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Interview: Dan Haggis from The Wombats

In between fatherhood, marriage, and everyday life, our favourite marsupials The Wombats have been tearing up the northern hemisphere on another whirlwind tour. We caught up with drummer Dan Haggis to chat about their latest slew of singles, crazy music videos, knitting scarves, and everything in between.

We love your single Lemon to a Knife Fight, what was the inspiration behind those lyrics?

So from what I’ve heard, Murph had a large argument with his wife. His wife is a very strong, dominating kind of character, [and] I don’t think there’s any chance Murph’s ever going to win an argument with her. I think he’s realised this, and every single argument he goes into it’s sort of like bringing a lemon to a knife fight. He’s just underprepared, and the odds are stacked against him. I think that’s the kind of basis for the song lyrically, and I think he said there’s a lot of David Lynch references as well – I mean he was driving on Mulholland Drive, and I think that was the kind of mood going around in his head at the time.

It can be hazardous to argue with a woman.

Yeah (laughs), I’ve found that as well.

We’ve seen the obsessive fangirl-turned-murderer in the Greek Tragedy music video, and you’ve outdone yourselves once again with the crazy clip for Lemon To A Knife Fight – how did that concept come to be?

Yeah, the guy who did the Greek Tragedy video, Finn Keenan… we loved that video so much, and when it came to this album, we just said to Finn, “Can you just do all our videos for this album?” and he was up for it. He came back with the idea for Lemonhe obviously loves gore and horror movie kind of vibes, and it seems like there’s always a female protagonist who ends up killing lots of people, so I don’t know what’s going on in his head, but we think he’s awesome and we just kind of leave him to it, really. He just did the one for Cheetah Tongue as well, and we were like, “What is going on in your head? How do you sit down and listen to Cheetah Tongue and have that pop out?” It’s just a load of grannies [bench-pressing] their husbands. We love his kind of surreal vibes.

So how much input do you guys usually have in the making of the videos?

Some videos we might have some more ideas, and there’ll be a bit more of a discussion around changes we could make to it, but with Finn it’s just been like, “Listen, mate, you’ve clearly got a vision for what this could be, so just do it – we’re not going to get in your way.” It’s so nice when you’ve got a million things to think about, and especially for us at the moment being on tour with the live shows, we haven’t really got time to do much filming for a music video so he obviously just works with that and comes up with other concepts so that we don’t have to be there so much.

How do you navigate obsessive fangirls in your daily life?

(Laughs) It’s not really an issue for us! To be honest with you, we actually had a pair of knickers thrown up on stage in San Francisco on Saturday night and we were like, “F**kin’ hell, this is very rare!”  It feels like it’s kind of just a rock ‘n’ roll cliché really, all that stuff.

I don’t know whether it’s just our fans…we do have some people who’ve been to see us about 50 times and stuff, but most people are just really lovely and they’ve all got interesting stories. On this tour we’ve met a bunch of people, a couple who met at one of our shows and they’re still together three years later. They did their first dance at their wedding to one of our songs, Let’s Dance to Joy Division. We signed a photo of them and everything.

That is an interesting first dance song.

(Laughs) When you think about the lyrics, it’s kind of saying that it’s all going to end badly but live for the moment, which is quite a nihilistic first dance song, but we loved it, obviously – we were like, “That’s amazing!” I think, in general, we’ve been very lucky with [the fan] side of things.

Of course, you’ve also got your fifth album coming out next week, congratulations!

Yeah, it technically is the fifth, but we consider it the fourth since we did this little Japanese album before the first album came out. I’m surprised you know about that, because it’s a weird bit of trivia! We did lots of EPs before that as well, maybe most of them you can’t even hear online…maybe there’s a few of them knocking around, but yeah.

Your song lyrics are obviously really important to you guys as a band; how does your writing process for an album typically work?

It’s mostly Murph who’s always written the lyrics, I guess because he’s the singer, and he’s got such a good turn of phrase, but on this album there were three of the songs where we all chipped in with lyrics as well, for the first time. I think it worked a bit better with some of these songs, because the phrases were a bit chopped around and a bit more fragmented. Often Murph writes very story-based songs, about an experience he’s had or something, so it’s difficult to co-write lyrics for someone who’s talking about an experience that means a lot to them, whereas with some of these it was more like, “Here’s a rough idea, how can we make it even more surreal?” That was really fun to be involved in, because obviously all three of us do write songs outside of The Wombats. It’s really cool, but we’re so lucky in the band that we’ve got Murph’s turn of phrase…the first time I heard Lemon To A Knife Fight I was like, “Wow, what a f**king great line.” It sticks in your head straight away. It’s such an unusual way of looking at an argument with your wife, or with anyone, so it’s great.

How have you found the process of putting the album together?

It’s been good! It’s been a little different to the other albums because we’re obviously living in different countries and Tord had a baby just over a year ago, so obviously he’s getting used to fatherhood and trying to balance being in the band as well. Me and Murph spent quite a bit of time over there in Oslo so he could hang out with Amelia and the baby as well – mainly so that he could be close to the family. He’d do breakfast with them in the morning and then be in the studio all day and come home just before they went to bed. It was cool. Life moves on and it’s just inevitable, so we just had to adapt and get used to the new situation and the fact that we were no longer free with no responsibilities, just haring around the world being idiots…well, I mean, we still are idiots haring round the world, but when it came to making the album, it was a bit more like, “Okay, right, it’s 7 o’clock, we need to go now!” (laughs)

Sometimes me and Murph would stay later, but it just worked out well. I think, of all things, you’ve got to be flexible in life and make the best of whatever situation you’re in, and I think, in some respects, some really good stuff came out of whatever the new situation is. We got some really cool songs out of Oslo and had a really good time, and we wrote differently for the first time – we didn’t have any idea before we went into the room, and then we just came out a couple of days later with finished songs.

We still find it exciting just to write, even after the number of songs the three of us have done together; it’s really refreshing and cool, and now playing them live is a lot of fun as well.

It’s great to see how much fun you guys have on stage! I saw that during your set at Groovin’ The Moo last year.

Yeah, so much fun! Which one did you come to?

It was the Maitland one!

It’s a good festival. Good call, I’m glad you had fun (laughs).

Of course! How do you find the festival shows compared with the headline tours you play?

I think it’s different mainly because the crowd are there to see lots of different bands, and they’ve probably been drinking since like midday, so they’re in a pretty energetic, wild place. It’s often like as long as you just make sure you have the same mindset as them, you can have a really good time at a festival. People don’t need much to get really into it and dance and crowdsurf and get on each other’s shoulders and stuff, it’s just so amazing to see that from stage. It just puts a smile on our faces and then we play harder and it’s like a…symbiotic, is that a word?

Yeah, that’s awesome.

Symbiosis, that sort of thing. We feed each other.

It definitely has to go both ways! You mentioned you guys are on tour at the moment, selling out shows across the UK and the USA, how has that been going so far?

It’s been so good over here, we’ve been working our arses off in the States for years and it’s finally getting to a place where we’ve got a tour bus and an extra couple of crew members. It’s starting to get to the point now where we’re like, “Yes, we’re getting close now in the States.” It’s awesome – the rooms [we play] are getting bigger, and there’s more people singing along, and it really feels like it’s happening. We’re so lucky with our crew – we’ve got crew that we’ve been working with for years…I’ve actually been learning to knit on the tour, they’re teaching me how to knit! I’ve been knitting a scarf, which is something I never thought I could do (laughs)

Next you’ll have to knit a wombat.

I know! I need to do that, yeah. One thing at a time. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried it in my life, so if I can just get a scarf going then I’m gonna be happy. But yeah, for sure, I think a wombat would be great.

It would be great. I’ve heard you guys take toy wombats on tour with you, is that true?

Yeah, we’ve got a couple of wombats! We got given one the other day by some fans in St Louis – oh god, I can’t believe I remember that! Apparently the little baby wombat is called fjdksl, so we’ve got one called Fred, Mitsy, and Cherub, and then we’ve got one giant wombat costume that various people get into at some point during each show and just come and dance around, and they love surprising us. We had one guy hide under the drum riser for 20 minutes, waiting for the right moment to crawl out, and Tord was just coming up to me on the drum riser having a rock out and all of a sudden this wombat crawls out from underneath. Tord shat himself and stumbled back like, “What the f**k?” (laughs). Yeah, we’re having such a good time, being back on the road.

We can’t wait to see you back on our roads! Any ideas on when that might happen?

Hopefully we’ll be coming to your beautiful country at some point over the Summer, maybe. I’m sure there’s going to be an announcement at some point, so I won’t pre-emptively say, but some time between June and September I reckon we’ll be over on your shores.

Looking forward to that! For all the time in between tours, how do you spend your days?

Well, we’ve got most of May off, and we’re going to record another couple of songs. Normally, Monday to Friday I try to go into the studio from 10am until 5pm; whether it’s to do music for Wombats or for my own solo stuff or with other people, I always try to go in and at least do something. I love making music anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what it’s for.

Apart from that, I do lots of yoga and try to stay fit and healthy, go to the gym, play footy with friends, go to the cinema, cook…I absolutely love cooking and trying out new recipes.

I’ve never seen a wombat cook.

Lots of carrots! (laughs)

‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ is out Friday the 9th of February.

Written by Jess Martyn