The Wombats Take Over Charlotte
Guitars and drumsticks lay scattered across the bus’ interior as Dan Haggis greets me, lounging on one of the dark pseudo couches built into the wall. He stands up to ready for our photo, grabbing a small bag from his bunk.
“It’s bad when you’re living out of a bag,” says Dan Haggis as he rifles through it, finally pulling out a white shirt. He smells it and decides it’s good enough, pulling it on over his head and standing up.
This is my first introduction to two thirds of the band that is The Wombats, this marking their first ever show in Charlotte at the Visulite Theater. As this is the halfway point of the 32-city tour, it’s no surprise that clean clothes are difficult to come by when one’s life consists of living out of a bag.
Peering over, bandmate Tord Overland-Knudsen, ill tonight, rolls from his bunk and stumbles after him out the door of the “wobble wagon,” the bus that is their home for the next month as they finish up their second U.S. tour.
Later I meet lead singer Matthew Murphy (or “Murph,” as he is known to his fans), who settles into the bus to talk music before the show.
The Wombats are a rock group hailing from Liverpool, England. If the Beatles instantly came to mind, there’s more than one reason: the band started in 2003 after meeting at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which was founded by Paul McCartney.
“Me and Dan kind of used to play cricket against each other at school,” Murph says, “but we didn’t really know each other and then we met in an arts college in Liverpool… We kind of developed a friendship, or bond, which was centered around alcohol basically.”
After Dan went on to study languages and Murph got his music degree, he met Tod, also aiming for a degree in music.
“So we started a band,” he says simply, noting that it took the group some years to gain traction. “It took us sort of two, three years to find out what we wanted to be like. We had to travel a few various roads to get where we are today musically.”
After building a fan base through word of mouth (mostly through Dan’s brother, whose schoolmates passed around demos) and playing gigs all throughout their hometown (they played 50 gigs in roughly 50 days in Liverpool), they were signed to a record deal in 2006 with 14th Floor Records and went platinum with their 2007 debut Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation.
Describing their musical style at the start, Murph notes, “We were a very different band to what we are now. We were kind of Monty Python back then.”
“It wasn’t exactly like always look on the bright side of life, musically, but the music was never silly, just… we were a little bit more playful,” Dan adds.
Needless to say, that had major appeal: they’ve been blowing up ever since.
“Little by little, the bird builds its nest,” says guitarist Dan, joining our pow wow in the bus. “As the saying goes, twig by twig. Obviously we weren’t getting played on radio and stuff in the early days, and I think honestly we just played loads, especially for an unsigned band… it was just the three of us in a little car, driving around and sleeping on floors, and we’d play to like three or four people sometimes, but I think we all had this idea that we’re going to get to where we’re going no matter what, so let’s just put our game face on and get there.”
The work has paid off: they’ve just released their second studio album, The Wombats Proudly Present: This Modern Glitch, and it’s been steadily picking up steam in the U.S. since its release. Thanks to infectious singles like Into the Fog, the video for which has gotten over 3 million views on YouTube and counting, they’re on the way to gaining a following in America to rival that in their hometown of Liverpool.
“Most of this tour we’re sort of playing places that we’ve never played before, aren’t we?” says Murph, looking to Dan. “That’s what’s really exciting. You don’t know what reaction you’re going to get… it’s just grown every time, so that’s been good as well. People are coming back and everything is getting better and better and growing so we’re getting a lot of experience on this tour.”
They’ve gotten the chance to grow musically, too. From the lighter fare of their first album The Wombats have completely changed directions with album number two. The reason? Necessity, says Murph.
“I think we toured our first album so extensively that we kind of wanted to dress the baby up in different clothes,” he says. “It was our second born, and we kind of wanted a girl as opposed to a boy.”
Continuing the elaborate metaphor, Dan laughs and chimes in: “We wanted him to feel different, not like his older brother.”
“We wanted to give them their own unique personality and characteristics,” Murph says, playing off his bandmate. “For example, if we had known we were going to have another boy, then we wouldn’t have been so inclined to fornicate in the first place.”
Readying to head out for the show, it’s obvious the guys still maintain the same work ethic that got them here despite their success.
“I think it’s good for tours like this to have that mentality,” Murph says, looking to his friends. “We never felt like it was going to be handed to us on a silver platter.”
If it wasn’t glaringly evident from hanging out with the guys, it definitely shows on the stage: the trio throw themselves, quite literally, into the music, pouring out their hearts and sweat to the crowd who lose their minds over them. One song was more than enough to introduce American audiences to the group’s unique blend of techno and pop infused rock. One show certainly seems to be enough to keep them forever.