Looking back on his days as piss-taking king of comedy Dennis Pennis, actor Paul Kaye once cited in an interview that to get himself warmed-up for thrusting a microphone in the faces of stars of the screen and beyond, he used to rack up a line of speed and a host of double Jack Daniels to take the edge off.
Being escorted through the labyrinth backstage area at the O2 Academy in Leicester during Handmade Festival, I might not have had such a winning combination coursing through my veins, but I’d certainly drank my fair share of ales that afternoon. Not so much in preparation for the interview I was on my way to, but more down to it being a three day festival and having the Friday off work.
Meeting up with We Are Scientists in their dressing room, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when I saw Keith Murray getting stuck into the drink; carefully choosing which instrument to utilise out of the assortment of drinking paraphernalia on show. Whilst Keith laboured over what citrus combinations would best suit his drink, I sat with bassist Chris Cain and drummer Keith Carne to discuss their current UK tour and the previous days outing to Meriden in the West Midlands.
Prior to the interview, the team had already been in the UK for a number of days, kicking off their tour with an In-store down South at Rough Trade East. “We took the usual measures of making sure our first night in London was truly punishing” comments Keith, joining us at the table with his expertly made beverage. “…and then we had a day off in London that we made sure hurt us – as maximally as the body can handle without, you know, being hospitalised”
“That’s how you train yourself to crave work.” Smiles Chris. “You can almost create a Pavlovian response in your body where, when the idea of work or a show is brought up, you become more excited and energetic. It’s a very useful tool. We’ve had three curries. Did I count right?” Chris looks to the two Keith’s; drummer Keith stifling a laugh.
The comedic timing and expertly applied poker faces that Chris and Keith employ are what first brought them to my attention. It was a real treat to find out that the men behind the incredible debut ‘With Love And Squalor’ were perennial piss-takers, keen to turn press interviews into an impromptu comedic battle between the two. It therefore came as no surprise to have the topic turn to curry within minutes of the interview, subsequently how it shares connections with their live performance. “It’s hard to say the festival – great as it may be – has imported the best curry in Leicester.” Shrugs Keith. “When you’re cooking for that many people, it’s hard… It’s like the way when we play for this many people, our show suffers tremendously.”
“Whereas in a one on one, it’s the fuckin’ best in the world” adds Chris, going on further to get the big laugh in the room “Once tonight is done, we’re past all the shit.”
Their latest UK visit coincides with the release of their new album ‘Helter Seltzer’, their fifth in just over ten years. “Fifth time no harm. No harm in going for a fifth one.” Beams Chris, and I find it’s now me having to stifle laughter. A follow up to ‘TV En Francais’ and its accompaniment ‘TV en Francais, Sous La Mer’, the new album sees Keith and Chris working with a relatively new crew, made up of friendly faces from the last couple of years. “Our old keyboardist, Max Hart, produced it. It’s the first time he’s ever produced a record that wasn’t a total piece of shit.” Confirms Chris with a laugh, continuing “This was the first time that Chris Coady has mixed our record; he produced our last one, but he’s quite a renowned mixer as well. It’s also the first time world renowned mastering engineer Gregg Calbi has mastered…”
“First time his bid to master has been accepted” interrupts Keith, as Chris laughs and agrees. “He wore us down – His enthusiasm’s infectious”
It’s also the first album to feature Keith Carne, who has been on the road with We Are Scientists for a number of years as their live drummer/fellow drinker. Keith already works with Max Hart on a project out of New York, so was able to infiltrate the latest album with ease. Pre-production work began in their delightfully sounding “rat infested” “man cave” where the pair would get to work on ideas for the two men up front, as Keith explains “We would just basically go through Keith’s demo’s and figure out – where are there places we can slightly deviate from the feel or see what directions we could push it in – Then present a whole lot of different possibilities to these guys who would come in with fresh ears.”
Leaning into the conversation, Keith brushes his fringe away from his face and adds “Turned down every single one of them…I’m giving you the demo’s – let’s stop wasting everyone’s time here and get those mixed!”
The chuckling drummer admits defeat, as Chris brings the conversation back round to its natural conclusion “So many different POV’s colliding. Then the rats had their desires as well…”
The release of Helter Seltzer was preceded by a number of video releases, from the expertly animated spectacle of ‘Classic Love’ to the triumphant story of the dancing woman who solved the bee extinction crisis in ‘Too Late.’ The duo have long been known for churning out hilarious videos for their songs, with past themes including werewolf transformation, protecting the world from aliens and double dating with a pooch. ‘Buckle’, the first single taken from the new record, sees Keith hurling all manner of food and drink perishables in the face of Chris. A sure sign of a decade’s worth of pent up aggression?
“That was actually a good depiction of what happens on a fairly regular basis” admits Keith cooly. “I wasn’t aware that anybody was filming anything or that anything unusual was going on”
“I placed the cameras anticipating another round of abuse” nods Chris. “I wanted to document the abusive nature of the relationship. When I tried to show it to some friends we had in common, in the hopes of gathering a little bit of a quorum to help intercede in this awful behaviour, I was told that it looked really cool and we should use it for a music video. Wasn’t really the result I was after”
The perfect introduction to their latest record, Buckle is a sure-fire indicator that We Are Scientists have not missed a beat in the decade following their debut album. An incredibly infectious chorus is nothing new for this pair and the tracks throughout Helter Seltzer excel.
Away from their new record, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of With Love And Squalor in the US, so a number of shows are planned for New York and Los Angeles to commemorate this momentous occasion. The UK release actually celebrated its anniversary last year, something which fans (myself included) hadn’t realised. “You know, when fans mention it online, we don’t delete their comments.” Says Chris, the two Keith’s laughing in unison. He continues “Really it would be wildly inappropriate for us to do anything over here this year.”
“Probably something big for the centennial” confirms a smiling Keith.
With beverages depleted and time ticking on, I was keen to get some insight into the Keith and Chris back then compared to the two men that sit before me. Of course, the answer was as expected.
“I mean, every day I use that damn juicer it feels like a miracle.” Says Keith, harking back to his instrument of choice when putting the finishing touches to his drink when we first sat down. “I dreamt about it as a kid. I listened to Bon Jovi records and U2 and thought – god damn it, someday like those guys, I’m gonna have a juicer backstage, somewhere. Juice THE FUCK out of some things.”
“Whatever things are presented, that didn’t even matter” adds Chris; content to catch me hook, line and sinker.
“I didn’t know music, so I didn’t know what kind of things you get to juice.” Says Keith, making an exaggerated hand movement. “Turns out it’s standard stuff – Limes, lemons, citrus.”