The Wombats have come a long way since ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, becoming one of Liverpool’s biggest exports in decades. With a massive headline world tour ahead, and a new album on the shelf, they will no doubt be remembered for much more than their seminal 2007 hit. I catch up with drummer, percussionist, keyboardist and backing vocalist Dan Haggis to find out more about the life of The Wombats on and off stage.
For those who are new to the band, let’s start from the beginning. Once upon a time, somewhere in Liverpool in 2003, three guys met and decided to start a band. Okay, so far, nothing special. “We started as most bands do, like poor students. We would practice in my garage and my mum would give me money for petrol and new strings. At first we just made music to get over our hangovers but then we realised we were actually quite good at it.”
And good they were. By the end of 2008, they had numerous top 40 hits under their belt, including ‘Backfire at the Disco’, ‘Moving to New York’ and ‘Kill the Director’, as well as sold out shows across Europe and Japan, and slots at Glastonbury, T in the Park, and Reading/Leeds festival. The band was getting on to something good.
“It happened a bit at a time”, Dan recalls. “We started off by making the commitment that the band would be a full time thing. I gave up university and Tord decided not to move back to Norway, where he’s originally from. Knowing that the band was all we had made us work a lot harder to make it happen. It definitely made us want to succeed more than ever.”
“As for the US tour itself, from what we’ve heard, it’s going to be more of a road trip with us starting out in New York. All of us are really looking forward to it, but it’s going to be on quite a strict budget. We’ll be doing most of the driving ourselves, getting no sleep I can imagine.”
Having seen the band’s crazy antics on stage in the past, I can’t help but wonder what their live shows will have in store for ticket holders. “Lots of lasers,” I’m assured. “We’re really into lasers after doing a show with them in Wakestock. Once you do lasers you can’t go back. Do you know what its an acronym for?” I don’t, but I soon find out. “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation,” he gushes. “So yeah, they can expect a lot of lasers and a lot more synth than before, quite futuristic I guess. People should come along and find out.”
Getting the conversation back on track, I ask about their new album, This Modern Glitch, which was written over several trips to the MRG Recording Studio in LA. Only two songs survived the initial two sessions, but over time and with the production help of Jacknife Lee, Rich Costey and Eric Valentine, the album slowly fell into place.
“It took a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Every time we thought we were nearly there we had to call up someone at 2am in the US to ask questions, that’s why its release date got pushed back a number of times. But it was worth it. We wanted to make something that would be better, a move away from our first album.”
After reading somewhere that the band has obsessive tendencies with regards to their music, the 2am calls don’t strike me as that surprising. In contrast to their debut release,The Wombats Proudly Present: A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation, which was recorded in 18 days, they spent over six days on some individual songs alone. “We are definitely perfectionists. With this album, I feel like we got in 99% right, but that last 1% is quite big. But I guess it’s our striving for perfection that keeps us going.”
As with any band with such a successful debut album, there are going to be fans who just want to hear the first album all over again. Luckily, This Modern Glitch seems to have gone down well with existing Wombat-followers as well as with Wombat-virgins. Plus, the album art was created by surrealist artist Storm Thorgerson, a man known for his iconic Pink Floyd album covers, which in itself is very cool.
There are some pretty emotional tracks on the new release, including ‘Anti-D’, an edgy analysis of anti-depressants boasting lyrics such as “Still I’ve thrown away my Citalopram/I need more than what was in those forty milligrams”. The added depth to the lyrics and the increased use of synths make the whole thing somehow more, well, different.
Successes and lyrics aside, I get the feeling it wasn’t easy for the band to distance themselves from their defining track ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’. “It was tough to break away from that, but in a way it was a blessing that we had that song. It was when we wrote that song that the record label was like ‘wow, we could really do something with this band’. We didn’t mean it to take us that far but we’re glad it did. Situations like this happen with bands all the time, like when Kings of Leon released ‘Sex On Fire’. They wrote it almost as a joke and look what happened on the back of it, it was amazing. Even though we want to move forward and make new sounds, we also want to keep a nostalgic feel, because that’s what makes us who we are.”
So, the million dollar question, where does Dan see himself in 20 years time? “Pretty much where I am now. I always want to be involved in music somehow, but I try not to think of the future too much. Working with children would also be good, teaching them music and passing on my passion. Or maybe I could go into producing or something.
“Basically, I just always want to be able to do music or else there wouldn’t be much point of anything. It’s always an issue when I’m with a girlfriend and they ask if music means more than them. They see me struggling for an answer and that always gets me into trouble. But I don’t think there should be competition like that, music is always going to be a big part of who I am.”