- Sun, 2006-11-12 14:38
After the storming success of their debut album With Love And Squalor, We Are Scientists released 'Crap Attack'; a collection of rarities, videos, b-sides and remixes on November 6th amidst a sold-out UK tour.
I Like Music caught up with bass player and vocalist, Chris Cain before their gig on November 7th at Southampton Guildhall, to chat about the We Are Scientists music-making process, bad habits, and plasma screens.
“I like music because… it can make snakes and bears dance.” Chris Cain, We Are Scientists
ILM: Your first CD/DVD double whammy 'Crap Attack' came out yesterday featuring two new tracks, some rarities, videos, b-sides and remixes. How did that all come about?
Chris: Originally, we conceptualised it as something just for the merch booth and for the website; something strictly for real hardcore fans, because it’s not really a cohesive album in any sense. The reason we wanted to do it was, we made those 12 videos for With Love And Squalor over a year ago before the album was released, and never found a way to release those. And then, we figured that most people hadn’t heard the B-sides. Getting a number 20 single, which I think is the highest we’ve ever gotten, only involves selling something like 6000 singles. Whereas we sold 200,000 copies of the album so it stands to reason that most people who bought the album haven’t heard the b-sides. So we kind of expected that a lot of people would be interested in hearing all the odds and ends that were floating around and it would be nice if we could collect them all in one place for a decent price.
ILM: Of all the tracks featured, the new ones and the b-sides and rarities and even going back to your debut album, which one do you remember having the most fun with laying down in the studio?
Chris: The most recent ones were the most fun. Probably the Bella B cover, Sie Hat Was Vermisst, which is the German one. A German label organised this with a guy called Bella B who’s a pop star in Germany, I don’t think he’s very well known anywhere else, just because he actually sings in German. But we covered his new single, which I think just came out, and our cover is the B-side on his single and he’s going to cover Text Book, which is our next single in Germany, and that’ll be the B-side on ours. Recording it was a lot of fun because it’s’ pretty weird. I did the vocals on that one and they’re kind of Serge Gainsbourg inspired… and in German. So that was kind of funny. And then we had this big thing during the chorus which is an eight part harmony. We did multiple tracks but we did actually sing all eight harmonies, so it was fun to make such a big crazy song.
ILM: You’re playing here tonight in Southampton as part of your biggest ever sold out UK tour, what's been a highlight of the tour so far?
Chris: We’ve had a couple of amazing nights. Belfast was really surprising because, although it was one of the smaller shows, I think it was a 1200 capacity venue, a lot of people were singing along to almost every word of the whole show, B-sides and everything. And you could really hear them, the audience was always audible throughout the whole show, and not in a rowdy way, but they were singing the songs. It’s a really weird experience. Very cool. We’ve had a lot of amazing audiences. Last night in Bristol was remarkably good, the audience were really awesome.
ILM: It must just be amazing to hear people singing your songs that you made that started off as just a lyric and now they’re singing it back to you?
Chris: Yeah. The weirdest, most exhilarating feeling is when they sing along to an instrumental line that you’re playing. I think the first one that any one ever started singing a long to was The Great Escape. When it starts people sing along to the guitar line, [sings ‘dadah, dadah da…’]
But now at these shows they sing a long to the little bass intro to Lousy Reputation, [sings ‘dadadala dalalalaa’] and that’s just crazy. That’s amazing.
ILM: What's your current favourite We Are Scientists track to play live?
Chris: Yeah, lets see… that’s a tough question. Probably, Against All Odds by Phil Collins. We start our show… we walk on to the album version of the song and then half way through we take over and play it live through to the end, that’s pretty fun. Just because it’s so new I think; it’s obviously much worse than any of our actual songs.
ILM: The fans outside [big shout to them] wanted to know what’s with the cats (on posters for the tour and album cover)?
Chris: I’m a big fan of cats. I have two cats at home. Those cats were actually our cats until they were old enough to be given away. They were born to a stray that Michael and Keith took into their apartment back in the winter of 2004 and this stray cat had kittens and they lived underneath Michael’s bed for a few months.
ILM: And now they’re famous!
Chris: Yeah, now they’re famous. I’m a huge cat fan. Michael like cats, Keith doesn’t really like cats. He’s a dog person.
ILM: You create thoughtful melodic epic and well just great rock music.... Please can you describe the We Are Scientists process of making such bloody good music ...
Chris: It usually starts because somebody either has a bill they have to pay or there’s something that one of us really wants that we don’t have enough money for. And I think that’s what they mean when they say that art has to come from this place deep inside of you, this emotion, this powerful need to create… That, for us, is what the need to create is[laughs] when we really need a new 60 inch plasma screen or something. That’s what drives us, so … we go in to the studio and usually a song begins with an idea from Keith, like a vocal melody over a basic rhythm guitar line and we work on it as a full band and just test as many different options and feels for the song as possible. Then we work on bridges and how to make each verse different.
We have a few pretty basic precepts that we try to follow in every song: which is that every verse should be different, certainly no more than two choruses before you do something like a bridge, or just change the song entirely. It’s just trying to keep the song interesting for us, as we have to play it 40 times in practice.
ILM: From one of your first shows at a southern Californian college to your current tour what stands out as a highlight for you, either performing or in your life in general?
Chris: Well… I had a kid in December, and I think the guys are pretty excited about my little guy too, so that’s been a big band highlight. Having a little merch slave on board is nice. What else? Getting signed two years ago was fairly momentous. It’s definitely allowed us to make this a career rather than a hobby.
ILM: And get more plasma screens and stuff?
Chris: My living room! There’s no more than 6 square inches that’s not covered with a plasma screen of one variety or another. It’s a beautiful sight. It looks like a showroom. I’m thinking of putting price tags up just to complete the illusion.
ILM: You can watch your 12 videos that are on your DVD at the same time.
Chris: Simultaneously! It’s a little trick that most people don’t know… if you play all the songs on the album together… it sounds horrible.
ILM: Yeah, don’t do that.
Chris: No, don’t.
ILM: Your famous cover versions feature on Crap Attack – Sigur Ros’ ‘Hoppipolla’, 50s classic ‘Be My Baby’ and Art Brut’s ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’. Who came up with the idea for those, were you singing them in the shower and then…?
Chris: It happens differently for each song. With Art Brut we were going on tour with them in the US for the month of September and in preparation for that we decided to do a split 7” together, so we covered that and they covered Great Escape. Be My Baby is just kind of random I guess. I think we first played that three years ago but we’ve never been much of covers band. We don’t like to play covers live. We only do it when we have to play a really long set and we don’t have enough material ourselves. But if we’re doing a 40 minute set, we don’t ever play a cover. We’ve probably only done like six covers in our entire history of the band.
ILM: The DVD features videos for all twelve tracks from your debut album ‘With Love And Squalor’, can you recall any amusing anecdotes from making any of those videos? Anything that stands out?
Chris: Oh sure sure… There were some nice moments. The shower scene in Great Escape took about an hour and a half to film. [Laughs] So the three of us were just in there in our pants. And the shower was nice, luke warm, so it wasn’t too bad, because it was wintery, like fall outside. That’s funny from an outside perspective, to imagine us in a shower together for an hour.
On the Nobody Move video we all almost died. For every hundred feet of running that actually made the video, we shot probably a mile of running over the course of one day. None of us are anti-athletes by any means, but certainly by that point in our touring careers we were not in very great shape and it almost killed us all.
We’re not going to do another concept that requires us to run!
ILM: The DVD also features the full version of your sold out Shepherds Bush Empire gig earlier this year. How have you found London and the UK generally?
Chris: I like it. The UK is our primary market, for want of a more gentle term. It’s definitely where we do our best shows and where we have most of our fanbase. And since we’ve spent so much time here in the last year, we’ve gotten the chance to explore a lot of the towns. Some of the places we’ve just passed through fairly briefly, but we had a lot of time off in London and a lot of time of in Glasgow and a couple other towns. I feel that we’re actually much better travelled in the UK than most of the people who live here. Most people we meet haven’t been to most of the towns we’ve been to.
ILM: What advice do you have for young talented artists just starting out? And any advice for any youngsters on choosing the right career path and pursuing their dreams?
Chris: The first thing to do is to get a good live show together; good songs and to be able to play them well. We’ve never been a band that’s super nerdy about sound or equipment or anything like that, but I do think it’s important to have a live show that sounds ok. Obviously, this is long before you have a sound guy or tech or anybody helping you out.
So you have to work on it a little bit to make sure everything is coming through ok. Because, that’s how you’ll end up getting a booking agent and a manager to become interested in the band. And I do think those people are pretty crucial to making it past a certain place as a band, unless somebody in the band happens to be incredibly slanted towards music management type stuff and really wants to tackle that sort of thing. It’s not to most people’s tastes. I don’t think there are many people in bands who have the stamina for that kind of administrative crap, and there’s many hours of that ahead before success will be yours.
So, once you feel like you’re at a place where your songs are awesome and you can play them really well, then it’s just about finding a booking agent to help you strategise your live stuff and help get you on some decent bills, and finding a manager to help create other opportunities for you, labels and otherwise. And when it comes to touring, by far the most important factor in getting on other tours, is knowing other bands. So, it’s really more up to you than your booking agent. The booking agent helps you make the tour profitable and helps you figure out the logistics, which is a key thing in keeping the whole business palatable, so you don’t get bogged down in all this administrative stuff. But, when it comes to getting on good tours, it’s usually the relationships of the band that do that.
ILM: How do you stay healthy while touring and dealing with the travelling side of things?
Chris: I think your body adjusts. It was pretty rough the first few months, we got sick a lot and we got incredibly fatigued, but I think you just get used to it. It’s not that awful the lifestyle, it’s not like working in the mines or something, I’m sure that’s far more taxing and people have been doing that for hundreds of years.
ILM: You've got a great website started up around 2000, same time as our site in fact, and even have your own podcast. How important to you think the internet is as a promotion tool for artists? You seem to be embracing it fully? Is that important for new bands?
Chris: I think it’s helpful. I guess you could succeed without it now, but it’s an incredibly efficient way to reach a lot of people, it’s a very cheap way to let people listen to your music. Demos now cost you nothing, you can just put mp3s up on MySpace. It would be foolish not to embrace it, but in theory it’s not necessary I guess.
I don’t think the Internet has replaced a good manager and just having a good team of people helping you out. I don’t think any of the recent… like Arctic Monkeys, or The Twangs, they all got interest very early on from some very talented management who helped them use those tools. They didn’t get their record deals because they had so many friends on Myspace and, indeed, they didn’t get so many friends on Myspace just by themselves.
ILM: Touring means you get to know each others best and worst habits even better... what are the best characteristic and the worst habit of each of you?
Chris: I think they’re both really fun to play shows with, they’re both good on stage, they sure do hold up their end of things. So that’s their best habit, [chuckles] their live abilities.
Worst habits? Michael has a habit of wearing the same clothes for as long as possible during a show, he just puts them on for the show then takes them off afterwards so that he won’t get the rest of his laundry dirty, but that outfit becomes really awful before he finally washes it, and it starts to become almost like a physical barrier to getting around backstage.
Keith? Let’s see… Keith likes to leave his cell phone on at night in the hotel room, and his girlfriend calls him and texts him all night, beep beep beep, and it wakes everybody up, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
We Are Scientists new CD/DVD, Crap Attack is out now, released November 6th 2006.