They dance to Joy Division, travel to Tokyo with vampires and wolves, and turn house parties into hurricanes. The Wombats – Dan Haggis, Tord Øverland Knudsen, and Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy – are a UK indie-rock powerhouse who’ve been around for over 10 years, with songs well-known for their unconventional lyrics and superb rhymes. We spoke to Murph about how the group have managed to mature as a band with Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life.
You guys are touring the UK, Europe and the US over the coming few months. Are you looking forward to these dates?
I am, actually. I was a bit nervous, because we’ve never played the new album live. We won’t be doing the whole thing, but we went through maybe four songs today and they all felt really good. I kind of went ‘Yeah, this is gonna be a lot of fun.’
How did the songwriting process come together this time?
For me, it depends on the song, but it also depends on the album. The album starts predominantly with me writing the song in a dark corner somewhere. Then, we perform it and we make it work in a band environment. Someone might have a great track idea, send it to me, and I’ll finish it off. There’s 11 songs on the album; seven of the songs I wrote in LA, and the other four we wrote when we really properly got together. We have a multitude of ways to draw from as to how we write songs, which is kind of nice.
I guess that’s what I like about music: It’s worth the struggle and it’s worth putting in the time
There’s a very wide, and some might say uncommon, vocabulary used in your lyrics – do you consciously expand your vocabulary or is it something that just comes naturally?
I don’t really know how it happened. When I first started writing songs, I’d write very colloquially. I’d talk about things like phone brands or whatever. I guess I just like pop music and alt-pop music with weird lyrics, that make you think. I’m not a big fan of songs that aren’t about anything. There needs to be a kind of substance behind the music and the words. Songs can’t just be some nice lyrics that resonate with you; they can’t just be some catchy music with a man’s voice over the top. After four times of listening to a song,there still has to be some meaning behind it. I guess that’s what I like about music: It’s worth the struggle and it’s worth putting in the time to make something that’s maybe a bit more interesting than, I don’t know, ‘Shut up and dance’ or similar… Yeah, there was even a song on our first album that I managed to fit the world “fulcrum” into.
Was Lemon To A Knife Fight based on a real argument?
Yeah, it was. My now-wife and I, we had a dinner, and then a speech, and I was driving us home. We were going along Mulholland Drive. She was just f-cking picking at me about one thing or another, and we kind of started arguing. At that point, I was really heavily into David Lynch; I’d watched three David Lynch films back-to-back over that week, and the argument and the David Lynch stuff just all came together, and that’s how the song came out. It’s not that it’s the whole story, but bits and pieces of it came together. I guess the video was a bit David Lynch-y, too. So it was basically an argument that got worse from watching too much David Lynch.
There’s a weird sound during the intro to Lethal Combination – can you tell me what that is?
A lot of that song – [producer] Mark Crew chopped up bits of [bassist] Tørd’s baby’s voice – there’s a lot of Emmylou in that song. I think that might be what you’re talking about. Weird.
Can you tell me about the message behind album opener Cheetah Tongue? (“Cut off my head and my cheetah tongue/ Can’t think straight and my mouth is numb.”)
It’s about growing up and trying not to be so reckless, I guess, as you get older. It’s about not cheating on your partner or doing things that hurt them or other people close to you.
Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is out February 9 via Warner.
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