We talk with We Are Scientists bassist Chris Cain about their new album Barbara, the addition of drummer Andy Burrows, filming music videos, and pantomiming mohawks.

Interview: We Are Scientists

Let’s talk about the new album Barbara. You got Andy [Burrows, drummer] from Razorlight on it; how did that happen?

Chris Cain: I don’t know how exactly we knew Andy, but we had met him just kind of on the tour circuit, probably at a festival or something and as anyone who’s met Andy can attest he’s one of the most agreeable dudes in the world, he instantly becomes your friend… and then you know talks you out of your money, but you’re happy to hand it over to a gentleman like Andy. Just kidding about the money part, but he is very amicable. So we’ve been friends with him for a year or two and when we were getting ready to make the record we were intending to ask a couple of different drummers to do two or three songs each, and Andy was one of those guys. We had already spoken to Andy and a couple of weeks later he left Razorlight and called us up and said he’d be interested in doing the whole record. We had not yet thought of even a single other drummer we wanted to do songs on the record so we were more than pleased to take him up on his offer.

It felt like fate…

CC: Yep, it did.

So you decided to record this album in lots of different sections, why did you decide to do that?

CC: It was a logistical necessity, but not a bad one I don’t think. Basically it just had to do with getting everyone’s schedules aligned; we couldn’t really find a month or a month and a half where we could all pause our lives and record. I mean Keith and I were essentially available to do the thing but besides Andy having his solo record that he was beginning to start recording, our producer was also working on a number of other projects. So it was kind of just a matter of juggling everyone’s schedules. But it ended up being nice to have a break between sessions, it gave you time to reflect. We ended up re-recording certain parts because we had had a little time to re-think them. I wouldn’t avoid doing it in the future, I don’t know for sure that I would be desperate to do it, but I don’t think it was a bad thing at all.

“[Andy] instantly becomes your friend… and then you know talks you out of your money, but you’re happy to hand it over to a gentleman like Andy. Just kidding…”

How about the actual writing of the songs; did you have them before Andy came along or did he help out writing them?

CC: They were at the first basic stage of written. He obviously had a huge amount to do with the actual drum beat and we would work as a band, as a three-piece, in the room on things like figuring out a bridge maybe or deciding how many times to do the chorus the last time… things like that. But the basics of the songs were written and that really wasn’t something that Andy was interested in doing for We Are Scientists. I think he was getting enough of his creativity and song writing wrung out of him by his solo project and with us he was really just interested in getting back behind the kit, which I think he realised shortly after quitting Razorlight was really something he loved even though he had come to have a very mixed relationship with that band. I think he almost instantly missed drumming, so he was very eager to find another drum project.

That’s cool. I’ve noticed a change in tone in the lyrics – I know you don’t write them but perhaps you can give us some insight – on the older albums the protagonist of the songs was getting pushed around a lot and beaten up, but on this new record there’s a much more assertive and confident voice. Do you think that characterises the way the band’s attitude has changed over the years?

CC: I think to some degree as we’ve gotten more experienced we’ve become more able to cut out the BS in terms of what we do as a band; what we spend our time on, what spend our money on, so there may be some truth to that. I think to some degree it’s also Keith maybe having tired of that particular first-person perspective, which I think by and large was him for a long time and I think he’s gotten more interested in portraying other people’s perspectives. Essentially inhabiting other kinds of points of view, so essentially writing fiction.

Alright. I really enjoy your videos, which you guys seem to do a lot of – a lot of bands don’t seem to bother doing them anymore – who comes up with the ideas for them?

CC: We’ve always come up with the ideas with them and, as I think our latest video proves, we certainly need a lot of help in executing them well, but we’ve always been the idea men.

“I think to some degree as we’ve gotten more experienced we’ve become more able to cut out the BS in terms of what we do as a band…”

You’re talking about the “Nice Guys” video?

CC: Yeah, that’s the “Nice Guys” video; that’s the one video we’ve ever done that we did by ourselves. I think the results speak for themselves.

Did you film it?

CC: Yeah I shot it. Literally the only person besides me or Keith that’s in it is Dash, my son, and then at the very end Keith’s girlfriend. We tossed a mask on her, after one of our other friends bailed out on playing the role of the Mutant Bastard, which is the character that jumps from the fountain.

So was there supposed to be more Mutant Bastard in it?

CC: There was not supposed to be more, no. But we do, without giving too much away, I think the possibility of the Mutant Bastard making future appearances in the We Are Scientists Universe… the chances are very high. This was the Mutant Bastard’s debut.

Did you enjoy making it?

CC: Yeah! It was a lot of fun. We love that kind of thing. We’ve always been around kind of on sets when other people are shooting with us and we know enough about it by this point that we’re very active back seat directors and we sort of constantly second-guess what everyone else is doing and think that we would be doing a better job so I think it was probably very important for us to finally undertake a project all by ourselves and see how crappy it looks and how much more time we would have needed to put in to make it actually legitimately good. But you know I think it has a certain DIY charm.

Yeah it has plenty of charm.

CC: Yeah but it’s pretty scrappy.

I noticed you did a lot of wildlife shots in it, is that something else you’re interested in doing, maybe in the future?

CC: You know I had never had any interest in it before, but I felt like that song and that video just really needed those moments of peace in which we were able to connect with the natural world before jumping back into planet Earth at it’s most frantic, i.e. Keith on a children’s scooter.

[Chuckles] Alright, fair enough.

We Are Scientists – “Nice Guys” [Official Video]

This is a question for slightly more old-school fans; are you going to do any “under the sea” versions of your new songs?

CC: Hmmm, well. Yeah I think so. I mean historically, well initially, “under the sea” was just our designation of an acoustic version. We started doing acoustic versions all the time, it’s inevitable these days, I don’t think you can really put out a rock record without planning to do at least two acoustic versions of every song. So one of the b-sides for “Rules Don’t Stop” is an acoustic version of that, which turned out pretty well. That’s essentially an “under the sea” version. And we actually recorded some very stripped down two and three part acoustic versions on four tracks to go on to the Japanese release of Barbara, because the Japanese version always has to have extra songs on it, because Japanese CDs – and I don’t know why this hasn’t been corrected, I mean this was the case back in the ’80s and it’s still the case today – CDs in Japan cost like a ridiculous amount of money. They sell them at fifty bucks or something, so the only way to get a person living in Japan to purchase a Japanese version of the album is to include extra stuff on it. They put all the lyrics in Japanese but they also put a couple of extra songs on it. So that’s got some “under the sea” but to be honest you’ve essentially reminded me that we have failed to keep that piece of lexicon in play. We’ll try to get back to it.

Awesome. OK, one of my friends asked me to ask you about your style; do you ever get your hair cut on tour or do you have a specific place you go?

CC: The last time I think I got my hair cut on tour was at a festival in Barcelona. I got a mohawk backstage. I don’t know that I would go for any more subtle hairstyle than that from a backstage-barber but I don’t have experience to say that they’re necessarily incapable of anything. But in that case it was as much a matter of communication being an issue if anything, the haircutter was like really… didn’t seem to speak English, so I sort of pantomimed a mohawk. But no I don’t have any regular stops. I’d like one.

“…so I sort of pantomimed a mohawk.”

You’ve been all over the UK; do you get to see much of it when you’re on tour?

CC: Some of it, sort of like in brief snatches, and by this time we’ve toured the UK so many times that I think I’ve assembled a sort of patchwork picture of things. We’ve had a day off here, a day off there, I’d say we’ve had a day off in most of the major towns and many of the minor towns, yeah I think I’ve seen a fair bit.

Where would you recommend Americans visit if they want to avoid the obvious places?

CC: If you want to avoid he obvious spots… let’s see… well I don’t know how obvious… well I guess it’s second tier obvious but Brighton is certainly a nice spot. Let’s see… I like York actually, York’s kinda cool. I’d say that’s not in most people’s top five. What else? Unfortunately I can’t recommend anything else in England… there’s definitely other towns.

That’s cool, let’s move on. Do you ever read your own Wikipedia?

CC: I have read our Wikipedia page, I don’t keep terribly up to date on it. I’ve probably read it in the last six months.

On your personal one it says you met Keith and bonded over an episode of Dawson’s Creek; is that true?

CC: Yeah I was having a weekly Dawson’s Creek salon, people’d come over and watch when the newest episode aired, I believe it was a wednesday, and Keith came for one of these, he was brought by a mutual friend, I had never met him before but that’s where I met Keith; at a Dawson’s Creek viewing.

Nice. So what do you watch on TV now?

CC: I’m a Dexter fan for sure. I was pretty into Lost for a long time but I stalled out about three episodes from the end of the last season, so I have to catch up, I’m fearfully avoiding inforimation about the current season.

So you’re not going to watch the finale…

CC: I think I will… I’ll watch it eventually. I’ll get the DVDs when I’m on the road on tour at some point.

Any predictions?

CC: Any predictions? Let’s see… I think at the end – the final episode is coming up, what this week?

Yeah, Sunday.

CC: I think in the end it’s going to emerge that they were all part of a Star Fleet training program. They’re all soldiers from Star Fleet and they’ve been in a virtual reality trainer, which will account for all of the oddities of the Lost universe.

That’s probably a more complete answer than the writers will come up with.

CC: Yeah well it has the advantage of encompassing every possible eventuality. But maybe not very satisfying. Hopefully they’ll beat me.

Yeah true. Let’s go back to the band – do you have anything that you’d like to accomplish with your next record that you haven’t done so far?

CC: Yeah definitely, I think there’s a lot of room for even the type of songs we’re currently writing; sort of short, efficient pop masterpieces I can presume a little bit. I mean Weezer remains an incredible inspiration as a band who continue to find ways to pop out three and a half minute incredibly catchy pop ditties even ten years down the line. Although their average is certainly flagging, but that’s to be expected. I think there’s always the possibility that we will branch out into other musical territory if we get bored of this. I don’t think we’d ever get bored of this style of music but we might feel we haven’t anymore to offer to it. In which case rather than hanging up the band I think we would probably just try a different sound.

“I don’t think we’d ever get bored of this style of music but we might feel we haven’t anymore to offer to it.”

That’s cool. Do you think you’d ever do a collaboration with anyone?

CC: Yeah I could see that happening, for sure. I mean obviously by this point we’ve met a lot of musicians, made a lot of friends. I think at some point Keith and I will probably get tired of each other and need to bring some fresh blood into the band in order to keep from throttling one another. I mean, it hasn’t happened yet, that’s a good sign, it’s been twelve years. But I could definitely see a collaboration happen. We’re taking applications, let me put it that way.

Alright! So is there any news on Season 2 of Steve Wants His Money?

CC: Probably not gonna do Steve Wants His Money again, but I think… we are in talks with MTV Europe to do a half-hour sitcom. We haven’t settled on anything, part of the issue is that we just won’t have time to shoot it in the immediate future, we probably won’t have a chance this year to shoot it so it’s all kind of theoretical until we get to the end of this album cycle. We’d like to do a kind of fuller show.

Steve Wants His Money promo

Do you think you’ll still have celebrity guests on it or not?

CC: Oh yeah, oh yeah, celebrity guests are a necessity in television I think. You can still get away with it in music but it’s getting harder and harder, but in television… yeah.

Final question: Any tips of bands to look out for?

CC: Yeah, there’s an incredible band in New York right now called Rewards that is the new project of Aaron Pfenning who was one half of Chairlift and… yeah, Rewards are incredible. They’re fantastic, I just saw them at Mercury Lounge at like 7 o’clock in the evening a couple of days ago and there were about five people there. So still very much undiscovered territory, but…

You should bring them on tour with you next time you come to the UK.

CC: You know if they have more than five fans by the time we do I definitely will.

Barbara is due out June 15th. Check out our release guide for the month of June to see all of the other releases due out this month.