‘How can we not sort these things out in 2018?’ I am sat, phone in hand, chatting to Dan Haggis, drummer of Liverpool indie-rock band The Wombats, about all things music, politics and the power of the internet age.
The adrenaline-fuelled Scousers have recently released their fourth studio album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, having been together for over a decade now. How have they kept it up? ‘It’s like a family,’ he explains. ‘If you look back at your family 15 years ago, things happen but it’s still your family. It’s the same entity. It’s hard to explain, but the three of us have spent so much time together, with the same manager since the word ‘go’… It doesn’t feel any different.’
Last year the band set out on an anniversary tour to celebrate the tenth anniversary of debut album, Love, Loss and Desperation, released way back when in 2007; Haggis notes how it felt like a blast from the past. ‘We hadn’t played [those songs] for eight years, but as soon as you start it’s in your bones… you’re transported back in time to that time in your life, all those memories…’. Releasing their latest album seems to have been a particular passion project for the Liverpool lads, as Haggis exclaims down the phone that releasing it was ‘such a great feeling, it’s such an adrenaline rush. All this time making and recording, sometimes overthinking… that immediate reaction and gratification for the work you put in, there’s no feeling like it.’
With the recording of both this and previous LP Glitterbug being split across the world, with fellow members Matthew Murphy and Tord Øverland Knudsen living in LA and Oslo respectively, it does not seem to have impacted their creative process nor their musical progression. ‘We’ve each got a studio and you can go along and play along to [demos]. We all got together in Oslo four times, two weeks each time… we tried to write songs without any pre-existing ideas. We’re here to just write, to hang out and to have a good time as well obviously. It gives you a sense of purpose: ‘this is our mission’.’
Playing live is where The Wombats are most at home. Selling out several dates on their tour in March, as well as performing intimate gigs for Music Venue Trust, an advocate of small and local venues, it is clear that Haggis appreciates the experience they still gain from performing to this day. ‘We were playing small venues for the first three years of the band, driving around in my granny’s car,’ he laughs. ‘They’re the places young bands can learn their trade and craft and get used to playing. Just the whole touring life, even a local venue, gives you a thick skin over the years’.
With us talking of the importance of grassroots venues and the power they can give to a band, talk quickly turns to the theme of power itself, the theme of this current issue. Haggis has a particularly poignant view on the notion: ‘I think power is something that should be wielded humbly. The scary thing with power in the wrong hands or the wrong people, it can go to their head, it can become a nightmare… people can become addicted to it. They’re the scary ones,’ he notes. ‘Are you doing this for the right reasons? What’s your motivation?’
This is not only relevant to politics, he explains, but also to the music industry, using my interview with him as an example to demonstrate. ‘There are two very clear differences. If you wanted to do this interview just to further your own career, that is very different to genuinely finding out about this band and writing this article. There are some bands who literally just want to make songs to be famous, not for creative goodness.’
So what is The Wombats’ stance on politics? Whilst Haggis admits that the band try not to get too political, ‘it is nice to let your fans know who you are.’ The band are members of 1000 Musicians in support of the NHS, something particularly close to Haggis’ heart and his medically-centred family, with it being something hotly debated in the most recent general election. ‘There are three doctors in my family. My mum’s an NHS dentist, my dad works in legal aid, and the cuts to these different sectors… it’s so frustrating to hear. I think the NHS is the most amazing thing. Health and the human right to have good healthcare, regardless of the money you have – it’s one of the most basic rights of humanity as far as I’m concerned. The system in America is just mind-blowing. When you think of the cost of having a baby – how can you monetise this?’
The band, particularly Haggis himself, are very active on social media and he proffers a reason for just how important, but also flawed, the power of these platforms can be: ‘Personally, myself, [I use it] for staying up to date with things. You can follow in a closed loop… you can reinforce what you already think which is kinda good, but it narrows things… We’re working in a sheltered bubble of an industry, [but] everybody’s lives are so different. We all live in these cyber-loops of the same-minded people. However, [social media] is really important. I would imagine that certain things wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago, like online petitions – how easy is it nowadays? Petitions for this and that, a couple of hundred thousand signatures and politicians are debating it in parliament.’
The ease with which something can become popular, something on the lips of an entire population, is similar to the power of streaming. When licensing their current album to a new company, they were particularly impressed with the band’s streaming figures. ‘They were like, ‘your guys’ streaming figures are ridiculous, you’ve got a lot of fans out there’ and there are all these new people. We don’t know where they’re coming from!’, he laughs modestly down the phone. ‘Streaming really takes the pressure of the hit at radio or favourable critics, it feels like you’re a bit more autonomous. Fans of a band don’t need to hear it on the radio; instead they’ll get a New Music Friday playlist or a notification that our album is out. There are so many ways to discover music now. You still rely on recommendations but each week I’ll have a scroll and listen to things I’d not normally listen to… when I was younger, until a DVD came out I wouldn’t be able to see anything, a poster of when a band were playing if I was lucky. Now, you just look at your phone.’
[Originally written for front page of The National Student]
Image credit: Gigantic Tickets