“So, someone just shouts out ‘Jaeger shots!’ and the barmaid walked along the bar and onto the stage with four Jaeger shots and had one with us. We talk about alcohol all the time so it’s probably our fault, but you couldn’t do that at many venues.”
From the sublime to the extremely cramped, Chris Cain describes the forty-eight hours which saw We Are Scientists go from the Other Stage at Glastonbury to a free gig at Manchester’s Deaf Institute sponsored by Sailor Jerry’s. Comparing the two experiences, Cain admits, “I’ve never really liked festival gigs. There’s always bad sound and pockets of silence and they really affect the enthusiasm of the audience. It was nice to play such a small show which we never could have done without the sponsorship. I mean, it was similar to the warm up shows we did for Glastonbury [Cambridge, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Oxford], but this place was way smaller man. We were much more into it and so were the crowd.”
By all accounts, this seemed to ring true in the audience. The Glastonbury set was assertive but disjointed with no crowd reaction to Chris and Keith Murray’s onstage joking and an almost apathetic response to anything released post-2005 followed by uproars and embarrasing middle-aged dancing abound to early hits ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’. In contrast, the Deaf Institute set receives applause across the board with tracks from With Love and Squalor, Brain Thrust Mastery and new release Barbara being appreciated in relatively equal amounts. This difference in atmosphere Cain puts down partly to crowd mix, and partly to all too recent World Cup results. “Ah yes,” he recalls, “right after the elimination. We were really looking forward to playing our song [World Cup themed release ‘Goal!’] because we thought everyone would be on a high after a victory but given the circumstances we decided it wasn’t a good idea”.
Talking about ‘Goal!’ and their 7-episode TV series ‘Steve Wants His Money Back’ with guest stars Edith Bowman and Alphabeat, I ask Cain what drives We Are Scientists towards these bizarre distractions. “I think it’s just who we are as individuals. There are great bands like The Strokes or Interpol who aren’t necessarily sombre but they’re not funny. We like to forcibly expose our audience to absurd nonsense; they don’t seem to mind but I don’t know if they actively enjoy it. Zane Lowe likes you to do a new song when you go on his show and we’d been recently exposed to the phenomenon of the football anthem and listened to our Vindaloos and Three Lions so we thought ‘why not?’ It took like half an hour to write, I think it shows. But the plan is to carry on the TV programme after we finish touring this year.”
Immediate preoccupations, however, rest solely with the promotion and touring of their third album Barbara which is a return to the lo-fi, low hassle and fun experiences of the first album. “Don’t get me wrong, Brain Thrust Mastery is an album I love love love and it was exactly the record we wanted to produce, but it was a very frustrating experience. We had more money and a great studio and it was a kind of ‘spare no expense’ experience, but there was a lot of time and money wasted with new producers and re-recording tracks so I think the new album has been by far the best writing and recording process.” The changes are apparent on the outside as much as anything with the band leaving Virgin Records and recruiting new drummer, former Razorlight man, Andy Burrows. ”We recorded the first album by ourselves so when Virgin bought it it was the finished product. Obviously, for the second album we had full Virgin backing which also involved their input which was good but sometimes you felt obliged to do things you didn’t want to. There were a lot of disagreements in that recording which was partly why [former drummer Michael Tapper] left. This time our studio didn’t have hot tubs or tennis courts but it was good recording ourselves and looking for distributors again, plus Andy really is an incredible drummer. This album definitely has the most positive aura around it”.
Most apparent on the new record is another shift in the band’s style, showing remarkable variety for an outwardly-appearing standard indie rock band. Enough has been made of the Bowie / Eno / Hall & Oates influences but Cain insists these were largely limited to the grandeur spread throughout Brian Thrust Mastery; Barbara, we are told, is a child of late-twentieth century rock. Pixies, Nirvana, Green Day and Weezer are its established godparents and it is an album which We Are Scientists seem much more at home with on the record and in live performance. Talking about the change in direction, Cain tells us “it’s 90% unconscious because it’s primarily the result of us listening to different bands and new bands and changing our tastes. That kind of accounts for songs like ‘Foreign Kicks’ and ‘That’s What Counts’. The 10% which is conscious is because we want to stay as a stripped-down, 3 piece and that’s when things got a bit uncomfortable when we toured the last album with an extra guitarist. For ‘Jack and Ginger’ on the new record there’s this keyboard line and we were thinking ‘can we really put that fucking keyboard line on there?’ and we debated it so we put it on and now sometimes we play it sometimes we don’t.”
So, with a year of touring ahead and potential TV careers to create, We Are Scientists are excited with where they are. Whilst the Deaf Institute and Glastonbury gigs show they’ve retained their ability to wow a variety of audiences Barbara is well-crafted and exciting album which threatens to define them more precisely than any previous work. Cain makes a point which it is hard to disagree with: “Songs will sneak up on you on this record, there’s no chill out tracks which let the audience rest and wait for the next one. They’re all candidates to be your favourite and at some point every one of them probably will be”.
Barbara is out now on Masterswan Recordings and you can stream the video for recent single ‘Nice Guys’ above.