Liverpool boys Matthew Murphy, Dan Haggis and Tord Overland Knudsen, collectively The Wombats, have just released their third studio album, Glitterbug. Produced by Mark Crew (Bastille) and featuring lead single “Greek Tragedy” (which has a great video that you can check out here), this record is a solid collection worth the four year-wait since 2011’s This Modern Glitch. Having just announced their largest headline gig for this October, at London’s famed Alexandra Palace, the band kicked off their North American tour last week in Toronto. I chatted with Haggis and Knudsen about the production of Glitterbug and the cities that influenced its creation.
First off, congrats on nabbing your biggest headline gig!
Dan: Yeah, it’s got a 10,000-person capacity and is quite daunting! We’ve played Brixton quite a few times, which is about half the size. Still pretty big…but obviously Ally Pally is the next to tick off the list of places to play. Hopefully if all goes well, it should be ok!
From sweaty club gigs to Brixton to Alexandra Palace to large-scale festivals…is there a certain venue you’re most comfortable in or enjoy the most?
Dan: Each venue has its merits. Obviously a small show is much more intimate and sweatier…you can see everyone’s faces and you can actually interact with people on more of a personal level. Maybe things are a little bit more intense and you get bruises when you’re in the crowd! When you get to much bigger size venues or huge outdoor festivals, the crowd is like one thing, rather than individual people. Because it’s so big sometimes; some of the festivals we’ve done in Germany have been for 40-50,000 people. You can’t think of them as individual people because that’s too big to think about. So you think “Right, ok, it’s a normal gig” and there’s just one huge monster out there waving around.
Tell me about the writing and recording process for Glitterbug.
Dan: We finished the last album’s touring cycle, which took a year and a half, up to about the start of 2013. We had a few festivals after, but that was the end of the proper touring. We did about a year and a half of solid writing and then finished the writing process in July of last year. We spent about three months recording with Mark Crew. He was really busy with other projects; but we recorded the first song, “Greek Tragedy”, with him and it worked out so well that we were like “Right, we really want to work with this guy”. We worked around the time he could give us because we wanted the album to be cohesive and under one producer.
Tord: On our second album we worked with about 4 different producers and were bouncing around different studios in LA. We didn’t want the same thing to happen again.
Dan: We would be in LA recording a song and then we’d have a week before the next one…so we’d do a bit more writing and would finish a song but didn’t have time for it to settle before recording. So it was a little bit chaotic. Whereas with this album, we finished writing pretty much 100% and demoed everything; so with the recording process, we could just focus on recording, rather than having one foot in one pocket and the other one in another and trying to walk. It was a bit easier.
Tord: In terms of the writing process though, the way we’ve done things in the past is Murph will come in with a sort of skeleton of a song – maybe just an acoustic or keyboarder or something really stripped down – and we would add production elements around it. But on this album, for the first time, Dan and I wrote full-on backing tracks and hooks that we would send to him. We were spending a lot of time in Liverpool and he was spending a lot of time in LA. So there are a few songs where the approach was very different.
Dan: We wanted to spice up how we write songs as a band, to see if anything different came out and if we could make a difference on the album. That was kind of how we did 6 out of the last 9 songs we made. Which hopefully could be a sort of blueprint for moving on in the future.
Tord: It was a bit of a necessity as well, because we weren’t together that much. Murph would then come back to Liverpool and we’d finish the songs there…then we’d go down to London and Mark helped us finalize things, making it sound like an album and not individual crafts.
Content-wise, I heard that it’s very influenced by Los Angeles. How much of a role do your physical surroundings play in your music? I would imagine that being from Liverpool, that city would be a huge influence, but what about the other cities you find yourselves in?
Dan: I think, especially lyrically, that’s kind of where the main influences come from. Because Murph always writes from a very personal place – within reason. Of course he embellishes things and messes around with ideas of “what if I were doing this” or whatever. But he spends a lot of time in Los Angeles and had broken up with his girlfriend at the time, who was in London. He ended up going out with this new girl in LA. Two major cities and you’re ending one relationship and starting another…all the excitements of that. And just being in a city like Los Angeles, which is such a crazy place! As with most big cities, you have people who have fallen through the cracks of society – and he spoke to lots of them. They came to LA to pursue a dream and it didn’t work out, they couldn’t pay rent…who knows what the stories are. You can only imagine. And then there are lots of people who are still there, trying desperately to make it. And then there are some people who are living up in the Hollywood Hills in mansions. It’s just a really dynamic, inspiring place. There’s lots of music industry stuff going on, lots of creative types. We did actually record most of “Greek Tragedy” in LA as well.
It definitely does put you in a different mindset. Like when the three of us sat up in the Hollywood Hills in this house that the label had rented for us, with a pool and palm trees…it was ridiculous, we were just like “what the f*ck’s going on here?” And then we set up some keyboards and the laptop and just started messing around, furthering it. We were like “Right, we’re going to finish this now, we’re going into the studio”. We booked the studio the day after, we hadn’t finished it properly and then me and Tord were like “we’re going to record all the backing stuff” and Murph was like “I’m going to write all the lyrics in two days, I’m going to come in and sing it and we’re going to do it”. And we had this very much “this is how we’re going to do it” attitude, which we’ve never done in Liverpool because we can take our time and we’re not in a different city. It was like we suddenly put on our little war helmets and were like “Right, come on!” I think LA puts you in this different mindset that we wouldn’t necessarily be in back home. So yes it does affect you, and it does inspire you in different ways. But saying that, I’m sure that if we’d been in Mexico or Brazil and we were in the same situation, it probably would have inspired us in a slightly different way – but we might still have made something that was in the ballpark of that.
Tell me about the video for “Greek Tragedy” and the actress who plays your stalker.
Dan: She’s great, isn’t she? I remember when we first met her, we thought “Oh yeah, she looks good for the part”…we couldn’t imagine that she was going to be such a good psycho! We were filming the first scene and I remember we looked down…and she did this thing with her eyes. We were like “Right, she’s a really good psycho, actually…wouldn’t like to bump into her in a dark alley!” But she was so nice and we’re obviously not trained actors like she is, but she made it really easy for us. It was so much fun, because we don’t get to do that all the time. Having cameras around and getting to fake our own deaths with fake blood and hydraulic pumps and prosthetics…
Tord: It was really cool to see how it works and how he (director Finn Keenan) made it look so real.
Dan: We look at Dexter and True Blood and The Walking Dead in a slightly different light now!
Obviously social media has changed the landscape quite significantly since you first entered the music scene…have you found it more of a blessing or a curse when it comes to being in a band?
Dan: In terms of the actual day to day of what we do, a gig is still a gig. The main difference is that people stand there with their phones nowadays…they’re very keen to post things straight away. So with the fan interaction side of things, that’s changed loads. In the past when we came on stage – like eight years ago or whatever – we didn’t have something to suddenly say “that was such a great show, thanks so much for coming”. We get to hear people’s reactions to the show straight away – so we get feedback. We embrace that. For us to be able to take photos on tour brings the experience closer to fans. And for us as well, we follow other bands…and it’s really cool, isn’t it, when you can know that they’re in the studio again or whatever without having to pick up a magazine. We still pick up magazines! But you’re just closer and you’re cutting out the middle man. It feels like you’re directly in touch with the band.
Tord: As for the creative side of things, it hasn’t really changed.
Dan: Apart from having a song called “Emoticons”…