Interview We Are Scientists: ‘‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ Is A Really Fucking Great Record’

Musical memories and literary leanings.

We catch up with one half of the American Barbarians, bassist Chris Cain, for a leisurely chat about musical memories, literary leanings, and how drink is very, very necessary when you’re on the road. 


What songs do you attach to big moments in your life?
That song, ‘Ann Don’t Cry’ by Pavement. It’s off ‘Terror Twilight’, one of the biggest albums for me at a certain time in my life, and that song was really closely associated with somebody. Let’s see… [thinks] ‘The Joshua Tree’, although I came to it a little bit late, I probably listened to it in 1990. A girl I had a huge crush on for many years gave me it, and it’s an amazing album too, I was completely blown away.

Scent is meant to be the biggest memory trigger, but music performs the same function.
Well, music has a similar thing to it, doesn’t it? Scent is even less specific to most people’s rational ability to describe it. You are powerless as to whether you engage with a song or not, like a song comes on the radio and it will bring with it whatever feelings you have attached to it, and scent does the same thing. I don’t think it’s true of other art forms.


Which masterpiece by another band would you love to call your own?
I would have loved for us to have written ‘Two Dancers’, the Wild Beasts record. That’s probably the most recent one. Yeah, that record definitely makes me jealous! I don’t really think it’s something we would write, though. It also would have been great to have written Weezer’s first record, ‘The Blue Album’, that would’ve been nice… goddamn! I’m still really in love with ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’, our second record; the first one doesn’t do it for me so much. I like it, but ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ is a really fucking great record.

That’s one of the downsides of having a really big first album: it can eclipse what you do afterwards.
I mean, obviously you don’t unwish a great first album because that’s how you get a fanbase, and that’s a very nice position to be in. I agree that it certainly has its negative effects though.

You did a series of blogs on the Guardian website last summer, dispensing advice. Would you ever write a self-help book?
We’ve cycled through a bunch of prospective book projects, none of which we’ve ever had the dedication to produce. One we’re considering is a drinks book, like cocktail recipes, but also chapters on beers and wines. We would probably partner with an excellent bartender, so that it actually would have some value as a book! We would bring the bullshit and then we would have somebody supply reasonably creative and tasty drinks that we would vet. I do think we’re experts when it comes to whether a drink is good or not; we might not be able to make them… I can make all the basics – you have to learn that on the road – unless you actually don’t drink, and I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t. Not on the road anyway.
I’ve read the most recent Kingsley Amis’ collection on drinking, and in the introduction he discusses the notion that without alcohol, man couldn’t have survived the twentieth century. Like the new horrors that were brought on by massive warfare, and other unparalleled threats in terms of the mass destruction that people were facing, like nuclear weaponry. He reasons that psychically people could not as a species have made their way through those things without the tension relief provided by alcohol – or something else, had something else been available, but alcohol served this necessary function. I think that to some degree being a touring musician is one of the many roles that requires an almost medicated tension relief. And so we shall write a book! It’ll be funny, it’ll have that in it.

What does your family think of your career? Have they been supportive?
My family have always been really, really supportive, as have Keith’s. They’re all pretty delighted! Parents get a kick out of telling their friends that their kid is in a successful rock band, and telling them to tune into this or that TV show and watch us play. We’ve also been lucky enough that we’ve had the success to not have to live on our parents’ couches. Until the band was signed, we were financially solvent: we had other jobs, we were never the stereotypical impassioned youths who just played music, and played music, and played music… 


What were you doing before you were in the band?
I worked with an ad agency for about three years immediately before this, and before that I taught English Language to fifth- and seventh- graders in LA. Keith worked for the independent film channel in their film production division, reading scripts and working on films that they were developing.

Are you still in touch with Michael [Tapper, former drummer]?
Not really, to be honest. We keep track of him I’d say – we tagged him before we released him into the wild [laughs]. I know what he’s up to, he’s playing in a band called Yellow Ostrich in New York, he just moved back to New York from LA. He’s been living in LA for the last 3-4 years, so it was easy to fall out of touch. But now he’s back in New York I expect I’ll see him around more.

His departure from the band seemed sudden.
It didn’t feel quick to any of us, though it wasn’t very well planned because it was precipitated by the immediate threat of going on tour. Basically, the recording of ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ was quite divisive for the three of us, and when you’re not on the road you don’t have to hang out with each other all day. So it wasn’t an issue until it became time to tour for the record and we were going to have to spend the next year on a bus – and then it became obvious to us that that wasn’t what we wanted.

Are there any songs you’re sick of playing?
Ummm… [thinks] not really. We don’t play everything off the first record anymore, so the songs I’m more bored of off that record we don’t play: we just play the songs off there that people really love – they get such a huge reaction that it’s impossible not to enjoy playing them. I think ‘This Scene Is Dead’ and ‘Inaction’ are my favourites off that record, maybe ‘Textbook’ as well.

And finally, what would you be doing if you weren’t in We Are Scientists?
If I had a choice, I’d write fiction. I don’t know exactly what kind, but I guess novels. Oh man, my favourite books? Choose a genre and I’ll tell you my favourite books from that genre [laughs]. Sci-fi? ‘Snowcrash’ by Neal Stephenson, pretty much anything by Ray Bradbury, his books are incredible. I feel like Robert Heinlein is simultaneously overrated but impossible to ignore in his effect on sci-fi. Without much reflection on history or what makes a truly great author, my favourite, favourite all-time sci-fi books are the ‘Mars’ series by Kim Stanley Robinson – amazing books! I’d recommend them to anyone.

We Are Scientists play Dot to Dot Festival in Bristol (Saturday 28th May), Nottingham (29th May) and Manchester (30th May) - check out dottodotfestival.co.uk for full event info and ticket details.

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