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We Are Scientists, ‘Helter Seltzer’

We Are Scientists, now pared down to two core members—guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain—had the good fortune to have their one-time keyboard player, Max Hart, produce their fifth album, Helter Seltzer. Hart has spent recent years on the road with Katy Perry, as well as music directing Tegan and Sara’s most recent tour, which has honed his ears and production skills, much to the benefit of Helter Seltzer.

Hart put together a makeshift but inclusive studio in a basement in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, just for the recording of the album. He, Murray and Cain holed up there for a good three months making Helter Seltzer.

The cues for the album are taken from songs like Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” and Heart’s “These Dreams,” where Hart uses MIDI programming in Logic for his outboard synthesizers and Pro Tools to track all the other instruments, vocals and overdubs. Murray comes in with the songs written and pretty well demoed, but that doesn’t mean they stay that way. “Classic Love,” for instance, had a grunge vibe to it originally with grinding guitars, which Hart shifted into an acoustic realm—with a signature twist.

Max Hart

“I like to put ghostly, blown-out keyboard sounds underneath guitars to make them sound a little spookier,” Hart says. “I do something I call ‘a hollow lead.’ It’s a signal chain involving any triangle wave keyboard and distortion and reverb, and you get this strange thing with harmonics getting accentuated in weird ways. It’s a fun thing to play with. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes it’s horrible.”

Hart has a modular synthesizer he built for bass drops, white noise snare samples, lead sounds, guitar filtering, and vocal effects. With it, he makes the 808-style drops heard on “Classic Love.” That, along with Roland JX-3P and Dave Smith Instruments are some of the pieces that Hart uses to create his “hollow lead.” Says Hart, “I was lightly using the LFO to pitch to warble the synthesizers and make them out of tune, going for that vibe of someone putting their hand on the tape reel. If you’ve ever done that, you get the pitch to fluctuate.”