Music Features

Park:Live Festival - We Are Scientists (Interview)

I'm kicking back on a leather sofa in the upstairs lounge area of a tour bus, conspicuously parked in a side street in the centre of Gloucester.  I have a can of Red Stripe in one hand and my recording equipment in the other.  Opposite me is Chris Cain, vocalist and bass player for We Are Scientists, one of the most popular American indie-rock bands to break through in recent years.  He's standing, trying to work a ceiling window.  He explains that the band have only just started the tour and so have yet to get used to the "quirks" of the bus.

The band have just returned from playing an energetic and crowd-pleasing set on stage at Gloucester's first Park:Live festival.  It's been the first sunny weekend to grace the UK for a couple of months, and so many have been at the festival all day, enjoying the free music and local cider under the welcome blue skies.  The jewel in a day of live performances, We Are Scientists play as the sun sets over an appreciative audience, who are singing along to the hits and enjoying We Are Scientists' trademark onstage banter.  It's an enjoyable end to a well-organised and, ultimately, very successful festival.

Chris opens the window and takes a seat.  The interview begins:

With the lighting on this tour bus, it feels like we're going to have a very intimate interview. It's going to be a beautiful thing...

I know!

What do you have on this tour bus? How much do you have onboard? Is there a shower somewhere onboard, for example?

No, no. This is a pretty bare-bones tour bus. Although I suppose they must even make some without TVs and this one has two small TVs. And you see how this is two bunks? A single-decker bus with two bunks high would be the most luxurious sleeping environment. With a single-decker, the top of the bus would be higher, so you get a little more room that way.

And do you fight over who gets top bunk?

Actually, on this tour we only have five people, including the band, so we can all have whatever the hell we want. For some reason, we got a bus that's suited to a large crew, and it gives us a lot of real estate. So what it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in space. It's like people living in the American West.

It's like a Winnebago, or something. It makes you feel at home, maybe?

No. My home is nothing like this. For starters, I don't have blue running lights along the ceiling.

So what do you do on board a tour bus? You must spend many an hour on here, no doubt.

Ideally you try to limit your activities on the bus to sleeping, because it is not very fun. You try to arrange the drives to happen whilst everyone's asleep. And that's what a tour bus offers. It's far less comfortable than sleeping in a hotel room, or even on someone's couch to be honest. What it does do is make it so that you don't have to spend every day driving. You wake up in your next destination and you can have a day and walk around, which is great. That is one of the luxuries. It's actually not at all pleasant to sleep whilst you're jostling around and driving, and the bunks are pretty shitty. So it's not comfortable, but it wins you time.

And what do you do with that time? Will you be spending time on the road writing?

No, we don't do writing on the road, really. We're not road-writers. We like to go to the cinema with our free time. We like to walk around the town that we're in and check it out. That's actually something that's really frustrating about being a touring musician. You go to all these places and a lot of the time you don't really get to see them. You see the inside of the club, backstage and you're in a lot of airports. Everyone's always asking, “Where have you been?”, and the answer is that we've been to pretty much every city you can name. But many of them I have not seen at all. And it's almost worse to go to, say, Leipzig and not see it. You feel like an idiot when you say, “Yeah, I've been to Leipzig.” “Oh yeah, what's it like?” “I have no idea.” It's frustrating. So the bus lets you wake up in these places and hang out.

I can't believe we've spent four minutes talking about the tour bus, rather than the actual music!

It's important that people hear this.

It is important. And it's not every day that you get to be on We Are Scientists' tour bus, so I'm very grateful. Your performance tonight, was it the first time you've headlined a festival?

We've headlined small festivals in the States before, once or twice. But this was our first time in the UK. This tour that we're on, it's a lot of smaller festivals. So we're much closer to the top of the bill than we would be at a Reading or Leeds.

And was that a conscious decision? Did you want to play more intimate festivals? Because I notice that you're not doing Reading or Leeds this time round, plus you're not doing V Festival or any of the other big festivals.

Yeah, it was a conscious decision. At this stage in our career, we're not a hot “brand-new” band, like someone like The Vaccines were last year, a year and a half ago. So it's better not to play Reading and Leeds every year. This is our off-year. We played those festivals last summer and next year, we'll play the large festivals again. But we didn't want to just not tour, we wanted to do a tour.

I was wondering whether the decision to tour at more intimate venues was so you would have a chance to try out some new material?

It is, yeah. It's also a million times more fun to play intimate venues. I think the ideal size from our perspective is somewhere around 500 to 1,000 in a club, that's the best. Festivals always sound kind of bad, because they're outdoors. But they're fun for different reasons. Everyone's high on crack cocaine and acting insane and soaked in their own piss and mud... I'm not talking about us! But it's fun to see a crowd of people who are essentially apocalypse survivors right in front of you, that's quite a kick.

From an audience perspective, it's amazing to watch your live shows because you always seem to have fun onstage, especially with your banter.

We do have a lot of fun. That's definitely the driving force behind the band, it always has been. It's just that we love playing live. And we always write our songs to be fun to play live. We all like slower, prettier music as well as more up-tempo rock stuff, but I don't think we have any interest in being a band like Death Cab For Cutie, even though I really like them.

I can't imagine you ever performing Bon Iver type music.

Exactly. I really like those guys. In fact, my iPod is probably more stocked with stuff like that than rock. But we're all big rock fans as well.

Who are you liking at the moment? Which bands are you discovering as you tour?

Well, we've been off the road for roughly a year now, so probably a bad time for me to try and give you a current live act that I like. Actually, there's a band called Capsula, that we played with in Bogotá, Colombia in February and subsequently, we hung out with them a lot and they were super super awesome. I played bass on a covers album that they just did. They covered Ziggy Stardust. It's a fucking awesome record, and they're an amazing live band. They definitely make us look rough! They're awesome because they're super-energetic and crazy and improvise constantly. That's a band to catch live if you ever get the chance, they definitely come to the UK every once in a while.

But in terms of recorded music, I really like the new Gossip record. I didn't want to like it. I was like, “Oh, fuck the Gossip.” I don't know why. I think I get jealous of bands that do well. But I listened to it and was like “Holy shit, that's a great record!” And there's a band called Au Revoir Simone, which is made up of three-year olds. We've toured with them before. And one of them has a solo project, Erika Spring. She just came out with an EP and I'm amazed at how good it is. Not because I have low expectations for her but because it's even better than I was expecting.

And in terms of your music, the three of you, we were talking earlier about experimenting with a few new tracks and trying them out live. Does that mean that there is a lot of music ready to be released, and is there a release plan in mind?

So we played three new songs tonight. We have the album worked out in our heads and we've recorded a lot of it. We're going to finish recording and then mix it this fall. For scheduling reasons, for us and the producer, this amazing dude called Chris Coady, we've had to do some this summer and some this fall. And we're hoping to release it next spring. March seems like a good possibility. We don't know how we're putting it out. We did our last record on our own label, through a fantastic company called PIAS (Play It Again Sam). They distribute most of the indies in Europe and the UK. And they've also started acting as a label, so we may do a label deal with them. But no-one's actually heard any songs, neither PIAS nor anyone else.

Apart from us, we heard a few new songs tonight...

Yeah, we've played them live a couple of times. But I don't think the PIAS folks have been to any shows where we've played the new stuff. But we have really nice sounding demos, which is a good place to start.

And most importantly, there's always the comedy element – it's not always necessarily prevalent but it's always bubbling under. We've had Crap Attack and Barbara (which is quite possibly the best name ever for an album). Are you going to go for an equally light-hearted title for the new album, do you think?

We've not decided on the album title yet. We've got a couple of front-runners, but I feel like we need to finish recording it before we can be sure.

You may get this next question asked of you a lot, you may never get it asked of you. Goal! England – why wasn't it re-released for the Euros this year? For me, it's the perfect song to encourage people to get behind England and I didn't hear it at all this year...what's up with that?!

Man...blame the BBC! It's available. In fact, we never put it on sale, it's always just been free. It remains free to download.

You know, I was trying to secure an interview with you guys earlier on in the week and if I'd had it confirmed, I would have brought with me a pack of England party hats and streamers that you could have used at some sort of future sporting event. How amazing would that have been?!

That would have been great.

Can you imagine anything better?

Not involving flare and sporting events. I can imagine better things in the world though.

Not many though, right? I think we need some sort of Goal! England campaign, and I promise you, I will do my part.

I feel like at this point, it's up to the fans. We wrote the song, we recorded it and made it available. Now, we don't actually work with or for the English national football team. It's in the public domain now, it's for everyone to either play or not play.


So there you have it.  We must all do our part to make Goal! England the official England football song.  It's probably too late for the Olympics, so maybe for World Cup 2014.  But it needs to happen, if for no other reason than to avoid another "thirty years" of Three Lions.  Who's with me?

For news, music and details of We Are Scientists' upcoming tour dates, check out the band's website.