Album Reviews Q&A: The Wombats
The Wombats: artsy alt-rockers with a penchant for punchy post-punk, or pop demons with an ear for the sharpest hooks and most memorable melodies? They're both, really, and much more besides. The Liverpool three-piece - Matthew Murphy, Dan Haggis and Tord Øverland-Knudson - scored what can only be described as a mega-hit back in 2007 with Let's Dance to Joy Division, the sort of indie-club floor-filler big enough to soundtrack a whole year of student night revelry. Their debut album, A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation was well received both critically and commercially, and now the band's second LP, This Modern Glitch, is attracting a similar amount of well-done-you-guys high-fives - read our review here. Murphy, aka Murph, answered our questions...
It feels like you've been away quite a while - and what looks like four years on paper between albums backs that up somewhat. Did this second LP take a lot longer to come together than the debut, or have delays caused by other factors played their part in the album only coming out now?
It's three and a half years to be precise. We toured our first album heavily, too. This album took just over a year and a half to write and about six months to record and mix. The reason it took a while was because I'm not a major fan of writing on the road. It's hard to source inspiration, as it's a very twisted reality indeed; plus, I find it difficult to write fictional songs. Does anyone want to hear a song about drinking a few cans of cider on a tour bus, or a particularly painful soundcheck?
You've used a number of different producers on the record - a sign of recordings being completed across many months, or simply a way of ensuring freshness from track to track?
I'm not entirely sure how it came about myself. All the producers we worked with were very busy and we were kind of slotting in around the various projects they had going on. We would fly to LA, record three tracks; fly back, write a bit more; fly back to LA, record and occasionally re-record songs, and so on. It was a time-consuming, stressful, but very exciting way of working.
In a way, do you see the time between albums as a blessing? I doubt very much that many critics will think of you as "that Joy Division band" - which of course might have been the case with a quick follow-up to your debut. Do you feel that the impact of that single (and album) has dissipated enough for these new cuts to stand up on their own terms?
I think our new material does more than stand up to our debut. One of our goals was to stare the success of our first album in the face and just try and better it, as opposed to running away and darting off on some tangent. We wanted to write a better pop song than Let's Dance to Joy Division, and I think we did.
Was there any feeling of burnout after the first LP campaign? Did it take a while to come down from the highs you all experienced? To get grounded and start writing again?
Yes, we were all totally drained. Dan had tendinitis, Tord was always ill, and my voice and mental health were deteriorating at a rate of knots. We should have taken a good few months off before beginning work on This Modern Glitch, but we didn't. We started straight away and it took us a lot of time to reacquaint ourselves with normality. Another reason as to why the album took so long.
Our BBC review comments on certain listeners who might not give you a chance this time around, as you've crossed so easily into the mainstream. (And points out that they'd be wrong to do so.) Have you come across any critical 'hostility' that seems to stem purely from the success you've had?
Yes of course, but I always think of a saying that one of my friends shared with me a few years ago. It was along the lines of, "You'll know you've truly made it when everyone hates you". This is not entirely true, but it helps to ward away the occasional dire review. We would be lying if we told you we didn't want to be successful, but that's not all we do it for.
The same review concludes by calling This Modern Glitch the pop record of the year, "by at least a dozen choruses". You're happy being categorised as a pop band above anything else? It's never been a dirty word to you guys, I take it?
Not at all, I was over the moon when I read that line. I've always thought of us as a twisted pop band, and have always struggled with the indie aspects we have been associated with. I have the same negative connotations towards indie as most do towards pop. What's not pop about a band like The Strokes? The fact they wear (or used to, at least) Converse, drain-pipe denims and a leather jacket? Indie to me is a way of thinking, not a genre of music. Although in fairness when a lot of people hear the word 'pop' they might think of Friday by Rebecca Black.
That said, the itchiness of your work has its share of links with the underground - were acts like, say, The Faint or Bloc Party ever influential on you, early doors maybe? Are you happy to see once-niche acts like Foals making their mark on the mainstream, and does it bode well for groups who might be operating in areas previously off limits to commercial tastes?
I wouldn't list these bands as huge influences of ours, although The Faint and Bloc Party have definitely been inspirational. As a songwriter I'm much more influenced by conversations, people I meet and things that they have said, rather than trying to emulate any particular band. I'm a firm believer that if the mainstream wants someone they will take them... eventually.
I guess the internet has played its part in bringing these walls down, opening a world of music up for anyone willing to take a listen. But how do you feel about the increasing problems of piracy? Do you think the recent changes announced for Spotify will up the numbers of illegal downloads? Do you wish consumers would wise up and realise, unless you're U2 or someone, that every sale counts to bands - even those seen as being everywhere, and successful?
Illegal downloading has a few pros: the live scene in the UK is thriving at the moment, and people are still happy it seems to pay £20 to see a band live. Which is wonderful to the artist, but of absolutely no use to their labels whatsoever - unless they've signed a 360 deal, where the label takes money from their live income too. If nobody buys their favourite artist's CDs, the label will not be able to afford to keep the artist on their roster, then they will get dropped and nine times out of 10 fade into obscurity. This dilemma doesn't affect huge bands, so I find it a touch annoying and patronising when some talk so positively about piracy in the press. It's almost as if they couldn't care less about the younger generation of musicians who look up to them.
You have released digital-only tracks in the past. With Record Store Day having just been and gone, how do you feel regarding the digital/physical divide? Do you still prefer to hold an album, rather than see its art on a tiny iPod screen?
I'm 26 and I still prefer a physical copy; I like to look through the artwork, the credits, the lyrics. To me it gives some form of back-story to the album. But sadly it seems a lot people aren't too bothered about that anymore. The only device they will listen to music on is their MP3 player, so why would they bother buying it twice?
Do you hope that a third album does not take so long to come together?
Yes I most certainly do, and I think we have learnt a lot from how horrendous this album has been to make at times. But if our third album is not the best it can be, then we will work and work at it until it is.