We Are Scientists, a three-piece band formed in Berkley, California, celebrated breakthrough success with their first studio album, “With Love and Squalor”, selling 100,000 copies within the first six months. Based in Brooklyn, the band is preparing for their European tour this spring to promote their latest album of addictive pop songs, “MEGAPLEX“. Be sure to listen to their futuristic single, “One In, One Out,” from the release embedded below.
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Mehnaz Ladha: Kicking it off with New York City, how does the music scene compare to Berkley and other cities you have performed in?
Keith Murray: When we first moved to New York, it was sort of the direct hub of emerging art rock music. It’s kind of dissipated since then, and Los Angeles has reclaimed its role as the center of American music. Even Nashville has taken the struggling artist population away from New York.
Berkley didn’t have any well-functioning music clubs. There was a punk club a few blocks from our house, at the time that was sort of a historically-relevant, punk club, called 924 Gilman Street, where Green Day and bands like that played long before they had any real audience. But, we didn’t take that club seriously at all. We were very snooty about how snooty they were about being strident punk.
One thing about New York is that it’s definitely very inclusive and affords everyone access and availability to a huge swath of different cultural options which is nice. Berkley was folky, whereas, in New York, you could see folk. You could see punk. You could see jazz. You could see genres that I legitimately wouldn’t know or recognize the name of.
ML: So, what’s been your favorite city to perform in?
KM: As a band, we commercially do best in the [United Kingdom]. Our biggest and rowdiest shows tend to be over there. Glasgow, Scotland might be my favorite town to play in. It’s not particularly a big town, but they make up for it with unbridled enthusiasm every time we play. Meeting the ratio between the size of the show and enthusiasm of the audience, Glasgow has it for me.
ML: What was your first real exposure to music? How did you get inspired to create your own and eventually pursue it as a career?
KM: It’s a pretty standard story to blame it on an older sibling, but I did have an older sister who was very enthusiastic about music. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this was in the late 80’s and she was in her early teens. She was very into the hair metal/glam rock of the time. The first bands I knew the most about were bands like Bon Jovi.
For better or for worse, she gently instilled in me the idea that music is something that you could be very fanatical about and have as a signifier of your interests overall. The bands she was into were very much central to her overall character with her friends. That’s sort of what influenced me, seeing music as a sort of ethos.
Then I started getting into metal in my teens. My sister was probably the biggest influence, and she is also indirectly responsible for me playing the guitar. Given her enthusiasm for those bands, she demanded my parents buy her a guitar for her birthday, which they did and which she never played at all. It was therefore hoisted upon me, and that’s essentially how I became a guitar player. My parents paid good money for this guitar and darn it, somebody in that house was going to play it.
KM: Well, I actually sold it. Given her taste in music, it was a hot pink Kramer which was the sort of hair metal guitar of the day. Once I realized that I was going to keep playing the guitar, I sold it to buy a more reasonable guitar. But, then of course as these things happen, about ten years later, I really came to regret that. I really wanted that hot pink guitar back, so I sought it out and went on a Craigslist-aggregator site. I found some guy in Tampa had that same exact guitar, not the one I had, but the same model and color.
My parents live in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area so one day, I decided to drive from Miami to New York with a pit stop on the west coast of Florida to buy the guitar from him. It turned out he was a We Are Scientists fan. I think there must be something in our music that retains that seed of that guitar, because this dude that wanted a hot pink Kramer also likes We Are Scientists.
ML: That’s an incredible story! To create music, and traveling to promote it, must be such a feeling. What’s the most impactful and meaningful part you cherish about it? Does the travel help inspirationally?
KM: The dirty secret is being in a touring band is that you don’t actually get to see all that much of the places you go to. Like, if friends of mine ask me where to go in Paris, I can tell them which bars near the venues we played at are the best ones to go to. But, that isn’t nearly a good representation of which bars, cafes and best places to go. I know that if you’re playing in [Quartier] Pigalle, there are a couple of bars within a four-block radius that are pretty good.
I would say that the on-tour camaraderie is the biggest takeaway from every tour. When you go with another band, you’re bonding with them every night and going to those three bars that are three blocks from the venue. It becomes the exciting constant of every show. Being in a new place every day with the stabilizing force of your tour mates is probably the best part. It’s sort of similar to tourists ensuring they have a great travel partner, so that even when your day of planned travel doesn’t go as you hoped there’s still that mitigating factor of having a great companion with you.
KM: When we first moved to New York, it was sort of the epicenter of very, very specific genre of music that was developing: an artsy dance. That became the exact thing that we were. When we were in California, we were very much California-jangly, pop and a little punky. We moved to New York, and quickly became angular.
Being on tour has mitigated those specific effects. A nice thing about travel is that it ideally gets you out of your rigid worldview. By definition, it has to have an effect, if not on your taste, but at least your palette and what you’re willing to consume. Part of the problem I have, as a vegetarian, is that I won’t really get to dive into local cuisines as my bandmates would. Everything I get sort of has to be modified and it’s a pretty terrible way to go. It always makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong.
One nice thing about music is that there definitely shouldn’t be those constraints on what you’re willing to explore. It’s simply nice to try to break out of the conventions that you will have unwittingly built around your own tastes and views as a musician by living in one place and moving amongst a pretty constrained population.
ML: That last bit leads directly into my next question. One of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling, not only to influence people to see and appreciate our beautiful world but to also minimize cross-cultural divides. What effect does traveling, specifically surrounding music, have on humans in this regard? How has it broadened your perspective of the world?
KM: It has a bifurcated attack on your sensibility. In the one sense, simply by traveling and getting outside of your normal day-to-day, status-quo mode of living subconsciously or not, it makes you realize the things you consider norms are anything but. They’re simply your norms because you’ve adopted them. They’re functionality, pragmatism or attractiveness is often totally based on your own commitment to them.
On the other hand, one thing we have always felt and remarked on about touring five continents is that people tend to be all the same. It’s very easy to connect with people casually and personally. I’m always amazed at how many mutual interests I have with people in Osaka, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. Those two aspects together, recognizing how fundamentally similar people are despite all the different cultures, also allows you to dive into other cultures without necessarily recognizes a barrier that might exist. When you go and meet people, especially like us who are actually working there and dealing intimately with a large group of people working there, those people have invested interest in taking care of us and getting us invested in whatever city we are in. It’s very easy to slide into different worlds that in a way on paper doesn’t necessarily translate.
ML: Your newest “MEGAPLEX” album drops on April 27th. Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind and excitement for the release.
KM: For this album, we were very excited about the process of production. We’ve made every record with friends of ours as the producers, but this time our producer, Max, who helped us with our last record, “Helter Seltzer”, was on tour for a few months leading up to the actual recording. So, we had a lot of time to sit on the songs while waiting for him to be available. We sort of rolled up our sleeves and got involved in actually trying to produce the songs ourselves. A lot of times, that just caused a further headache for Max when he finally did arrive. He was like, “What are you idiots doing?” Then, a lot of times, we would stumble on different approaches and angles of attack that we wouldn’t have if we gone in as a three-piece rock band and said, “Max, here we go.”
We always sort of dabbled in synthesizers and electronic beats, but having these songs and no place to physically record with our instruments led to us doing more electric arrangements at home. There’s a lot of electronic drone arrangement that we got attached to and found really cool. This is probably our most “poppy” record even just by the metric of saying that there are a lot of production approaches that lean toward what you would hear on top-40 radio, which is sort of an interesting approach for us. We’re really excited about that simply different viewpoint on a lot of these songs. There still is a “We Are Scientists” sound that doesn’t really get buried no matter what kind of production approach we take.
ML: We like to ask well-traveled individuals like yourself if they have destinations that they haven’t been to yet but need to see. Do you have any particular places on your list?
KM: I’ve long been trying to get down to Patagonia. As you might imagine, we don’t get a lot of offers to play down there. Patagonia is such an endeavor, and I rarely have that kind of block of time available without something coming up. It remains a distant desire.
I think I’m going to Croatia this summer, which somehow I never managed to get to despite having been to many of the bordering nations. I also of want to go boating around Sweden. Those are sort of the three that keep coming up when talking about future vacations.
ML: Lastly, what do the next couple of months have in store for you and the band? What are you most looking forward to?
KM: The next couple months are just promoting the record and then touring pretty heavily on it. In March, we’re going to Europe to do a small promotional tour. We’re essentially going to Berlin, Paris and Madrid to talk to journalists about the record. It’s exciting to me right now, but I know when I get there that I’ll be mad that I’m in Paris for eight hours, six and a half of which are going to be interviews and the other hour and a half will be driving to and from the airport. That said, I’m still far enough away from it that I’m excited about getting to hang out in major European capitals.