There’s a scene in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist where Nick, our protagonist, realizes the girl he has been pining over is actually a heart-crushing succubus and all at once, opens his eyes to the plain-Jane girl named Norah -- who he has ignored throughout the movie – standing in front of him.
Their eyes meet; his heart opens; her heart flutters; he puts his jacket around her on a cold, dark NYC night. "After Hours," the soaring indie-rock anthem by We Are Scientists, plays behind it – a perfect soundtrack to a new love forged in one of the better-executed coming-of-age films in recent memory.
"I have actually never seen the movie," the band’s guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray said. "It definitely seems like it was aimed at people that were 12 years younger than I am."
I laugh -- even though embarrassment is flooding over me, having just admitted I’ve seen the movie enough times to remember exactly when and where their song was used -- and hope they play it at their Casbah show on Saturday. Nonetheless, the fact remains: "After Hours" is an affecting piece of music. It’s a gorgeous pop melody in an uptempo vehicle that just begs to be played at parties; which I tell him I am also prone to do.
"Nice," Murray said.
Having thoroughly made a fool of myself enough for one day, I start talking about the band’s just-released album, TV en Francais. It is, admittedly, a more rocking version of the band, known for their danceable indie pop. There’s more riffing, guitar solos reminiscent of hair-metal gods (we’ll get to that later) -- and more attitude overall. Yep, We Are Scientists have made an unabashed rock record.
Thankfully, my "After Hours" fanboy creepiness didn’t seem to faze Murray. Instead, he stuck it out and discussed being in a band with his best friend, writing a different kind of album -- and his high hopes for the new Star Wars films.
Dustin Lothspeich: You [and We Are Scientists' co-founding member bassist Chris Cain] went to school in Pomona and lived in Claremont. Ever hang out in San Diego?
Keith Murray: Before I was 21, the very first fake ID I ever bought was to get into a show that was playing a 21+ venue somewhere in San Diego. A friend of mine and I drove all the way down to SD, and I guess our fake IDs were really miserably bad because we did not get in at all. So we went to see US Marshalls instead, the sequel to The Fugitive starring Wesley Snipes and Tommy Lee Jones. That was our San Diego moment.
DL: That sounds like a wild adventure.
KM: It was mainly two hours each way in a car.
DL: Speaking of movies, I saw a post on your website titled "7 Hilarious Need-to-know Facts About Star Wars." What are your thoughts on the new films?
KM: I would have been a lot more excited about J.J. Abrams doing them if he wasn’t doing the Star Trek films too. It seems like a weird cross-pollination, having one guy doing all of our iconic sci-fi films. Surely there are two directors in the world who can make a good sci-fi film, right? It’s just annoying to me that Hollywood is that myopic. Like, "J.J. Abrams did Star Trek -- that’s got Star in the title, so he can do these, too!" But I do think it’s an excellent sign that George Lucas has incredibly little to do with these new ones.
DL: You guys have had your share of music in films. People like myself went nuts when they heard "After Hours" in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I put it on all my party mixes, and people just love it. Why is that?
KM: I think, simply, on paper, it’s uptempo, it’s got jangle, it’s got harmonies, it’s got a soaring chorus -- and lyrics about alcoholism. What more could you possibly want [laughs]? I’ve seen a couple of our songs in a few things. I was admittedly a pretty big fan of The O.C. back in the day, and it definitely makes your skin crawl a little bit to have your song playing in a scene when Ryan is practicing his boxing – it just seems goofy and out of place, and not at all what you had in mind at the time you wrote it – which is fine.
DL: When With Love and Squalor hit, there were a ton of bands putting out great records that have either trailed off or broken up entirely. How do you explain the band’s longevity? Is it surprising?
KM: Not really, but when you phrase it in that context, it seems notable. Chris and I had been best friends for years when we started the band. So it doesn’t seem weird to me that we can work together and hang out together every day.
DL: That’s funny because you hear about how bands get off tour and all the members of a band will go to the four corners of the nation to get away from one another.
KM: Which is totally understandable. Tour does make you hate people. You just get really tired of being around the same people. You see all the petty little annoyances that only a significant other should have to deal with. But, yeah, it’s nice that we like each other fundamentally enough that when we stop touring that we’re like, "Let’s hang out now."
DL: So what’s the one thing about Chris that annoys you the most?
KM: [laughs] Oh, no! It’s always super, super petty things that drive people crazy.
DL: That’s why it’s so funny, though: Shoot.
KM: I actually feel like he doesn’t really do it anymore, but there was a period where he would drink bottled water really loudly [laughs]. I actually hadn’t thought about it in years, so I guess that phase is over.
DL: Loudly? Like a slurping noise?
KM: No, it was a gulping noise.
DL: Now, vice-versa: What do you think he would say about you?
KM: Well, he’s a much more sensitive sleeper than I am. I can sleep through anything. He’s really sensitive to light, too. I often sleep with movies or podcasts going, and I’d always leave my laptop open -- and the room would be flooded with laptop light – which, to me, would be totally bearable, but it drove him crazy. I would also leave my phone set to alert so that when people texted me at 4 in the morning, it’d go off. I guess I’m not a terribly conscientious roommate.
DL: Well, at least you always have the music to go back to. How do you think TV en Francais stacks up against your previous records?
KM: Well, we are certainly the least-objective people in the world to ask about it. I wouldn’t put an album out if I didn’t think it was better than our last album. As of now, I think it’s our best album – ask me when our next album comes out, and I’ll probably have a different idea [laughs]. But I do think it’s our most qualitatively even album and involves the most differentiation. I think our first album is awesome from start to finish, but it kind of does the same thing a bunch of different ways. The second album does a bunch of different things to varying effect. This one tries a lot of different things and does them all to a level that I’m psyched about.
DL: There is a lot going on throughout. The new album has even got you totally shredding on guitar on a few spots …
KM: Which I’ve been waiting 20 years to do [laughs].
DL: Is that where the next We Are Scientists record is heading?
KM: No! That is definitely how I started playing guitar, though. I was a huge fan of [Extreme's lead guitarist] Nuno Bettencourt and [Swedish heavy-metal guitarist] Yngwie Malmsteen back in the day. But obviously there was no way I’d put out a record in 2005 that had any of that s--- in there. I may have questionable taste, but I’m no fool.
We Are Scientists headline the Casbah on May 10, with Paws opening. Tickets are $15 and are available here. The show is 21+ and doors open at 8:30 p.m.