And here is the second half of my backstage interview with We Are Scientists prior to their show on 21 January at D.C.’s Black Cat. Just like the first half of this interview, we had to overcome interruptions and background noise throughout. But this did not distract Chris Cain (bass / backing vocals) from being so candid about his opinions on American vs. UK music media and both him and Keith Murray talking excitedly about their ‘bands to watch’ picks for 2010. Listen below to the audio of this half of the interview, with the transcription below and beyond the cut.
**To save disk space, the audio file that originally went with this post has been removed.
Editor’s note: If you missed part 1 of this interview, walk this way. Many thanks again to Chris and Keith for their time and Zane for helping me set this up.
So the first advertisement I ever saw of your band was in the gigs listing section in the back of a copy of MOJO.
If you were wondering, the feature article was about Led Zeppelin.
And it was of a tour were on basically going around England basically in support of ‘With Love and Squalor’ with the cats. And with MOJO being an English music magazine, I automatically and wrongly assumed your band had to be English. Do you get that a lot?
Chris: We used to get that. I feel like we haven’t recently.
(ignore the Black Cat staff member talking about stickers and removing WAS’s dinner plates)
Chris: So yes, we did used to. On the first record I think we got it quite a bit. I guess people have gotten to know us better. We used to get that, it used to, uh, be a surprise to people that we were American. Like we’d start talking to a fan after a British show or something, when you’re outside and they’d be like, (affecting bad English accent) “are you a fuckin’ American?” And like, “uh, yeah, like, what are you talking about? Yes.” (then back to English accent) “Oh man, I thought you were British!” “Uh, nope!”
The Brits and Europe in general have really taken a shine to you. What do you think it is, your sophistication? Your droll humour?
Chris: I mean, the looks don’t hurt, uh…let’s see. You know, I don’t know. Part of me thinks it was just haphazard timing essentially, when we happened to get a bite in the UK before we did in the U.S. We got a little bit of radio play, and we decided to really push it and try to support it, we toured the hell out of it. This was 2005, summer. Uh, we had just finished the record in the spring, we did South by Southwest [a Austin, Texas music industry festival], uh, Steve Lamacq came to our show there. He’s a big British tv..er…radio guy.
Yeah, I’m sort of friends with him. Sort of. I talked to him on the radio once…
Chris: Nice, he’s awesome. He started playing ‘Nobody Move…’, that we toured with Editors, we toured by ourselves, we went there like three times that summer. We released our album in the fall. And basically did not have a lot of time for the U.S. So that whole first record, we… I think we toured the U.S. once that record. Or maybe one and a half doing a couple coastal things as well. But…and the label quickly focused its money, like its expenditures on over there because that’s where it was happening. Um, and it’s like your fate is chosen at that point. You know, the second album comes along, obviously we’re going to privilege the UK because that’s where we would play bigger shows, you know, that’s where the business is. We’ve never focused on the U.S. in the same way. And it’s harder to focus here too.
Yes, I saw some impassioned pleas from British fans on your Facebook page wanting you guys to play there.
Now presumably you guys will be playing, hitting UK music festivals.
Chris: We will be, yeah.
And you’re playing South by Southwest in March?
Chris: We are, yes.
So you mentioned you played there before. What are your feelings on the festival from like a band / business perspective? Because some people have told me it has actually changed focus, from where it would formally be for labels would go to discover bands, and some people have gone and have told me that it’s changed, it’s become more of a fan’s festival.
Chris: South by Southwest? Yeah, I mean, [now] it seems like there are still a lot of industry people there for sure. But obviously, there are a lot of bands playing who don’t need to be signed. (scoffs) Like very big established acts. So, in a sense it’s like a strange hybrid I think, there are still a lot of unsigned bands there showcasing, and very likely, people do still get signed there. Uh, yeah, the aspect of the festival that has grown substantially over the last 5 years is the more traditional festival side which is established acts coming in and playing for decent money in front of, essentially, fans.
And from the fan’s perspective since you’ve been there before, I’m presuming you’ve seen bands there. What acts do you recall impressed you there?
Chris: Let’s see…I saw the Cribs there, I’d seen them before though…but…they’re always good.
Like I mentioned to you they were here on Tuesday.
Chris: Yeah, very good. Let’s see…I saw there the New York Dolls, that was the only time I’d ever seen them. They were not good. Uh…you know what, didn’t break my heart though. Part of the problem with South by Southwest is that you always drink so much, that your take-away is very minimal in terms of memories! (laughs) You don’t actually go home with too many…
Is that something I should …I’m not going this year…something I should avoid in future years?
Chris: Well yeah, if you want to…
I’m not going this year, but I’ll probably go to CMJ…
(I am taken away, temporarily, to get ‘processed’ by venue staff. Don’t worry, this was actually a lot less painful than it sounds. And then I return…)
So we were talking about, uh, South by Southwest and music festivals…what have been your favourite music festivals to play? Anywhere in the world.
Chris: Um, Reading and Leeds has been a, been a great festival for us. We’ve done it three times. And um, it’s been cool to watch that specific festival get better and better for us. Uh, we’ve had really fun, random festivals… (asks Keith) What’s the Valencia one?
Mary and Keith at the same time: Benicassim!
Chris: Benicassim. Yeah yeah. That was an amazing one a couple years ago.
Chris: It was pretty hot, yeah I don’t remember it being that off-putting though.
Keith: (to Chris) We played at night.
Chris: Oh yeah. But even walking around the crowds during the day. A festival that I remember being brutal down there was the Madrid leg of…
Keith: Parking lot?
Chris: What is that festival called? Summer…
Chris: Primavera, yeah. Primavera is Madrid…there is a Barcelona show and a Madrid show.
Keith: It was an amazing line-up, terrible location.
Chris: The Barcelona show has a great location.
Is there a lot of dance music at that festival?
Chris: There…I think there was had a dance tent.
Keith: For Spain, it was very non-dance.
Chris: It was definitely a rock festival. Spain is weird, they have these great rock festivals. If you sell a 1,000 rock records there, you’re like huge. Like, they can’t sell rock records there. It’s just a category. They basically buy traditional Spanish music or like, the modern off-shoots from that. Rock music does not move there. And yet you go to these festivals and 10,000 people show up for your set, it’s weird. Don’t understand it.
While we were talking before we started this, the BBC, magazines and blogs have published their ‘bands to watch’ 2010 lists.
Chris: Ohhh… (intrigued)
What bands are you guys listening to right now? Are there any known or relatively unknown bands that you expect to go on to great things this year?
Chris: Ahh…Keith, do you have any hotly-tipped bands?
Keith: Um, I mean, it seems like everybody is acting like the Drums are really gonna do it. I think the Drums are awesome, I think their act is really good. I do feel like they’re one of the bands that, if it happens, and I’m not even convinced it will…I’m sure it will be by force, sheer force will by the press and industry. I don’t think there’s anything organic about what’s happening with the Drums. Which is funny because do I think they’re awesome. But they were insanely hyped from the beginning and like, just became that band that…
Chris: Do you think it’s all based on the name? Did they nail it with the band name?
Keith: People love drums! (to Chris) What do we ask for most in our mixes?
Chris: Drums up a little bit. More drums.
Keith: When you ask to bring up the drums on their records…it’s fuckin’…
Chris: …you bring up everything.
Keith: What you want is everything!
Chris: That’s true, that’s true. It’s clever…
Keith: Clever move on their part!
Chris: Clever, yeah. What else…who else is coming out with a new record?
Keith: People have been talking about Surfer Blood. I’m not quite on that bandwagon. I think the record’s good. I don’t…
Art Brut had them on..had them open…that band opened for Art Brut, yeah…
(we’re told it’s starting to sleet outside)
Chris: It’s starting to sleet, huh? God.
Keith: (laughs) I thought she said, “it started to sleep.” I had a puppy for a year and a half, and it’s starting to sleep…
Chris: It’s starting to sleep at night, and I’m finally getting rest…uh, what else is gonna happen this year that will be awesome?
Keith: (to Mary) This is going to mean nothing to you at all… (to Chris) But I do like that the one we got, the earlier ‘Jack and Ginger’, is like the ‘Jack and Ginger’ from Ariel, and the ‘Jack and Ginger’ fan mix (???) Pretty good.
Chris: I don’t really know what’s coming out this year…
Chris: Hot Chip?
Keith: (no idea what he’s saying/singing here…!)
Chris: What’s that?
Chris: Field Music? Field Music’s good.
Um, I’m trying to think of what else…what other stuff…
Chris: Is it time for Justice to come out with a new record? What’s their latest?
I don’t know.
Chris: Zombie Zombie? It’s time for them…
Zombie Zombie…are they a New York band?
Chris: No, they’re Italian.
Oh! Now how did you find them?
Chris: Hmmm, maybe they’re French and modeled themselves after Italian, um, horror music. They put out a record last…2 years ago, maybe?
Uh huh. What kind of music is it?
Chris: It’s instrumental…I would say it’s…
Chris: No, no, it’s instrumental.
(laughs) Ohhhh instrumental! Oh ok.
Chris: It’s generally speaking it’s along the, I guess, the same genre lines as Ratatat? But it’s, you know, a very different feel…I feel like Ratatat or M83 would may be the bands you’d put it on the shelf next to. But, uh, Italian horror is sort of the inspiration. (to Keith) I’m saying Zombie Zombie’s new record…
Keith: (jokey) Zombie Zombie’s record is going to take the world by storm?
Chris: I assume it’s going to come out this year…hasn’t it? It’s been long enough…
Keith: No, they were run out of town! (smirks)
Chris: They were run out of town??? That’s not fair! (looks wounded)
Keith: (singsong voice) I’ll be upstairs selling merchandise if anybody needs me to give them my hotly-tipped bands of 2010! (waves goodbye and leaves)
Ok, I’ll see you later. (laughs)
Chris: I don’t know if there’s a record coming out…but if Yele brings out a new record, that is going to be huge. I was a big fan of Yele’s first batch of songs, and I think if she gets a serious record push, it’ll be big, it’ll be huge…
So what kind of music do you guys listen to, I mean, whenever, on the road, or…
Chris: It’s pretty eclectic to be honest. I wouldn’t say we’re very devoted to any genre at all. Strongly nostalgic and in terms of new stuff, exploratory. We’ll listen to almost anything. The stuff we end up liking is somewhat…not random but hopefully taste driven, but it doesn’t seem to be confined to one particular genre. We’re very sophisticated listeners! (smiles)
How do you find your music? Is it by friends’ recommendations? Do you old skool and go on MySpace?
Chris: I can’t say I’ve ever browsed MySpace for music…
(I had to stop my recording and restart new one…)
Eclectic…you said eclectic stuff…
Chris: Yeah, eclectic stuff…um, yeah, I mean we read blogs. We get recommendations from friends. I think both Keith and I receive Rolling Stone magazine in the mail. I know I got it for a dollar for a year’s subscription, so that was crucial to my getting it. But still, I read it! Uh yeah, we’re very not systematic about it…we probably should be, since it’s our business, essentially.
Ok. So what’s your take on…since you appear regularly in NME and other British magazines. What’s your take on the American music magazines?
Chris: Um, well…
Because you mentioned Rolling Stone.
Chris: Yeah. I think that…Rolling Stone is weird. It’s…I think its interests are spread very thin, because in a way, it’s the only American music magazine. I know that’s unfair to SPIN but I don’t know…I feel like, I assume the circulation of Rolling Stone is much higher. It seems like Rolling Stone caters to ten different age groups, so therefore they cater poorly to all of them. The number of times that Bob Dylan and U2 have been on the cover in the last couple of years is frankling startling, and sends a very strong message. It sends the message that Rolling Stone is a music history magazine, not a new music magazine. I think that’s by and large true, although they have very talented people working there who are quite capable about writing essentially about new music. That’s again like one-tenth of what they do. NME I think is great because that’s what it does, it does new music. That’s also the bad thing about them is that they’re always on to the next big thing and so forth. But you know, at the end of the day, you know the old music you have that you like, you don’t need to hear again why the fuckin’ Rolling Stones are good. You know that. You know they’re good. You have all the Beatles’s albums, you don’t need an article telling you again about why it’s good. You know. So talk to me about new bands, it seems to me! I’m not sure really what the…I don’t know, there’s this weird, sort of hagiographic function of Rolling Stone and similar magazines, and it’s true of Q as well, but to a much less extent. They appear to just be there to wax nostalgic…and that’s cool for like…if you want to write a band biography sort of thing. People can go out and buy that. But it’s weird to publish a monthly magazine about stuff that happened in decades past. So I like that about the UK music press. Now that’s…that lament does not apply to smaller press in the U.S. There are plenty of other smaller press options, you know, many of them online, that are doing a great job of covering new music. I think Pitchfork does a great job covering stuff that’s coming out. But…it is notable, um, that the actual printed magazines that have managed to stay afloat, there’s a big difference between the U.S. versus the UK. The UK is definitely about what’s happening with new bands, the U.S. is not.
Right, yep. So beyond the…you mentioned the video filming…what else, what other exciting stuff do you have planned for this year besides touring in support of the new album?
Chris: Uh….I mean, that’s going to be pretty much it. I anticipate that being a pretty full time thing to be honest. We’re going to try to develop the tv thing as well, but I don’t know when the hell we’re going to film it. I don’t know, we’re getting strong response from the folks we’re working with in Europe. (checks his phone for a text message) I think it’s gonna go well. We parted ways with our label in November , with EMI, so we’re releasing the record actually with a couple different people in different territories and we’re retaining ownership of the record everywhere, so it’s kind of joint venture type of stuff..
So who’s releasing it I guess in the UK then?
Chris: A company called PIAS – P-I-A-S, which stands for ‘Play It Again Sam’. Um…who are a distribution company, they also have marketing personnel who we’re going to use, and then we’ll independent press and independent radio, things like that.
And what about here [in America]?
Chris: We don’t actually know in the U.S. yet. The U.S. is not hammered down.
Ok, all right.
Chris: Uh…so…but in any case, it’s going to involve, I think, far more involvement from us, and us and our management in the day to day sort of decision making process, which is something we’re very excited about. Part of the reason that we are happy to have left Virgin.
Ok. So you were with…the last album was put out by?
I think you mentioned EMI.
Chris: Well, EMI is the parent company, Virgin is the label we signed to. We signed to them. We signed to Virgin U.S. in 2005.
So they put out ‘With Love and Squalor’ and ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’…
Chris: Yeah, yeah. But ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ came out on Astralwerks in the U.S., because Virgin U.S. kind of ceased to exist and Astralwerks is another imprint that EMI owns but it’s all…it’s actually different staffs, although not anymore now that they’ve really, really consolidated things as they’ve scaled back.
Well they just closed all the Virgin Megastores and like, yeah…
Chris: Yeah, yeah, so Capitol Music is basically one set of people.
Right. Ok. I thank you so much for your time.
And good luck with everything with the new album, and I hope, I wish you every success.
Chris: Thank you.
And yeah, have a good time tonight!
Chris: We will. (grins)