This week, Brooklyn-based trio We Are Scientists release their major-label debut, With Love and Squalor, and its twelve tracks of catchy, eclectic rock numbers packed with punk-pop adrenaline. And for their pre-release success — performing to millions (on Letterman), a nearly sold-out European tour, loads of hype — bassist/resident funnyman Chris Cain credits the kittens.
"It's gotta be the cats," says Cain, referring to the animals that grace both the band's logo and album cover. "You can dress that up whatever way you want, but the fact is . . . we have touched a chord." A twenty-five-foot version of Cain's own pet, Gilbert, has even been commissioned for a Kansas City billboard. "Kansas City is apparently a big market for us — and he's a looker."
Whether it's some weird feline magic or their infectious sound, We Are Scientists — Cain, singer/guitarist Keith Murray and drummer Michael Tapper — have touched plenty of the right chords on Squalor. The album, named for J.D. Salinger's well-known 1950 essay for The New Yorker magazine, is a breakthrough in the New Wave resurgence, with We Are Scientist squeezing in between the walls of a caving tolerance for hop-scotch chord progressions and repeated refrains.
In 2000, after graduating from various universities in Claremont, California, the men of W.A.S. relocated to New York City and applied their hard-earned degrees towards becoming struggling musicians. They recorded three EPs and a full-length — with admittedly mixed results. "If there's any justice in the world you'll never hear our early stuff," says Cain. However, their last self-released EP, 2004's The Wolf's Hour, became the basis for Squalor, which the trio recorded a year ago in North Hollywood while crashing on pals' couches.
With instant support from the BBC's Radio 1, W.A.S. quickly pushed back their U.S. release date in favor of a quick U.K. tour. "We had to strike while the iron was hot!" says Cain. But now, before their next European stint, the overnight New Yorkers are kicking off a ten-date promotional tour on this side of the pond, in hopes of creating some American heat.
And for those who can't make it to the handful of stateside dates this month, videos for each Squalor track are being rolled out on the band's Web site, wearescientists.com. The clip for one of the album's catchiest tunes, "The Great Escape," is an alternately touching and hilarious low-budget number directed by Akiva Schaffer, one of the Saturday Night Live writers behind the recent video-skit "Lazy Sunday."