On January 23rd, KX FM 104.7 FM “Go Deep” host Bruce Rave had the chance to interview Matthew “Murph” Murphy, frontman of UK pop-rock trio The Wombats, about their upcoming LP, tour, writing lyrics and more.
It’s been a long 18 months since the band first teased new material from their third full-length effort, Glitterbug, finally arriving on April 6th. Bruce opens their conversation with a chat about “Jump Into The Fog”, one of the band’s six singles off their 2011 sophomore album, The Wombats Proudly Present: This Modern Glitch. The fact that this was the band’s first big hit in the States and the one to firmly establish them in the American mainstream came as a surprise to Murph and the guys, “Especially considering we never even thought that it was going to be a single. Even in the UK the label were like, ‘Yeah we love it, but it’s not a single’, and it wasn’t until someone at [BBC] Radio 1 flagged it up and wanted to play it and that kind of went on from there”. Bruce asked about the lyrics to the song, which open with, “What a great achievement it was / To get a hotel room this late / I bet they charge by the hour here / The kind of place you should bring your own U.V. ray”. On the inspiration for the song, Murph recounts, “It’s loosely based on a night I had with an old friend in Bergen, Norway… We ended up in this hotel, but we didn’t have any baggage so they thought there was something very untoward going on”. Even though The Wombats’ first UK hit, “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” off their debut album, never got huge in the States, Murph says American crowds still seem to know it at the shows: “It seems to be one of those songs that just has been lurking around for a while, which I guess are the best ones to have”.
The band’s second single off the new album, “Greek Tragedy”, premiered last month on BBC Radio 1 as superstar DJ Zane Lowe named it the “Hottest Record In The World Today” and is currently on heavy rotation on KX FM 104.7. Murph told Bruce that he wrote the song at a particularly difficult juncture: “There was a time when I had to end something and start something afresh, and that song was lyrically written in that kind of space between the end and the start. So I guess that’s why it felt tumultuous, because there were a lot of things going on…I was in a very weird place.”
The interview took place atop the Hollywood Tower, before The Wombats gig at LA’s The Bootleg, one stop in the warm-up phase of their upcoming Glitterbug Tour 2015. The ambitious world tour in support of the forthcoming album is set to officially kick off next month in France, but as Murph explains to Bruce, “This is kind of like a buzz tour…it’s just a ‘squeeze-200-kids-into -a-room-and-see-what-happens’ kind of vibe. It is a lot of fun but I find them a lot more nerve-wracking than the bigger ones ‘cause you can see everyone’s faces and that kind of freaks me out. But they’ve been really good”. After the first leg of the tour in Europe, the guys will head to their native UK for a string of shows before returning in late April to the States, including May dates at the Fonda Theatre in LA and Santa Ana’s Constellation Room.
Following that night’s performance at The Bootleg, The Wombats were scheduled to play a second show the next day. Bruce asked about the difficulty of playing an afternoon show immediately after a nighttime gig, and Murph disclosed, “It’s hard to get yourself jeered up when it’s that early, and especially for my voice. My voice kind of takes the day to settle and be normal after a gig the night before because I’m not professionally trained or whatever, so it can be a bit tiring”.
As a touring performer, the last thing you want is to get sick, so how does Murph maintain his health, especially his voice, while he’s on tour? “I stopped smoking this year, I don’t drink any red wine because I realized that that was one of the things that messed my voice up. Exercise, and just try to get as much sleep as possible”.
Though the overall sound of The Wombats’ tunes could easily be described as “upbeat”, it’s often juxtaposed with Murph’s melancholy, often self-referential lyrics. Perhaps his publically-voiced struggles with mental health provide some context for such expressive moments as when Murph howls in “I’m a Robot Like You”, “I’m an artificial man with some artificial plans / That I dress to the nines for you / I’ve got a tin box of plastic bags that I shove down my rucksack / So it bulges like I’ve got something of importance to do”. Bruce wondered about the difficulty level of writing lyrics for Murph, to which he responded, “I guess the hard part is making them buzz or pop out at you, finding the correct words to jump out of the page…That’s what I’m always looking for with lyrics: the certain words or certain colors that you can put in there, and I want everything to be as colorful as possible. So, in that respect, it’s hard because I push myself to try and achieve whatever the hell I just said.”
To close the interview, Murph talks about The Wombats’ common categorization as indie rock, remarking, “I don’t want us to be classed as indie and I don’t strive to be as left-field as possible. Pop music is the most important thing to me, really…Yeah, it’s about great songs, great tunes. They’re the ones that stand the test of time and I’ve just been a lover of big songs, so that’s kind of what I want to do…I just feel comfortable just saying ‘pop’.”
Listen to the podcast below or the full interview on Bruce Rave’s Soundcloud, and check out The Wombats’ newly released single, “Emoticons”. Go to kxfmradio.org/podcasts for other exclusive interviews, live in-studio performances & more!