The Wombats – Interview 2018

Named after the Australian marsupial, but born at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, The Wombat are one of the most successful British bands of the last decade or so. Matthew Murphy (‘Murf’), Tord Overland-Knudsen, and Dan Haggis have just released their fourth album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, their third consecutive top five album, and it’s full of their trademark bouncy indie-rock, causing many a grown person to leap around like a 12-year-old. Murf took some time out to chat with Brightonsfinest.

Hi Murf. How’s it going?
I’m good, thanks.

Where are you at this moment?
I am in a studio. It’s very King’s Speech-y right now.

How do you mean?
The scene from the King’s Speech where the red light is on and he’s in a sound-proofed room…

So, Tord is in Norway, Dan is in London, you’re in LA. How do you work when you are dispersed like that?
The third album was similar. I was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles even then. A good portion of this album was written in LA and then I would fly to Oslo, where I made four trips, and we would write in Tord’s studio. That’s how we came up with the rest of the album. So, it’s between LA and Oslo where we did the writing, and then we got together over the course of about six weeks in London, and recorded with Mark and Catherine.

That’s Mark Crew who works with Rag’n’Bone Man, and Catherine Marks, the producer who did The Big Moon album?
Yeah, that’s right

When did Tord go back to live in Norway?
About two years ago.

He’s Norwegian, isn’t he? But you met at university in England…
Yes. At an art college in Liverpool (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, LIPA). That’s how we all met. Tord was in about 55 bands at the time. But somehow, we were lucky enough to keep him in ours.

Was it you and Dan at the time who were making music?
Yes. Dan and myself formed a bond over going out and getting completely wasted in Liverpool, and we wanted to start a band.

When you first went into a studio and started making a noise, do you remember that?
We were lucky at the arts college. LIPA had lots of rehearsal rooms. We would book those out. And I had some awful songs back then, and we would play them. One of the first positive memories of those days was when we put ‘Moving to New York’ (their first single) together and it felt really great. It felt like we had found our sound. We used to have a guitar player who moved back to California, and we replaced his guitar parts with harmonies. That’s when I felt The Wombats were born.

Have you always been just a three-piece on stage as well?
We have thought about getting other musicians, but it’s just easier to use some technology instead.

It’s amazing how everyone can live in different parts of the world and yet still function as a band…
Well, until we get some decent holograms made we’re always going to have to be together in order to tour.

You see enough of each other on tour, as it is, don’t you?
I think there may be something in the fact that we are so dispersed. I feel that bands that don’t live together maybe stay together for longer.

What’s LA like?
I love it. It’s a ludicrous place. I fit in well.

Do you walk anywhere, or is it all done by car?
No, I do walk quite a lot. But, yeah, the nearest supermarket or restaurant is two miles away, which I don’t really mind walking. But, we’re actually moving to a much more walkable, European-esque area.

Glitterbug (The Wombats’ previous album) featured synths. What was the thinking about reverting to your pure rock sound for this album?
I feel like we shouldn’t have done a full-on synthy-pop album. I don’t think that has served us well, even though there are synths prevalent on the new album. I thought it would be more cool to make a more organic album, leaning on more analogue things, than on production wizardry. I kept saying let’s do a Wombats version of (Radiohead’s) In Rainbows, and how timeless that album sounds. I wanted to give this album the opportunity to be as timeless as maybe our first album is becoming, and maybe more so that what our second and third albums are.

Can you explain the title?
I suppose it’s a more interesting way of saying the ones closest to you are the ones capable of doing the most damage. The ones you love that is.

Is that a lyric somewhere on the album?
No. All the Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life did start out life as a song. Then I realised it was a pretty crap song. It stayed in its miserable cage. I kept the title for the album.

How do you find the songwriting process; do you go through a lot of stuff that you eventually discard?
It’s always song titles or concepts for me. If I believe in a song title I’m happy to pursue it, whether it takes one week or a year. Songwriting is endlessly frustrating. I was reading a recent Keith Richards interview in the Wall Street Journal, and he was talking about songwriting as if it was a penance. And even at age 74 he’s still waking up in the middle of the night to jot down some nonsense lyric or a little melody line into his voice notes. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.

Can you talk about the song ‘Greek Tragedy’?
The song started off life as a track that Dan and Tord sent me, and we finished it off in LA. At the time a lot of things were going on in my life. The song is about being in the middle of two separate people, and the pushing and pulling that was happening at the time. It was not a difficult song to write because there was so much ‘shizer’ going on.

‘Lemon to A Knife Fight’ is great, as is the title…
I’d been watching a lot of David Lynch. And my wife and I went for dinner near Venice Beach, and we drove back along Mulholland Drive. And it was this epic scene at night, and I could see these brake lights in front of me. She was killing me about something that I had done. I don’t know what it was, but she was really screaming at me. Yeah, if you get in an argument with my wife, you don’t stand a chance. So, that’s where the song came from.

It’s still causing you trauma?!
Yeah yeah!

That’s alright, I think a lot of us are in the same situation…
It’s a fairly large boat.

The last song, ‘I Don’t Know Why I Like You, But I Do’. Is that also about your wife!?
No. That’s not about my wife!

You’ll be on a massive touring schedule from now on, I guess…
Yeah, first the UK, and then slamming it around Europe. The next two and a half months are nonsense, but after that it should loosen up. But, I know it won’t. I need to think that it will.

Jeff Hemmings