Having steadily built a cult following since their inception in 2003 in Liverpool, The Wombats are now back with their fourth studio album, ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’. Punchy new singles “Lemon to a Knife Fight” and “Cheetah Tongue” push the band’s psych-rock meets post-punk sonic fusion, and sees the trio staying true to their intricate lyrical themes — something which has stood the test of time, against their indie-rock counterparts — while drawing on an evolved sound palette.
We chatted with drummer Dan Haggis about writing the new album, how living between three different countries has changed The Wombats’ artistic process, and their next trip Down Under.
Best Before: Congratulations on the new album! How are you guys feeling, coming up towards its release?
Dan Haggis: Yeah it’s getting close to the date. To be honest, I think we’re just really excited and ready for people to hear the whole album. We finished everything four months ago, so it’s been done in our minds for a little while. We actually just can’t wait for people to be able to get a hold of it and start getting into the songs. Then we’ll start getting feedback, and it’s always so interesting to hear people’s different reactions to songs and what they mean to people. In the space of this month we’ve been playing a few of the new ones, and people have been singing along, and we’ve been getting to talk to fans about the new material after the shows, which just makes it all feel very real.
You said you finished the album four months ago. Do you think that sitting on it for a decent amount of time before you share it builds up the pressure for yourself and the band leading to its release date?
Dan: Yeah — I reckon if it came out as soon as we’d finished recording and mixing it, people would almost be at the same stage as we are, whereas when you have to wait for a while, you definitely get that anticipation. It gets almost a bit stressful. You get that feeling where you think, “Come on, I just want it to be out now!” But obviously, with labels and everything else that goes into making an album, you have to give it a bit of time to make sure they can press all the vinyls and have all the CDs ready. There’s all that side of things, which we’ve been through a few times before so we’re sort of getting used to it. I think it’s good to build up the excitement as well. I know a lot of people now that just release straight online. But we’re honestly just so excited to finally be able to share it.
“Not using the first ideas that came into our heads, and really challenging ourselves, definitely changed the sound of the album.”
How long were you working on the album for?
Dan: Probably a year and a half, I would say, but the really solid work happened over about a year. The actual recording of the album only took five or six weeks — it’s just all the writing and demoing of the songs that takes most of the time. But that was quite quick for us though.
And you’re all living in different places around the world too, aren’t you?
Dan: Yeah! So I’m in London, where we recorded the album. It was so easy for me because I could literally cycle down from my flat to the recording studio. Murph (Matthew Muphy) lives in LA, and he has done quite a bit of writing over there; he has his own little studio in his garden. I’ve got a studio in London too and Tord (Øverland Knudsenhas) a studio in Oslo, which is where he is living. So we all send things around and listen to each other’s ideas.
We did a lot of work on our own, and then we got together in Oslo, because Tord has recently become a father, so it was obviously a lot easier for Murph and I to travel to him. So we did four two-week writing trips, where we wrote a bunch of songs and worked on the ones that Murph had already written over in LA. It all came together fairly quickly, actually, considering we are all living in different countries, so it wasn’t too bad. I think also that when we were in Oslo, we knew we only had two weeks so we had to make the most of it, whereas when you’re all living in the same city maybe there isn’t that same urgency, because you always feel like you can finish something the week after and just take your time with it.
Do you think that writing it that way, and everyone having their own space to work, had an influence over the sound and feel of the album?
Dan: Undoubtedly, I’m sure. What’s really interesting about writing and making an album is that depending where you are in your life at that point in time, that can completely affect the sound of an album. But this time, we actually made conscious decisions to put certain things in place to achieve a particular sound. We didn’t want it to sound like our last albums with lots of synths; it was quite fun to change things up this time.
So when we were making a song, rather than making a middle section that had a lot of synths, or making a hook line that was really synth-based, we really focused on thinking how we could make it work with just drums, bass, guitars and vocals. We tried to make that the bed for every song, then we were able to flesh it out after we had the foundations down. So it was a really fun way to make the album, and I think not using the first ideas that came into our heads, and really challenging ourselves, definitely changed the sound of the album.
But I also feel like there was a couple of songs on here that really gave a template for what we wanted the whole album I sound like. “Cheetah Tongue” and “I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do” were two songs that were really the starting point with us just using drums, bass and guitar. For us, it’s almost a bit Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead-sounding. Not that anyone will probably hear that throughout the album though, but it’s just that ’90s groovy, melancholic chorus with quite heavy riffs that we really wanted to stand out. We’d never really done that on an album before, so it was quite exciting to create that.
You have a pretty huge tour schedule coming up too.
Dan: Yeah, we do. It’s going to be really full on up until May. At the start of this American tour we had a few days to meet up in Washington D.C. to rehearse, and then before the UK tour we’ll have a few days rehearsing in London.
And do you have any plans to come back to tour Australia?
Dan: We’re definitely coming back this year — I’m just not sure when things are being announced, but we’re going to be back within the next nine months. We’re all so excited to come back down there! We can’t wait for that.
That’s actually sooner than I thought you were going to say.
Dan: Well you can’t keep us away. Any chance we get to come back there, there’s no stopping us.
Have you ever had much of a chance to travel or see much of Australia while you’re here on tour?
Dan: We’ve mostly just been playing, but we have ended up with a few days to explore in Sydney and Melbourne. My cousin lives in Melbourne, so I went and stayed with him for a week before we played Falls a couple years ago, so that was awesome. And staying with someone you know made it even better because he knows the city so he took me to places that I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. But I just love being in Australia, and am honestly so excited to come back.
Listen to ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ here: