The Wombats On The Aussie Origins Of ‘Glitterbug’, The Gap Between Albums & Long-Distance RelationshipsWritten by Brenton Harris on March 26, 2015
It’s been four years since Liverpool indie rockers The Wombats released This Modern Glitch, the platinum-selling follow-up to their acclaimed debut A Guide To Love, Loss and Deperation.
An adventurous record that saw the trio incorporate a heavy electro element into their danceable guitar rock tunes, This Modern Glitch cemented The Wombats status as genuine crossover stars via hit singles Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves) and Jump Into The Fog.
After taking some time off from the circus that had become their lives, the band spent 18 months spread between the UK and Los Angeles workshopping the songs for album number three, before linking with producer Mark Crew to map out and record their creation.
The resulting record Glitterbug is a moody, synth-heavy, indie-rock record full of irresistibly catchy cuts that seem destined to become radio staples.
A concept record, Glitterbug tells the story of a tumultuous fictional relationship with a mysterious LA woman, utilising the band’s infamous wordplay and danceable soundscapes to create an immersive listening experience. In the lead-up to the album’s release, drummer Dan Haggis caught up with Music Feeds for a typically witty discussion about Glitterbug, the Australian origins of the record’s name, and when we can expect to see the band down under.
Watch: The Wombats – Give Me A Try
Music Feeds: It’s been four years since you released your last full-length, This Modern Glitch. What’s been happening in The Wombats’ burrow in that time?
Dan Haggis: We toured the second album for 18 months, so until 2012-2013 we were still doing gigs around the world on a fairly constant basis, which was extended a bit longer than we expected due to the way the release schedule works in the US, with some of the territories being delayed.
Once we’d finished with that we started grouping together in the studio and working on songs for about a year and a half in order to get the 25-30 songs that you need in order to make a top quality album and from there we began the process of determining the best 15 or so for consideration for the album.
We don’t really ever set out with a defined vision of what we want to do with the album, and initially the songs we were creating had a much grungier feel to them and it wasn’t until we’d written Your Body Is A Weapon that we felt we’d established a sonic template that we’d like to use as the basis for the rest of the album. We made that in July 2013 and it took us another year of writing to really feel like we had the songs worthy of a Wombats album.
From there we started working with a producer, Mark Crew, who’d been working with Bastille, and he was really busy with their second album and various other projects, so we had to keep adjusting our plans to fit around his schedule, so that delayed things a bit more. Then a series of things happened that delayed it a bit more, because we were ready to go with the album three of four months ago but ultimately it worked out for the best.
So while it took a long time by industry standards to get the record out, we feel it was worth taking that extra time to produce a record that we are really proud of, rather than just rushing something out for the sake of it. We never want to be releasing a record that we kind of only half-believe in, we never want to feel like we put anything less than all of our blood, sweat and tears into a record, because that’s what we owe to ourselves and artists and more importantly to our fans.
MF: We live in an incredibly fast-paced world where the next big thing can quickly become forgotten. As a band were you fearful of any negative impact the break between albums would have on your cultural relevancy?
DH: Oh, yeah, all sorts of fears enter your mind when you’re in a band. The music industry is a slippery slope and one wrong step can result in you falling completely off of it, but we try not to think about that or focus on it too much while we are writing a record because otherwise the creative process can get corrupted a bit by the pressure. We’re not writing music for that purpose. Ultimately, we are writing music to make ourselves happy and, as I’ve said, we will never release anything until we are completely happy with it and convinced that it’s the truest and best version of our creative vision we could put out. So we follow our natural process and just hope that the record company will be supportive of it and that the timing will work out once we’re happy with it.
I think that so long as the album is good, then how long it takes to get it out won’t have a detrimental effect on how successful it is or how culturally relevant we are to what’s happening in the music industry at the time. The way we see it is that we are writing songs to stand the test of time, and to live up to our fans’ expectations. We want fans to be able to fully engage with the songs and have them further their relationship with our band and experience our growth as a band through the songs on the record.
I think some bands release a record and then, after 18 months or so, just to make sure they have something new out and it might not be the best thing that they could produce artistically and that results in a lot of their fans being underwhelmed and feeling like they liked the previous record better. So I think, in a way, the extended break will benefit us, because the fans will be hearing it with fresh ears and they’ll be excited to hear something a bit different and see how we’ve progressed and grown as a band.
MF: It’s definitely a different sounding record to your previous two releases. Is that a natural extension of your growth and experiences as people?
DH: I think, inevitably, yes. That’s what’s amazing with music, and what I like so much about creating it, is that it ends up being a sonic snapshot of your life experience. Whether it be musically or lyrically, it ends up enabling you to put those experiences in a bit of a time capsule, and then 10 weeks or even 10 years later you’re able to put yourself back in that moment.
I can be like, “Remember when Tord and I had that idea in Liverpool and we worked on it on my piano in the flat and recorded and sent it over to Murph in LA and he was breaking up with his girlfriend at the time and was about to get together with a new girlfriend and creating this piece of music really helped him get through it?”
I think you can hear that on this record, particularly with Murph, who was struggling with the realities of a long-distance relationship and the reality of that coming to a end and a new one starting up and being in a constant state of jet lag a lot of the time. When you’re living through that process you can’t help but end up in a weird headspace, emotionally and creatively, and that obviously ends up impacting the sound of the record.
MF: With Murph having relocated to LA, the band were often separated as well. How did that influence the writing process?
DH: Some of the songs came surprising easily and some of them were a nightmare and we had several versions of them, but for the most part it was a really smooth process. With the way the internet works today, it was pretty easy for myself and Tord to come up with ideas and record them and send them over to Murph and for him to have his input on them and contribute his ideas and opinions and send back his ideas and continue to do that until we’d pieced together a song we were all happy with.
MF: Murph’s indicated that, lyrically, the record focuses on a tumultuous relationship with a fictional LA woman, who then seemed to manifest into reality in the form of his current girlfriend.
DH: I think a lot of the lyrics Murph writes generally are an avenue for escapism for him, creatively anyway, and I think that’s part of what people love about making music, or at least what we love about making music anyway. You’re able to escape from a reality a bit and explore scenarios and ideas that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. So I think when he started writing about this fictional relationship he might have been doing so as a way of dealing with the reality of his real relationship falling apart and then by creating this alternate world in the form of the lyrical narrative he came to the realisation that was what he actually wanted and needed to be able to move on with his life and be happy as a person.
He’d obviously spent a lot of time in LA in order to get away from London and the pressures of his life in the UK and had really begun to embrace and live that LA lifestyle so, to be honest, none of us were particularly surprised when he ended up with a girl over there. I guess when you wish and want for something hard enough often it ends up manifesting in real life and I think that’s what happened there.
MF: It probably doesn’t hurt to be the singer of The Wombats and have that wish that you’re looking to fulfil. I mean, he’s a big rock star and all.
DH: I don’t think she actually knew anything about the band. I think he kind of pulled that one off with his natural wit and charm, but I think that’s something you’ll have to ask him yourself.
Watch: The Wombats – Greek Tragedy
MF: You elected to take a more hands on approach with the production on Glitterbug, working collaboratively with Mark Crew. How did that relationship work?
DH: We’ve done that with every album we’ve recorded to an extent, because we actually studied a lot of audio engineering stuff in college and myself and Tord know quite a fair bit about computer software and audio production and we record all of our songs in a pre-production format ourselves in Liverpool. For the second album we recorded so many songs that we ended up getting a lot better at capturing what we heard in our heads and making them come to life and we got a lot more confident in our abilities to do that, so this time around we were able to do more of it ourselves.
We could have self-produced the album and there were a lot of songs that didn’t change all that much from what ended up on the record, but the reason we wanted to work with Mark was that we just wanted to be able to add that extra 20% that can come from an outside influence and a fresh set of ears.
We get so into the songs and the writing process for each song that often we ended up with three different sets of ideas, originating from three different personalities and three different creative visions, all mashed together to create a song. Sometimes Mark was able to identify times where we’d been a bit overzealous and we had four things going on at once where we really only need to have one of two, and he’d help to clear out the clutter and ensure that all we had left was what was needed to create the best version of the song.
We were always really up for that and appreciative of his input because it made us reevaluate and concentrate on what we were trying to achieve as songwriters with each song and it always worked out for the better.
The first song — or the test song, if you like — that we did with Mark was Greek Tragedy. Torde and myself had spent two days working on the music for it in the studio and Murph had come in and put down his parts and then we went and worked with Mark on it. and when we’d finished it just sounded awesome.
We were like, “You’ve somehow managed to find another 20% of awesome in this!” From that point onwards we were just really excited to work with him, because he’d just instantly understood and connected with what we’d wanted to do.
Another great thing about working with him was that often he’d hear what we’d produced ourselves and just say, “That sounds great, you don’t really need to do anything with that,” and then he’d keep it and perhaps only tweak one or two little parts. Other times he’d work tirelessly to clear the clutter and navigate through all our bullshit until collectively we’d created the truest version of the song possible.
It was a really fulfilling experience to work with someone so across our creative vision and so supportive of it and I think the end result is the best release we’ve produced so far
MF: The video for Greek Tragedy is a rather twisted and morbid affair. How did that come about and are those darker themes something we can expect more of on Glitterbug?
DH: It’s got a night time feel as an album, definitely. I know personally I envision a lot of the songs as being the perfect soundtrack to someone driving down the highway at midnight in California, with the windows down, sunglasses on and a bikers cap or something.
The Greek Tragedy video is obviously not directly connected with the lyrics to the song. You probably couldn’t really get away with singing about that kind of horrific violence in a Wombats song after all. The origin of the video was that we knew the album was offering a change of direction sonically and we’d gone through the process of updating the logo and making it a little bit edgier and so we wanted to do something a bit different with the videos.
Obviously us three haven’t changed, it’s still the same ugly mugs, and you can’t do much about that without getting into some Nicholas Cage, Face Off kind of antics, so we wanted to make an interesting video that worked off of the dark synths and the soundscape of the song and the treatment the director came up with was awesome, so we went for it.
For me personally, it was awesome to be stabbed to death with a knitting needle and see the way that move magic work. As a big fan of Dexter and Walking Dead and True Blood, it was just so fucking cool to have the blood spurting out of my neck and see how that looks on screen.
Overall we just really want to make music videos that really embrace the art form and offer a different experience and maybe cross into areas that other acts might not consider branching into.
Listen: The Wombats – Emoticons
MF: Glitterbug is drenched in synths, is that something that you’ve made a decision to explore and focus on as a band, or did it evolve naturally through the creation process?
DH: We definitely still use guitars, and a lot of the time we tried to use them in a different way, rather than create the stereotypical guitar rock wall of sound, we wanted to use them more as another element that contributed to the whole of the song. We try to use guitar in a manner more akin to synths or mix it in with synths.
Myself and Tord play keys as well as guitar, bass and drums and we’ve got this Korg vintage synth in our practice room and a Moog as well and some kids’ keyboards run through amps. We just had a whole bunch of fun experimenting with each of those and running them through different amps and pedals and seeing what sounds we could create and how much depth we could add to the songs with the different layers.
We’ve been a band for 11 years, so it’s kind of a mixture of a sense that we’ve already done a lot of guitar-bass-drum stuff and that we’ve pretty much maxed out our ability to do much more with that kind of a sound. So we introduced all the synths and the random instrumentation to keep things interesting for ourselves and also for the fans as another way to spice up the writing process, which in addition to constantly switching environments between the UK and LA made for a really interesting and fulfilling creative experience.
MF: The Wombats have been warmly embraced by Australia since your debut. What is it about your band that connects with Australia?
DH: Maybe it’s just the name [laughs]. Australia, even though geographically it’s the furthest away, seems like the closest culturally to the UK. From our experience Australians just have a really positive and sunny disposition that’s a good match for our music and for us as people.
When we were there recently to do our promo run, we didn’t really sleep at all because it was such a hectic schedule, but we didn’t even really notice, because everyone was so damn uplifting to be around, from the fans to the label staff to the media outlets. That vibe carried over into the shows themselves, which were both just another level awesome.
I think that vibe is just a really good match for our music and it just seems like a good pairing. But, in reality, who the fuck knows?
MF: You mentioned a while back that you’ll be back down under in July. Can you shed any more light on that?
DH: It’s still not officially confirmed, but I am pretty sure we’re doing some headline shows in July sometime. Until the promoter gives the green light, I can’t say too much about it, but we’re hopefully coming back in July, so get ready!
MF: What in the world is a glitterbug and where can I get one?
DH: When we were in Australia, there was an arts and crafts designer in Melbourne who made us a little glitterbug, which we named G-bug. When Murph first sent that suggestion through, we googled it and we found that it’s this funny little insect that looks like it’s all covered in glitter, and while we weren’t so sure what he was getting at with it, we thought it sounded cool, so we ran with it.
I think Murph’s intention was to use it metaphorically, as metaphor for the experience of living in LA. In the sense that it’s all bright and shiny on the outside but then underneath all of that it’s actually a bit dark and dirty and disgusting, so you can get into some really interesting conversations about that and we have done, but for now we’ll just leave it open to interpretation.
‘Glitterbug’ is released Friday, 10th April.