Interview: The Wombats

Gemma Cockrell

With their fifth album ‘Fix Yourself, Not The World’ being released just after the new year, Gemma Cockrell spoke to drummer Dan Haggis from The Wombats about the process of recording the album, their unexpected TikTok fame, and their touring plans for the coming year.

With the interview starting fashionably late (as phone interviews quite often do) I dove straight in, asking how Haggis would summarise ‘Fix Yourself, Not The World’ as an overall project. “I guess it’s sort of a journey of acceptance,” he begins. “Putting your arm around the little demons in your head, and saying ‘We’re here together, neither of us are going anywhere, so let’s make the best of this and try to communicate as much as possible’. Through that, we’ll be able to find some tranquillity and peace and move on into the world, and be a better partner, friend, neighbour, member of society. Maybe find some kind of inner peace and happiness. I guess that’s roughly what’s going on.”

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic influenced the band’s expression of these themes. “The pandemic accentuated the introspective nature that The Wombats have always had lyrically. There was nowhere to run, no distractions to use to avoid difficult conversations with yourself. This album is almost like therapy for us, to get those thoughts and feelings out there, and hope that people will relate.”

you can’t help but be influenced by what’s happening around you

The pandemic not only influenced what they were writing about, but it also played a part in how they recorded the album, with the members spread across three different cities. “It was mad to start with. Fortunately, we wrote half of the album before the pandemic, so we had some really good demos and had a solid idea of what we were doing, in terms of parts and structure of the songs. I think if we hadn’t had that, it would have been really hard to do the album.”

Communicating by sending their parts to each other via the internet, Haggis admits that the band “probably couldn’t have made this album 10 years ago,” but he believes that this unconventional method ultimately shaped the album positively.

“It gave us a chance to really focus on our individual parts. It was nice in that respect – an unforeseen positive from the process. Not being able to be with each other socially, have a joke or have dinner together was a shame. But on a musical level, we’ve done this for 18 years now, so we know each other really well and we trust each other. We were never in doubt that we’d be able to achieve it. It led to the album being even richer sonically, and it sounds different because of the situation. You can’t help but be influenced by what’s happening around you – all of those things play a role in the sound of an album, and the fact that we were across different countries has added to it.”

The lead single Method To The Madness, however, was recorded before the pandemic, and it marked a distinct change in direction for the band. “We were listening to some ambient, lo-fi, electronica stuff and we decided to make something a bit more chilled. Tord is constantly recording sounds on his phone – people walking on gravel, the wind in the trees, a squeaky gate – which he turned into the opening beat. By the afternoon, our energy levels were up, so we started making this big kick-off at the end, and suddenly we had this The Prodigy, Radiohead outro. It felt like such a departure to anything we’d done before. We knew it had to be the first song we put out, even though it might not be a conventional single.”

The album closer Fix Yourself, Then The World is also unlike anything else the band have released previously. “It’s just the three of us jamming on the piano for a minute and a half. It’s more of an outro than a song, really. We realised we had captured something there, so we put it on the album.”

it was surreal, and it reinforces the lottery element of doing music

I didn’t want to shift the focus away from all of the exciting things that The Wombats have in the pipeline, but it felt impossible not to mention the impact that TikTok had on the band last year, when a remixed version of Greek Tragedy went viral.

“It was pretty mad! Our manager said ‘This remix of Greek Tragedy from 2015 is kicking off on TikTok’ and we were like ‘What’s TikTok?’” he laughs. “He started showing us some of the videos. Over time, it just kept getting shared. I suppose for us, it was surreal, and it reinforces the lottery element of doing music. Here’s a song that was released six years ago, and all of a sudden, despite the fact that we hadn’t done anything, it started to live a new life on this social media platform. It was nice that people were discovering our music without us doing anything, since we couldn’t do any gigs. It was nice to feel like the music was still getting out there to new people, even though we weren’t on tour.”

With Haggis’ mention of gigs, he began to reflect on the band’s first taste of performing live since lockdown, which came in the form of playing the main stage at Reading and Leeds earlier this year – probably the biggest ‘welcome back’ they could have asked for.

nothing else in life gives you that same adrenaline rush

“It was the first gig we did in two years, and it was also the first festival I ever went to, when I was 16,” he reminisces. “So, it’s always had a special place in my heart. We were a little bit more nervous than usual, because we hadn’t been on stage in two years, and we didn’t do a warm-up show or anything. From having not done a gig for so long, to going straight on stage in front of 40,000 people, you’re not used to that adrenaline level! Nothing else in life gives you that same adrenaline rush. Seeing the sea of smiling faces, and feeling that energy from the crowd, that really made us all realise how much we’d missed it. That really brought it home.”

The conversation then returned to the present, focusing on The Wombats’ touring plans for 2022. Trust me when I say that they’ve got a busy year ahead, from an intimate record store tour in January, to a run of headline arena shows in April. Despite the fact that they won’t be heading to Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena this time around, they will be making a stop at Rough Trade on 9th January.

“We’re playing the album from start to finish in the evenings, and then in the day we’ll be playing a little acoustic stripped-back set,” he explains the format of the record store tour. “Playing the songs live is the final piece of the jigsaw, because we get to see people’s reactions, and the songs come to life.”

The band have played at many of Nottingham’s venues over the years, and Haggis speaks highly of the city, particularly his memories of Rock City (or, in some cases, his lack of memory). “It’s always such a fun gig, it’s such a welcoming venue. I’ve been on a few nights out there that, to be honest, I can’t really remember. But I know I had a good time!” – a statement that all Nottingham students can definitely relate to.

‘Fix Yourself, Not The World’ is out on 7th January, and you can catch The Wombats at Rough Trade in Nottingham two days later on 9th January.

Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Pomona PR. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @wombatsofficial via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.

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