After 16 years of steering the ship with his bandmates in The Wombats, frontman and indie rock legend Matthew “Murph” Murphy has embarked on a new adventure by the way of his debut solo project. The new project, Love Fame Tragedy, is a way for Murph to explore the creative unknowns that he could only uncover on a solo record.
The title of his debut EP “I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It” was inspired by a Pablo Picasso exhibition at London’s Tate Museum and tackles everything from tumultuous relationships and the dualities of fame to mental health.
The final product is a Frankenstein of Murph’s signature vocals and knack for infectious lyricism fused with heavily distorted guitars and warped synths. He also joined forces with some of his long-time pals to collaborate on the record. Guests include The Pixies’ Joey Santiago, Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton, former Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain and model-slash-singer Maddy Jean Waterhouse on debut single “My Cheating Heart”. Although Murph says the collaborations were a good way to involve other people so he didn’t have to spend the press tours talking about himself, they also give the record another fresh perspective.
The four-track EP will be released on 13 September, but Murph says there is plenty more where that comes from and a couple more EPs, as well as a full album, are already in the works.
To celebrate, Murph’s heading down under for a spot on Wollongong’s Yours & Owls Festival as well as a string of shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in October. We had a chat with Murph about pushing extremities on the EP, the ups and downs of being creating solo and why he’s nervous to play smaller gigs.
Music Feeds: The project is titled ‘Love Fame Tragedy’. Is that what it’s is all about?
Matthew Murphy: This project went through many different titles and that was the one we landed on. I was just looking for something that had a looping feeling and a cyclical vibe to it. The whole album isn’t a concept, it’s just a shit load of songs that I wrote over the last two years.
MF: After so many years of success in The Wombats, why is now the right time to embark on your solo project?
MM: I think that every musician who has found success in their band obviously has these egoistic ideations of doing something on their own. I know Dan and Tord have done stuff on their own and maybe I was just waiting for the right time and I felt like now was it. I had a couple of songs leftover from the last The Wombats record and I spoke to manager and was like “they’re really good, so fuck it. Let’s just slap ‘em up online so at least the hardcore fans can hear them.” From that conversation, everything snowballed into the place where it is now where there are 33 songs and all kinds of shit going on.
I also really wanted to have a creative and studio experience where there wasn’t too much politics going on. Not that there are massive amounts of politics in The Wombats or anything but being in a band for 16 years, maybe it was just good for my sanity to try something else. It also allows me to cover a really broad spectrum of musical ranges that I like. There are some songs that are further left field and more indie than The Wombats. I was working on a songs yesterday that was so dance-y and poppy and just something I wouldn’t get away with in The Wombats.
MF: Was the solo creative process everything you’d hoped it would be?
MM: It’s been really great. But what I failed to realise was that with a lot of those politics, it was just a constant internal dialogue that never really goes away. The most hilarious thing is that I just kinda forgot about the feeling when something is being released or that kind of stress the night before. For some reason in the back of my head I thought that wasn’t going to happen but it is happening. And because we’re releasing a song every month, it’s going to be quite a tasty year.
MF: Wow, so it’s a very drawn out calm before the storm.
MM: Yeah, exactly. Well, it’s kind of just a really long storm (laughs).
MF: While some songs are grounded in your indie rock roots, others are heavy on production and synth. Where were you drawing sonic inspirations for this project?
MM: I just wanted to push the extremities a little bit. I guess the most opposed songs on that EP is ‘Brand New Brain’ which has Gus Unger-Hamilton from alt-J on it which makes it 10 times cooler in my opinion. And with ‘Pills’, we still haven’t finished the final version. It was really just exploring different sounds but business as usual. Like, let’s write as many songs as we possibly can and then work it in a way that’s the most fitting for the song. It’s kind of the same process that I use for The Wombats.
MF: As well as Gus, you collaborated with The Pixies’ Joey Santiago to Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain. How did these cameos come about?
MM: Well, I’ve known Gus for years now and we’re good friends. I’m basically just looping in whoever I can get really. Cynically, I wanted to do it so that I didn’t have to talk about myself as much when I’m doing interviews. But also I’ve met a lot of people while touring over the years and I think it makes sense to utilise other people’s talents as much as possible. That couldn’t be something I could do massively easy in the other band but is something I could do very easily in this one. It’s just about making the whole project as exciting and interesting as possible for both me and the listener.
MF: And you worked on “My Cheating Heart” with Maddy Jean Waterhouse. What was that like?
MM: Yeah, she’s a hero. It was weird how it all came about. I wrote a song with her sister Suki in LA around two and a half years ago, which I don’t think she liked because I don’t think it ever got used. Then somehow we just found out about Maddy and her voice is so cool. I was really looking for that kind of sexy, soft, breathy female vocal and that’s exactly what she has.
MF: The music video for that single is awesome too.
MM: Yeah, we’ve got one guy doing the whole creative vision with me for the whole project. The guy who directed it is an absolute legend. It’s great because he obviously knows what’s gone before and what songs are up ahead. So hopefully we can get a nice, broad spectrum of videos.
MF: The Wombats are no strangers to touring Australia, but you’re heading down under for a string of shows and a spot on the Yours & Owls festival in Wollongong. What are you looking forward to for your debut solo tour here?
MM: Yeah, we’re just putting the band together in LA. I don’t know, it’s going to be weird and exciting and interesting. I literally have no idea how it’s going to feel but I’m really excited about jumping into that void.
MF: Are you nervous?
MM: Yeah. I mean, obviously the smaller, buzzier, sweatier shows are fun but I think the nerves come from the size of the venues. Playing big shows is easy for me and small ones are not so easy because I can see everyone’s faces and see people’s reactions. I read too much into whether people are liking one song more than another. So maybe I’ll just need to get over that. I generally just worry about everything and then it’s actually fine on the day.
Some of the big shows come with more pressure, like if it’s a big slot on a festival or whatever. But generally the bigger ones are just laughin’. You just connect with a sea of people rather than individuals. And when you’re connecting with individuals, there’s just so much more to the dynamic and I think that’s what probably freaks me out a little bit.
MF: I guess you can gage the fan’s reactions to songs online as well. Have you been happy with the responses to ‘My Cheating Heart’ so far?
MM: I think it’s gone really good. I’m not looking at comments but as far as my manager says, it’s going really well. The reactions seem great. I’m in a fortunate enough position where I’m just thinking “Well, fucking hell. If they really love that one, wait ‘til they hear X, Y, Z.” I’ve got a lot of songs. We’ve recorded 12 already and I’m really excited about the whole thing really.
MF: Wow, so we can looking to a lot more music beyond “I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It”?
MM: Oh, yeah. There’s going to be EP 1, EP 2, maybe EP 3 and then a full album as well. There’s a lot of music coming out.
Love Fame Tragedy are playing this year’s Yours & Owls Festival.
I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It is out Friday, September 13th.