Barbara, We Are Scientists‘ fifth LP, came out in June. It, or I almost feel like I should say she, is the band at its very best. I have a hard time picking between this CD and 2005’s With Love and Squalor as which one I would prefer, but I don’t have to choose. I can love both of them equally, and We Are Scientists have long been one of my favorites. Singer/guitarist Keith Murray talked with me this week leading up to the band’s headlining show at Neumos this Wednesday, July 28th. I wanted to know about so many things – the Pomeranians in the video for “Chick Lit,” the kittens on the With Love and Squalor cover, and as it turned out I had a lot of questions about food.
I read that you are a vegetarian – did you start as a teenager?
I started when I was eighteen. Essentially it happened because I went away to college and I decided I was never going to cook for myself. For a long time it was cereal and I kind of just lost the taste for it. It didn’t help that there was a guy in my dorm freshman year who would always cook these weird steaks that he bought at a discount supermarket.
You had a TV show, Steve Wants His Money in the UK. Are there any plans to bring it here?
I think the stuff we shot for the UK wouldn’t translate over here mainly because it hinges around UK-based celebrities who guest in every episode. People here would be far less impressed if Edith Bowman showed up. You probably wouldn’t spit your drink out. I assure you, people in the UK were freaking out. Probably Steve Wants His Money won’t become a North American television triumph.
You started your own label called Masterswan. Where did that name come from?
It’s actually a name of a character from Steve Wants His Money. He was meant to be a falcon but the budget and skill level of the prop department meant that it ended up being a crow.
I saw a clip introducing the crow – he steals things, like babies’ eyes?
Exactly. Anything of value.
That’s a useful thing to have, he’ll just takes things for you.
Absolutely. That’s sort of the business model of Masterswan Records. Free. And if necessary, dismemberment in the name of profit.
We Are Scientists‘ Keith Murray – Seattle, 2008 – photo by Dagmar
You were a literature major. I was too. Did you keep any of the books?
There’s a pretty large quantity littering my parents’ house. I find that I end up rebuying books that I did purchase in college. I have multiple copies of the Odyssey, and crap like that. Just as in college I continue to not read them. I became the master of inventing narratives.
Like creative reading.
I could write page after eloquent page about a book I’ve never actually read. I’m sure you learned how to do that.
No, I never did.
You actually just read the books? Ridiculous.
I read the Odyssey.
Nobody’s read the whole Odyssey.
Well, in English.Were the Pomeranians in your video for “Chick Lit” at all aggressive?
They were incredibly mild. I think there were maybe twelve of them. They were all kept in tiny cages most of the time and when they were released they were set out on a gigantic moor, on a hill in Ireland. It was really cold and really windy. I don’t know if you’re aware of the tendency of rabbits to be essentially paralyzed by winds. Apparently the same is true with Pomeranians. The wind would gust and they would just crouch down on the ground and not move at all, which sort of made the scenes where we were supposed to be chasing them seem a little ridiculous.
Where in Ireland did you shoot it?
Outside Dublin. You would not imagine the countryside looking like that outside of Dublin.
It would be really awesome if there really were wild Pomeranians running around.
Just wild herds of Pomeranians. That would be pretty good.
The boy in “Nice Guys” on the scooter, that’s Chris’ [Cain, bassist] son?
That is his son, his name’s Dashiell. He’s a master on that thing.
You skateboarded a lot?
I was pretty into skateboarding as a teenager. I’ve sort of fallen off in my old age.
I grew up in Miami.
Probably a lot of good food there.
What kind of food do you think we had in Miami?
There is a lot of good Cuban food. You got me there. You’re from Seattle? Seattle’s a pretty good foodie town.
I feel like Miami’s not very good for variety. The fact that there is a large quantity of Cuban food is awesome but I defy you to find a halfway decent Indian place. Even Mexican food is pretty hard to come by.
It’s hard to find a good Indian restaurant.
We’re spoiled because we spend so much time in the UK, where a good curry is always a stone’s throw away?
Do you like spicy Indian food?
Yes, we’re massive vindaloo fans.
Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?
Not recurring but I’ll tell you a pretty good one that I had recently. It involved being locked in a farmhouse and there was a zombie siege going on. The zombies were coming in waves and we were locked in with guns, shooting out of the farmhouse. There would always be a lull in the zombie attacks. We were in just such a lull trying to compose ourselves before the next round of zombies. We sensed the next wave of zombies were approaching, and we could hear them coming and we were all really terrified. Tension was high. Through the door came a big gang of golden retriever puppies – they were really excited to see us. Instead of zombies we were delivered a pack of puppies. Pretty good dream.
That is a good dream. Instead of being eaten by zombies you got puppies.
Licked by puppies.
What’s the story behind the song “I Don’t Bite”?
It was written in Athens [Georgia]. It was one of the songs that I didn’t understand the potency of until I mailed it to Chris and Andy. Both of them had an immediate positive reaction to it. I think at that time I was thinking about a couple friends of mine who were recently single and had been doing a lot of moving in the dating world, and the effort of trying to convince someone that your intentions are pure despite appearances and perhaps rumors of your prior behavior.
Who came up with the the cover for “With Love and Squalor”?
I don’t know whose idea it was initially. The original idea was that we’d just use it as a promotional photo. The kittens lived in my apartment. They were kittens of a stray cat that we took in because winter was approaching and the cat lived outside of our practice space and was really friendly. We became very afraid that the cat would perish in the harsh New York winter so after trying to dump her on several other people we decided to take her in. It turned out she was pregnant and she had kittens under Michael’s [Tapper, former band member] bed and they proceeded to destroy his room, refused to use the litter box and literally created a lake of cat excrement. We pretty much hated these cats. But they were awfully cute. They also just weren’t very friendly – they didn’t really like playing. They would just run away. We thought it would be funny that in our promotional photos you couldn’t really see our faces. When we got signed and needed an album cover we still hadn’t used them. We just liked the shots a lot.
That’s one of my fave album covers.
I think so. No one else has done it.
I am marginally annoyed that Klaxons have swiped a little of that ethos for their new album cover with the cat astronaut.
That’s the real cover?
Maybe it’s not.
It probably is. That’s pretty cool – cats in space.
They are certainly leading us to believe that’s the cover.
That’s even better than the cat DJ.
I haven’t seen this marvelous cat.
Do you still have mugs as part of your merch?
We do have mugs.
What else would you like to have?
One thing that we wanted to do was to create an iPhone app that would be alien locator, like in the Aliens film series. Sort of like a sonar style grid with flashing red lights indicating where the aliens are. Nobody would make it for us – it would be too expensive. That is a merch product we really want, the alien locator.