Murray shakes his head. “Nope,” he says. “I don’t want to.”
At first my heart sinks (what’s wrong with me?!) but I quickly realize that Murray is kidding. It’s the first of many jokes that he will crack over the next 20 minutes.
We take seats at the bar at the Horseshoe Tavern. Nerdy without being awkward and youthful without being childish, Murray has a friendly spirit that makes me feel like I am talking to an old pal. He pushes his hair away from his forehead and orders a pint of Stella from the bartender.
“It’s definitely largely effortless,” Murray says of the comedy that he and bandmate Chris Cain bring to every aspect of their career. “There’s no plot to being funny. I think that’s sort of our default setting for better or worse.
“I think it would be much more taxing for us to feel like we had to be very, very cool,” he continues. “That would be much more emotionally strenuous I think.”
The Brooklyn-based duo formed back in 2000 when The Killers and Franz Ferdinand were ruling the airwaves. And while they never got that commercially successful in North America, We Are Scientists are incredibly popular in the United Kingdom.
“We live in a world where we kind of have this weird commercial station in Europe, whereas in North America we still operate like an indie band, which I think is good for us,” Murray says. “I think we sort of are happy with both worlds without feeling the desperation that kind of comes with this side.”
While in the UK the band would be playing large theatres, here in Toronto they play the modest Horseshoe Tavern – and are more than okay with it.
“We definitely like doing shows like this, and shows we’ve been doing here [in North America] have been stupidly fun in a way that playing theatres is sometimes really hard,” he says. “There are few things as disappointing to me as going into a room and realizing there’s going to be a barrier set up between the stage and the audience. That definitely makes me sad. I like when people are kind of right up at the stage.”
We Are Scientists have just a released a new album called Barbara. And while it is their fourth, it is their first one recording with a permanent drummer. Andy Burrows is his name, and despite Murray and Cain’s tight relationship, he fits right in with We Are Scientists.
“[Chris] and I have known each other for so long and have a unique and sometimes annoying personal dynamic,” Murray says. “But I do feel like when Andy is around we behave more as a three piece.”
And they work wonderfully as a three piece. The new album is fun, light and up-beat – which is exactly what the band aims for.
“We are mainly just interested in doing things that are fun and are non-taxing for everyone involved,” Murray says with a smile. “Going back to the excruciating coolness of people, I do like that kind of thing. I think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are amazing. It does make me tired after a while, to think about how difficult it must be to act that cool, but it is cool and I like it. But I think our take on things is very different.
“I think if Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played a show and everybody was being cool in the audience [the band] would be like, ‘Oh, well I guess that worked out,’” he continues. “And if we played a show and everybody was like, ‘Yeah, that was cool,’ even if the reaction was positive but people were like, ‘Very cool, very cool,’ I think we’d be sad and feel like that was a really boring day for us. So I think we are a good source of entertainment. I think we are just fun, that’s all we really care about.”
Curious about what his ideal reaction would be from a crowd, I ask him. A childish smile appears on his face.
“It’s never happened, but I’d like for someone who’s capable of doing standing back flips to be at a show and just be doing standing back flips,” Murray says. “That’s the ideal reaction.”
I suggest that it may take some prep work because you would have to put some mats down (safety first!) but he hesitates.
“I would like for the person capable of doing back flips to be so come [with the music] that they wouldn’t care whether or not they landed the back flip,” he says.
Fair enough. I switch topics and ask him how he would describe his music. Again, he smiles.
“When people ask me that question, the first thing that pops into my mind are my parents’ friends, and thinking about how my parents’ friends would describe [the music],” says Murray.
I ask how his parents’ friends would describe his music. Better yet, I ask how his parents would describe it.
“I think my parents would say that it is rock music and it probably sounds like Matchbox Twenty,” he says as I burst into laughter (shout out to Rob Thomas!). “That’s what my parents would say. They’d be wildly incorrect.”
Still, Murray manages to describe the intention of his music.
“Well I guess going back, if someone couldn’t do back flips, we like sing-a-longs, and we like dancing or leaping,” he says. “Unfortunately when my parents are at our shows they do sing along. I try to shut that down fast.”
I suggest that maybe the greatest audience reaction would be if his parents were the ones doing the back flips.
Murray flashes one more smile.
“If my dad were at our shows doing back flips,” he says, “I think that would be the height of success.”