In the 12 years since their blistering debut, We Are Scientists have certainly been busy. They’ve churned out 5 albums with a 6th just around the corner, and Keith Murray has ranked their albums thus far. Keith is in a very rainy Milton Keynes where it’s “pretty gruesome outside” before playing one of their patented raw shows.
5. Brain Thrust Master
Coming in last at number 5, it’s 2008’s Brain Thrust Mastery, and despite being last Keith says “I fucking love it, we tried a lot I think we were deeply experimenting because we were very very very tired of With Love and Squalor at that point we had been touring it for like 18 straight months”.
“Our band dynamic with our drummer at the time had grown contentious we were living in a different city as our producer so we were working on it long distance but I think it has some of our best songs on it I think like ‘After Hours’ and ‘Lethal Enforcer’ are still in my top 10 We Are Scientists songs but I think maybe we were fiddling around more than I thought we should have on that one”. The album is 10 years old this year, but will the band do anything to celebrate? “I think what makes part of the 10th anniversary thing, especially in our case so far with With Love and Squalor and Brain Thrust Mastery is on each of those 10th anniversaries we’ve been putting out a new record so I think that was part of the main conversation we were having with With Love and Squalor and the same situation now is that I’d rather focus on the new record we’re putting out rather than the record that’s 10 years old. Personally I’m more interested in it, but we have chatted about it! I mean I think we have a very very soft spot for Brain Thrust Mastery and there are still some songs on that album we’ve never played live so it’s an intriguing proposition for me so maybe!”
Brain Thrust Mastery also contains quintessential indie banger ‘After Hours’, the soundtrack to many indie club nights the world over, and Keith just hasn’t tired of playing it live “I’m still lpretty excited every time we play it, which is not rare for us but like you know with the With Love and Squalor songs I really get off on how much people enjoy them which then makes me enjoy the songs, but I think After Hours I still just really enjoy like ‘this is a really good song I enjoy singing this song’, it’s just one of those songs that kind of like clicked from the go so it feels good!”.
4. With Love and Squalor
Coming in at number 4 is the band’s debut With Love and Squalor. “I think to me it’s the most rudimentary of all of our records but I think there is something exciting about how atavistic it is it’s pretty it’s just a straight edge of an album which as a songwriter isn’t that interesting to me but as a listener is pretty fun”. The band also played the album in full with original drummer Michael Tapper in some US shows for its 10th anniversary in 2016 but they didn’t make it to the UK, Keith explains that they “weren’t that bothered about celebrating the 10th anniversary, but we had talked to Michael about the fact that we had a show in New York around the 10th anniversary, and it just kind of seemed like a fun thing to do so we did that in New York with him and then our agent in the US got a call from the LA promoter who was like “well I wanna do that too” so we did that but our agent in the UK is a different guy and we just ignored his pleas for it! We probably should do it at some point but I don’t know we play so many of the songs anyway it seems crazy to worry about it but people have asked for it so at some odd anniversary we’ll pull it out and do the whole album in full”.
Dead centre is the band’s first album with former Razorlight man Andy Burrows, 2010’s Barbara. “With Barbara we sort of did a counter balance to the experimentation of Brain Thrust Mastery, we stripped it back and tried to make an exceptionally live record again and it’s our first one with Andy who is an incredible drummer and a very galvanising man. We had an incredible time, we went down to Georgia and wrote some music for a while but I think what keeps it from being like the perfect album that I want it to be is that it was recorded in several different chunks because Andy had gone back to the UK so we did a little bit in London we did a little bit in New York we did a little bit in LA and it ended up the process felt a little more piecemeal than we wanted it to but there’s a song called ‘Foreign Kicks’ on it that I love so I think it’s a honed point of an album”.
“Brain Thrust Mastery essentially ended up being Chris and I working alone, so touring that we had two awesome friends playing with us but it didn’t really quite feel like a band it felt like Chris and I together which is how We Are Scientists really largely has been but doing it with Andy it felt like a band again it felt like 3 dudes who wanted to run into a room and be loud, be crazy, and also finish up so we could go to the pub together and hang out and forget everything we had rehearsed. It was definitely rejuvenating to have him, he’s still one of my best friends in the world and he’s an electric person to play with it’s always really fun”.
2. TV en Francis
Coming in as Keith’s second favourite We Are Scientists record is 2014’s TV en Francais. It’s a break up record, it’s about failure in communication and trying to deal with someone you’re not communicating with but you know very well is a little bit like watching TV in a foreign language where you can pretty much understand what is happening but the nitty gritty of it is being lost between the people in communication. The album is an untouched photo of a hotel on the beach in South Florida which gets a lot of French Canadian tourists and so it was funny to us that in South Florida where obviously the first language is English and the second language spoken by locals is Spanish, but it was funny to us that the advertising to tourists would be in French cos that’s the greatest population of hotel tourists and we just liked the idea of us sitting in a hotel room trying to watch TV in French and that translated the general idea of the record”.
“I think it was sort of the perfect version of making an album for us, because it was Chris, Andy and I all living in New York City together and from the beginning of writing it to recording all 3 of us were in the same town. We recorded in New York City so everyday we were just meeting up at the studio, would hang out all day, record some songs, then go to a pub. It was definitely the ideal band recording situation for us, so I think that is my most romanticised recording session. We also did it in a really awesome old New York recording studio called Magic Shop which is no longer there unfortunately but it was in the thick of old school New York. I think it’s the record that I romanticise and I think ‘Make It Easy’ is one of my favourite songs we’ve ever done.”
1. Helter Seltzer
Therefore, Keith's favourite We Are Scientists record is 2016’s Helter Seltzer, “I think it’s my number 1 because it does the things we wanted out of Brain Thrust Mastery like exploring a lot of different textures and tones, doing things that don’t necessarily belong in a We Are Scientists song like electronic beats and squelchy synths and stuff like that. It is punky at heart and so for similar reasons to TV En Francais, it’s recording was extremely celebratory and cordial and familial we did it with Keith Carne who we had been touring with for 2 years at that point who is now also one of our best friends, and we had recorded it with Max Hart who had been our keyboardist on the Brain Thrust Mastery tour and we’d been in touch with him ever since. Since then, he had become Katy Perry’s keyboardist and we were enamoured of the pop efficiency of a Katy Perry song and had seen him play with her a few times in New York, and we were just like ‘man say what you will about prefab pop there is something really cool and effective about these really banging beats and these thick keyboards’. We rented this space in Brooklyn and just built out a studio for 3 months which is something we had never done before, we just got to go in there and root around and work on things. We mainly just hung out to be honest, we probably could have done the record in way less than 3 months! But cos we had 3 months and were doing it with Keith and Max we really took our time”.
Their new album Megaplex is coming out shortly and takes a very poppy direction, but Keith feels “it’s definitely a direct evolution from the Helter Seltzer approach and how much we liked playing all those songs live which was something we were worried about. Live we are very much a 3 piece, and we don’t really wanna be one of those bands that hits play on a playback machine. We started incorporating some triggers that Keith triggers live in the show and it helped bridge this live rickety punk show that we really like to do and a show with all the extra synth.” The album still has its crunchy punk moments though with songs like ‘Your Light Has Changed’ which is apparently about waiting for a succubus but Keith feels they owe a very unlikely creature a song, “we’re very obsessed with alligators, they’ve achieved a level of grandeur in the We are Scientists mythos. The thing is I grew up in South Florida where almost everyone is killed by gators eventually, if you live long enough you’ll get killed by a gator that’s the South Florida rule so I do think we owe gators a debt! There’s a fealty we have to them, and one of these days we’ll have to immortalise alligators in a song.”
Keith explains though that there was a moment when recording ‘Your Light Has Changed’ which got him angry, “I think one thing that is always annoying about recording is that we feel the pressure of the immortality of the performance, you’re like oh man this is gonna be on record for ever, and it better be good, and it better be perfect which is unideal when you’re trying to deliver something soulful or electric. I specifically remember singing ‘Your Light Has Changed’ and I was singing and singing and singing and we had the take but our producer kept on like trying to talk back like ‘yeah you know, I guess we got it it’s fine, come in if you want to’ but definitely trying to provoke me into anger and me giving a couple of takes where I was just like shrieking and screaming because I was annoyed at them like I would be like ‘no I’m gonna do one more asshole!’ and doing more and more and more and more”.
Despite being 6 albums in, Keith says the band has no intention of slowing down “we do really like touring but it is harder and harder just because Chris has a son, and I’m married so it gets harder to be away from home but we definitely don’t want to slow down or stop you know but I guess at some point you have to, but it’s definitely not on the immediate cards for us by any means."