With the release of their new album Barbara in just under a month, We Are Scientists has spent the last year recording across two continents, playing at small gigs in the U.S. and UK, and a showcase at SXSW in March. Next month, coming right off the Barbara release, the band will be playing at the Glastonbury Festival on June 27th.
I recently got the chance to talk to Chris Cain, bassist of We Are Scientists about the upcoming album, leaving a major label, and British snack foods. Plus, We Are Scientists just happens to be my favorite band ever, so it was kind of a dream come true. Check out the full interview (with a couple hints of sarcasm) below.
Abby Williamson, PopWreckoning: Hi, how are you doing this fine afternoon?
Chris Cain, We Are Scientists: I’m pretty darn good.
AW: Alright, let’s do this thing. I, of course, will be buying Barbara here in just over a month, but why should other people buy Barbara?
CC: Well, I think it’s a good pop record. It’s got a bunch of pleasing kicks… It’s got funny liner notes. I’m gonna say that it’s got REALLY funny liner notes.
AW: Funny liner notes are always good. I’ve read some pretty sweet ones this year. What should people expect from listening to Barbara? Since you’ve gone back to the three-piece formula, is this going to be more like With Love And Squalor or Brain Thrust Mastery?
CC: It’s more like WLAS in a superficial sense. I think it will strike people as more WLAS-esque, cause it tends to be drums, bass, guitar, and two or three vocal parts, so that’s more like the first record. I think the songwriting and the melodic sense and things like that which are a little more subtle and difficult to quantify are similar to BTM and sort of an extension further forward from BTM, which I think was an extension forward from WLAS.
AW: Why did you leave Virgin Records and go at it alone this time?
CC: I think right now it’s the only tolerable way to go, the kind of route that we’re going, especially for a band that’s already established a little bit of headway and has kind of a fan base. We considered staying with [Virgin], we were talking to them about doing another record there, but they’re corporate mandated for a really invasive contract right now. They need to have a piece of all aspects of the band, I think in order to defray the likeliness that they’ll lose money on a record. And they want a piece of live business, and the merch and everything else, which is totally standard in the major label industry right now, but I don’t think it’s very equitable for bands who aren’t used to it, and it strikes you as preposterous. I think a lot of young bands are signing to those terms right now, and I think that the only upside of that is the companies that are on the contracts will probably out of business in the next couple of years, so they probably won’t be held to them for very long. It’s a tough time to be a band on a major label.
AW: What would you say is different in the recording process now that you’re independent from the major label?
CC: We recorded the first record on our own, and sold it to Virgin as part of the signing, so the only record we’ve ever recorded on a label, so to speak, is Brain Thrust Mastery, which was more stressful, and kind of annoying to record. Not to say that they were annoying, necessarily, but to record on a major, there are a number of people who want their say in shaping the sound of the record. I don’t think we’re overly precious about our songs or our creative rights, but at the end of the day, we like our take on things better than someone else that’s forced to listen to other people. I think also because we were on a major, we went ahead and spent more money on the studio. This time we were much more frugal where we could be. Not to say we were miserly, but in working with Andy [Burrows] on this record, getting everyone’s schedules changed up, and through lots of travel, the record certainly wasn’t cheap to make. We were less willing to pay for a fancy lounge with a pool table at a studio. Last time that’s all we cared about.
AW: Speaking of Andy, will he be going on tour with you coming up or will Danny [Allen] be the set drummer for this tour?
CC: It’s looking like Danny’s going to be doing the bulk of the drumming. Andy will be making surprise appearances here and there.
AW: Because [Andy’s] working on his own solo record right now, isn’t he?
CC: Yeah, he’s got his solo record coming out in July actually. So he’s in the thick of the same thing we are, except that it’s his first record, and it’s a little less intense. He’s gonna be busy for much of this record cycle with his own thing. But both Andy and [Keith and I] feel like if we do the next record together we’re going to make sure that the record cycles don’t overlap.
AW: When you did SXSW was that more to help your profile in America? We know that you guys tour the UK more because you have a bigger audience there and make more money there versus the US, but can you see yourselves ever giving America a real shot? Like touring America in some crappy van going to as many cities as you can?
CC: Yeah, we’re actually going to that this summer, except for the crappy van part. We’ve got a deluxe – I mean our van isn’t luxurious – but it’s a performance automobile.
AW: So the tour is this summer?
CC: We haven’t announced it yet, but we’re gonna play shows over the course of July and August, we’ll make a full circuit of the states. The U.S. is gonna get a full tour before anyone else.
CC: We’re giving the U.S. the first crack.
AW: What’s your favorite song to perform off the new album?
CC: Let’s see. (Pauses) That’s a tough question. “I Don’t Bite” is pretty fun from a rocking out standpoint, but “Rules Don’t Stop” is pretty fun because it’s the toughest to play in terms of getting everything to lock in. So maybe “Rules Don’t Stop” is really fun when it works.
AW: Will there be keyboards on tour? Cause some songs off Brain Thrust Mastery like “Lethal Enforcer” had keyboards, or will it be just the three of you guys?
CC: It’s just gonna be the three of us, and we’ve been working on rearranging Brain Thrust Mastery songs for three. For example, I think we’ve got a really cool sounding “Chick Lit” worked out, but we have not cracked the “Lethal Enforcer” code yet. That is one of our big goals for the live shows, is to get “Lethal Enforcer” up and running.
AW: What’s your favorite city that you’ve ever played in, in terms of the shows?
CC: Well I think the shows that are the most fun are not necessarily the hugest volume of people, but anything between 500-1000 people are the ideal size, with an audience that’s super excited to have you there. So that more often happens in the UK than elsewhere, but we have good shows in a lot of America and Europe, but the great shows are not always in your favorite city. Sometimes the kids who are living in desperately shitty towns are most excited to escape their daily lives at your show.
AW: Will the dolls from the “Nice Guys” single art make any more appearances?
CC: I don’t know. We haven’t planned anything yet, but if we had any more skill as video makers we would have done some kind of animated video. Fortunately, all we had was a truly badass scooter rider. We’re actually talking about doing a poster for a fall tour featuring those dolls. There was somebody at our European distributor who wanted to talk about merchandising those dolls, but I feel like the world isn’t quite hungry enough for We Are Scientists dolls yet.
AW: Does [your son] Dash know that he’s in the “Nice Guys” video? Like is he old enough to be aware of it? Or did he just think that he was following Keith around?
CC: He knew he was making the video, and he has reviewed his own performance in the video a couple of times. He’s pretty happy with the work he did. Any actor has a little bit of a tough time watching their own work.
AW: Does Dash have a favorite We Are Scientists song?
(SILENCE. I lost the connection momentarily. Re-dialing, ring, ring, ring.)
AW: I lost the connection with your for a second.
CC: Yeah, sorry, I’m in the car, so if I cut out just call back. But what was your last question?
AW: Oh, does Dash have a favorite We Are Scientists song?
CC: Sure he does. [Indiscriminate child noises] Hey Dash, what’s your favorite We Are Scientists song? [More indiscriminate child noises] He says butt. [More noises] I think “Pittsburgh” is his favorite right now, but he’s refusing to say anything, but ‘butt’ with two t’s.
AW: Do you and Keith plan on making any more of your own videos like you did with “Nice Guys?”
CC: I think the next single will be August, so it will sort of depend on what we’re up to at the time the video needs to be made. If we had the time, I think it would be fun. We enjoy it, I don’t think we necessarily make very good videos, but we enjoy it.
AW: Well, they’re charming.
CC: Yeah, charming.
AW: What are some of the best presents you’ve gotten on tour from fans?
CC: Probably the best present of all time was a gift from Adrian, the doll maker. Those crazy voodoo dolls were pretty awesome. That was a long time ago, but more recently there’s been a group of fans in the UK who, whenever they see us, bring me a book for Dash, which is pretty cool, then I read it to him over Skype. It’s helpful, it’s a useful gift, you know?
AW: Yeah, it’s practical. What’s been the most memorable moment on tour so far?
CC: Let’s see. We haven’t really done a lot of touring, we’ve only done isolated shows here and there, but the show we played at the Roundhouse, Camden Crawl a couple of weeks ago was really great, because it was the first larger show over 200 people that we’ve played coming back on this record. It’s kind of a cool reminder of what that’s like, cause we had all forgotten it.
AW: The new tee shirts [on the We Are Scientists site] are really awesome, but is Keith planning on getting his own shirt like you have “Bass your life on Chris?”
CC: I think we’ll unroll a Keith shirt at some point during this album cycle. The “Bass your life on Chris” shirt was burning a hole in our creative pockets, so to speak. It had been ready to launch for many months, and we felt like it was a pretty strong way to lead off the campaigning, to maybe put us in Coldplay territory next year. I think when we’re safely at that next level it’ll be a good time to risk a Keith shirt. We’ll have to come up with a good pun for it, that’s the problem.
AW: Are there any more plans for TV shows like “Steve Wants His Money?”
CC: We are talking to MTV Europe, who made “Steve Wants His Money,” about doing a half-hour show, but more of a standard sitcom-type deal. We have not finalized it, but we’re in discussion. At this point part of the problem is finding time to shoot something like that. Cause “Steve Wants His Money” was shot in four days, and I think if we shot 8 episodes of a sitcom it would require at least two or three months, which might not happen until the end of this tour cycle.
AW: I actually had a friend that wanted me to ask you this – what are your thoughts concerning Marmite?
CC: I enjoy Marmite. I’ve had Marmite-flavored – I wish I could remember what they’re called – they’re a very popular sort-of pretzel-like snack available in the UK. I assume also in Australia. Super delicious. The kind that you would buy at any supermarket. I forget the name, but boy are they good. Oh, are they twiggets?
AW: Maybe I’ll Google it. (I did, and they’re called Twiglets, in case you were wondering.)
CC: We don’t have them here.
AW: On that note, I should probably let you go, and I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Thank you for talking to me!
CC: Absolutely, absolutely. Thanks for taking the time to interview me. Presumably you’ll have to do something with this even after we get off the phone, like write something up.
14 – Glasgow, Buchanan St. / hmv
15 – Manchester Arndale / hmv
18-19 – Scheessel, Germany Southside and Hurricane Festival
20 – Utrecht, Netherlands / Tivoli de Helling
21 – Cambridge UK / The Junction
22 – Wolverhampton UK / Wolverhampton Civic Hall
24 – Sheffield UK / The Leadmill
25 – Oxford UK / O2 Academy
27 – Worthy Farm, Pilton UK / Glastonbury
8 – Hultsfred, Sweeden / Hultsfred Festival
10 – Balado, Kinross-Shire, Scotland / T in the Park
11 – Punchestown Racecourse, Naas, Ireland / Oxegen Festival
13 – Cambridge MA / The Middle East
15 – Philadelphia PA / Johnny Brenda’s
16 – Washington DC / Black Cat