The Wombats are beginning the new year with a bang!
These Liverpool, England natives are kicking off their 2018 US Tour on Monday (Jan. 8) with a sold-out show in Washington, D.C. This is the first of four tours for The Wombats in 2018. After their January tour dates, they’ll be flying overseas for their UK and European tours. Then it’ll be time to head back to North America to join Weezer and the Pixies this summer.
Along with their extensive touring, The Wombats are set to release their 4th album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life on February 9. So far, they’ve released two singles, the nostalgic “Turn” and the quarrelsome “Lemon to a Knife Fight” to give fans a taste of their new music.
This trio creates guitar-driven pop rock complete with glittering electronic elements and tragi-comedy lyrics that pull you onto the dance floor. Listeners may have heard their classic hits, “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” and “Moving To New York,” as well as “Techno Fan,” “Jump into the Fog” and “Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves).”
The Pop Break had the opportunity to speak with The Wombats front man, Matthew Murphy (a.k.a. “Murph”), in anticipation of Monday night’s show. We talked about the origins of his tragi-comedy lyrics style, many facets of their upcoming album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life and the importance of creating music that resonates with you.
Tracing back to the beginning of The Wombats and the development of Murph’s songwriting style, he always found that slightly quirky lyrics appealed to him. However, as he wasn’t a fan of The Divine Comedy growing up, he’s not sure where that came from.
“I was more into Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins—although they can be tongue-in-cheek too,” Murph said. “I think it’s also the northern English sense of humor that creeps in—sort of self-deprecating and cynical. Also, I’ve always liked the way Jarvis Cocker of Pulp writes, so maybe that’s been quite the inspiration.”
As far as current influences, when Murph thinks about the title of their upcoming album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, he explains that empathy is what powers his creativity.
“I’m a bit of an empath when it comes to people and I kind of absorb their energy, whether it’s positive or negative,” Murph said. “I feel like I’m quite tuned into other people’s emotions. It’s a positive thing, but a lot of times it can work to my detriment. It’s kind of what keeps me going. That’s where the album title came from—becoming a bit obsessive with people, places and anything really.”
Contrary to what the title implies, Murph assures us that Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is not a dark album.
“I think it’s a lot more positive of an album than the title suggests,” Murph said. “It’s supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s supposed to be a little bit sarcastic. It’s just a documentary I suppose of growing up and reaching these hurdles or barriers in life and trying to overcome them. So if there’s a message, it’s that.”
The development of Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life brought about a big achievement for The Wombats.
“It was really the first time that we started from scratch together,” Murph said. “It has made us stronger because we now have another arrow to our bow, I suppose. Not only do I write alone, but we can also start and finish something together. It’s good to know for the future that we have more ways to create, and they’re definitely happy about that. Maybe I’ve been a bit egotistical in doing everything in the past.”
While the recording process was “typically Wombats,” as Murph said, his main goal was to make an organic album.
“I didn’t want it to sound like it was desperately trying to be all over the radio or desperately trying to be successful. I wanted to do something that had more self-confidence and didn’t rely too much on synthesizers.”
Reflecting on the upbeat sound and dark lyrics of their previous album, Glitterbug, Murph feels like the new album explores the realization that he has to grow up.
“I think this album is a bit more sorted,” he said. “It’s got more confidence, it’s got more swagger. I mean it’s like all of our albums—someone dealing with the outside world and trying to navigate it anyway. I think this album is more about knowing that I have to grow up, but just being fucking terrible at it really. I’m trying to become a better, more mature person and leave some of the stuff I used to do in the past behind.”
While fans may disagree, Murph doesn’t think he’s been successful with these goals, and it’s a struggle for him. For many, another major part of growing up is making the decision to get married. While Murph tied the knot a couple months ago, he is still trying to wrap his head around married life.
“Growing up isn’t easy when you’ve been in a band all your life,” Murph said. “You’re basically in a state of arrested development—it’s been nearly 14 years now.”
Living a normal adult life is a challenge for Murph since The Wombats are on the road so often. He explains that a difficult part of finding balance revolves around his compulsiveness.
“I’ve been realizing how obsessive I’ve been and how reckless I can be,” Murph said. “That obsessiveness leads to good things like being creative or success or whatever it is, but it does have its drawbacks. I’m realizing I’ve got to pull the reigns in and get in control of myself and my actions, because my actions affect more than one person.”
These ideas of confronting recklessness and recognizing one’s impact on others are explored in the songs of Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Reflecting on the album, Murph said that some of the songs are “a bit off the wall or psychedelic” in terms of his approach to lyrics. As an example, for the first song on the album, “Cheetah Tongue,” Murph envisions it as the personification of social anxiety writing the lyrics. Personal struggles are indeed apparent in the lyrics of the songs; however, the album does give you plenty of reasons to smile.
“There are quite a lot of positive moments on the album, especially with ‘Turn’—it’s not all doom and gloom,” Murph said. “There’s definitely a sizable light at the end of the tunnel.”
Speaking of “Turn,” this nostalgic track is about appreciating the quirks of another person and realizing how happy you are with them, because as the lyrics say, it won’t get better than this.
“The song is clearly about my wife, it’s clearly a love song,” Murph said. “I love how positive it is and it’s just about embracing how weird everyone is as individuals. I know how weird my wife and I are—we just started to embrace our idiotic-ness and that’s what the song is about for me. It’s also about the idea of losing all of our “stupidness,” which is scary to me.”
The story behind “Lemon to a Knife Fight” involves some quirkiness too, as it was inspired by an argument Murph had with his wife during a drive home from dinner. Murph realized he wasn’t properly “armed” for the fight and knew he wouldn’t be coming out of it unscathed.
“For a lot of the verse lyrics, I was watching a lot of David Lynch at the time when we had this row, and it was all very visual to me,” Murph said. “I think ‘lemon to a knife fight’ was just a twisted way of saying that I’m going into a situation that I’m completely unprepared for, but I’m going into it anyway.”
Thinking back on the album, Murph explains that the songs he feels strongly connected to are “Lemon to a Knife Fight,” “Lethal Combination” and “I Only Wear Black.”
“Those are the songs where the lyrics speak to me the most,” Murph said. “Maybe it would be ‘Lemon to a Knife Fight,’ but I think that’s because of how it works melodically—I just react well to those kinds of songs. This album definitely resonates with me a lot more than the last album, and that’s what I wanted to achieve.”
Based on the popularity of “Turn” and “Lemon to a Knife Fight” on Spotify, Youtube and radio stations like Sirius XM’s Alt. Nation, listeners are clearly identifying with these songs and hitting the replay button.
Through the years, Murph has discovered some key information about songwriting:
“I feel like you have to write what resonates the most with you,” Murph said. “It always seems like the songs that resonate the most with me are the ones that people like the most.”