It’s been 15 years since The Wombats broke through with the single ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’. It was 2007 and post-punk supremos Joy Division were already inscribed in music history. But the future of The Wombats was yet to be determined – could they achieve a similar level of longevity as their heroes? Or would they fade from view like so many other British post-punk revivalists?
Comprising a couple of Scousers – singer/guitarist Matthew “Murph” Murphy and drummer Dan Haggis – and one Norwegian – bass player Tord Øverland-Knudsen – The Wombats formed in Liverpool in 2003 and released their debut album, A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation, in late 2007. The same trio are now up to their fifth album and riding high on the recent TikTok success of their 2015 single ‘Greek Tragedy’ (or, to be more precise, Oliver Nelson’s remix of said track).
The Wombats’ new album is called Fix Yourself, Not the World. The album title harks back to the lyrical subject matter of ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, which placed emphasis on savouring the good times even when “everything is going wrong.”
The Wombats weren’t oblivious to global chaos during the making of Fix Yourself, Not the World. Coronavirus travel restrictions meant the three band members couldn’t be in the same room at any point during the album’s production. But, with Murphy in LA, Haggis in London and Øverland-Knudsen in Oslo, The Wombats not only pieced together something legible but created an album that’s as thematically resonant as it is stylistically industrious.
Music Feeds spoke to Haggis about the pros and cons of writing and recording from separate locations and the sound of The Wombats 15 years after their debut.
Music Feeds: Fix Yourself, Not The World sounds like a fresh take on the Wombats, from ‘Flip Me Upside Down’ onwards. Was the aim to take your sound somewhere new on this record?
Dan Haggis: The first song we did together was ‘Ready For the High’ and every song after that, we tried to take whatever The Wombats is in different directions and challenge ourselves and push ourselves and pull the rug out from certain parts of the songs – just generally not what we would expect ourselves to do.
MF: You were all in different locations for the recording sessions. How difficult was it navigating that challenge?
DH: Half of the album was written before the pandemic, so we had a really good basis of demos when the pandemic struck and then we did some Zoom sessions and we just carried on in the same vein. Obviously, some of the pandemic did bleed into some of the songs. I’m sure lyrically, for Murph, on a few of them that he did once the pandemic had started, it just reinforced that introspection.
So lyrically, I’m sure that played a small role, but I think The Wombats have always had that introspective [aspect], trying to figure out shit in your own head, trying to make sense of the world. Obviously, for us, music is therapeutic, gets us through life, and it was so important to have that throughout the lockdown.
MF: Were there any benefits to recording in separate locations and shaking up the formula to such a degree?
DH: There were some benefits actually. We could each just focus on what we needed to do and we didn’t have to sit through all the other takes that each other were doing. Inevitably you end up with opinions on every part, so it’s probably quite nice that we were asleep whilst Murph was recording his things.
Apart from a short little [message saying], “Do the guitars with this in mind,” or “tweak this bit here,” in general it was kind of free rein to just do our thing and the producers would make sure it all came together properly at the end.
MF: Do you think being in different studios influenced the sonics of the record, as well?
DH: That’s another positive. A lot of the time when, let’s say The Beach Boys, they would’ve gone into different rooms in different studios to get different effects for different parts of songs. And we normally would just do an album in one studio, predominantly. So, sonically, I think it’s been really good that Murph was in a different space with different instruments, different microphones, different preamps – all that stuff. There was no sitar in the studio in London, but there happened to be one in LA so Murph got stuck into the sitar on a few songs.
MF: Four producers worked on the album: Mark Crew and Jacknife Lee, who’ve worked on previous Wombats records, and Gabe Simon and Paul Meaney, who’re known for more pop-oriented material. What made you want to split production responsibilities?
DH: Once lockdown started and Murph was over in LA, he made some demos with Gabe Simon, Jacknife Lee and Paul Meaney and then he sent them over to us, we worked on them and messed around with things. Then when it came to doing them, because we couldn’t be in the same studio anyway, we were like, “You know what? These demos feel like they’re in a pretty good place. I’ll go into Mark’s studio in London and record my drums and backing vocals properly.” And Tord did the same in Oslo.
The US producers, they weren’t even in the same room with Murph either – it was all just Zoom until we sent them all the files and then a month later we would get sent the version of the song with everything in. And it was like, “Woah!” It had that excitement of listening to a song for the first time because you didn’t know what the other guys had recorded.
MF: There’s a lot of girth and fleshiness to the sounds on the record. And, even while the songwriting touches on new wave, synth-pop and indie rock, it’s a very contemporary sounding record.
DH: Thanks. We’re so happy with it. Just to come out of the last year and a half with something so positive that feels like we’ve achieved something, it’s a real step forward for us as a band. It feels really, really good.
‘Fix Yourself, Not the World’ is out now. Listen here.