With just over a month left before our favourite UK indie-rockers (and adopted Australians), The Wombats, arrive on our shores for their headline tour and a bunch of festival appearances, we caught up with drummer Dan Haggis to chat about the bands latest album, why they love Australia so much and his mum's first time on stage in a wombat costume!
Hey Dan, how are you going?
Yeah good thanks, just enjoying my morning chatting away to people. It’s a great way to start the day!
You guys dropped your new single ‘Bee-Sting’ a few weeks ago. What has the reaction been like so far?
Yeah, it’s been great. We haven’t actually played the song live yet, so we haven’t physically seen a reaction. But obviously nowadays with social media and stuff -- we troll some of the comments on our posts and see what people’s vibes are and so far, it’s all been really positive. My mum likes it as well, so that’s a good time!
Speaking of your mum... I saw a video on twitter of her dancing on stage at one of our shows, in a wombat costume. Is that something she does often?
Haha no it was the first time! She’d never actually been on tour before. Like she’d been to gigs but never spent time on tour, so I was like “Mum you’ve gotta come and have a few days on tour” and she was like “ooh I dunno if I’ll get sleep” and I was like “you’ll be fine!” Anyway, eventually I managed to persuade her, so her and her husband came to a few shows in Europe and one of the nights I was like “Right, mum, you and your fella are getting dressed up in wombat costumes” and she was like “Oooh yes!” and like she’s nuts, she absolutely loved it! And her husband is actually one of the most eccentric dancers. One of the best. One of my favourite dancers of all time, to be honest! Well better than Michael Jackson. He’s unbelievable. Yeah and honestly, we were playing ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ and when mum came on stage — obviously I could see by the size who was who — she was just going for it! Oh man, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t play.
Do you get fans in the crowd come up on stage as well?
Yeah, a couple of times we’ve done competitions and the winners would get on stage in the costumes. Often, if we’ve got a friend or family in a city, then they wanna do it. They always text us like “can we do the wombat costumes!?” and also for a lot of people to actually see what it’s like to be on stage, that’s the main thing people love. It’s like “fuck I’ve never really been on stage in front of that many people” you know, they always get such a buzz from it. Often when there’s not anyone there to do it, I just say to our tour manager “can we just go out and get some people?” and he’s all like “health and safety! I’m gonna have to brief them!” So sometimes it depends on the venue, you know they’re not as open to it if you don’t know the people, but I always just lie and say that we know who they are! [laughs]
You released your fourth studio album, ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’, earlier this year – What was the inspiration behind this album?
Yeah so as the title suggests I guess, especially for Murph as he often has drama in his love life, I think he tried to get to the bottom of what was going on with it all. Song writing is obviously a kind of therapy and a way to get some understanding of what’s going on. I think it’s just really about how hurt you can be by the people that are closest to you, whether that’s your mother, father, brother, boyfriend or girlfriend.
The album was largely created with the three of you living on entirely different continents. How did that work?
Surprisingly we’ve actually done it like that before. For album two, Murph was in London and Tord and I were in Liverpool. So Murph would be doing some writing down in London and then we’d do some writing up in Liverpool together and hash things out, write some stuff together and the same on our third album, Murph was spending a lot of time in LA because he had just started going out with his now wife, and Tord and I were in Liverpool so it was similar, it was just like obviously, even more flying. We went up to LA for a few weeks at a time and Murph came over to us a bunch of times. Then this album, we were basically just a bit more organised and planned it a little bit more. Which honestly, for us three, isn’t a bad thing. For the first album we were all living in the same city and there were moments where we’d be like “I should practice tomorrow” and then it would get to tomorrow and we’d go to the cinema instead. It was just easy to go “oh, we’ll just do it tomorrow or the next day”. Whereas this time we booked in a two-week slot in Oslo, in Tord’s little studio, and we said “right, we’re not leaving here until we write four songs”. We tried to treat it more like an office almost, and just go “right we’re going to do this every single day that we’re here” and so it was actually pretty good. And with the internet now, it’s so easy to send ideas across for songs and so it kind of gives you your own kind of space to digest things and work on it, and just try loads of different ideas basically. So yeah it worked fine!
I’ve seen you guys play a few times over the years, both here in Australia and in London, and you definitely know how to get a crowd dancing! What's your favourite thing about playing your music to a live audience?
I think it’s like, the sense of togetherness and all joining together as one thing. Obviously we’re playing the music but the crowd is singing and dancing, and their energy mixes with your own. It’s like this amazing moment, it’s not like it happens for the entire gig, but sometimes it does. It’s like when you do yoga and you get to a certain point where there’s nothing else in your brain; there’s no worries or thoughts about anything else. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about music; when you’re doing a show it’s like that feeling, times a million. You don’t even know where you are anymore, you’re moving and all these frequencies are going off and you’re singing or doing whatever and in your mind, you could be at the time you were making the song but then you open your eyes again and it’s like “fucking hell, where did all these people come from?” It’s just a dream world, that’s so addictive. I don’t know if I explained that very well, but that’s my favourite thing!
I feel you. It’s like your way of shaking off stress, having fun and not thinking about anything else.
Yeah exactly! To be honest, I get that even watching a band that I really like. It’s that feeling as well! It’s just like you’re singing along with lots of other people and you get goosebumps. You just don’t think about anything. I mean music has that quality anyway. I could be walking down the street with headphones and still get that sort of feeling but, it’s just that feeling times a lot. That feeling on steroids.
You guys were here in July for Splendour In The Grass and you’ll be back in November for your headline tour and appearances at Spilt Milk and Grapevine Gathering festivals. What is it about Australia that you love so much?
I think we just feel at home there. It’s very similar to the UK, in terms of people and culture, but it’s got more of a laid-back vibe! Obviously because of the weather and the brunch is waaaay better in Australia too! But apart from that, it’s kind of a home away from home. I’ve got some Aussie friends living in London and they say the same thing about London. They don’t feel like it was difficult for them to fit in or feel like they belong. So I think it’s the same thing for us in Australia. Honestly, the first moment we set foot there, 10 years ago -- which was actually the first time we’d been to the country — straight away we were like “Holy shit, I didn’t realise it was like this!” Everyone you meet after shows or going out, it's just such a fun place to be. You know, lovely people and all the rest of it. It just felt like an easy fit for us. The crowds seemed to get us straight away and embrace the music. In terms of gig-goers, people really love live music and sing their hearts out. The crowds aren’t timid in Australia and it’s the same in the UK, people just sing their hearts outs and realise that it’s just so great to let yourself go and enjoy yourself. That would actually kind of sum up our ethos for performing too.
I read a BBC article from earlier in the year, where you said that you would like the UK education system to “prioritise music and art as much as history and math”. Why is that so important to you?
So, we did some charity stuff for ‘Give a Gig' during Music Week in the UK and they really encourage and support people in slightly deprived areas who don’t have access to, or are able to afford instruments, or go to a studio, or buy a computer, whatever it may be. They provide these facilities for people to go and create music and express themselves. I know how important that was in my life and thinking back when I was younger if I didn’t have parents who actually supported me, I'd be in a very different place. You know, they bought me my first drum kit when I was fourteen, and they encouraged me to take flute lessons when I was six or seven, as well as piano lessons. But my school had nothing to do with that and my life wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have parents who were encouraging. Obviously, I also really really wanted to do it but they gave me the tools to do it and the encouragement. It’s so sad to think there are so many kids out there, who haven’t gotten into music because schools just do not just put an emphasis on teaching it. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, but here they don’t put any emphasis on the arts in general. Music, art, drama or even sports to be honest. It’s all math, English, history, which is obviously important, but I think I think people would be happier in their lives, in general, if as children they’d learnt more about music. Whether you’re naturally talented at it or not is irrelevant. I remember kids in our class who weren’t very good at music so they kind of got left to the side and forgotten about because the teachers were like "oh well, they’re crap at it anyway!" and I was the same with art, I wasn’t very good at drawing and so I just ended up painting on my friends because I wasn’t given any encouragement. It’s not about being really good, it should just be like "oh well maybe you’re not that great at writing music but you could be great at making beats or making weird experimental music". I think that should be the role of education in every country, to foster and encourage.
Do you have any advice for young musicians, that are trying to break into the industry?
I wish there was an easy to unlock that door. But as we found, the only way is to get out there and play. You’ve just got to be prepared and just do show after show, write song after song and enjoy what you’re doing at the time. Don’t feel disappointed if people aren’t shouting about you straight away, or you’re not getting as many likes or whatever. You’ve just got to just enjoy writing and playing music. That should be the main goal and anything that comes after is a bonus.
'Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ is out now via 14th Floor Records (UK) and Bright Antenna (US). You can stream it online here. You can also catch The Wombats at various locations across Australia during November for their headline tour, as well as at Canberra's sold out Split Milk Festival and the boozy Grapevine Gathering in the Yarra and Hunter Valley's! More info via secretsounds.com