AUTHOR & PUNISHER ** BULLY ** CAS HALEY ** DELTA SPIRIT (TWO NIGHTS) ** FLY MOON ROYALTY ** HAMILTON LEITHAUSER ** HOLIDAY MOUNTAIN ** HOP ALONG ** INTER ARMA ** IVAN & ALYSHOA ** JESSE MARCHANT ** JULY TALK ** LENKA ** MAIN ATTRAKIONZ ** MEG MYERS ** NNEKA ** SOLSTAFIR ** SONREAL ** STU LARSEN ** SURFER BLOOD ** THE DREAMING ** THE FAMILY CREST ** THE HUNTS ** THE WAY DOWN WANDERERS ** THE WOMBATS (DJ SET) ** TRUE WIDOW ** WOLF ALICE
Within the butterfly-breaking cogs of the music industry, big numbers can bring big problems. And The Wombats numbers got big, fast. A platinum album with their 2007 debut Guide To Love, Loss And Desperation. Over 300,000 combined sales of their indie dancefloor smashes Kill The Director, Lets Dance To Joy Division (winner of the 2008 NME Award for Best Dancefloor Filler), Backfire At The Disco and Moving To New York. A two year tour during which Liverpools biggest exports in a decade played to well over a million people, culminating in a massive homecoming Liverpool Arena show for 10,000 ecstatic local fans of their dark yet exuberant and infectious alt.pop.
It was such a good way to round it off, says drummer Dan Haggis. We had a two day party after that. Obviously you cant help but go bloody hell, remember a couple of years ago in Liverpool, wed be lucky if we sold out the Academy downstairs to 500 people. How did we get to this?
Big numbers, big gigs, but for a band with the intense work ethic of The Wombats (lest we forget, in the build-up to their breakthrough hit Kill The Director in 2007 they played 50 tiny pub and club shows around the UK in almost as many days) they took their toll. Having continued their breakneck schedule for eighteen months solid, they came off a mammoth US tour in 2008 pretty broken physically and mentally.
We did a couple of months too long, says Dan. I had problems with my arms so every night going up onstage hurt, so it wasnt really that enjoyable. I had a gig where I didnt want anyone to look at me. I sat on the drums at Glasgow and you start feeling guilty because you think you should be having the best night of your life but I didnt know why I was there.
Over the summer of 2008, between festival dates, two more singles were recorded the stop-gap classic My Circuitboard City and their sardonic (anti-)Christmas song Is This Christmas? before singer Matthew Murph Murphy sat down to begin writing new material for album two. But in his new home in London, Murph found the loneliness, dislocation and routine of being off the road and writing in a big city difficult to cope with. Hed simply become too accustomed to the adulation of the stage.
My downfall was I got used to it, he admits, and then when it all stopped it was a bit of a reality bite-back and I had to level myself out. It was my general unhappiness of not being on the road and being in a new city.
Every night for a couple of years to have always been on your way somewhere, adds Dan, always about to do a gig or an interview or whatever, always people interested in talking to you about music. Then suddenly stopping and not doing gigs and not having the adrenalin rush every night, its like hitting a brick wall.
The few gigs that the band did play occasionally ended in near-death experiences. On his way home from a show in Skegness, Murph almost flipped his car on an icy motorway but emerged miraculously unscathed (the incident inspired a new song called Motorphobia). And during a trip to Dubai to play Liverpool Sound City, Dan had his own four-wheeled run-in with the reaper.
It was fun but me and my girlfriend almost had a pretty serious accident, he says. We went dune buggy racing with no insurance, no anything. They just went have you done this before? and we went no, not really and they went great! Put this on!. We stuck this helmet on and went off over these dunes having a great time and ended up going too fast over one of them and basically coming off and crashing quite badly.
With so much alienation and vehicular trauma around, its perhaps no wonder the first batch of songs Murph wrote in London in February 2009 were delivered to the record label and met with some concern. Lyrically they were the bleakest tracks Murph had ever written (he doesnt expand on their subject matter) and musically they were heavier than heaven and louder than war.
The initial thought was to do things relatively far away from what youd be known for or what your comfort zone is, he says, which is maybe a good thing, but the first batch of songs that the label heard, they were like who the hell is this?
Bassist Tord verland-Knudsen chips in. They were much grungier. More like the 90s grungy thing, for those first four songs. We needed to get the energy back, make heavier music.
Or, more accurately, Murph needed to get his Merseyside Mojo back. I went back to my mum and dads house to recapture whatever former glory was once there. It was kind of miserable being locked away in a room for eight hours every day with just a little lampshade and piano. You kind of go round the bend, there was no reality to draw from. So I had to go up to Liverpool and get back to getting slaughtered and doing recreational things in order to find anything to draw on.
Back in Liverpool, The Wombats Mk 2 instantly clicked. They plumped for a synthier sound, Murphs keyboard often replacing the lead guitar, and the tunes poured forth in ever more innovative and colourful guises. Tracks such as Perfect Disease (a working title, as they all are at present) took on the sonorous disco moods of Depeche Mode and Echo & The Bunnymen, lashed to The Killers arena pop sensibilities. One of the albums curveballs Fog came out sounding like nothing more than The Horrors covering Queen. Often only their intense catchiness marked these songs out as traditionally Wombats at all: no matter where the sonics strayed, the tunes were always glint-in-the-sunlight perfect - better even than the dancefloor killers of their first chart onslaught.
I felt like I was rebelling against what we were as a band, Murph explains. Somehow weve come back round and amalgamated bits of that into the newer stuff and itll hopefully make it better. There are elements that are so different from what people will think. Theres songs that are akin to the first album but it feels like weve escalated. Im 100 per cent certain that some of the songs on this album are the best weve ever put out.
First single Tokyo (Vampires And Wolves) certainly fits that category an instant radio hit thats so insanely catchy its impossible not to spin again the second its finished. An ode to the Neon City? Its just a bit angsty, says Murph. The new album hasnt got anything to do with touring, it just represents escapism and wanting to run away.
This new batch of songs finds Murphs lyrics developing a depth and personal confessional slant thats rare in modern song-writing: take the blunt and startling theme of Anti-D for starters, in which Murph likens himself to an anti-depressant. But fans of his more story-based writing will find much to enjoy in the synth-rock, disco-destroying brilliance of I Never Knew I Was A Techno Fan the tune where Mr Brightside chats up La Roux in a drug-swamped Hoxton dive bar. Key line: Im in debt to you/But dont feed me plant food.
Thats more of a story, Murph says. I went to a minimal techno rave in Shoreditch with my girlfriend. It was dirty, I didnt stay there for long. Ive never seen a longer queue for the toilets in my life. People had their hands up going I actually need a wee and everyone in the queue would go go on then.
The album has been recorded through 2010 over three sessions with three separate producers, all in LA first U2 and REM producer Jacknife Lee brought his precise technological nous to Anti-D, then Eric Valentine helped them put together Tokyo (Vampires And Wolves) and Techno Fan.
And as we write theyre preparing to return to LA with Muse knob-twiddler Rich Costey to complete a record that will shock, impress and spin opinion on this most uncompromising of 21st Century pop bands.
You take the electro and you take the grunge and you put it together with what we used to do on the first album, says Tord, then thats what the albums going to be.
Dan nods, a sparkle in his eye. Its gonna be a whirlwind adventure.