Analogue Music | We Are Scientists

We Are Scientists

By Matt Conner

It's odd to hear Keith Murray reference this period as the season where he knows what's doing, musically speaking.

Together with founding member Chris Cain and drummer Keith Carne (who joined in 2013), Murray has been recording and releasing albums for the better part of 20 years as the band We Are Scientists. The band's eighth full-length album, Lobes, is due after the first of the year and it's the product of a growing self-awareness among the members of WAS about their preferences, their process, and their lack of preciousness about their own work.

On the heels of Huffy (2021) and before the release of Lobes, we sat down with Murray to ask about the band's longevity, how their songwriting process has changed, and how much fun he's having making music compared to their early success with Love & Squalor.

Analogue: I want to talk about the new music, but I’d love to hear more about how reflective you are given the fact that it’s rare to even be in a band for this long.

Keith Murray: It’s funny because, at a remove, I certainly recognize that going on 20 years of being in a band is an utter rarity. When I think about other bands that slot in with We Are Scientists, I think of them as being old. [Laughs]

But having our heads down and working on the band, and the fact that it’s just Chris and I now and our friend Keith, it helps to distract from the oddity of the arc of our band, if that makes sense. I do fully acknowledge that we’ve been in a band for a very long time, but it has gone very quickly. I think we still feel as focused on it as we ever were.

Analogue: So there aren’t a lot of internal conversations focused on this subject?

Keith: No I don’t think so. We keep ourselves busy enough that there’s always enough in the present and future to keep us annoyed at how focused we have to be on it. There’s not really a lot of time for reflection.

"It’s good to have editorial self-oversight that we feel that is working. It’s good that we don’t simply indulge everything that we personally think is digestible."

Every once in a while, by virtue of having social media accounts we maintain, we’re presented with incredibly old footage. Chris sent me footage from London and it had to be shortly after Love & Squalor came out from a venue called The Astoria. It was probably midway through that album’s campaign. I think it was around 1,200 capacity venue, which at the time was the biggest show we’d ever played and a band we had playing with us called Forward Russia came out while we were playing “It’s A Hit” and performed the boxing choreography from that video, which I hadn’t remembered in the slightest.

So there is that element of it. I can see something and realize I have forgotten entire moments of my own life. [Laughs]

Analogue: I’m curious because Huffy came out last year and then you have new singles already out again and I wondered if you were a bit more prolific just from having 20 years of creative chemistry.

Keith: I think we’ve gotten better at figuring out our own best practices, I would say. When we first started out and we were more novice songwriters, I think we probably spent a lot more time thinking, ‘Oh, when I’m inspired I’ll write some songs.’ Then between songs, we’d really sweat when we were going to write them.

Now we are much better at writing music constantly knowing that inspiration will come every 15 of those songs. I think we’re just much more comfortable writing about music that we never need to think about again and working at it rather than being scared if there would be any other good songs.

So in that sense, we’ve been working that way for the last 10 years or so, just constantly writing. That’s also why we feel comfortable self-producing. That was an ancillary benefit that appeared without our attention just because we spend so much time recording our own songs and fleshing them out as demos now that we’ve gotten a much better grasp on that side. We’re much better at figuring out which song is a song we should be working on.

Analogue: So this season is no more prolific than normal?

Keith: Well, I think we did have a really big spate of producing many more songs than we even thought we would use. This is the first time that we’ve had enough songs that we’ve pointedly broken them up into two records based on their sound. Usually, our mode is to choose our favorite songs from a crop and then produce them so they fit together more aptly than their demos might. This time we specifically had a crop of songs that lived best in different modes and separated them accordingly.

Analogue: Eight albums in, how much does the songwriting process look like it did in those early days?

Keith: It really hasn’t significantly changed in a decade, I would say. It evolved into the process it is now over the first 10 years of the band, but I think now we’re way less interested in putting so much pressure on each song before we’ve decided it’s even something we care about. I think we used to spend so much time approaching every idea we had as if it were a life-and-death idea. Throwing away lousy songs felt terrible because we’d labored over them. We always felt like songwriting was a lightning-striking scenario.

Now we write as much as we can and every song that we write is really fun. Then after a day of writing, we don’t care if we throw a song out just because we’ve spent a day just messing around. I think we feel much better about having a crop of 120 songs of which 100 are not anything we ever need to publicly display. That feels like a healthier practice, at least. [Laughs]

I also think it pushes us to explore more on all 120 of those songs because we don’t have to worry whether everything we do classifies as We Are Scientists. We don’t have to worry about fitting within even the broad rubric of what a We Are Scientists song is. I think our output is a lot more varied and interesting to us than if all we did was try to write songs that either specifically fit into We Are Scientists or represented a departure from it that we put on the record.

Analogue: So are you pretty relentless on the editing side?

Keith: Yeah, we’re pretty brutal. I definitely have several songs that are among my favorite Keith Murray songs that Chris and Keith are like, ‘Meh, it’s fine. That one feels half-baked to me.” So there are plenty of disappointments, but it’s also nice to acknowledge an approach that’s not necessarily pure indulgence. It’s good to have editorial self-oversight that we feel that is working. It’s good that we don’t simply indulge everything that we personally think is digestible.

Analogue: And that you have that trust with each other to know feelings won’t get hurt—

Keith: Yeah, certainly if I felt Chris was not enjoying anything I was up to, that would represent a pretty jarring and ego-rupturing shift in things. But yeah, it’s certainly not a big deal eight albums in amongst a crop of so many songs that we now deliver to one another. Getting my feelings hurt over a small handful of songs seems like it would represent the height of pettiness. [Laughs]

Analogue: So are you as excited as ever about the actual process?

Keith: Yeah, the way we play now, like I said, is much more pleasurable—just now that we know what we're doing. Now that is just isn't a new activity for us anymore and we recognize our own machinations and biases while we're working, I would say it's more fun than it ever used to be.

VISIT: We Are Scientists

Photo: Dan Monick