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Lollapalooza Preview: Hello My Name is “Murph” from The Wombats

| July 24, 2022

The Wombats 2022 ( L to R: Dan Haggis, Matthew “Murph” Murphy, Tord Overland Knudsen )

The overnight popularity of Liverpool power trio The Wombats back in 2007, via its post-ironic breakthrough hit “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” was a welcome post-Britpop surprise. Bandleader Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy and crew proved to be clever, shrewd-hooked songwriters who pinballed through multiple music genres, from pop to punk, folk, R&B, and even vintage disco, while emphasizing brainy but witty wordplay that became their unique calling card, one that they’re still playing successfully, to this day. The Wombats’ latest full-length foray, Fix Yourself, Not the World,  just hit #1 on the UK charts, with old-school physical copies actually accounting for 86% of weekly sales totals — a rarity in this Spotify-streaming era. But the group is also acclimating itself to our Brave New World. Soon, it will issue 3,000 unique, carbon-negative NFTs that features a Rubik’s Cube blockchain game which will enable players to unlock hidden content, like bonus cuts and an entire metaverse Wombats concert. An EP of outtakes and new songs will soon follow, striking while the iron of familiarity is red-hot.

Everyone, it seems, continues to adore the outfit, with many new fans jumping on board.

Through Tik Tok over the past coronavirus years, when locked-down music fans fell in love with an Oliver Nelson remix of a 2015 track called “Greek Tragedy” and Murphy’s esoteric lyrics “We’re smashing mics in karaoke bars/ You’re running late with half your makeup on.” So much so that viewers wound up posting over 600,000 homemade video versions of said simple addictive hook. With great new numbers like “Flip Me Upside Down,” “Don’t Poke the Bear,” and the trademark droll-humored “Everything I Love is Going to Die,” will The Wombats’ winning streak keep on going? Knock wood, yes, sighs an older, wiser Murphy, who admits to being a tad superstitious. He tries to keep it in check; he says, “But sometimes I notice myself doing things like kicking sticks over, so they’re not sitting on lines in the road, which I still do.” And since he does front a trio, “One thing I always do is in multiples of three on the television — everything is always at 15 or 18, or 12 or 9, for the volume of whatever I’m watching. That’s the one thing I do ALL the time.” The charm appears to be working, as he explains herein.

IE: So you live in L.A. now. And you’re married?

MM: Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy: Yes. I’ve been there for nearly five years, almost. And yeah — in August of 2018, we got married in the South of Spain, and then went to Barcelona for a few days and then Italy on our honeymoon.

IE: But now, at 37, you’re dispensing lyrical wisdom morsels like some seasoned sage. Do you have a whole personal philosophy at this point?

MM: Ha! Thank you. Since the advent of marriage and kids and moving to Los Angeles, and being there and really experiencing it, I feel like the underlying theme with whatever is guiding me is a common theme on this album. And it’s like there’s no utility in negativity anymore for me, or cynicism, for that matter, because all the good things that have ever happened to me have come from trying to have a positive mindset and see it through for as long as I possibly can. So I guess that’s probably what’s been guiding all my lyrics and things like that, especially on the last couple of albums.

IE: Did you always feel like an old soul? Wiser than other classmates?

MM: Uhhh…no. I was pretty average when it came to grades. And maybe I thought slightly differently from them, but I was good friends with all types of people, from the jocks that were good at rugby and football to the geeky nerds who would listen to The Pixies. I had a good mix of friends at school, but I think I was always kind of distant, especially when I started in bands and stuff. I wasn’t really looking after myself, and I then started having bad depressions that kind of distanced me from the pack, I think.

IE: What would be the most crucial life advice you could offer to someone younger right now?

MM: Well, just a bit more of what I said — negativity is only correct in the short term, much like cynicism. And also, I would say when you’re exercising on a treadmill, always put it on an incline, like 2.5, because it makes it a little more difficult, and you really feel better afterward, so you’ve got to kind of enjoy the struggle a little bit more. So it’s always better to run uphill than it is flat.

IE: Did you see the pandemic as a challenge, then?

MM: Yeah, mostly. For example, Dan (Haggis), the drummer who was living in London and doesn’t have kids? Our experiences of the pandemic were dramatically different. He was crawling up the walls, where I was cleaning up vomit and shit and trying to keep two human beings alive because I had to. So as terrible as the pandemic has been, I’m not gonna lie — it’s been amazing for me because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to see my children (daughters Dylan and Kai) grow up like that. I would have been on tour and having to explain to them why I’m not there. So at least I got Dylan to (age) two and Kai to one without leaving home very much, which is kind of a blessing, really.

IE: If you listen closely to the new songs “People Don’t Change People, Time Does” and “Everything I Love is Going to Die,” you’re singing more about mortality, too.

MM: Yeah. “Everything” was supposed to be a liberating, fairly uplifting song. But I just like the dichotomy of giving it the most miserable title ever. And it’s about being slightly more grounded in the present and noticing that things work much better if you can stay in that mind frame for as long as possible. And obviously, my Icarus line in the song is saying you’ve got to be grounded and present. But it’s not the same as living for the moment because you also have to project your future self for the next day, the next month, the next year because your actions are going to have implications on down the line.

IE: That track also has some of your best metaphors, like “Kissing teeth-locked in a quarantine.”

MM: Yeah. Thank you. I was determined not to write anything pandemic-y or Covid-y at all. But I guess that one line did get dropped in there.

IE: Another lyric states, “Everybody wants to be the man/ The singer for the band.” Why did you start singing initially?

MM: I dunno. It’s certainly a question I ask myself every (tour) night at about 9:30 p.m. As a kid in Liverpool, I had an amazing upbringing. My parents are great, and I had an amazing time. But it wasn’t the happiest household, I think. It was quite quiet, which is something I’m desperately trying to reverse with my kids. My house in L.A. is just pure carnage all the time, which I like. So back then, there wasn’t much talk about how we were feeling or our emotions, really — it was a classic British upbringing, and maybe that got to me. Maybe I’m the kind of person that needs to talk about that stuff. Maybe that was what propelled me to the stage in my teens.

IE: Nobody in ‘Keep Calm, Carry On’ England wants to admit to secretly seeing a therapist.

MM: Yeah, and it took me a while. I went in my twenties, but I’m not sure all that stuff applies to me now; because it’s not the same now. Now I’m like, “God — this is a bit tiring, isn’t it?” And I don’t think that maybe I’m not naturally born to be onstage. But I dunno. It usually takes me a couple of days to really feel comfortable up there.

IE: What daily rituals or routines do you follow to stay grounded?

MM: Well, I don’t do as much as my shrink would like me to do. But it’s just about having a root thing for me now, so it’s about exercising, and I do Wim Hof breathing when I can — it’s this crazy breathing technique, and there’s an 11-minute one on YouTube which is amazing. You can completely oxygenate your blood, and you feel great and very calm. But I don’t think that’s as important as exercise for me. If I don’t work out pretty much every day, I’m a bit of a mess.

IE: What have you discovered about yourself through writing this record? Is there really a “Method to the Madness”?

MM: Well, maybe. That song is about post-wedding; when we were walking around Barcelona, and I felt like everything in my life had changed, and I was connected to a new light. So I felt like everything had changed, but at the same time, everything just stayed the same. And I was thinking and thinking and thinking, trying to figure it out, and then I was like, “Maybe you should be more calm. Maybe you should just let it go instead and do a bit less thinking on all that stuff. Because you really don’t have infinite energy to waste on highly complicated topics like marriage and life.” So the ending — “Fuck my sadness! Fuck my worry!” — is about completely letting go and just surrendering to all of it.

– Tom Lanham

The Wombats appear Thursday, July 28. Single Day tickets are still available.

The Wombats also appear at House of Blues Chicago on Tuesday, July 26 for a Lollapalooza aftershow. Tickets are available here.

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