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We Are Scientists - Masters of Science

Author: Justin Grey
Thursday, 13 March 2008
Just over two years ago We Are Scientists broke out of Brooklyn with their major label debut With Love & Squalor, cementing themsleves as indie rock kings. Now they’re back with album number two, so 3D’s Justin Grey caught up with guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray.

As well as having their fair share of musical talents, as their hilarious website none too subtly indicates, Brooklyn-based indie trio We Are Scientists aren’t lacking in humour either.

That humour lead to the naming of their anticipated new album Brain Thrust Mastery, whose title was taken from faux seminars the band delivered at universities across the UK.

“The seminars were a fake self-help lecture series that we did,” Murray chuckles. “We’d essentially go to universities and put on a lunchtime lecture with a PowerPoint presentation with interactive self-help exercises and stuff. But it was total, total nonsense, and very clearly nonsense.

“We came up with the phrase ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ randomly in the mood of that self-help style of things like personal power and all those essentially meaningless yet grandiose-sounding titles that are used in that mood. And then it sort of occurred to us that that was essentially the way a lot of bands treat their art as well – they give it a sense of grandeur that’s probably unwarranted. So we thought it was a pretty funny title because it sounds incredibly grandiose, but is essentially totally vacuous. Which isn’t to say that I think the contents of the album are totally without worth.”

Murray has every right to such humble optimism – on Brain Thrust Mastery WAS boldly go above and beyond the vision of their universally acclaimed 2005 debut With Love & Squalor, creating a denser, keys-driven sound that introduces some wonderful sonic surprises.

“It essentially encompasses the two and a half years of touring on our last record,” Murray explains. “As we were touring on that first record for so long – something like two years straight – the things we liked and disliked about it started to become very acute. We got over the idea that all we wanted to do were songs that were just the three of us sounding like we were in a room.

“So that was the only mandate we had, and it was less of a rule than a destruction of a rule. This record was that limitation being destroyed, and then me sitting in our practice space writing knowing that limitation had been destroyed. It wasn’t as if we said, ‘This record needs to have strings on it’, because that’s a pretty awful second record cliché. But now I understand why that’s appetising after touring so long on a pretty spare record like our first one.”

There’s no better example of that embracement of new sounds then the tasteful horn interludes on album closer That’s What Counts.

“It’s pretty funny – initially that song was much more upbeat and I’d written that part to be a lead guitar line,” Murray says. “Those washing harmonies in the chorus were always designed to be, dare I say it, a Hall & Oats style harmony.

“Somehow somewhere in the arrangement process the entire song turned in that direction, at which point the guitar sounded pretty dopey and a keyboard sounded pretty dopey and we realised that that line is gonna have to be a saxophone. It was like, ‘It simply can’t be no other way, it’s gotta be sax’. Oh man, what have we done-”

Opening their canvas up to such experimentation resulted a more fulfilling and challenging creative process for Murray and his partner in crime, bassist Chris Cain.

“The last record was very much the three of us trying to fill as much space as possible with the three instruments,” Murray continues. “Whereas this time rather than say, ‘Well, this instrument will have to do this to fill up the space’, we said, ‘What could we use to fill the space- Let’s try this instead’. So it was nice, and actually a lot more difficult than I had imagined, to think outside of the three instruments that we normally had available to us.

“There were definitely moments when if we were experimenting with something we’d say, ‘Is this making this song too muddled- Is the clarity of the song being affected-’”

While two years of peddling the same ‘spare’ songs provided the catalyst for the expansions that make Brain Thrust Mastery such an impressive listen, it was the prospect of another lengthy bout of touring that played a hand in drummer Michael Tapper’s decision to part ways with the band late last year.

“It came right after the initial round of recording,” Murray explains of Tapper’s departure. “Towards the end of touring Michael got a girlfriend who lived in LA, they became very attached very quickly and he really started hating touring.

“Because he was in LA while the rest of us were working in New York for the most part on the record, he was on the periphery of working on the record in general. By the time the idea of touring on this record came up he was like, ‘I don’t really wanna go on tour anymore’.”

With WAS on tour in Europe at present, Tapper’s role is currently being filled by a session musician, but he’s not the only new face in the band’s live line-up. With hopes of touring Australia before the year’s out they’ve recently added a fourth, multi-instrumentalist member to the fold to aid in the translation of their new material live.

“We have a guy who plays keyboards, sings and occasionally plays second guitar,” Murray states. “It definitely was the direct result of the newer sounds on the new album. We’d been ignoring it for a while thinking, ‘We’ll be able to recreate this record. We don’t need keyboards, we’ll just fill it out with harmonies and stuff’. About half way through the record we started to realise that there was really no way to pull this record off without keyboards.

“But it’s great; I really love having the fourth guy. The guy we got is amazing – the kind of guy that can play any instrument at least competently to insanely well. Right now we’ve been doing a lot of acoustic shows and he can play pedal steel. So now that’s part of our acoustic show, which is about a hundred times better than it was before.”

WHO: We Are Scientists
WHAT: Brain Thrust Mastery through Virgin/EMI
WHEN: Saturday 15 March