WE Are Scientists are bringing their tour to Manchester in May. Our entertainment reporter Ellie Doward spoke to bassist Chris Cain ahead of their show to find out what fans can expect from the tour and their new album…
We Are Scientists are indie rock veterans, although they reject the indie rock label in favour of a genre they have invented: Helter Seltzer. This is also the name of their fifth and latest album which they are describing as their most poppy album yet. They’re also my favourite band, so, understandably, interviewing bassist Chris Cain was both amazing and terrifying.
If you have seen any interviews with Chris and lead guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray, or any of their comedy YouTube videos, you’ll know that the two together are funny, fast, witty and occasionally like to mess with press by giving utterly bizarre answers to questions. Speaking to Chris, I was expecting some of this wonderful weirdness, and I wasn’t disappointed. When I told Chris I was a huge fan, he answered: “Explain that to me. How did that happen?”
When I asked about the new album, Chris described it as the most pleasant recording experience the band had ever had, having made it with producer Max Hart, who played keyboard for the band in 2010 before moving on to work with Katy Perry.
“He rented a space in Dumbo in Brooklyn and we just kind of sat in there for three months and at a very leisurely pace, over many beers, just kind of recorded the album,” Chris explained.
It was super laid back, super pleasant, no ticking clock.”
But what about their new music? Their last album, 2014’s TV En Francais, was panned by the NME, who described it as ‘indistinctive post-punk-flecked indie rock’. I wondered if they had taken Helter Selzter in a different direction.
“Despite being a great crop of pieces of music, it also sounds different for us and a lot of that is down to Max bringing a real pop sensibility.
“We’ve always been a very eager to please band, but Max brought a lot of textures in terms of keyboards and drum samples that are new to We Are Scientists.
“The songs are perhaps poppier than the last record as they’re very chorus focused; the chorus is always this explosion that’s always got a big hook in it whereas the last record was more cool and indie with understated choruses.
“This one plays a lot more by the pop playbook.”
The band has said that Helter Seltzer is a phrase that describes their sound, though Chris explained how they coined the phrase when one of them mumbled it drunkenly on a night out.
“We realised it was an interesting way of describing our sound in this era of micro-genres like yacht-rock and surf-rock, there’s this idea that almost every band has their own genre.
“We thought Helter Seltzer was a nice way of describing us because it’s got the Helter Skelter element which is rock and roll, unruly, mayhem…we like to try and come off that way sometimes, but we’re also incredibly eager to please the listener, we love pop music, and that’s the Seltzer element – really refreshing.”
Seltzer is not, as I had previously thought, a made up word, but another name for fizzy water, which made Chris’ comment about the album being a ‘refreshing, healthy alternative to soda pop or cocktails’ make much more sense.
The latest and possibly most refreshing single from the album, ‘Too Late’, was recently released with a rather strange accompanying video, made up of a random patchwork of pre-1950s archive footage into which Keith and Chris occasionally insert themselves.
“For this video, we took literally random elements and tried to collage together something that felt like it resonated with the song,” Chris expanded.
“It was really one of the things that kind of emerged on its own: put a bunch of elements next to each other and listen to the song over and over, and it came together.”
With the mystery of the video (sort of) unravelled, I turned to the band’s upcoming tour. They will play Manchester Academy on May 3, which Chris assured me he was excited about, both for the fans and the town’s historical figures.
“It’s one of our favourite towns to play; the calibre of fan is very high and it’s also a nice town and a fun town to walk around, especially the burgeoning canal area.
“Last time we were in Manchester we found the Anthony Burgess museum which was quite the discovery – we’re huge Anthony Burgess fans and it was great to find a kind of official monument to him in his home town.”
Putting museums and Manchester hotspots aside, I wanted to know what fans could expect from the gig, reminding Chris of a show I went to see them play when a fan threw a pair of black tights up onstage. Chris proceeded to put them on his arms like emo-esque gloves and say “now we’re just like My Chemical Romance.”
“Manchester is a great town because that’s the kind of energy that the audience brings to the show.
We’re a professional enough band that even if the audience is super boring and lame we know how to put on a really good show, but better by far is when the audience is looking to spill their energy up on the stage – that’s usually the kind of show we get in Manchester.
“As to what it will produce there’s no telling,” Chris said, ending the interview on a jokey note, “It’s like when I dove into that archive of footage – who knew what kind of movie might emerge? It’s the same when you play Manchester.”
Helter Seltzer comes out on April 22. As well as their show at the Manchester Academy, you can catch the band when they play Kendall Calling and Lakefest this summer.
By Ellie Doward
Stay tuned to quaysnews.net for a review of We Are Scientists new album ‘Helter Seltzer’ and their Manchester show…