Interview: We Are Scientists

By Dom Smith
By March 26, 2018 December 14th, 2018 Features, Interviews

We catch up with Chris Cain of We Are Scientists while the band is (unfortunately) stranded in Paris, to talk about ‘Megaplex’, new inspirations and more.


S] Hi guys, how are you today? 

Been better, been worse. We’re marooned in the Paris airport due to transportation strikes. Currently sitting outside a McDonalds, the only food vendor open, waiting to find out if we can get onto a flight to Berlin in three hours. That Royale with Cheese is looking better and better!

S] What’s motivating you right now, outside of music – think movies, or specific people and places?

We’re in love with the writer/director Craig Zahler. Bone Tomahawk was a doe-eyed optimism to bother hoping that his next movie would match it. Brawl on Cell Block 99, shockingly, beats it. So excited for this dude’s career.

We’re voracious listeners of the Sam Harris podcast. Listening to articulate people talk for two hours has a medicinal effect for brains, like ours, that are addled by Twitter. And it probably doesn’t need to be said, but Ricky Gervais’s new Netflix special is a knock-out, as was Dave Chapelle’s a couple months back.

S] What are the biggest challenges that you face, right now?

Flying to Berlin! But in a slightly broader sense, figuring out how to play some of the songs off of our new record live. Some of the tunes are pretty straightforward three-man rockers, but there are a few that a really synth-heavy, and/or have lots of sampled drums, and/or have six or seven guys’ worth of percussion. We’re generally against heavy use of backing tracks, so it’s going to require some serious contortions to pull those songs off with any fidelity to the album versions. Of course, who says we have to be faithful to the album versions?

S] How do you define success at this point in your careers? 

There are a couple of metrics that we think about, but if I had to choose one, it’d be “where can we tour?” In other words, which cities and countries have enough people willing to buy a ticket to allow us to get on a plane and play a show. Right now that area can only reliably be said to include North America, the UK, and Europe. Australia is shaky but doable. South America, Southeast Asia, and China are aspirations. So, in terms of total square miles, I’d say we’re only very moderately successful.

S] How has your approach to touring your music changed?

Well, for one, we’ve come to prefer a much smaller crew than we used to go out with. Some of that is greed — wanting to keep as much of dat money as possible — but it’s also us getting better at everything. We don’t have a lot of on-stage emergencies anymore, so having stage techs isn’t very important. And we can do a lot of on-the-ground administrative crap ourselves — changing a hotel reservation or collecting money after a show or begging a promoter for ice — which seems easy, but many bands our size quickly see their real-world skills atrophy as they become used to depending on a tour manager. It’s sad! Instead, we’re rolling in dat paper.

S] What about the overall creative process? 

We’ve become much more productive. In days of yore, when it was time to write a new album, Keith would sequester himself for a couple months until he had forced out ten songs. Now he and I write constantly, and participate in semi-weekly “song challenges” with some songwriter friends in New York. This process has us drowning in songs. Of course, many of them suck, but our songwriting muscles are getting stronger, and the best results are getting better and better.

S] What strengths do you draw from each other, personally and professionally? 

We’ve been operating as a team for about 20 years now, so there’s a lot pretty great synergy. I would compare it to Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the Bad Boys films, on whom we did in fact consciously model our partnership. Keith is the adventurous, death-defying combat expert whose lucky streak keeps him alive and keeps the bad guys locked up or in the morgue. I’m more settled down, and bring much-needed prudence to the package, plus a snappy wit. Just kidding: in fact we’re both pretty settled down, and great at combat.

S] How does this new material on ‘Megaplex’ push you in new ways as musicians? 

Well, as mentioned above, some of the stuff has a lot of synthetic aspects, which is something that we’ve both been getting really passionate about, but are still quite amateurish with. We spend a lot of time right now learning how a new soft synth works; or combing through sets of drums samples, trying to find the sick sounds; or watching online tutorials. Keith got me the deadmau5 Masterclass, which I’ve been plowing through, though so far he’s been pretty tight with his SECRETS.

S] What specific experiences inspired ‘Your Light Has Changed’? – where were you, and what were you thinking when that song was built? 

I’ll ask Keith; he wrote that one! … … … He says, “We were in New York.” Then he yawned and turned away. Well, if that doesn’t inspire young songwriters, I don’t know what will!

S] What advice would you give to emerging bands now? 

Take lots of photos of yourself that make it look like you’re someplace cool hanging out with a famous person, and post them on Instagram!

S] What would you say has been a defining moment in your lives? 

Well, musically getting signed to Virgin back in 2004 definitely marked a certain “beginning.” But probably more important to us as human beings was seeing David Wain do standup at a no-defunct weekly show in the East Village called “Invite Them Up.” We definitely talk about that way more.

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