Legendary Aussie punk band The Scientists have just released their first new album in 35 years. Titled Negativity, it finds them in fine form unleashing another torrent of their patented, primitive punk ‘n’ roll, and picking right up from where they left all those years ago on Weird Love, which was thought to be their swan song. Prior to this, the band released a single (2018’s Braindead/SurvivalsKills) and an EP (2019’s 9H20 SiO2) to coincide with North American tours.
The genesis of Negativity came from necessity.
“I think to maintain the momentum of touring, there needed to be those singles. There needs to be some kind of news for people to use to promote shows, otherwise the shows just don’t happen,” Salmon says. “We had such a blast doing those 2018 and 2019 US tours and we were all set up with three-year, U.S. Visas and looking forward to more touring. In order to build on that rather than it being a downward spiral, we needed something newsworthy, i.e. something new out there, and this time, a another single just wouldn’t cut it. We’d been working on how to create new material all that time as we knew it was getting to be crunch time.”
However, there was a bit of trepidation about going back into the studio and recording a new album after a lengthy break. When a band gets to the point where The Scientists have gotten, legacies have to be considered, so that puts added pressure on them to deliver.
“Always! I often said it was bad when bands from the past did new albums. It’s hard to find examples where they don’t embarrass themselves. Who knows, we might have done just that although I don’t think so ….only time will tell,” Salmon says “Audiences always gravitate to the old stuff. Unless it’s one of those bands like Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac with 2 distinct phases. Ha! The Scientists were one of those bands already, except without the huge success of those bands. Anyway, we’re here for better or for worse. I’m hoping us being aware of the dangers of what we’re doing helps us avoid the pitfalls. We didn’t have a choice if we wanted to keep touring. Some might say it would be gracious to put it to bed, but the recent tours of not just the US, but Europe and Australia, have been really successful,” he finishes.
Salmon also knew which line-up of the band he wanted on the recordings. It was the penultimate version of the band which features lead guitarist Tony Thewlis, bassist Boris Sujdovic and drummer Leanne Cowie. (This was also the line-up that has been touring the past few years.)
“What other choice is there? The Scientists Mark 1? We did that a few years back in Australia. It was fun, but it was certainly time to put that to bed,” Salmon says. “It has its fans, but it’s definitely the Mark 2 version of the band that has the most interest. This lineup is the closest thing to that…maybe it is that thing, given ‘Weird Love’ with this lineup is thought of as Mark 2.”
Once the line-up was chosen, it was time to record a new album. This took some time, since band members are spread out across the globe. Rather, than see it as a hindrance, they made the best of this situation and banged out another album pre-pandemic. It took a lot of strategic planning but they were able to make their situation work.
“Well, I always used to write the material anyway and writing a song’s not that much of an issue…but writing Scientists songs is another thing! There’s only so many ways one person can write a 2 note riff and I felt I’d exhausted most of my supply years ago,” Salmon says. “I’m half kidding, but minimalism underpins what we did and do. The other intangible element in the Scientists was the rhythmic groove. In recent years I’ve taught myself to play the drums, albeit badly.”
When Salmon completed this part, it was on to the next phase of recording their new record.
“I’d jam away to myself and when I found ‘that certain groove’ I’d send a recording of me playing the groove off to Tony. He’s our lead guitarist, now living in London. He’d then write riffs for them. He’d send the riffs back to me and some of them I was able to write melodies and lyrics to,” Salmon says. “I had already written a couple of our songs on my own, but for the most part the method was for me, Leanne and Boris to get together every now and then into a rehearsal room where we’d knock these songs, ie melodies, lyrics and riffs, into shape,” he continues.
And then it was time for the final part of the process.
“In November of 2019, the Scientists finally got inducted into the Western Australian Rock Music Hall of Fame. Utilising the fact that were all in the one place, we booked studio time in a Perth Studio with my friend Josef Grech who recorded us. A couple of songs we’d already recorded via the internet and they were done with another friend of mine, Finn Keane, at Head Gap Studio just down the road from me,” Salmon says. “All of the results were taken to Myles Mumford at Rolling Stock Recording Room for me to track vocals and oversee various other overdubs. Tony made a special trip out for that and we got various people to play strings, percussion, backing vocals,” he continues
All of this work was worth it, because Negativity is one corker of an album, which bristles with energy and vitality. The Scientists have created another potent dose of their primitive punk rock. Though, it is telling that they decided to announce the album with the single “Outsider”, which may or may not be autobiographical. It references their influences, but it could also reference their place in the Aussie punk scene.
“Ha! Maybe, but I wrote the song working with the idea of ‘outsider art’ or music. You know? Art made by savants. The Scientists are definitely informed somewhat by outsider art. There’s always an amount of paranoia that one actually is one of these savants and isn’t actually ‘In the know’. I wrote the song exploring that idea,” Salmon says “But, it is true, we always felt different to everyone else.”
Though, their “outsider” status, was really just a way they chose to express themselves.
“I suppose any art is really a case of people expressing their individuality, in our case how we’re “different from all the rest”. In bands people can do that collectively if that makes any sense. The other irony is that this individuality expresses something universal about the human condition. So in a word…Yes!,” Salmon says.
The Scientists have managed to defy the odds and release a comeback album worthy of their legendary reputation. They’ve weathered the storm of indifference and have come out on top, 35 years after their final album, by just being themselves and sticking to their guns.
It’s the secret to their longevity.
“I think that even though the Scientists were very much a product of their times they quickly became their own thing and began ignoring the trends as soon as they defined themselves,” Salmon says “Once on that path, all other distractions fell by the wayside and we just lived in our own world and followed our own rules.”
Buy the new album here.