We Are Scientists

While fans of “Steve Wants His Money,” the comedic web series created by and starring We Are Scientists’ Keith Murray and Chris Cain, may be sad that the two have no plans for future episodes, they should take heart.

Guitarist Murray and bassist Cain, who share vocal duties, have another dream project lined up, if the opportunity ever presents itself.

“It’s a sci-fi program involving us as space missionaries,” said Cain in a recent chat prior to We Are Scientists’ biggest American tour in four years. “Working title is Terraformers. It would be a cheap show shot almost entirely on the bridge of a spaceship whose mission is to…find uninhabited planets that can be Terraformed and then used to house the overflow population of Earth.”

The concept may sound serious, but remember that it’s coming from the heads of two men who created a show about selling ridiculous marketing ideas to English musicians to pay back a dude named “Steve.”

“(Terraformers) would involve a lot of really poorly generated digital aliens,” Cain said. “That’s the show we really want to make, but so far, no takers.”

Until that opportunity arrives, Cain and Murray will have to rely on their day job, which in March resulted with the release of a new album, TV en Français, and a three-continent tour, which brings them to the Independent on May 7.

The San Francisco show is a homecoming of sorts for the two, who, along with former member Scott Lamb, started the band in Berkeley after moving to the Bay Area from Los Angeles in 2000. The big city was their original destination, but they quickly realized even the smallest apartment was unaffordable.

In Berkeley “we ended up having a house with a yard and everything,” Cain said. “And it had a basement, which was crucial to the formation of the band because that was where we did our first hundred or so rehearsals. Had we been in an apartment in San Francisco, that would not have happened.”

Their stay in the Bay Area was not a long one — a move to New York came a year later, as did the first of their five albums and a carousel of drummers following Lamb’s departure — but it was enough to leave a mark. The band, which includes touring drummer Keith Carne, will be using the Bay Area as a home base this week, choosing to drive to nearby shows and return each night.

It has been several years since We Are Scientists last enjoyed commercial success in the U.S. — in the U.K. they’re still beloved by many. They first reached the public consciousness with their second album, 2005’s With Love and Squalor, and again with their follow-up, 2008’s Brain Thrust Mastery. Songs such as “It’s A Hit” and “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” greatly boosted the sales for the now-New York-based band.

But with their fourth album, 2010’s Barbara, the band hit a logistical speed bump. Cain, Murray and recording drummer Andy Burrows (formerly of Razorlight) signed several deals that enabled the album to be recorded and produced with the help of a label, and sold separately through distribution companies at the discretion of a company run by the band, Master Swan Recordings.

The distribution companies struck out on their sales commitments, he said.

“We basically found out that we weren’t quite as smart as we thought we were on our last record,” Cain said. “We felt it should have done a lot more than it did.”

So for their next album, what would become TV en Français, the band fired its management and let their contract with the previous label lapse.

“We wanted to wait until after the record was made to (find another label) because we don’t have any craving for outside opinion when it comes to recording the music,” he said.

It wasn’t until after the album was done and in the bag that they began a search, and found an equally excited counterpart in Dine Alone Records, which is distributing.

TV en Français, which deals with the themes of miscommunication, was inspired by Murray’s past relationship, which was about to implode as the duo was writing. While most of the songs are upbeat, there is a tinge of bitterness, anger and questioning to the lyrics.

Lead single “Dumb Luck” tells the story about a man who has stumbled through life and stayed afloat, but not by his own effort.

“The suggestion is that that sort of lack of planning is ultimately not going to land this person where they want to be,” Cain said.

Where before the band’s lyrics were stripped of identifying markers that could pin the story to a specific person, the new album is especially bare and does not attempt to disguise Murray’s feelings or the characters in the songs.

But that doesn’t mean the duo has gone dark and moody on its fans. Case-in-point, its new video for “Make It Easy” features Caine and Murray beating on some aliens. For those who won’t get the humor, there’s at least a preview of what a Terraformers show would feel like.

“It’s a proof of concept,” Cain said. “It would show unequivocally that the show would work.”

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

We Are Scientists, PAWS
The Independent
May 7, 2014
8pm, $16-$18