Touring bands spend a lot of time eating bad food. Cheap meals at greasy-spoon diners go hand in hand with travelling for months. No wonder they’re so picky about the hummus on their riders. We Are Scientists decided to take the expertise they’ve built up from years of tour-eating and share it with the world through the medium of Yelp reviews – hilarious Yelp reviews. Take this, for example, from their one-star review of Chili’s Grill & Bar in Crowley, Louisiana: “Our margaritas were absolutely terrible. There is no reason for these margaritas to exist in the world. They are as tragic and unnecessary in 2010 as death by polio.”
“That’s some pretty good phrasing,” says bass player Chris Cain when I read the review back to him. “I have to hand it to ourselves, it’s good and it’s very accurate.” Those terrible margaritas, which accompanied “probably the worst meal we’ve ever had on the road”, inspired the first of several Yelp reviews, varying from the brutal to the glowing. Of course, We Are Scientists are familiar with being on the other end of reviews themselves, but it’s the immediate reactions of crowds that Cain is focused on.
“You kind of have to learn as a performer how to discern between the unbridled appreciation and fervour that you get for your old songs – the songs that maybe people got laid to for the first time or remember from childhood days – there’s that level of appreciation, and then there’s actual contemporary enjoyment based on something that they genuinely like, but that they’ve only known for a month or something. It taps into an entirely different level of enthusiasm, and so as a performer I think you have to learn how to not get upset about the fact that new songs are never going to touch that side of the audience that has been carefully marinating for eight years or whatever. But with that caveat, the new songs have been going down very well, I would say.”
Those new songs come from this year’s album, TV En Français, which began with a very specific idea: We Are Scientists wanted to make a 1990s album. In particular, an album like those by Evan Dando’s band The Lemonheads. “We got about half of a record into it and then felt really uncomfortable,” says Cain. “It felt like we were aping; I guess like we were trying to do something that wasn’t We Are Scientists. A fair criticism, because we were trying to do a Lemonheads record! And although the songs were, I think, pretty cool, we definitely were like, ‘We need to start over.’”
Beginning again, this time without goalposts to work towards, meant a new direction emerged organically. “I think we got about 20 songs together and there was harder stuff and then there was the more, for lack of a better word – there needs to be a better word – indie stuff, and we decided to go for the indie stuff.” Then they hired producer Chris Coady, who has worked with Beach House, TV On The Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and who Cain describes as “definitely the best producer of indie stuff in the world”. They came up with ten songs they were much happier with, and felt like an honest portrayal of who they are.
“I do think that lack of a horizon we were walking toward meant that we ended up with a record that, to me, sounds just like a pure, unadulterated We Are Scientists record, [more] than I think we have done before. I can clearly hear the influences in previous stuff. In this one I’m very hard-pressed to say, ‘Well, it sounds like Bowie or it sounds like Fleetwood Mac or it sounds like Weezer or Les Savy Fav,’ or whatever. I think this one is definitely the one where we’ve come closest to achieving a We Are Scientists sound.”
Touring TV En Français is about to bring We Are Scientists back to Australia, and it’ll be their biggest tour here yet. They’ve uploaded a video to YouTube of themselves trying to walk across the country, or at least a green-screen version of it, to get to their next gig. In that video they end up starving to death in the desert – but when they’re here for real, they’re much more likely to be eating chiko rolls and chicken drumsticks at truck stops. After I explain that Yelp reviews are a thing in Australia too, Cain promises to write some for us.
“I hereby vow to you that we will review one meal a day when we’re in Australia.” He won’t go easy on us either. Remembering a previous trip out here when they did the typical American tourist thing of seeing koalas, Cain says he was unimpressed.
“I held a koala. He was kind of a sack of shit. He seemed like a surly little drunk bastard. He did not want to be there. It’s not like he fought me off or anything – I went to one of these places where you can hold a koala…” Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane, where every visiting rock band goes to hold cuddly animals and get their photos taken? “It was, yes, and I don’t think you would apply the adjective ‘cuddly’ in the moment. He was furry, certainly, but it’s not like holding a cat that’s purring or a dog that’s pushing his nose against your ribs or whatever. Koalas don’t want to hang out with humans.”
That sounds like a one-star review to me. Lift your game, koalas.
TV En FranНais out now through Dine Alone.