[19 July 2011]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
In the UK, you know you’ve “made it” when Doctor Who considers you one of his favorite bands.
Yet for the Liverpool-bred Wombats, being pumped through the TARDIS speakers is only one part of their journey. Made up of frontman Matthew Murphy, Dan Haggis, and Tord Øverland-Knudsen, the group has been gradually building a following that has become wildly devout, in part due to the group’s ridiculous ways of messing with a pop hook, and also because of Murphy’s utterly astonishing lyricism, often laying his feelings bare in relatable/wildly humorous settings. The most sizable hit from their first album, for example, was called “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”, the chorus following a shouting of the title with the line “and celebrate the irony”. The group is well known for their sense of humor, but when you get right down to it, their self-awareness is something to behold in and of itself: this band is completely aware of their place and surroundings, which is exactly why they are more than up for having fun with what they do.
This is more evident than on This Modern Glitch, which has a far more synth-oriented approach than their guitar-centric debut. Yet even with a slight change in instrumentation, the band’s sound is even more immediate than what they’ve done before, the album dripping with radio-friendly hooks and a gloriously self-mocking sense of what hedonism is in this day and age. Maybe their all-star roster of producers (Jacknife Lee, Butch Walker, etc.) had something to do with it. Or maybe the band has taken their initial burst of post-collegiate wit and unstoppable energy to new levels, making This Modern Glitch, in this writer’s opinion, one of the best albums of 2011 thus far.
Prior to doing a brief run of shows in the middle of summer here in the States, “Murph” took some time out of his day to answer PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions, here noting how he’s often compared to Droopy the Dog, extols the virtues of “Wichita Lineman”, and reveals an obsession with none other than Sir Patrick Stewart ...
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I’ll come clean with you, I did shed a tear in the new Harry Potter film. It was the section where Dobby says farewell to Harry and passes away. I’m not sure if it was the wonderfully earnest scene that made me emotive, or the raging hangover.
2. The fictional character most like you?
I have often been compared to Droopy the Dog, I guess its something to do with my sunken eyes, understated enthusiasm and general inner misery. Let it be known, this bares no reflection on my manhood.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Erm… Nick Drake’s Pink Moon? Elliott Smith’s Either/Or? The Beatles’ Revolver? Radiohead’s Kid A? The Wombats’ This Modern Glitch? I honestly have no idea.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Believe it or not, I have never actually watched a Star Trek or Star Wars film so I am in no position to comment. However I do have a bit of a man-crush on Patrick Stewart. He makes me feel safe, comfortable and slightly aroused. He seems almost Fatherly in my eyes. This is getting weird.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen performing Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in London’s West End.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I know this is obvious and I can practically hear the sighs already, but it would have to be our new album. I have never pushed myself that hard before. Everyday for almost two years all I thought about was songs, how can we improve on our last one, why does this part work and that part doesn’t, where is the next song coming from? It was one hell of a learning curve and I’m pretty certain I’ve come out of it a much stronger, better adjusted, slightly less miserable, dog.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
I think I would like to be remembered for my honesty, its something that I have always put a high premium on. I fully understand the argument that suggests certain Wombat’s songs are too personal and self aware, and when I think about it, occasionally I might concur. But I don’t feel like I have any choice, I couldn’t write an ambiguous lyric if I tried.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Sir Patrick Stewart, Lee Westwood, and Ghandi. And only them! And in that order!
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
“Wichita Lineman”—Jimmy Webb (performed by Glen Campbell). If someone put a gun to my head, I would have to say this was my favourite song of all time. If someone put a nuclear missile to my head I would have to say that “And I need you more than want you / And I want you for all time” is the greatest lyric ever written.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I am a keen golfer with a handicap of 5 (this is not a joke). I think that’s about it for my hidden talents section unfortunately. I can write songs, I can play golf, I’m pretty terrible at everything else.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Please Sir, do not throw that Banjo off the balcony”—Hotel Receptionist, Ramada Hotel, Austin TX
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I’ve only ever stolen chocolate bars when I was 12 and everything I borrow I eventually lose, so the greatest thing I have ever bought would have to be my Mizuno mp62 bladed irons. They’re not the most forgiving clubs but I’ve got a 7.5 tour rifle shaft and some turquoise lambkin grips with two thickening wraps at the bottom. When you catch the sweetspot it is the purest strike in the world.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Neither. I own a lovely Dior suit but unfortunately my bank balance will not accommodate a wardrobe full of Dior at the moment.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Sir Patrick Stewart. I wouldn’t sit opposite him though. I would sit next to him, hold his hand and occasionally go in for some life affirming hugs. Sorry. If I’m honest it would be Elliott Smith (RIP). I’m slightly obsessed with his music and would love to pick his brains over a bottle of red wine.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Groove in the Moo Sydney show, three weeks ago. Had an amazing time. It was our first headline festival show, the stars and the moon were out to play and the crowd was insane. Literally, people climbed on top of the VIP tent and cut some ill shapes.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Golf. Golf and alcohol.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
I’m certainly a major fan of smoking, but I need to stop, I keep procrastinating and moving the concept to the further most reaches of my brain. So I’m pretty sure nicotine patches or whatever prescription drug I am hammering to help me quit will soon become essential to my life. As for now though, lets go with Hummus. I can’t get enough of it.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I’m definitely a city boy, I love the buzz, and how manic it can be living in a place like London. I’m much more relaxed and I sleep better when city noise is surrounding me. I have no idea where I’ll end up in the future, although I must admit I have fallen in love with Australia. Especially Sydney and Melbourne, I’m definitely going to spend a few months there at some point. Our tour manager did, and she won’t shut up about it. I love the countryside too but could never live there, the peacefulness would drive me crazy.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Why are you not Patrick Stewart?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Apart from mastering “the eternal struggle”, we are in the middle of a pretty heavy touring schedule. In Paris at the moment, its dark, very quiet, and our sound engineer is playing an acoustic guitar in the dressing room. Very badly.