The Wombats are a cornerstone in the musical development of many a millennial. Their first album, 2007’s A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation certainly soundtracked the formative years to my own and many peers’ adolescences with soaring choruses, rough post-punk-inspired guitar lines and abrasive rhythm sections. The Wombats had certainly found their niche in the mid-noughties indie-rock melee. Subsequent albums showed that same aptitude for pop-driven indie but from a different angle with 2011’s This Modern Glitch and 2015’s Glitterbug following a far more synth-heavy path. However, their latest offering Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life shows a more nuanced take on their more guitar-influenced material in a way that gives the record further room to breathe. “We wanted to make a Wombats version of In Rainbows or a Wombats version of AM” remarks frontman Matt Murphy. The album certainly embellishes this notion, and shows a slight departure from the caustic rhythms and high octane approach that flood their previous work. Murphy went on to remark, “I’m constantly barking up the same tree… but I want to be able to bark up different trees.” You can certainly hear this on the record, as the band peer through a different production lens, enlisting the help of producers Mark Crew (Bastille, Rag’n’Bone Man) and Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice, The Amazons, The Big Moon). This latest approach to the album was something I was keen to question Murphy on further before their warm-up show at Liverpool’s Hangar 34.
Q: So I wanted to start by asking what it’s like to play in Liverpool, the city where it all began, in comparison with all the other places you’ve played across the globe?
Murphy: It’s very different because it’s a lot more stressful and we’ve got a lot more friends and family here but essentially it feels five or six other cities around the world that we have a huge connection to. Liverpool, London, New York, LA, Sydney Chicago – it just feels like one of those important gigs that you don’t really want to fuck up.
Q: Do you keep in touch with the local music scene in Liverpool?
Murphy: I’m not great but I think that’s part of the fact that I live so far away from here now (LA). But we are making an effort to get as many Liverpudlian bands to support us as possible, like tonight we have the Night Cafe. Whatever we can do to help we do.
Q: How different would you say the music industry is now for young artists compared to when you guys were breaking through?
Murphy: Very different. It’s hard to describe because when we started all we were concerned with was getting a recording deal, a publishing deal and supporting Babyshambles or whoever we supported. The music industry is much more exciting at the moment. I think there’s a level playing field and that if you write a great song it will reach the top and I think that it’s easier to make money now in the music industry. It’s not as easy to make a lot of money, but it’s easier to make enough that will keep you going and I think that streaming has really revolutionised the industry, even comparing this album to our last one (2015’s Glitterbug) it was kind of dark times for the music industry. Whereas now it’s exciting times for new bands, new artists, new labels, new influencers, new.. whatever. It just feels like it’s been rejuvenated.
Q: That links in with my next question because I was going to ask whether you think that streaming services are going to have a real growing influence for younger artists? Even for musicians like myself and many others at grass roots level it’s so easy to get your music on to Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music etc. Though on the flip side to that some might argue that this will create added competition for young artists to get their music heard. Do you necessarily think all these services are a good thing?
Murphy: Yeah I think they’re a great thing. If you look at the data for how well the biggest artists in the world performed last year, it’s concrete proof that being Katy Perry and having RCA or Republic behind you with millions upon millions of dollars is not the way to sell records anymore. The way to sell records is to do something that’s interesting, something exciting that you and I would share. As I said I think it’s sort of levelled the playing field and quality is going to really rise to the top. I think it’s a really exciting time and obviously kind of need some money in some ways for marketing and stuff but it’s not like hundred and thousands of dollars, you just need to write awesome songs and be in a cool band and make great content and people will react to that.
Q: I recently read in an interview with NME that sonically you’re taking heed from some of your earlier material. What are the reasons behind this?
Murphy: It’s not necessarily earlier material but I wanted to make an album that had a lot of space in it, that wasn’t dialled up to 110%, I didn’t want to kind of strangle the music. Whereas if I’m being honest with our last album we did, we were worried and we were scared and we strangled the music. I wanted this album to be a bit more confident, have a bit of swagger and give it some room to breathe.
Q: When I listened to the record I could hear a more contemporary take on those earlier post-punk influences. Was this what you were going for stylistically and aesthetically?
Murphy: I just kept going on about a Wombats version of In Rainbows or a Wombats version of AM. I know AM’s a bit close to home and I shouldn’t really talk about it, but the way that album is produced and the way that James Ford produced it, there’s so much space and silence. I think it’s a very classy sounding album, as is In Rainbows, as is millions of other things. I just didn’t want to take up every sonic frequency, I just wanted to create space really.
Q: Going back to the sonic element is it difficult to balance out that want to take influence from your own previously released material and also the notion of wanting to progress your sound with each record?
Murphy: I only really look at the production or the sound of the record, I don’t really look at my songwriting or craft or anything like that because I’m constantly barking up the same tree. I’ve got no problem with that but I do want to be able to bark up different trees so for this album I wanted to make sure there were less synths, I wanted to make sure there was less production wizardry going on, I didn’t want to make it sound like we were putting it on the radio, that was my goal of this album. Though the songwriting hasn’t changed.. I’m still moaning about girls.
Q: What immediately stuck out to me when listening to the album was that you used synths a lot less and it seemed like a more guitar led record. Was that something that came naturally to you or was it a conscious effort to take that route?
Murphy: Yeah it was a conscious effort on my behalf, it was like let’s not go ‘ooh’ let’s not go ‘aah’, let’s not play millions of synths on every song because we’ve done that twice now and I don’t think it’s going to serve us well if we do it again. That was kind of difficult really because Dan and Tord hated me for a good period of recording the album because they’d create a really cool synth line or whatever and I’d be like it’s good but it sounds like Stranger Things or like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or whatever. It was weird because you’ve got to impose these restrictions on yourself but at the same time you’ve got to be creative and allow yourself to do whatever you want.
Q: What was it like working with Mark Crew and Catherine Marks on the album? Have you worked with them before and what did they bring to the record that was different to previous releases?
Murphy: Yeah so Mark Crew, he did Glitterbug. He’s like the only producer that we’ve became friends with and we’ve worked with tons of them. With Catherine Marks, basically we said we’d do the album with Mark and then our manager wanted us to try one song with Catherine Marks who’d just done the Wolf Alice record (My Love Is Cool). We were gonna do it and not tell Mark but then he found out we were gonna do it and was like hey guys, fuck this, this is nonsense, shall we just do the album together? And yeah so it ended up being the five of us. I love Mark, I call him the talking vulture. He’s just like a really dark, cynical, horrible bastard. He’s a really dark guy but Catherine is so colourful and positive and optimistic and I think that’s why this album is so good because of that dynamic between Mark’s shrewd mind and Catherine’s positivity.
Q: Do you think they had quite a heavy handed approach to their production or was it quite open minded? Were they quite happy to let you liaise with them on ideas?
Murphy: Oh yeah they were totally open minded on everything. It was more like, especially for Mark, asking them to do a little bit less because we didn’t want it to sound like a produced record we wanted to sound as natural as possible.
Q: You said in the same NME interview that guitar music was going through a storm and that it’s a great time to be in a guitar band at the moment. Does that mean you think that rock music is something that is ever-present and that its popularity is cyclical in the sense that it’ll come and go, but for the long term it’s there to stay?
Murphy: I think it’s definitely there to stay, but I think the problem that rock music faces is how slow it is to create content, especially from one band to another. If you love one band, it’s not a snappy process to create songs. I’ve never really written hip-hop, or full on R&B tracks or rap songs but the fundamental basis of creating a track like that is very different to being in a band. So, we’re always going to be a bit slow and we’re always gonna be a bit behind, we’re always gonna collaborate less. It’s just not as conducive to success as it is be an R&B or a hip-hop artist. But it’s still really important and the genre’s never gonna die, there’s so many great bands coming through and the way that spotify has reignited the Kooks and the Wombats’ life on darth is insane. There’s still a huge market for it but is it gonna dominate the charts again or is the billboard top 50 gonna be all rock bands again? I can’t imagine it.
Q: Were there any non-guitar bands or artists that influenced the new record?
Murphy: Drake. I don’t know where my affinity/love for Drake came from but it came from somewhere (laughing).
The Wombats released their fourth album ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ on the 9th February.