We Are Scientists’ Chris Cain and Keith Murray met at Pomona College in 1997. Several years later, they’d take the world by storm.
In the years since the band’s debut, We Are Scientists released six albums that helped define today’s indie rock—before pushing the bar even higher with Megaplex, the group’s seventh album, released in May.
We Are Scientists will be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Saturday, July 14.
During a recent phone interview with Chris Cain, he explained the process the band went through to make Megaplex.
“With each record, I think we’ve been reacting to the music that we were listening to at the time, or a year or two prior,” Cain said. “That’s part of why each one ends up a bit different: It’s our natural shifting tastes and interests. There’s also a very conscious effort on our part to make sure we don’t make the same record over and over again.
“With this one, we consciously set out to incorporate some synth elements and electronic beat elements that we haven’t really dabbled with on previous records. That’s because Keith and I have become more conversant with the software everyone uses, which had never really been a part of our workflow in the past. We figured it was time to learn that stuff and begin that journey during the writing process. … Any of the tools you use to create are inevitably going to create a different result. Combine all those things, and this record for us definitely feels like a pseudo-generational thing that we’ve made. I assume the next one will be earth-shattering as well.”
Many mainstream bands today make music that follows a certain formula.
“There is sort of a new perceived wisdom about how quickly you need to get to the chorus, how quickly you need to get yourself through the first verse, and so forth,” Cain said. “I think that’s true for a certain type of outreach that you are doing with your music. There’s always kind of a balancing act. (You want to) really get your existing fans fired up. These are people who are automatically going to give a new record more time to impress them. We prefer a record that takes a minute to grow on them. You’re balancing that with a desire to reach new people. Poor old U2 got in trouble for trying to reach new people by having their record placed on everyone’s iTunes account a couple of years ago. There’s no point where a musician wants to stop trying to have new people hear what they’re making.”
When the band signed with Virgin Records, the members insisted on using Ariel Rechtshaid, who was then largely unknown, as the producer. Rechtshaid would go on to become one of the world’s most popular producers, recording U2, Adele, Beyoncé and many others.
“We had made a demo with Ariel that ended up on Love and Squalor,” Cain said. “We really loved that, and we made that album without a label and just with a publishing company footing the tiny bill for the production. We thought he totally knocked (that album) out of the park, working on a short deadline and no money for studio time. He really got the best out of us. When it was time to do Brain Thrust Mastery and we signed with Virgin Records, they had a clause in the deal that they needed to approve any producer, and we fought to have an exemption in there that if we wanted to do it with Ariel, they would have to accept that. They didn’t want to do that, but ultimately, they let us. They begged us to consider alternatives—and obviously, history is on our side.”
I asked Cain if he felt like rock music and its subgenres were in a sort of music purgatory right now.
“I’m concerned by it in the sense that I’m attentive to it. It’s a very uncertain time, but I don’t feel a sense of dread,” he said. “I think it’s more that there are a lot of unknowns about how consumer behaviors are going to change and how distribution is going to change—also, the technology for making music and how that will change. I think those all affect how we do our job, and they’re all changing. I don’t know how to predict where they will go. I am concerned, but not in a critical way.”
The unique atmosphere and history of Pappy and Harriet’s does not concern We Are Scientists.
“We’ve sort of managed to entertain in a pretty wide variety of venues in our career,” Cain said. “We’re not the kind of obstinate dudes who refuse to read the room and just do what we want to do. Part of the pleasure of playing live is pleasing the audience.”
We Are Scientists will perform with Beverly at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 14, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53668 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.