We Are Scientists aren't fond of taking themselves too seriously. Their music videos are often bizarre, slapstick and extremely tongue-in-cheek, and most of what they say in interviews has to be taken with a heaped tablespoon of salt. When we speak to them, it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to steer the conversation away from their lunch: "Where do you stand on sandwiches?" they ask. "Where do you plant your flagpole on that debate? What about kidney beans?" We're supposed to be asking the questions here. One thing We Are Scientists take extremely seriously though is music, and as they prepare for the release of their fifth album, the band are keen to reassert their position as indie-rock favourites.
The night before they speak to us, We Are Scientists performed at Camden Barfly to a crowd of 200 competition winners - premiering music from new album TV en Francais, as well as supporting the loyalty of their fans.
They appreciated the "increased intimacy" of such a small gig. "It's fun to not have the air of distance that comes when you're on a huge stage in a huge room far away from the crowd" says Chris Cain, the band's bassist and backing vocalist. "When you're all up in their business, you can read all the texts they're writing while you're on, and you can help correct them..."
"One guy," interjects lead singer Keith Murray, "he was just shrieking as if he were in pain. But it was very controlled so I don't think he was in trouble." Let's hope not. "He was deploying them with a certain amount of timing" offers Cain. That's it settled then.
It seems the shrieking man is just one of many overzealous fans the band have experienced in England. In fact, rather surprisingly considering the UK's reputation for being restrained, the band have said that British fans can be "frightening" in their exuberance. "We've definitely seen a huger demonstration of physicality in England," they explain. "A lot of people thrown aloft by other people, then thrown down into cement."
We Are Scientists have a passion for exaggeration rivalled only by their passion for sandwiches.
Their love of all things OTT continues beyond their words though - each music video they produce is more outlandish than the next. Their most recent, 'Dumb Luck', sees various people, including the band themselves, succumb to a host of comically revolting injuries: someone's arm is pulled off as he dunks a basketball, internal organs fall from stomachs, a nail pulls out an eye... It's an eccentric video to say the least, and is not to be watched while you're eating your lunch. We learned that the hard way.
Watch the video for 'Dumb Luck' below
"We try to come up with all our video concepts." they say. That explains it. "It's pretty brutal getting a video treatment from someone else. It always makes us roll our eyes and have a lie down for a minute... We're not terribly interested in making a video that's a literal, or even thematically relevant, little film. We're pretty into chasing our dreams of making short gory films, or breaking a bottle over a person's head."
Despite all the disembowelling, boxing matches and bear suits though, "We take the music itself very seriously." Where We Are Scientists differ from their contemporaries is in the fact that they're "not caught up in the idea that there needs to be an air of solemnity surrounding that art. Even though we take song-writing and recording and arrangement seriously, because we love music, we also do it because it's fun. So it seems kind of counterintuitive to behave like it's anything except something we do because it's enjoyable to us."
Were they never tempted, then, to offer an air of aloofness in order to fit in with the rock star prototype? "I see the appeal of selling yourself as a grand important artist," admits Murray. "There definitely is something valuable about that, and people do seem to respond... But we get embarrassed around one another when we answer an earnest question the same way twice, so I can't imagine how we would feel watching the other person put on airs about what we do."
It's no surprise then that they struggle to explain why their new album contains, in their opinion, the best songs they've ever written. "Part of what's problematic is that we tend to not, like, calculate and overthink the songwriting" explains Cain. "I understand the journalist's desire to have the band expound on their music, but it often feels kind of an erroneous exercise to us to talk about the music, when the songs are right there."
Well, the songs are nearly "right there." Though they've teased a few songs from it, TV en Francais isn't released until 4 March. From their enthusiasm though, it's a release to look forward to immensely. "It's got a few songs that I think are the most exciting melodic-arrangement wise. I think that the pay-off that some of these songs have is really immediate and..." - Murray can't help but undercut his own sincerity with a touch of faux-arrogance - "profound."
Do they have plans, as is usually the case for bands who have new material out, for a host of festivals this summer?
"They're being formed as we speak." they explain. "Reading & Leeds and Glastonbury are always a lot of fun. Those festivals have done a good job of harnessing a specific crowd that has sort of a heightened vibe to the entire event. We've only done Benicassim once but it was amazing. I think part of that was the audience was a lot of Brits, who had gone over to Spain on holiday, so were just fully going for it on vacation, which made the festival a lot of fun... British people on holiday are unhinged."
As to where the future beyond festival season takes them, We Are Scientists retain their sense of good-humoured realism: "Obviously we want the album to do incredibly well and be the top seller of the year... But, yeah, I think we just try to be pleased and surprised as we travel." And travel they will.
The band are touring the UK in March, before heading through Europe and North America. "Don't see your town?" their website says above the list of tour dates, "Don't worry! We probably just forgot to type it in."
Below: exclusive photos of We Are Scientists at Camden Barfly