The Science Behind the Scientists

First U.S. tour includes two nights at Beerland, Oct. 5-6

Perth post-punks the Scientists skirted commercial success in their original 1979-1987 run, but Kim Salmon and crew became a seminal influence on fellow Aussie iconoclasts the Drones, Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney, and a whole slew of Lower Eastside New Yorkers. The frontman called from Melbourne ahead of a Friday/Saturday night stand at Beerland.

Scientists, mid-Eighties: (l-r) Tony Thewlis, Kim Salmon, Boris Sudjovic, Leanne Cowie

Initially, the band made its impact on American grunge and garage rock without a single U.S. tour – until now. Driven by 2016’s near-definitive compilation A Place Called Bad, as well as this year’s reissue of 1986’s Weird Love and new single “Braindead,” the Scientists finally invade stateside soil in their mid-eighties incarnation: Salmon, guitarist Tony Thewlis, bassist Boris Sudjovic, and drummer Leanne Cowie. Salmon, who also led Nineties improvisational rockers the Surrealists and did time in scum rock band the Beasts of Burden, enlightened us about the Scientists reunion.

Austin Chronicle: Is this a revival of the Scientists?

Kim Salmon: It seems the band has had a bit of a renaissance. It started with us having a tour of Australia last year. Tony wanted to come out, and we built this tour around his snorkeling holiday [chuckles]. I said, “Maybe we should have a go at doing something.” We released a cover of the Jacques Dutronc song “Mini Mini Mini,” and grabbed one of the old songs that we’d never actually recorded properly, “Perpetual Motion,” and made that a digital-only single to go with the tour. No sooner was it out than people started contacting me all around the world wanting to put it out as a 7-inch. I thought, whatever region we were going to, we could do singles, and have ‘em released there.

So we’re coming over to the States and we’re releasing a single, “Braindead,” that’s gonna coincide with this trip. I think it’s probably better to just do a single and sneak these things by people. There’s not a whole lot of new stuff that they can suddenly not give a shit about and say, “Ah, I wanted the old stuff [chuckles].”

The Scientists always were a singles band in its heyday. Blood Red River and This Heart Doesn’t Run On Blood, This Heart Doesn’t Run On Love were EPs. We didn’t do that many actual albums. There’s the pink [self-titled] album from the first lineup, then there’s You Get What You Deserve [1985], and after that, there were compilations and things. So it’s not really a departure doing singles. There was always that immediate, three-minute mentality behind it. The long epics were never really our modus operandi.

AC: You always make the most of your three minutes. It’s some of the most exciting and explosive music around.

KS: There’s a bit of a, dare I say it, science behind it. We did try to actually generate a lot of excitement. The way I construct songs is actually quite minimalist. Out of all of the bands I’ve ever been in, it’s definitely the hardest to write material for. There’s a kind of formula, using the scientific analogy. It’s not something I can really explain.

AC: Are you happy with the A Place Called Bad box?

KS: I think it’s perfect. Normally including everything would be a bad thing, but I think this is one of those instances where it works. I deliberately stepped back from the presentation. As an example, we repackaged things early on with Citadel and Sympathy for the Record Industry, and I had a big hand in those reissues [Blood Red River, The Human Jukebox, and Pissed On Another Planet]. So, I felt that I’d said my piece with that. It was good to see somebody else’s telling of the history, because it’s all very subjective. The story’s out there, and it’s beyond any of us, and I felt good about it being outside of me and the band.

I’m really excited about Weird Love, because it’s better produced. Richard Mazda, who produced “Mexican Radio” and Hex Enduction Hour for the Fall, did a brilliant job on our material. It really captures that particular side of the Eighties. Because the Eighties wasn’t just people with keytars, bad haircuts, and high-waisted pants. There was a lot more going on, and when you think of bands like the Gun Club, and Panther Burns, and Tav Falco, this recording seemed to sum up a lot of that vibe.

It was basically a re-recording, and at the time I thought it was a dodgy idea. But you know what? I think these versions are every bit as good as the original versions! Maybe because we removed a certain amount of doubt. We just went in and did what we’d been doing for years. It was at a point when the band was probably ready to finish, because the troubles we were going through will wear you down. So inspiration to do things was running out, but we were certainly able to turn it on for a show.

Jim Dickinson said to me, “I believe misery sticks to the tape.” I personally think you hear what you hear, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect what the experience was. Whatever process you go through, that doesn’t come out when you hear the end result. I think that was the case with Weird Love. I put the album on, and I think, “Wow, that sounds fantastic.”

AC: When you’re working on music, do you think, “Now I’m gonna do a Scientists song, or now I’m gonna do a Surrealists song”? Or do you just work on it and say, “Now I see who this is for”?

KS: All of the above. I don’t mind writing to a brief. I’m fairly cautious with the Scientists. I don’t wanna mess with it. It’s an interesting thing trying to write material for it, because, on the one hand, you wanna take it a bit further and you wanna push the envelope. On the other hand, you don’t wanna do something that’s not credible. That isn’t what the Scientists is. So it’s an interesting challenge. That’s what I’ve got my mind on at the moment.

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