For Jill Scott's new album The Light of the Sun that will be released June 21st, here is an exclusive video with the artist and co-producer JR Hutson discussing the making of eight of its tracks followed by previews of each track. You can click on song titles, etc. on the video below to skip around and check out its content.
A Conversation with The Wombats' Dan Haggis
Mike Ragogna: Dan, thanks for taking the time to chat about your latest album The Wombats Proudly Present: This Modern Glitch. First off, you've used it twice now, who came up with The Wombats Proudly Present... riff?
Dan Haggis: I think it was a combination of all three of us. We had to come up with an album title, and we had tons of them written down, and we had this sort of guide with The Wombats Proudly Present..., but we weren't sure what it was going to be. Ultimately, we just felt it was fitting and it's a bit quirkier than just the standard sort of thing. It feels like it's a film or something. It gives it more of a grandiose-ness.
MR: Now, Dan, for those of us who pretend we know but don't really, what is a "wombat"?
DH: Well, it is a marsupial animal that's found only in Australia, and we actually had the chance to meet a wombat recently. We just did a tour around Australia and because it's an Australian animal, it's very interesting to them that a band from Liverpool calls themselves The Wombats. (laughs) They're fairly funny little creatures, actually. They literally just eat and sleep and don't really do much else. They're fairly stupid animals, but hopefully that doesn't reflect on us. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Okay, so leaving wombats for other species, "Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)" was the first single from the album.
DH: Yes, it was. Yeah.
MR: Just sayin' for the masses. How did you wombats assemble...in Liverpool, I suppose.
DH: Yeah, we met in Liverpool at LIPA. It's a music school that was founded by Paul McCartney. It's a great thing for Liverpool and Murph and I are from Liverpool. We just kind of didn't know what to do with ourselves. We had always played in bands together, which is kind of the usual story. Then, we started doing a bit of music together and toured a bit with our bass player who came to Liverpool from Norway to study at the school. He was in eight bands in his first year, and he said yes to us as well, and then the rest is history.
MR: So, you guys are basically carrying the flag for the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts?
DH: Yeah, I guess so, in some way. We have actually met Paul McCartney as well a few times, and he knows that we went to the school that he founded. He's been very nice to us.
MR: Very cool. Let's go back a bit and talk about your 2007 album The Wombats Proudly Present: A Guide To Love Loss & Desperation. That album had quite a few singles on it, including "Let's Dance to Joy Division," which is a fantastic song title and brought you a lot of attention. But why'd you have to go pick on Joy Division?
DH: It was circumstantial, really. It's sort of like "Creep" by Radiohead where it has these very dark lyrics but it makes you want to jump up and down. It was the same for us, I think. We were at a party at a club in Liverpool and Murph ended up dancing on tables with his ex-girlfriend, and the song that was playing in the background was "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division. It was kind of ironic, because it was at the start of their relationship to be having a great time and dancing to a song that was basically saying that what they were celebrating is eventually going to ruin their relationship.
MR: You guys also received an award from NME. What was the bands reaction to that?
DH: The best thing about it is that the fans vote on it. So, obviously, it meant a lot to us that DJs were playing the song everywhere and people were getting down and putting some shapes to it. It was really amazing for us.
MR: How does the creative process function within the band, like how does the writing process work?
DH: It varies from song to song. I mean for "Let's Dance To Joy Division," Murph kind of came in with the basis of the song. Then, we all just kind of thrashed around and put all of our energy into it for a few days until it came out the other side sounding like The Wombats. Some other songs just come from an idea that someone has, or a riff that I play on the piano. Then, Murph goes away and writes the lyrics and molds the song around the idea. So, yeah, it kind of varies.
MR: Now, The Wombats already have four singles released off of this new album, and you had some international hits on your last album, such as "Moving To New York," which was actually the single that established you in the UK, right?
DH: Yeah, I think that one was the first. That song was actually how we got signed to the label. It was originally released on a small indie label in London, and a bunch of DJs started picking it up and playing it. Then, little by little, it started to filter through the industry and people began asking, "Who are these guys with the silly name?" After that, they started taking us a little bit more seriously and everything snowballed from there, really.
MR: And then, of course, there was also "Backfire At The Disco." Tell us about that one.
DH: Well, I think when we're talking about the way that we make songs I would consider us quite an attention deficit band. When we're actually coming up with stuff or arranging, if we get bored for a second or feel like things are getting stale we always end up adding something to keep things moving. We also edit things really precisely and I think that's why a lot of our songs end up sounding like they could be singles.
MR: Let's talk about a few of the songs on this newest album such as "1996." Do you guys really want to go back to 1996?
DH: Well, a big theme on this album seems to be escapism, whether it's going back to a place like Tokyo, where we had a great time, or back to a time like 1996 when we were 12 and didn't have to worry about bills or anything, you know? No pressure on your shoulders. Also, that song has a lot of cultural references to what was going on in the
'90s. So, that song is kind of like a little walk through the '90s for those who maybe, for whatever reason, don't remember all of it. That is actually going to be our next single as well. We're recording the video for it in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks.
MR: Nice. Can you tell us a little bit about what I think is the perfect relationship song, "Our Perfect Disease"?
DH: That song, again, is sort of that love-hate relationship kind of thing...almost a "Love Will Tear Us Apart" vibe, I guess. It's something that you can't live without, but you can't live with it either.
MR: Is your goal to come up with arrangements that are the most fun on your albums?
DH: Well, on our first album, a lot of the press said that our albums were all about fun and stuff. But on this album, we also wanted to make sure that people knew and understood the lyrics, you know? We wanted to make sure that people didn't bypass the lyrics because everything sounds so fun and exciting and keeps you moving. The lyrics are so important to us as a band because that's 90% of what feels good about a song. People really relate to them because they're really honest. But in terms of the music, when we play in countries where people don't necessarily speak English, they may lose the plot and dance around, but they seem to really relate to the music even if they don't understand the lyrics. So, yes, we do work really hard at keeping the music interesting.
MR: What's your favorite song on this album?
DH: I think, "Jump Into The Fog" because the chorus comes in and I get to be like an '80s rock drummer. (laughs)
MR: Yes, it's all true. (laughs) Will you be touring the States anytime soon?
DH: We're coming over to the States, we start in Boston and go from there to New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and LA. Unfortunately, we're only over there for about eight days. But we'll be back in August for another week or two, and then we'll kick off the big tour around October or November.
MR: What else in on the horizon for The Wombats?
DH: As I said, we'll be making some videos for the two new singles that we have coming out, and then we'll be playing festivals all summer around Europe and in the UK. And in the next few months, we may begin casting our sights on new material, keeping one eye on the third album. For the time being, we are just enjoying the fact that our second album is out and people are starting to react really well at our gigs and such.
MR: Another question that I usually ask at this point in a group's career is since you've finished the second album and you have your eye on the third, are you anxious to actually start it? Bands mostly say, "No, we're exhausted." (laughs)
DH: Yeah, I think we're exhausted as well. I was thinking that when you started the question. (laughs) I mean, making music is the most fun thing in the world and writing songs is something that we love doing, but it took us the better part of two years to put this album together. We've had a few struggles along the way, but they've all been worth it. So, I think after the pressure we've put on ourselves to finish this album, it's nice just relaxing and then putting that same pressure on ourselves to make the live shows as good as possible. We're going to try not to swamp ourselves with too much to do. We don't want to do anything half way. We want to be aggressive with everything we do.
MR: Speaking of aggressive, I also wanted to mention that I loved your take on Take That's "Patience." What's the story behind that?
DH: Oh, you've seen it? (laughs) On Radio 1 in the UK, they do a sort of "live lounge" where they pick a massive pop song at the time and we work it in our own way. So, we thought, "Why not make a country hoedown version of the biggest pop song in the UK that year?" (laughs)
MR: Yee-haw. So Dan, what advice do you have a new artists?
DH: That's a tricky question, isn't it. There are no steadfast rules in the industry at all. I was actually back in Liverpool recently and had lunch with some of my friends who are in bands as well, and the problem is that you wish that you could help people out, but unless a load of people get excited about your music, it's so hard. So, my advice would be to just enjoy making the music and performing in whatever venue, that has to be the reason you're doing it. The rest of it might never happen. When we started, we loved it so much that we toured for about three years before we got signed. I mean, there were a few times where it felt like we were banging our heads against a wall. But as long as you love the performance side of it and making the songs, you'll be fine.
MR: Many in the States are getting trying to get into music professionally with an American Idol mentality--you know, how do I become a pop star in a few weeks or less.
DH: It's the same in the UK, you know. Young kids are watching X-Factor and they think that it's as simple as going on a TV show and everything turns out great. The reality for most bands and musicians is obviously completely different.
MR: That's so true. Thank you, once again, for joining us, and best of luck with the new album. Now it's on to your pal, Murph.
DH: Thanks a lot, man. Have a good one.
A Conversation with The Wombats' Matthew Murphy
Mike Ragogna: Murph! How are you?
Matthew Murphy: I'm good, thanks. How are you?
MR: Pretty good. First, it's only fair that I ask you this because I've already quizzed your buddy, Dan Haggis--what is a wombat?
MM: A wombat is an Australian marsupial that looks like a kind of rabbit, only slightly angrier and bigger.
MR: And would you say that was an accurate description of the group?
MM: (laughs) No. I've got no idea where the name comes from, actually. It was a split second decision that seems to have stuck with us, but I do feel as though the name grows truer with age.
MR: What went into making this album that was different from your first?
MM: They were both so different. They couldn't be more diametrically opposed albums to make, I guess. The first album was kind of the collection of songs that we had at the time, whereas on this one, we kind of sat down to craft the record. No prizes for guessing which one album was the easiest.
MR: (laughs) And you primarily handle the lyrics for Wombats projects?
MM: Yeah. Well, I write the songs and then we all kind of play with them and arrange them together. Oftentimes, Dan and Tord (Øverland-Knudsen) have a riff or a hook that they come in with, and I sort of build something around that.
MR: Now you guys have a lot of singles from This Modern Glitch. Are you seeing a big fan jump with each of the releases of these tracks?
MM: I think so, I guess they've all been waiting quite a long time because there were three and a half years between the first record and this one. So, yeah, there seems to be a lot of excitement around it. People are really embracing the singles. We've released four singles in the UK and three of those were before the album even came out. They're all extremely different, from "Jump Into The Fog," which is kind of a nihilistic song, to "Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)," which is a kind of upbeat pop song, to "Anti-D," which is kind of a downtrodden stringed-intro ballad.
MR: By the way, never before has the word "anti-depressant" been sung so earnestly.
MM: Yeah, that's my favorite song on the album. It's very personal and it means a lot to me. I never really thought that it would make the record. I think I thought that it would be generally dismissed because of the lyrical content and everything, but hats off to our label over here for sticking their necks out for us.
MR: As the band's lyricist, do your words come from a personal place?
MM: Yeah, everything does really. I find it quite hard to write fiction. I can embellish on the truth a bit, but I think I kind of need things to be happening in my life in order for me to put them down on paper. If things are going too well, I don't see the point in sitting at the piano or with my guitar and telling everyone.
MR: That's a very good point, although, it does seem that even with the more intense topics found in your songs, it still sounds like the group is having a good time.
MM: Yeah, absolutely. The Wombats, I think, have always been about exploring the light and dark aspects, and that's something that I've always enjoyed in music--honest lyrics with a sort of fun musical approach. I don't know, I guess it like celebrating the dullness of life occasionally. (laughs)
MR: That's even apparent in some of the tracks on your first album, for instance in the song "Let's Dance To Joy Division."
MM: Yeah...I think that sums up the reason this band exists.
MR: Dan told me a version, but what's your story behind that song?
MM: Yeah, me and my now ex-girlfriend were dancing on a table in some bar to "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and it kind of struck me how great a time we were having and how in love we were, but essentially, you know, it's all probably going to fall beneath us. You know, just not really caring or looking into the future too much.
MR: And also as I mentioned to Dan, it seems "Moving To New York" was your big breakthrough.
MM: It was, yeah. That was one of the first songs we ever did as a band, really, and I've been to New York quite a lot of times, especially when I was younger. My mom and dad took me there and I always had a fascination with the place.
MR: Then, of course, there was "Backfire At The Disco" and "Kill The Director," tell us about those.
MM: (laughs) I guess, "Kill The Director" was brought about by a s**t romantic comedy I saw at one point. It's kind of funny, I just sort of juxtaposed that with what I was going through at the time; and "Backfire At The Disco" is, I guess, the most thoughtless and fun song we've ever done.
MR: Now, you set up this new album with one of its best tracks, "Our Perfect Disease." Can you tell us a little about how that song came about?
MM: Yeah, I guess that was the first song that we created that was actually on the album. It was the first time that we kind of merged the new Wombats sound with the old Wombats sound and pulled it off.
MR: Dan had a thought about this, but do you also really want to bring back 1996?
MM: Yeah, I guess so. Life was a lot simpler then. There were no bills or any other kinds of other stuff that I didn't want to deal with. At the point that I was in while writing that song, I just wanted everything to be more simple around me, but everything was getting more convoluted with each passing second. I don't know. It was just recanting tales about when I was 13 and how simple everything was and my desire to go back to that.
MR: I also love the song and the sentiment of "Walking Disasters." That's the truth with a lot of people, isn't it?
MM: Yeah, I think so. I'm sure that you could make the argument that my lyrics are too honest or too blunt at times, but I'd like to be hit in the face with a lyric rather than allow it to pass me by.
MR: Judging from your first two albums, one can see that The Wombats are an intelligent indie pop act. How does it feel to be making records this solid?
MM: That's very nice of you to say. I don't really know what kind of band we are--whether we're an alternative or indie band or whatever. I think we all just have a love for pop music and we like to make kind of twisted, often dark, sometimes weird pop songs. I guess that's what gets us off, and we're just happy that other people are getting off on it as well.
MR: You guys have four, soon to be five singles released in the UK from your latest album, that's kind of unusual, and in some ways, it turns your album into an instant classic. What are your thoughts about that?
MM: Well, it would be amazing if this album were ever considered that. We're quite lucky because, as I said, we do write pop songs, and sometimes, a lot of that does ride on what radio station is playing it or if they want to play it. But if they do, that's brilliant for us. The one thing I get worried about is that if we are banging out single after single, we don't want to over-saturate ourselves so that people turn on the radio and say, "Oh, not The Wombats again." But I think the singles on this album are different enough that when people hear each new one, it doesn't seem stale.
MR: And, of course, there's a strategy involved in when each song is released and which song to release, right?
MM: Well, they try to make you think there was, but I don't really think there is. I think it's all fairly spontaneous.
MR: (laughs) What song would you say is your favorite on this album?
MM: My favorite is "Anti-D." I would say that it's the best song we've ever done, because there's always been a kind of earnest desire to be honest, and I don't think you can wear your heart on your sleeve more than this song.
MR: There's nothing wrong with being honest in a song, is there?
MM: No, not in my mind. There isn't at all.
MR: I know that you guys are basically a new band yourselves, but do you have any advice for newer artists trying to make it?
MM: Well, I guess write as many songs as you possibly can and never rest on your laurels. Just keep working, and I think touring is the most important thing for bands at the moment because that's how you gain fans--you have to be touring a lot. Even if you only make four fans a night, it all adds up...the word of mouth adds up. Then, you're in a stronger position before you sign to a record label if, indeed, you decide to sign to one. It's not easy starting off at the moment, especially with the state of the industry, and I think you need to develop a really strong name for yourself through a live touring circuit, and constantly be writing.
MR: And that's what you're doing, isn't it?
MM: Yeah. Well, that's how we got to where we are over here, and I guess that's essentially what we're about to do in the US. We've got a truckload of work to do over there. (laughs)
MR: Will you guys be touring here anytime soon?
MM: We'll be there...we just finished off our European Tour. We just got back from Australia, and I'm totally jet-lagged. Then in autumn we go to Boston, New York, San Francisco, and LA and we'll be back for a much bigger tour later on in the year.
MR: Great. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us Murph. Best of luck with the new album.
MM: Thanks so much for having me.
1. Our Perfect Disease
2. Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)
3. Jump Into The Fog
5. Last Night I Dreamt...
6. Techno Fan
8. Walking Disasters
9. Girls/Fast Cars
10. Schumacher The Champagne
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with The Postelles' Daniel Balk
Mike Ragogna: How did The Postelles get together?
Daniel Balk: It was basically destiny. We all went to the same high school together in New York and David (Dargahi) and I would catch each other writing ultimate festival lineups in our notebooks. So, we decided to start a band and we found John (Speyer) was a fan of The Beatles and Billy (Cadden) was too good looking to pass up.
MR: How long have you been playing around New York?
DB: We have been playing in New York since high school. We have probably played every bar, restaurant, and venue in the city.
MR: Where and when was your first gig?
DB: We played an all-girl's school open mic night in high school. Our last show will probably be an all-boy's school open mic night.
MR: What genre would you say your music is?
DB: Elvis Presley.
MR: Making the band's leader...
DB: ...Chuck Berry.
MR: Exactly. So, how do you guys do your create thing song-wise?
DB: Depends on the song. Usually, I'll have a few chords or melodies in mind and bring them to a rehearsal. For example, "Sleep On The Dance Floor" came from when John said, "Tonight I'm gonna fall asleep on the dance floor," and than I came up with a melody with the line. "123 Stop" started with a guitar riff David had and everything was layered over that.
MR: How do you react to people calling you "retro"?
DB: We usually react with, "No, you're retro!" If retro means we sound like a lot of the great rock 'n' roll bands from the past, than we're okay with it.
MR: Favorite classic bands and music? Favorite songs of the last five years?
DB: We all love The Band. They are on heavy rotation when we are traveling on tour. Also, everyone should go get the album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. I would say some of our favorite tracks from the last five years would be Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song," MGMT's "Weekend Wars," The Kooks' "Sway," and Robert Johnson's "Me And The Devil Blues."
MR: So, was there really any falling asleep on the dance floor? Got any stories about the making of that video?
DB: John definitely fell asleep on the dance floor. In terms of making the video, we had just got back from a six-week US tour, and we were exhausted. We got back home and our managers said, "Tomorrow, you are making a video!" So, we showed up to the set at this old gymnasium downtown and all these people were there, which was incredibly nice that so many people showed up to help out. Although we were exhausted, it ended up being a lot of fun to shoot.
MR: Do you guys really like each other, and if you don't, how long have you been tolerating each other?
DB: We've been tolerating each other since we all met on a blind date in high school.
MR: What's the story behind the "White Night" video?
DB: The story behind the 'White Night' video was just about getting a feeling of a night out in New York. Our friend Miranda was brave enough to trek through the ice and snow of a winter night in New York for us and be the star of the video. I like how the slashing rhythm guitar is complemented by the shots of the video. It worked out well.
MR: Who is this guy Albert Hammond anyway, and who does he think he is producing so many potential hits for your debut album?
DB: He's a hitmaker. We told him in the studio to stop producing the hits, but we couldn't stop him. Once he gets in the studio, there is no stopping him!
MR: Seriously, what was it like working with him in the studio?
DB: It was amazing. We learned a lot, in terms of achieving a certain sound. Albert and engineer Gus Oberg are masters of crafting a sound, whether it means messing around with the wires of the amp or taping up all the drums. It was a great experience.
MR: Nice. What advice do you have for new artists?
DB: Practice your instrument! If it's vocals, start singing in the shower. If it's guitar, go get a guitar and listen to B.B. King and start playing with his recordings. And if its drums, go into your kitchen and start banging on stuff!
1. White Night
2. Sleep on the Dance Floor
3. 123 Stop
4. Boy's Best Friend
5. Can't Stand Still
6. Hold On
8. Hey Little Sister
9. Whisper Whisper
10. Sound the Alarms
11. Blue Room
12. She She
PALEO AUDIO EXCLUSIVE!
Here is an unreleased and rough version of the song "In the Movies" by Paleo. His new album Fruit of the Spirit will drop June 21st on Partisan Records, and the artist gave me a few words about the song...
"The song is about leaving home in search of a dream, about being one of those kids that everybody says is going to "make it" some day. I've often felt those kinds of pressures are a bit of a curse. They compel you outward and upward, flying to faraway places in search of fame and glory, but ambition comes at a cost, and many folks I've known who go knocking on opportunity's door find that it never opens quite wide enough to walk through."
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