends, where Batman gets batarangsand Superman gets heat vision. We've all got our individual thing that makeseach of us special, but Batman has to get pretty pissed off when everyone keepson lauding Superman's heat vision. It gets pretty old after a while. You know,once again, let's talk about Chris's moustache. Yeah, it's great. Let's talkabout Michael's beard. Let's give him an award. But you know what? I took a hitfor the group and I keep my face clean. So if someone could just talk about my cheeksfor a while...All I want is a little equity.