“A part of me withers and dies when Chris isn’t here. It’s like ET’s flower, it’s in me somewhere. I don’t really function quite as well when he’s not around.”
When I meet Keith Murray from We Are Scientists, who braved the snow for a chat, he’s all alone. Sure, I’m there asking him questions, but the most important person in his life is notably absent. While Chris couldn’t make the interview, an upset Keith bravely soldiered on. Currently battling through the weather to bring their ‘American Barbarians’ tour across the UK, it turns out it’s one of the band’s favourite places to visit.
“Our booking agents wisely saved the UK for last. A, if not the, highlight of the world tour! It’s nice to end on a very, very high note.”
If there’s one thing you can say about Keith, he certainly knows to say the right things. But the more he speaks, you can tell that it’s true – We Are Scientists really do love us here in the UK. Despite being American, they even wrote England a World Cup song (‘Goal! England!’) this summer.
“The tour has been great so far. I just went through the mid-tour trench of illness, but I feel really good now,” he says.
With third album 'Barbara' released this year seeing a return to the guitar riff-based power pop of their debut 'With Love & Squalor', Keith reveals that the direct and immediate nature of the songs was partly due to the recording process.
“It ended up being the most fun album to record. Considering it was scheduled to fit our availability and Andy Burrows’ (of ex-Razorlight fame) availability, our producers availability and the fact that we all live in different cities, figuring out the personal schedules and the geography of it was kind of a headache,” he explains of the album, which was recorded in various sessions over a three month period. “We’re not a band who geeks out over studio gear. Messing with microphone placement for three hours is not really our cup of tea. On the first few records, I definitely got a little bit of studio burnout, but this way I had a week of people talking about mic placement, and then two weeks away wishing I was back in the studio talking about mic placement.”
An undeniably lighthearted and catchy album, the only mystery surrounding 'Barbara' is the origin of the album title. Turns out it just seemed as a good a name as any – Barbara.
“That was sort of the rationale. When we were naming this record, the idea of giving it a title seemed really obnoxious,” says Keith. “We were put off with the idea of rifling through random phrases that are benign enough to not seem pretentious, but are referential in some way and signify the whole album. We though, let’s just name it, in the same way that if you named your daughter Barbara, people wouldn’t go, ‘What? Who’s Barbara?!’”
Whilst scheduling conflicts meant that Andy Burrows, now on his solo I Am Arrows project, hasn’t toured the album, he was still an enthusiastic contributor to 'Barbara'.
“He called me when Razorlight were in New York and we met him for drinks afterwards and had a really fun night. We had a really great time, so I just said ‘We’ve been asking people to play on our record, would you be interested in doing a song or two?’, and he immediately leapt on that. A month later he called up and announced that he’d left Razorlight and that he really wanted to play on 'Barbara'. We were like, ‘Woah!’, we didn’t really know what to make of it.”
As he reveals that, if schedules permit, Burrows intends to record the next We Are Scientists album, Keith talks of the friendship that formed between the trio.
“For most of the summer Andy was in New York, I’d moved to Georgia,” he says. “While I was there, Andy and Chris formed quite a friendship which I missed out on. I was the third wheel!”
Having toured the UK during the majority of the student protest, I ask Keith for his opinion on the current situation surrounding the cuts in funding and increased cap on tuition fees.
“It seems ill-advised to suddenly, dramatically change the way that your education system works. It’s interesting when governments just suddenly decide that education is a luxury,” he replies, adding “If we want the government to perform at a higher level as we clearly want it to, it doesn’t seem wise to actively create a scenario where it’s easier for people to remain uneducated. But who am I to say?”
“You’re ‘Keith from We Are Scientists!” I remind him of his position of political authority.
Do We Are Scientists have any appropriate protest songs to play during the opposition to the cuts?
“We don’t really have any protest songs. I think we considered our football song to be the most actively protesting song we have as it was against our own country…”
As the interview winds to a close, I ask Keith which of the science subjects at school was his favourite – Biology, Chemistry, or Physics?
“Definitely physics,” he decides. “I think just because there was so much of it that felt very practically applicable. I was good at biology and chemistry, but I never really enjoyed it. It all felt mathematical in a theoretical way, and I was really into maths, but what I liked about physics was plugging equations into the actual physical world.”Originally published in The Courier
We Are Scientists' latest album 'Barbara' is out now!