An Interview with Keith Murray from We Are Scientists
By David Schuster
I’ve arranged to interview Keith Murray (pictured above, left), the vocalist and guitarist of We Are Scientists at Brudenell Social Club, where they are due to play in a few hours. When I arrive the soundcheck is running late; the engineer is struggling to get the required vocal tones. Despite having just repeated “Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3” at least a dozen times, Murray bounds off the stage and strides across the room smiling to shake my hand and apologise for the delay. On stage, the bass drum sound is now being perfected, so we agree to go outside for the interview. Notwithstanding three days of solid sunshine, the weather picks this moment to change and, as fat rain drops start to fall, I suggest retreating to my car.
Welcome to the front of my car.
Thank you for having me in the front of your car.
You’re on stage in Leeds tonight. Do you enjoy the process of touring?
We do! I mean it’s made pretty easy by the fact that we’re all really good friends. There is a sense of rambling around I think that sometimes actually undercuts it though, because we keep on forgetting that it’s meant to be work, and we’re not supposed to just be having fun all the time. So, we get all bent out of shape when we can’t go out and have fun. We were on in Sheffield yesterday, and we all went out to the Peak District. It’s very beautiful, and we’re hiking around saying: “Why don’t we do this every day on tour?” Ah, well. You’re not supposed to do that every day!
“We have a fairly simple set up”
So, you don’t lead the rock and roll lifestyle when you are on tour?
Hah! We definitely don’t take very good care of ourselves! But we’re not terrifically wild, I don’t think.
We Are Scientists are officially a duo, but I see that you and Chris Cain have long-term tour drummer Keith Carne playing with you again.
Yeah, he’s been with us since 2013. Essentially, we consider him a member of the band. Part of the brand of the band is just Chris and I. It feels like it starts getting muddy to introduce new people. I think that, more and more, we treat him as a member of the band.
What worries you most before you go on stage, if anything?
I vaguely worry about mechanical failure, but I definitely don’t go on stage terrifically stressed out about anything anymore. It’s true that we have a fairly simple set up technically but, as you witnessed [connecting with the house sound-system], anything can go wrong at any time!
“We prefer changing the songs”
Do you play the same songs in the same order for each gig of the tour, or do you like to mix it up?
We like to mix it up. You know, it is funny that sometimes when we hit on an appealing set list we want to stay on it because, although we prefer changing the songs and playing different ones every night, if it’s not as good, we would have been foolish to have done that. We generally like to mix up three or four different songs every night.
Your home city is New York. CBGB’s closed in 2006, what’s the best place in New York to play now?
There’s been a venue called the Bowery Ballroom there for ages. It’s just switched ownership; which may bode ill for it. It’s a great room, really small, 500 capacity. It’s really fun, it’s a good space. I think that’s the best place. There’s a place called Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn that’s really fun as well, but New York doesn’t have many good large venues. I guess Madison Square Gardens is fun, just for the heritage, not because there’s anything particularly good about it.
You’ve got a new album out; Megaplex. Do you have a favourite track off it?
The last song I wrote ‘Properties of Perception’ I like a lot. I don’t know, it’s kind of always changing. I think maybe right now ‘Heart Is A Weapon’ is my favourite.
Yes, I saw you taking your kit off in the video for that.
Hahaha. Errrr, yes.
“We kinda just write a bunch of songs”
Has your sound changed much since the last album?
I think it’s changed, maybe like by a third. I feel there’s been a progression from Barbara to this record. There’s been a pretty clear through line of trying to bring in some poppier elements whilst still making them rock songs.
Do you plan a record, or do you create songs which eventually coalesce into an album?
We kinda just write a bunch of songs, then we talk about what we wish those songs would turn into as an album. Then we choose those songs that fit that stupid idea! We’ve never said: “Oh we want to write this kind of album”, and then written songs in that style. We kind of take stock of what we have and try to figure out which songs work best together and then how we can manipulate them to be cohesive.
You’ve put a recording out almost every two years. Is that a plan?
It’s just like, the kind of cycle of it, because we can’t write on tour, we just don’t do it. So that’s usually nine months or a year. And including the lead up to a new album coming out, we tend not to write very much around that. Then we have about six months to write the record, and about six months to make it and mix them. So, it just tends to be about what it takes. It took TV En Francais something like four years to come out. That was mainly because we were switching labels and management, and we had to do a lot of business stuff around it. Generally, it takes six or nine months for us to write enough songs that we’re like: “Alright. Let’s make the record!”.
Leeds is in the county of Yorkshire. Have you ever eaten Yorkshire Pudding?
I have, I have. That’s the little bready thing? I’ve had it with a roast before.
Oh? I didn’t know how international it would be.
Well, we have only had it here!
We Are Scientists’ latest album ‘Megaplex’ is out now. More info: wearescientists.com