Prior to their show in Kansas City last week, Mahsa spent some quality time with Chris, Danny and Keith for a What’s the Word exclusive interview:
We Are Scientists Kill Time In Kansas City
by Mahsa Borhani
Mahsa: What were some of the highlights from your American Tour before you guys decided to play beer pong at Chris’s parents’ house?
Keith: I feel like the tour didn’t really take off until the beer pong.
Chris: It’s an intelligent way of dividing the tour, pre-Bonus Jonas. Yeah.
M: I mean, I was telling Ethan last night–you put anybody in the right environment with the right, maybe right kind of beer, they’ll play beer pong, but he says “No.”
C: No that’s not true, that’s not true.
K: Absolutely not true–that’s our first beer pong game ever, although I guess we just proved that eventually everyone will play beer pong.
C: In the right environment. With the right beer.
K: Right. You’re right.
K: It turns out our environment was all wrong for beer pong. [laughs] But anyways I guess before that there must have been something. The best part of our American tour was Australia. Ash. It was the band Ash.
M: Well you played three dates in California? And then Seattle or something?
C: We did Seattle first, yeah.
K: Ooh the day off in Portland.
C: Two days off.
K: Two days off in Portland were a highlight.
C: Really nice. The show in Portland was okay.
Danny: I got this in Portland [points out the tattoo on his right deltoid muscle].
M: Did you really?!
C: Danny got a tattoo, that was pretty cool actually.
M: It looks really good for only, wait–
K: For being done in Portland! [laughs]
M: No, no, no! I was gonna say how long ago did you get it done?
D: It’s pretty fresh, it was in Portland,
K: About three weeks?
D: Three? No it was the…twenty…eighth.
M: That’s good, yeah, have you been putting baby oil on it?
D: A lot of baby oil [smiles].
M: Oh yeah? [chuckle]
D: Vitamin E…I’ve been pretty good with it. I just lost my moisturizer though. I was pretty anal with it in the beginning.
K: He was applying it anally.
M: [disregards Keith’s joke] Well I mean, you gotta look out for, if it’s gonna give you problems.
D: Yeah, yeah–no exactly I wanted it to be…
M: To sprout.
D: Yeah. To be good for the–
C: The duration.
K: Apparently I missed a pretty good tour of Chicago at two in the morning. We missed a cinematic grade, like a Scorcese grade,
Brendon (their tour manager): Really? You weren’t there? Oh you were asleep.
K: I was passed out.
B: My goodness.
C: Yeah. It’s true. We thought–
K: An “After Hours” grade tour of a city.
C: Oh, my god.
B: We thought a friend of ours was dead.
K: Yeah, what’s-her-name, the hot Arquette. Rosanne, like, Rosanna Arquette. So was Dev, dead. In the city.
D: Thought Patricia was the hot one, though.
K: WHAT! Get the fuck outta here!
C: Boys! That’s a matter of taste!
C: No…Keith happens to be right. Rosanna Arquette is the hotter sister. But! Danny’s entitled to his opinion.
K: That’s true. As long as we all agree it’s not David Arquette.
M: Meryl Streep has some really beautiful daughters. So, I think you should move onto that.
C: A new generation. Well that’s illegal, miss!
M: [laughs] No it’s not.
C: I don’t know, what country you’re suggesting we should…make this liaison in, but,
M: I didn’t suggest anything [of that nature]–I’m just saying–
C: The Philippines, perhaps?
K: You were being very suggestive.
C: You certainly…
M: No. No. If you’re going to talk about women in a “who’s hot” or “who’s not” manner,
M: You might as well talk about Meryl Streep’s daughters.
C: Meryl Streep’s six and seven year old daughters.
K: No. Meryl Streep has been barren for decades.
M: Um…so yeah, [tries not to laugh] Tonight is your first night meeting up with Bad Veins. Are you excited?
K: We’re really nervous.
M: How did you decide to bring them on tour with you and how did that work out?
C: Uh, I think it happened through, I think we have a mutual booking agency.
K: Nope! [Chris laughs] Nope. They’ve never heard of–well, maybe a mutual booking agency. They don’t know Mike Mori though.
C: I think they are on Windish.
K: They’re on Windish? Okay.
C: I think we have the same booking agency, and it’s a very cool agency, it’s got all the hot bands. It’s all good…over at Windish, and so when our agent said, “What about these guys?”
K: We were like, “What’s their pedigree?” He said, “They’re a Windish band.”
C: “They’re with us, boys.”
M: Best In Show, right?
K: Windish is just full of a bunch of Best In Shows.
C: We checked out their Myspace, and, were impressed.
K: We vetted them.
C: Not with the music, but with the formatting. Of the page. [Keith laughs] They’d obviously used one of these Myspace editors.
C: Smart. That’s hunger. That means you want it. And the songs were good too.
K: Equally formulaic.
M: So you did court them? Somebody else courted them for you? Someone who has your best interests at heart?
C: Nah, I don’t know if we courted the aggressively…
K: “Court” might be the wrong word.
C: I think they were into the idea of being on the shows. I think they want to be here.
K: Yeah, the courtship was very short. [Danny laughs]
C: It’s like when people meet in a bar and go home together. Was there a courtship?
M: [laughs] Ehhh, I don’t know…
C: Probably not.
K: I know.
M: Yeah, you would.
D: I think it’s more like when people have to share a cab together.
K: It’s a lot like, what’s that Linklater film?
C: Dazed and Confused.
M: I was actually hoping you would say cool things about Bad Veins that I didn’t know…but…
C: Well this is our first show with them, so we don’t have any dirt. We can email you an addendum to the interview in four days.
K: We’re as wide-eyed as you are.
M: An addendum? [laughs] Well, alright!
M: You mentioned in previous interviews about Barbara that “Hey, actually we were thinking about Weezer’s Green album [when we made this].” One of my friends recently said that Pinkerton is the best sounding rock album. What are your thoughts on that?
K: On your friends? They don’t sound like engineers to me.
M: [laughs] Well, what is your best sounding rock album?
K: Eh, I would say it’s really weird to me to listen to Pinkerton and admire the sound of it above all else. I mean, I do think it sounds awesome. It sounds perfect for what it is.
C: Exactly. It doesn’t good, but it kind of intensifies the music, you know.
D: Yeah, but it works.
C: Yeah, exactly. It sounds, I mean, it sounds legitimately kind of crappy. [at keith] If that’s cool?
K: No, I don’t mind.
D: As a drummer though, the first time I heard it I was like, “That is how all drums should sound–
K: The drums, the drums sound amazing on that record.
M: Well, I grew up with, the first computer operating system I ever had was–
K: Was Mac OS x (Keith taking a dig at me not being completely Mac savvy earlier)
M: [scoffed laugh] was Windows 95 which had Buddy Holly as the music video on it.
D: What, it came with it?
M: Yeah, it came with it–
M: and this game called Hover, which was, actually creeped me out a lot because I, uh, in ’95, I guess I–well who cares [laughs].
C: A lot of stuff went on that year.
M: Anyhow, back to the Buddy Holly video. I suppose if you could pick any brand that you would be like, “Well, we’ll offer our music out for this.” Because I don’t think you guys have yet.
M: So what would you pick?
C: Probably Hormel.
M: Horm–like, the sausages?
C: Oh, they do more than sausages, that’s a misconception. They do all kinds of refrigerated meat, cured, refrigerated meat.
K: Um, I’d say maybe Williams pinball machines.
C: Wilson tennis rackets.
K: Yes! Thank you. Thank you.
C: And they could use it. Prince has really been knuckling them.
K: The NAACP.
C: [chuckles] The NAACP, yes.
M: NAACP. That was a good choice. But they don’t need…I mean, they wouldn’t pick you guys.
K: What? What do you mean?
C: This is not a need-based grant, this is not a need-based grant!
C: This is merit.
M: Hah, okay. Alright. Um–
C: And probably the Canadian Association of Provinces, the CAP.
K: Mhmm, yeah.
C: Because I’m so tired of hearing the Arcade Fire on their commercials, and I feel like they could use a little, a booster shot.
M: What did you think of their new album?
C: Arcade Fire’s new album?
C: It played great in the background while we were drinking beer the other day…
K: And listening to Pinkerton. It was great behind that.
C: [laughs] But once we went downstairs and started playing pong we needed something a little stronger.
K: Yeah we’ll say that the night that we listened to Arcade Fire’s album, it was the worst album to listen to.
C: It was, but that’s an unfair comparison–we listened to Van Halen, we listened to Poison, we listened to Alice In Chains–
K: Yeah we listened to Van Halen, 1984, Open Up and Say…Ahh!, Dirt, The Best of Alice In Chains–I mean it was unfair. Arcade Fire got crrrrushed.
C: Anybody would be excited to be at the bottom of that list [Keith laughs] as long as they were on that list.
M: I guess the other question related to that would be what is the recent, I don’t want to say commercial, but just any sort of mass-media that has incorporated another musical project in that you were really “psyched” on instead of “Oh, I’m tired of hearing [this] everywhere.”
C: Hm. Hmmm.
C: Interesting question.
D: Finally the question. The very question.
K: The ice machine itself is aquiver with rumination.
M: This is actually the easiest question.
C: It’s an easy question? What’s the answer?
K: The ice machine is flippin’ out. It’s literally shitting bricks of ice.
C: Pfft, yeah well, they’re the only kind it knows how to make.
K: Heh. Um wait, so like, any cultural product that involves music, is what you’re asking?
K: Yeah, yeah.
M: [laughs while looking at Danny] You’re free to…
D: I know, I know, I only really started listening to the question half way through, so uh, I was lost.
M: [reiterates question to Danny while Keith and Chris share thoughts–“I only have a dorky…”]
C: I like that um, Rostam, Best Coast, Kid Cudi Converse song, well enough.
K: Wow. I’m shocked.
C: I mean, I don’t love it. I’m trying to think of commercial endeavors that aren’t terrible. I mean, I think it’s okay.
K: I did think it was the lesser of the two Converse efforts so far and I thought–
C: Was that other one the Casablancas thing?
K: Drive, Drive Thru, er what’s it called?
M: At the Drive Thru? [I meant At The Drive-In, way to fail]
C: That was like two years ago, right?
K: Yeah but…no, I’m just saying–
C: No, that was definitely better.
K: And that was not very good, right?
M: So not At The Drive Thru because they broke up and then The Mars Volta…
K: At The Drive Thru–no way!
C: At the Drive-In. At the Drive Thru are still together; they’re doing very well, they played local joints in Portland, Maine.
D: But what did At The Drive-In do, in relation to this question? Why were they even brought up?
K: No she just thought he was mentioning–
M: Yeah, sorry.
K: The song I was trying to think of by Julian Casablancas and Pepperdine University–who were the other people involved? Who’s fucking, N.E.R.D.?
[Danny and Chris in unison]: Pharrell. Pharrell.
K: It was Pharrell, Julian Casablancas, and someone else. And it wasn’t very good.
D: It should have been–
K: But it was better than this [one]. It should have been better. And this thing, actually, should have been about as bad as it was…the Rostam, Kid Cudi, well actually I really like Best Coast.
K: I like Rostam.
C: I don’t know why Rostam couldn’t do [Danny sings the Ray Charles Pepsi advert over this]
K: Well I think Rostam would have done a better thing just by himself.
C: Or just producing a Best Coast song.
K: Yeah. They should have left Kid Cudi–
C: [laughs] Kid Cudi was the problem.
K: Well and that was the case, Kid Cudi was all over it. It was pretty much Kid Cudi and then every once in a while Best Coast going like–
C: But he’s the biggest name though, right?
K: Well…I don’t know, Vampire Weekend are pretty damn big.
C: Yeah, that’s true.
K: Anyway. Probably that.
C: Not much good happening between corporations and artists.
K: [talks over me about to share my pick] Well I really liked “Pimps Don’t Cry.” That was really good.
C: “Pimps Don’t Cry”! [looks at me] Do you know this? It actually was weirdly good.
K: I would say it made me realize why, um,
C: Cee-Lo Green
K: Cee-Lo is not successful.
K: Because he wasn’t very good.
C: No he wasn’t.
K: He just sang really great on a really great song one time.
C: And uh, and what’s-her-name was actually totally fine.
K: Eva Mendes owned it.
C: So [looks at me] this is the song from Other Guys (2010) which is a Will Ferrell Mark Wahlberg movie that’s out right now.
M: Oh, okay. I saw Dinner For Schmucks instead of that.
K: How was it?
M: It was actually pretty good, really good, yeah.
C: Ah, alright, good to know.
K: We chose incorrectly.
M: I really love, I think Mark Wahlberg has grown a lot as an actor, really.
C: He was kinda bad in this.
D: Well he throws it away in this.
C: Yeah, he does.
M: Does he? Oh no.
C: He just kinda shouts–well he kinda seems out of his element.
D: He’s not a bad actor.
C: I’m not sure he knows how to do a funny movie.
K: Yeah that’s the thing is I felt, I just felt like he didn’t really quite know how to approach it. It wasn’t that he was bad, his tone was just weird.
[Chris and Danny agree in unison]
M: Well I mean, I guess if, I feel like Will Ferrell would be an intimidating actor to work with, in a sense.
K: Yeah. I do feel like–
D: Especially if you haven’t been doing comedy before.
D: You can see that in that last scene where they’re like, trying to get around and it’s just like…you know?
K: I felt like the whole movie was really poorly cast because I feel like Mark Wahlberg was kind of, uh, on, uh what’s the director’s name? Adam McKay?
K: I feel like he and Adam McKay probably understood each other. Will Ferrell does with the Will Ferrell thing and runs away with it, and everybody else fucking sucks. Every time Rob Riggle showed up, I wanted to tear down the screen.
D: He was really bad in it, wasn’t he?
C: I actually thought Eva Mendes was pretty good.
K: Oh Eva Mendes was fucking great. She stole the show.
C: Yeah…she was weirdly competent.
M: She was like, the one Eva Mendes role that really killed it for me, was like, hustle, the hustle? Some movie with Will Smith?
C: Uh, wait. Denzel Washington, maybe?
M: No, it was with Will Smith. It was a romantic comedy.
D: Oh, I know! Hitch.
M: Hitch! Yeah, there you go.
K: Hitch. I didn’t see that.
M: But the one that she played with um, [snaps fingers] actually it was Mark Wahlberg, they were cop brothers, and she was the love interest.
D: I fucking love that movie! What’s it called? I wanted to watch that [at Keith and Chris] that’s the one I was talking about.
C: In the Heat of the Night…
M: Nights in…something?
C: It’s Robert Duvall, and fuckin’…
K: Oh! And fucking, Rivers, Rivers–
M: Rivers Phoenix!
D: Yeah, with Joaquin Phoenix.
C: We Own the Night, We Own the Night.
K: I was, “Rivers Cuomo’s brother” is what I was trying to say.
D: We Own the Night, yeah, which I should have remembered because Youth Group’s last album was called–
K: Only By the Night.
D: The Night Is Ours
C: Only By the Night Which Is Ours.
D: [laughs] Yeah, which–
K: is out in stores now.
C: Which we own. [laughs]
M: Um, since we completely, walked away from that previous question–
K: Into a richer vein–
M: I’m just going to move on.
C: What else has Mark Wahlberg…[laughs]
M: I wanted to [laughs] Actually I wanted to ask about your pedal set up because I imagine that it’s changed in the past three or four years–
M: So I want to know exactly what you run through first–
K: It’s a title-grade [mumbles something] Um [looks up] so, let’s see, what era do you want to talk about?
M: Right now.
K: Right now? I’ll try to give you the signal chain in order: Boss tuning pedal, into an Electro-Harmonix Polyphonic Octave Generator Micro–
M: Which, you said that you found this pedal recently while you were record–writing songs in [Athens]?
K: No, well, I bought it in the middle of the Brain Thrust Mastery tour,
K: I bought the, not the micro, the full, like, you know, theatre, full,
C: The home appliance.
K: The home appliance, yeah. I bought it and had it on my pedal board for about six months–it’s a gigantic pedal–um, and it really made me angry, for a long time. But yeah, didn’t come into play until Barbara.
M: Ok. And then, is there…?
K: Oh. Ok. After that, then it goes a Boss DD-7 delay pedal, then it goes into, uh, an MXR Micro Amp, then it goes into an MXR Micro Delay, then it goes into…[laughs] is this really terribly interesting?
M: No, I want to keep hearing.
K: Then it goes into, um, an unused Electro-Harmonix Small Stone? [at Brendon] is that the name of the phaser pedal? Which I used to use on a couple of the Brain Thrust Mastery songs–doesn’t get used now. We don’t even touch the tunes that it used to be on.
D: Will we?
K: Nah, ehh, well if we get Lethal Enforcer off the ground. If we get that train in the air.
C: We have to get that fucking train in the air for the fall.
K: Into a Z-VEX–
M: That was gonna be my last question [referring to Lethal Enforcer] but since you brought it up…
K: Into a–I’m not done answering this one! Into a Z-VEX Box of Rock, which is the primary distortion pedal, into a Z-VEX Super Hard-On. No! I left out my tremolo.
[Chris and Danny continue to talk about Lethal Enforcer]
M: You don’t use all those in one night.
K: No. I pretty much just use–
M: That’s what I meant. I’m sorry, I phrased my question–
K: I have a Metal Zone, a Boss Metal Zone pedal that sits on the board and isn’t even plugged in. But I know, psychologically. Did you want me to be specific about anything on the pedal board?
M: I’m gonna take a picture of it later so let’s just stop.
K: Oh, shit!
M: [laughs] This is probably one of my more…questions…[gets up]
K: You’re getting up in case you have to run?
M: [looking at yellow legal pad underneath Danny’s legs] I don’t want to reach into his…can you grab that little thing for me? Thank you. Well [Chris] read my review of Rules Don’t Stop Me
K: Uh-huh, he [Chris tries to say something] Shut up! First of all, [mock sweetness] it’s called Rules Don’t Stop,
M: [covers mouth] Sorry.
K: Uh-huh. So–so anything you have to say about it is invalid.
M: It is, that’s true. Because I messed up.
C: We’ll get it [referring to Lethal Enforcer].
D: With a couple of practices.
C: We’re doing it tomorrow. We’re playing it tomorrow night.
M: I don’t know, I feel like, I don’t want to compare–
C: [at Keith] We’re preparing the van. Prepare the van.
M: –there definitely have been transition periods, and I feel like there has been a progression from With Love and Squalor to Brain Thrust Mastery and Barbara. But when I think of songs from With Love and Squalor, I feel like, I mean, the lyricism has definitely changed for me. You are very blunt on Barbara and I think on pretty much every song except maybe Jack & Ginger, and I think the actions were more passive in the first album when you describe the actions that you were talking about and I just want to know–do you see that? And then, if so, do you feel like the compositions in Barbara reflect that change in your lyrical output?
K: The musical compositions?
K: Um…uh, well I don’t think that lyrical approach and musical approach have necessarily gone hand in hand. I mean, I do think that a desire to be less wishy-washy in every aspect has had a hand in how Barbara sounds. Yeah, I definitely do think, lyrically, it’s slightly less vague. I mean I think, overall, I’ve always been pretty into not being, like, “diary-grade” specific. But I’m also worried about an aspect of, like With Love and Squalor, that’s totally vague and almost–
M: I don’t think it’s totally vague though–
K: Desperately universal.
C: With Love and Squalor was? What about Inaction or something?
K: Yeah. I feel like Inaction is the one on that album that’s not totally vague.
C: It’s the only one I listen to.
K: [laughs] Shut up.
M: I feel like when you look at it from a [first-person perspective]–
K: Well, I mean, I know what all the songs are about.
M: Yeah, no. But I feel like maybe other people wouldn’t think it’s vague. I think It’s A Hit, by not saying what has really hurt you that much, it’s actually such a more charming and heartfelt song that way.
M: And I feel like that quality was lost in Barbara for me, as a listener. So…
K: Did you think Barbara is that much more specific?
M: I think it’s really straight-forward and blunt. I feel like a lot of the songs–I don’t think Nice Guys is–Rules Don’t Stop definitely is. Like, I’m just like, “Okay. Cool.”
K: What do you think that’s about?
M: You know, not wanting to be part of the pack, not wanting your behavior judged by people.
K: That’s still very vague though. That’s still not a terribly specific…Well, okay I will say, I think a lyrical difference between With Love and Squalor and Barbara is that I do feel like With Love and Squalor was more about…I would say each of the songs is more about a very specific thing that then got put in the most vague possible terms and Barbara is um more, uh, less about one specific moment. But more precisely rendered.
M: So you’re trying to compile things and in order to kind of be more concise about what you were feeling, you, it ended up being a little more blunt?
K: Well, no, I just think With Love and Squalor was more about a thing that happened to me, like literally, a fifteen minute span per song. Not the entire album–the entire album takes place over forty-five, condensed into thirty-two minutes. I mean, I think Barbara is less about Keith Murray, for sure.
M: Ok. [clears throat]
D: Well maybe it’s just that those other things when they are originally about something specific can be perceived as being about something greater as well. Whereas, as you were saying, these are physically about an incident or something directly attributable to you–then it’s just already that thing. You know what I mean? I don’t know. Maybe it seems a bit more straight up, like, “There it is,” as opposed to…
K: I mean, I think Barbara–lyrically, Barbara is an attempt to be less of a whining asshole, for sure.
K: No, it’s more whining?
M: No it’s not more whining!
K: [laughs] Ok.
D: No, she wants more whining.
M: I just feel like you’re disparaging yourself.
D: [laughs] Yeah, she wants more whining.
C: I do think–I do think With Love and Squalor has more, a sort of, acute intensity of emotion.
C: Which probably what people hear when they listen to lyrics is, you know, just that intensity, and then they identify with that.
C: They identify with the grade of intensity and then they apply that to a situation in life where they had high-grade emotion.
C: They don’t even really, I mean, I’ve done this before. You listen to lyrics–you’re thinking about something–if you really listen to lyrics it doesn’t describe the situation that you’re thinking about, but it’s the tone of the song that’s getting you.
C: Whereas Barbara, is in far more sophisticated lyrics describing general ideas that I think maybe you are personally less passionate about.
C: And so the intensity is not as high–with the lyrics.
M: Sophisticated? Or is that exact word choice?
K: Says the woman who can’t name the song titles correctly!
M: ONE song!
K: Well that’s–hey! The interview is still very young.
C: It’s the only song we mention on the record.
K: [laughs] Yeah, you’re 0-1.
C: I mean…I think it is more sophisticated. I think if, for good or for bad, it’s more sophisticated, because it’s, lyrically. You know? I think that is the right word, for sure.
M: Actually…I think you’re right.
[Keith makes a seething noise out of his nostrils]
M: No, really.
Part Two of the interview to be revealed later this week.