Prove your humanity

With The Wombats Set to kick off their first Perth Show in years and celebrating the tenth anniversary of their first album, GROK’s Sam Elliot found time to chat with drummer Dan Haggis on the band’s name, first album A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation, and the pros and cons of touring in Australia.

The Wombats, where did the band name come from?

It’s a question we’ve been asked many times over the years and we’ve made up loads of ridiculous stories – but it’s not really that interesting. We needed a name for our first gig and we didn’t have one, and the promoter called me up and he was like, “right, what are we going to put on this poster?” and I basically said, “Oh just put the Wombats for now,” and he just laughed and said, “yeah, that’ll do.” I think we arsed around coming up with silly names you know like ‘Stupid Willy Wombat’ and ‘Ya Ma’s a Goat;’ it was just stupid things and all of a sudden that popped up.

Not an undercover attempt to break into the Australian market?

We’d never done a show anywhere in the world, so our main aim was to just to get a gig in Liverpool, and the whole first year we were the Wombats and we didn’t play outside of Liverpool. To be honest we barely even knew what the animal was, so once we googled it and went through the pictures we were like ‘aah, that’s what it is.’

It’s quite an unimpressive, really little, fat thing.

Yeah it’s like a little teddy bear—I mean we’ve obviously been lucky enough to hold them. We went to Adelaide national park somewhere, and you know we went up and got to hold little baby ones, it was an amazing experience.

It’s been 10 years since A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation; it doesn’t feel that long does it? I remember specifically buying this album when it came out, but it doesn’t feel like 10 years does it?

It’s so weird—to be honest time passing in general is just strange when you look back. It’s obviously just one of those memories; we can remember recording it, we can remember releasing it, and loads of the touring around it in that of period of time.

It’s nice because the music is a sonic photograph, because whenever we play it we get transported to all those memories that are associated with it. It’ll be nice to play a bunch of songs off the album and relive some of those memories. It’s strange because we’re working on our fourth album at the moment and we are thinking about that again so it’s nice straddling between the future and past.

Does it feel strange playing some of those songs? They were written 10 years ago when you were in your early 20s. Does it feel like you’re playing somebody else’s songs?

Not really.

I suppose you play them all the time especially some of the bigger songs of that album like Moving to New York and Kill the Director.

That’s the thing, there’s so many different memories attached to them over the last 10 years that we’ve been playing some of those songs at pretty much every show, so they don’t really feel that old. But then you think back, ‘oh god remember when we were in music college when we first started, like, rehearsing and playing those songs like Moving to New York when we were literally 20 or 21 or something—it is crazy.’

Even if the crowd’s reaction is always the same thing that if you played some of those old songs and the crowd were just like, ‘oh come on just play the new stuff,’ then it wouldn’t feel the same, because whenever you play them it obviously means something to the people watching us as well as for us—it’s just so much fun to be part of that.

I suppose that’s the same for a lot of fans—it’s so easy to sing along to. So if it comes on in the pub or the pub band starts playing it you know all the words.

I remember we were in a karaoke bar in Nottingham once after a gig and someone started singing, I think it was Moving to New York, you know on the karaoke and all of our heads just turned slowly, thinking, ‘what is going on here?’

Did they know you were there?

No, I think someone told them but it was just so random, and we all turned and as the song went on people realised that we were there and then afterwards they were like, ‘oh my god, I’m so embarrassed.’ We were like, ‘no way that was one of the best experiences ever.’

When was the last time you were in Australia? Would have been the Glitterbug tour wouldn’t it?

Yeah last time we were there we did Falls Festival—it was not this Christmas but the one before—and we had been touring in America in the five weeks leading up to it, and instead of going home I went straight to Melbourne because my cousin lives there.

So me and my girlfriend spent Christmas in Melbourne, and had an amazing time in 30 degrees sunshine and sitting in the back of their pool. It was a weird experience because it was my first Christmas in the sun, but it was just amazing and the gigs themselves are just—you’re so lucky in Australia because obviously the language is the same, but you’re so far away from home and the people are so nice and the crowds are just insane.

And have you played any of the other Australian festivals, Laneways maybe or Southbound? You were supposed to play Southbound last year, but that got cancelled.

Yeah the forest fires—I remember driving towards that and thinking, ‘what is that?’

What was that like being in the middle of that?

You just worry for the people that are close to that. It was awful when you see what nature can do—it’s just devastating isn’t it? In the U.K we’re just lucky in terms of natural disasters; there are not really any major forest fires, you get the odd flood—it’s pretty tame really, and there are no real wild animals that can kill you and stuff.

Over here its different you come out of your protective bubble you feel quite vulnerable. Anyways, Groovin’ The Moo was awesome. Six years ago I remember it was just wild—you go to these small little towns no one ever really goes to play—or international bands anyway—and you just get this hunger from fans who’ve never really had the chance to see you because the nearest place you’ve been is 4 or 5 hours away, and all of a sudden there’s loads of bands. It’s like ‘let’s make sure we party like we’ve never partied before,’ which, hopefully people are still standing by the time we play.

You’re in a late slot aren’t you? It’ll be heaving, but I don’t know how many people will remember it the next day.

Exactly, takes the pressure off a little bit. We’ll just go on and do a trumpet solo or something.

Do you have a favourite track off of the first album? Is there one that stands out to you?

I remember at the time it was Little Miss Pipedream because it was just so different, and it’s just a nice, random, little weird segue on the album—you know you’ve just got seven or eight songs of just non-stop high energy, and then all of a sudden that comes in—it’s just this nice calm before the rest of the storm continues.

I always remember liking that moment on the album; probably also in the set as well I love playing it, because all the drums on the first album are just so frantic and so when we played live everything was three times faster, so for me when we get to that song it’s just like ‘ahhhh.’

Nice little water break.

Yeah, that was my breather—I play keyboard on it and only need my kickdrum, and play a bit of harmonica, so it’s nice. It’s a different side to us—different sonics, different everything, and actually just really relaxed as well.

What kind of stuff do you listen to yourself? Are there any acts, currently or even in the last couple of years?

I guess the last album I absolutely hammered was Bon Iver’s last one: he played this album 22, A Million and I think it’s amazing, I mean I love all of the albums, but this latest one’s just so nice.

Could you pick a favourite song off of that?

I think it’s called Circle: all the titles are really weird. I can’t remember off the top of my head—they’re all awesome but I’d have to look at the actual track listing. It’s honestly just an album that you put on and just listen to, and let go ‘til the end if you want to just relax, and just chill out, have some nice music washing over you: you can just play it from the start ‘til the end. There are a couple of challenging moments on it where the sounds get really weird—it’s experimental but it’s really good.