Interview with Keith Murray from We Are Scientists

With their fifth studio album Helter Seltzer, New York’s Indie-rockers We Are Scientists delivered the perfect album for the upcoming summer. Most of the songs on it, like “Buckle”, “In My Head”, “Too Late” or “Waiting For You”, are extremely catchy. Believe me, I haven’t been able to stop listening to the album for weeks now. So, in case you didn’t catch the drift by now: you really have to give it a listen if you haven’t already! But before you start (remember you won’t be able to stop listening for a while), read our interview with Keith Murray, one half of We Are Scientists below! He chatted about the recording process of Helter Seltzer, its crazy album cover, touring life, if they ever thought about quitting and so much more:
Melissa Wilke: With Helter Seltzer you wanted to create an all out pop album. Why did you choose this direction for the band?
Keith Murray: It’s just what we were interested in, at that moment.  We’ve made five albums of increasingly poppy music, so it seemed like a fairly natural progression for us. We’ve certainly not given up on our love for writing hard rock bashers, but it felt like it would be a fun experiment to try to shoot for a more pop-centric sound than is usual for us.Melissa Wilke: Did the recording process from this album differ to the last? If yes, how?
KM: Every record has been different. For the last record, we spent three weeks in the New York City’s legendary Magic Shop (sadly, the studio has since closed, not directly because of anything we did – I think!) and then finished up in our producer’s subterranean studio. This time, we took a more holistic approach – we rented an empty space in a warehouse in Brooklyn and built a studio of our own. We went in there every day for three months and treated recording like a 9-to-5 job. It was a refreshing change of pace, not having to heed the time-sensitivity and financial burden of being on a third-party studio’s clock. It let us be a little more experimental and to feel less under-the-gun than is usual for us, when recording.

Melissa Wilke: Do you have a favorite song on the album? What makes it special to you?
KM: I like them all, really, but Too Late is a big favorite of mine. It feels especially poppy to me, what with all of the bleepy synth sounds and largely electronic drums. Plus, it’s got a killer melody and a fun middle-eight breakdown.

Melissa Wilke: We love the album cover of Helter Seltzer! Can you tell us the story behind it? How the hell did you come up with it?
KM: We wanted a cover that would reflect the “helter skelter” aspect of the title, so we just made a jumbled list of inspirational elements we wanted to include – it’s got Illuminati-grade intrigue, Eyes Wide Shut-style sleazebags, and the helicopter from the beginning of The Running Man. It’s got alcohol and cats and acrobats. Pretty much everything we like.

Melissa Wilke: You’ve been a band for 16 years now, that’s quite a long time! How did you manage to stick together for all those years? Has there ever been a moment when you wanted to quit?
KM: There hasn’t been a moment when I’ve wanted to quit, no. I suppose there have been times when I wondered if we *should* quit, in the name of maintaining our financial, emotional, and physical well-being. But being in a band with your best friend makes it pretty easy to get over the difficult hurdles and plow forward with the more exciting and rewarding aspects of being in a band.


Photo: Shervin Lainez
Melissa Wilke: You’ve been on tour since April this year, and you have shows scheduled until mid-October (so far). Do you enjoy the touring life or do you prefer the creative process of writing and recording new music?
KM: Both have their benefits. It’s pretty great to be able to travel and see foreign lands and have people applaud for you. That said, it’s also pretty great to be at home with your loved ones, not living in your own filth.Melissa Wilke: How do you pass the time when you’re on tour and traveling a lot? Do you have any wild hobbies or maybe even some stupid games you invented?
KM: I’d estimate that we spend about 80% of our downtime searching online for the best places to eat and sleep. Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google, this one physical book we have called Road Food – all and sundry are mined in an effort to maximize our touristic experience. Sometimes it pays off – we spent a day off on this last European tour eating tapas, slurping sangria and swimming in turquoise waters below an ancient fortress in Tossa De Mar, Spain. Sometimes, we fail – on the very same tour, we waited until the last minute to find a place to sleep in eastern Switzerland, and so, at about 3:00am, we spent way too much money on a single, hostel-style room for the whole gang. There was no hot water and the streets outside of the hotel were – according to our tour manager – lousy with muskrats.

Melissa Wilke: What have you planned after the shows in October? Will there be more tour dates?
KM: There will probably be a few more tour dates, but I expect we’ll slow down a bit and start focusing on writing the next record. We’re hoping some random touring will present itself – we’ve got our eye on India -but it’s been over a year since we recorded Helter Seltzer, so I’m getting the itch, again.

Melissa Wilke: You are celebrating the 10th anniversary of “With Love And Squalor” with a special performance at the El Rey on July 16th. What can we expect from the show? Do you have anything special planned?  
To us, the fact that we’re playing the entirety of that album is pretty unusual – we had long ago left three or four of those tunes for dead. We did a similar show in NYC in May, and I was really impressed at how awesome the second set – full of all of the post-With Love and Squalor hits – was. I think that second set on its own was my favorite We Are Scientists show, ever.

Melissa Wilke: Do you have a certain fond memory of that album era which you want to share with us?
KM: It was just really fun to be a new band, totally wide-eyed and naive about the music industry [n.b. – my phone auto-corrected that to “them suck industry”], slowly finding our footing and building a fan base from scratch.   It was exciting to go from total anonymity to playing on festival main-stages in a matter of months.

Melissa Wilke: Which artist or album do you have on repeat currently?
KM: We’re all really into the new Mitski album, and, of course, we’re always excited about PAWS, who released a great new record just this week.

Melissa Wilke: Can you recommend any new upcoming bands to our readers?
KM: See above!

For news, tour dates, media and social links, check out We Are Scientists’ homepage here.

Melissa Wilke

Editor-in-chief | After two years in PR, I now work as an Account Manager in an advertising agency in the beautiful city of Duesseldorf. I’ve been blogging for 7 years on several websites and started working as a freelance writer for music magazines in 2013. I believe in the social value of music and its power to change the world for the better. My favourite bands/artists are Green Day, Enter Shikari, Linkin Park, Marmozets, SWMRS, Lana del Rey, Paramore, Foo Fighters, Nirvana and too many more to list them all.

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