The Wombats: '˜We're like a little family and time moves in its own kind of way'

As The Wombats head to Leeds on their UK arena tour later this month, drummer Dan Haggis speaks to Duncan Seaman.

The Wombats will be playing at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. as part of a short UK tour.
The Wombats will be playing at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. as part of a short UK tour.

On the heels of their fourth album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, indie rock band The Wombats venture out on a short UK tour this month that takes in some of the biggest venues they have ever headlined.

Their show in Yorkshire will be at the 13,000-capacity First Direct Arena in Leeds while in London they’re due to play at the SSE Arena, near Wembley Stadium.

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“It’s going to be amazing, I can’t wait,” enthuses drummer Dan Haggis. “We got a little taster on that kind of size of things [in November] when we were in Australia, we played at this venue in Brisbane that was 8,500 in an actual amphitheatre, it was unbelievable.

“I think when there’s that many people in a room there’s an energy that’s created. Whilst smaller shows can be really intimate and high energy but something on a bigger scale like that is pretty awe-inspiring, so I’m really looking forward to Leeds. To be honest, it’s going to be the biggest ever venue we’ve played in Leeds by a country mile. No pressure!” he laughs.

Promotional duties for Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life have kept the band busy. Last July they toured the United States with two of their favourite bands, Pixies and Weezer, then went back to play their own headline shows for six weeks in October and November.

The July gigs were the first they had played as a support act since the early part of the last decade when Haggis and his bandmates Matthew Murphy and Tord Overland Knudson were fresh out of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

“Before we were signed we used to drive around and play any show we could, we didn’t even know if we were supporting or what the night was,” Haggis recalls, “but since we got signed and started touring we haven’t really done that many supports. We supported the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers a couple of times in the UK and Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs in Barcelona and Madrid in 2007; apart from that we’ve just done it on our won almost, so it was kind of cool, we didn’t know what to expect.

“For us, as the support band in that environment, there was no pressure on us whatsoever. We went onstage at 7.30pm, played half-an-hour and it was like smash it out, have as much fun and do the best you can but all the people who’ve come to show are there to see Weezer or Pixies and it’s a bonus if anyone knows any of your stuff. The aim is just to give people as good a time as possible and get people warmed up for the main show so it was really fun and carefree.”

The shows also allowed The Wombats to see some of their heroes up close. “We’d get off stage and have some dinner and then go and watch them both. We never thought we’d get to tour with them and we ended up hanging out with Pixies quite a bit and experiencing Dave [Lovering] the drummer’s magic act, which was impressive. We’d be on their tour bus beforehand drinking wine and eating cheese and watching magic tricks unfold before your eyes, it was so cool, and they were just lovely people and their crew. The Weezer guys we didn’t get to spend that much time with. As the headliners I suppose there’s so much more pressure, it’s a bigger beast, but we were made to feel so welcome, it was great.”

In October The Wombats marked their 15th anniversary – but, says Haggis, the celebrations were modest. “We just went for a nice meal and we were ‘What the hell is going on? How has it been 15 years?’

!It’s like anything in life, whether it’s a relationship or family members when you’re talking about memories from the past, you go ‘Can you believe that it was 20 years ago when this happened?’ It’s the same kind of thing with us. We’re like a little family and time moves in its own kind of way. You just take it year by year, song by song. The rest just happens. But we’re just so thankful that we still get to make music and make a living from it all these years later, it’s surreal.”

Haggis remembers the first time he and ‘Murph’ met. “It was when we were doing a popular diploma in songwriting. I met him on that course a few times but properly when he came into my students halls room with another friend of his and mine with a bottle of wine. We got absolutely smashed and he woke up on my floor the next morning and we ended up making this song about a goat. It was a very silly beginning of a long friendship.

“The first time I met Tord was when me and Murph started doing some music together, acoustic things and open mic nights, and we were like ‘It would be really cool to find a drummer or bass player’ and he went ‘There’s this Norwegian guy who’s really up for playing bass, I’ve booked a practice room for tomorrow’. The first time I met Tord was when he actually walked into the practice room. It’s one of those chance things. I’m sure most people have been in bands and sometimes the chemistry’s there and sometimes it’s not, but yes, we got lucky.”

In the three years between Glitterbug, their third album, and Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life the three band members moved farther apart, with Murph marrying and settling in Los Angeles and Knudson and his partner starting a family in Norway. “The distance thing is not too much of a problem,” says Haggis, who still lives in England. “We’ve been kind of used to that since the second album onwards. Murph was down in London and me and Tord were up in Liverpool and it was still like ‘Shall we practice next week? Yeah, cool, send some ideas over’. With the internet you can do that or we’d get in a room and start jamming or Murph would come with a song and it’s not really changed, it’s just the distance is a bit longer.

“Obviously with Tord having a child and Murph being married they’ve got more responsibilities but apart from changing your outlook and obviously growing up a little bit, nothing really has changed. Once you get over the initial ‘Welcome back’ it’s just ‘I want to get back in the studio and make some music’. You’d have to speak to Tord for the inner workings of his brain during the tour but I think at the start of touring this album it was definitely a bit of a shock being away from home for that long, not seeing his daughter and fiancée.

“There are things like that where it does get a little more difficult but we just try to adapt our schedule a bit. We said could we not do more than four weeks in a row on tour which we’ve pretty much adhered to. There were a couple of tours that went over that were a bit longer but in general we tried to keep it to no more than four weeks and then always have a week off after that.”

Haggis recognises their relationships have evolved over the course of the last decade and a half. “I guess like all friendships, things happen. Sometimes we argue, sometimes we’re best mates and other times not, but in general we got to the end of [last] year touring and gave each other a big hug. We’re still really good mates and all growing up together and experiencing the same things.

“There’s no one else really of our friends or family who’ve actually lived through exactly the same things that we have. In terms of having mates to talk to about whatever crazy stuff’s been happening we’re all there for each other and we’ve been able to share the journey together.”

Murph has talked of this album being about the struggles of trying to become mature adults. Haggis says he’s noticed a change in inflection in his bandmate’s lyric writing. “Some of the lyrics I found were more positive than maybe he has been.

“I think Murph’s strengths have always been very kind of raw, open-hearted, wear-your-heart-on-your sleeve and talking from the soul and I don’t think that’s changed. With a song like Turn it’s kind of a romantic song but in a romantic way, not in a twisted way. I suppose you could look at a lyric like “it won’t get better than this” as ‘oh, is this the best it’s ever going to get?’ but I don’t think any of us actually took it like that; it’s more like ‘I’m really happy right now with how things are”.

“It’s so nice to see him happy. Not all the lyrics are but I feel like there’s acceptance there of growing up and dealing with becoming an adult and having to man up, as you do at some point.”

The Wombats play at First Direct Arena on January 26.