"The album deals with a lot of the issues that a break-up album does, but without all of the usual self pity" – hmv.com talks to We Are Scientists
Ahead of the release of their fourth studio album TV en Français', we chatted to We Are Scientists' mainman Keith Murray about the album's long writing process, scrapping their college rock dream album and why this is a break up record written before a break up actually happened…
Your new record TV en Français' is out on Monday, how are you feeling ahead of its release? Excited? Nervous?
"Because I've been living with the album for 10 months now, so I've sort of forgotten that it's actually finally coming out, I'm more focused on our tour. The album release date feels like a bit of a non-event for me."
So you've been sat on it for a full 10 months? Why's that?
"We made it by ourselves between label contracts, we thought it would be a better move to finish the album and then show it to people rather than going in to meetings and saying 'Well you know out past work, it'll be a bit like that. I hope you like it'. We just said 'Here are the songs, if you like, we'll put it out with you'. It took a while to go through that process, but we're there now."
Was it a different experience? Recording an album with no label in place?
"We've made three of our four albums on our own. We made our first album before we were signed and then Barbara and this album were made between labels. The only album we've made with a label onboard was Brain Thrust Mastery and it was a process befitting every major label stereotype, it was a true pain in the ass to make on the production side. Everybody felt like they had to have an opinion, it felt like a little more business-like, rather than making the album you want to make."
How long did you spend recording the album?
"I think we were in the studio for maybe four weeks. We worked at this studio in New York and then we took some time off and then we went back and recorded the vocals, so maybe it was about a month in total."
How long have you been sat on the some of the songs for? It's been almost four years since your last album came out?
"We had this sort of weird idea in early 2012 that we wanted to make this 1990s college rock album. We were listening to the Lemonheads and The La's and Dinosaur Jnr a lot and we had this idea to make a record like that. We wrote six or seven songs like that and although I really liked them it felt like we were writing for a different band. So we got that far and had to scrap it."
"Pretty much all the songs that are on the album came out in about four months of writing after that, the actual process of writing took a long time, but not the writing of the songs, that happened quite quickly."
Was Andy (Burrows – drummer, once of Razorlight) with you for the making of this album? Or was it just you and Chris (Cain, bassist)?
"Andy was with us the whole time. He moved his family out to Brooklyn for roughly a year to be around for the whole process."
Was that how you worked last time? Or was this a new way of working?
"Ironically last time Andy moved to Brooklyn for the summer, but I had to moved to Georgia for the summer. I got my version of a cabin in the woods, which basically amounted to a cottage in Athens, Georgia. I was writing Barbara while he and Chris were just hanging out in Brooklyn and then I came home and we worked on the songs together. This is the first time we were all in the same place for the entire time."
You worked with Chris Coady on this album, what was he like to work with?
"We've known Chris for ages. He engineered our last two albums, so this time it felt like a continuation of the last two, only our producer on those records Ariel Rechtshaid wasn't in the room. We've got a great relationship with him and a really good emotional shorthand."
What kind of album is it lyrically?
"It was all written immediately before I had a really big break-up, but obviously I didn't know I was in a relationship that was about to be broken up. All the songs have this strange 'I know something's wrong, but I'm still hopeful' tinge to them. Weirdly it deals with a lot of the issues that a break-up album does, but without all of the usual self pity you get with a break-up album, there's no adolescent moroseness."
Is it weird listening back to those songs now?
"A little bit. Luckily I think the lyrics are divorced enough for it in that they're not just about that relationship, more just about how I was feeling in it. I don't play a song and think about a moment from that, it's more where my head was at, it feels separate enough."
Where does the title come from?
"We were in Miami doing photoshoots for the album artwork and we knew that one of the themes for the album was poor communication, the idea of being in a conversation and not really understanding what the other person was really saying. We saw this cheap motel on the beach in Miami that advertised that it had TV in French and we thought it was an interesting metaphor for poor communication between a couple."
"It's like you're talking to someone, but you're not really catching what it is they're really saying, it's a bit like watching TV in French. When you watch TV in French you kind of get the gist of what's going on, but you're missing a lot of the nuances and core meaning."
You're about to head out on a big tour, how difficult has it been to pick the set list this time?
"I'm a populist idiot really. If it were up to me, we'd just play all of our singles; I just want to play the ones everybody knows. I have to get over the straightforward people pleasing part and coming up with a set that's a bit more nuanced. At the same time, I'd kind of love to play 10 new songs and sprinkle it some older stuff, we'll find a way, somehow, to get it right."
So what's the plan for the rest of the year?
"We've got a straight world tour through June, the European tour leads directly into a US tour which goes directly into an Australian tour which goes into a week of European festivals and then on and off throughout the summer we've got European festivals. All touring, but with a couple of weeks off in between the festivals to start writing again."
Are you keen to crack on again and get writing?
"Oh yeah, we finished the album in February and then last summer we put out this EP (2013's Business Casual EP). I've got a few ideas that I've not shared with the band yet, but I have an idea on where the next album is going."
So aside from your big Lemonheads phase, what other records really influenced the album?
"I really love Wild Beasts, their albums are amazing, they know how to give space on their records. One of my bad habits as a songwriter is to get to the point as quickly as possible, I don't allow myself too much space to get in the mood and the atmosphere, which they do really well. I also got back into the Velvet Underground, for some reason whenever I'm in songwriting mode I go back to them, their albums are so precise and feel really direct. I feel like they help me hone what I'm doing."
We Are Scientists' new album TV en Français' is out on Monday (March 3) and can be downloaded here from our digital store.
The band will be meeting fans and signing of their new album 'TV en Francais' at Fopp Cambridge on Friday 7th March at 5.30pm