The Wombats: "I’ve never wanted to put the word depressed on something, but I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough that it’s okay to admit that and to talk about it."
Alice Gee | 11/04/2022
Heading into Central London I read over HATC’s last interview with The Wombats. A year on from our Issue 2 cover, the band have re-emerged from the world of lockdown with their fifth studio album Fix Yourself, Not The World. Sitting down with drummer Dan Haggis we can’t help compare the differences in the world and our situation since 2020 talking about the lows of lockdown and the separation from our loved ones.
While last time Jade had to sit down with Murph over Zoom and struggle with an 8 hour time difference, I get to sit down with Dan face to face. And although it may not be the most exciting set-up (can you tell we are itching to get to BTS festival coverage) it’s something we both seem to enjoy.
Having written 5 successful albums from different corners of the globe, harnessed millions of fans, and having toured in every major city you can imagine, I wanted to hear from Dan about how the traction they’ve gained has created the world of The Wombats.
“When we started, we were just three friends at University, like how all young bands start. You never really imagine that anything’s going to come from it. We had a full-on three years to start with where we were just driving ourselves around. There was always this overriding sense of hope that whenever we’d be talking in the car, on the way back from a gig, on those rainy mornings knackered where we’d pray that we’d be able to do this and nothing else because we just loved it so much. So for us to still be doing what we do all these years later, is so surreal. It’s become our life now.
It’s so nice to be able to have this time together. It’s been a three-year run where we’ve just made as much music as we can, we’ve been excited about this release. At the time we had enough songs for an album so off we went. When you spoke to Murph for Issue 2, he’d probably had already recorded most of his parts. It was a bit weird at the time not being in the same room, but it worked out well, and actually, I think the album is more interesting because of it. It’s been different for us to have these memories associated with and attached to the album. With COVID I guess we wanted to capture what was happening at the time for us, and I feel it has done that.
To us, it’s amazing that we’ve still got people out there who really want to listen to the songs we put out. That sense of excitement that we feel being able to come and perform our music is the best feeling in the world as a musician. The ultimate part for us, having practiced in the run-up to the tour, is playing through the whole album in a room full of people singing along. That’s when you come full circle.”
Post-COVID restrictions lifting are definitely something the boys are looking forward to, they are itching to play their latest masterpiece to crowds of fans screaming every lyric. But having crowds of fans singing along is not new to them, and not just at live shows. In lockdown The Wombats went viral twice, track “Greek Tragedy” was remixed by Oliver Nelson and used in almost 400,000 TikTok videos and “Kill The Director” in over 1,000,000, reaching millions of new listeners who were just a twinkle in their daddy’s eye back in 2006.
“We had this song on Tik Tok that suddenly started doing really well. It was so random. I remember it suddenly started getting shared left, right and centre. And we were like, alright, what’s TikTok? At the time, this was back in January 2020 I’d never been on it. There were these 10-second videos of them lip-syncing along to this remix. Then suddenly, it was like, right, quick, let’s officially release it because people like it so much alongside people rediscovering the original. It spurred us on through the whole pandemic. Because we hadn’t been able to play shows and the album was pushed back by like four or five months to see fans both old and new engaging came at just the right time to inspire us to put even more life into our new music.”
The boys have toured all over the world, and are now based everywhere but their hometown of Liverpool. I was curious as to the effect of that ‘living out of your suitcase’ lifestyle, especially after COVID, when so many people were separated from their loved ones.
“At the start of lockdown, it was tough getting through not being able to do anything especially when you’re hyper-focused and usually stimulated by doing so many things all the time. So, to try managing how I felt at the time I found myself going to make music all the time in the backroom, simply sending ideas back and forth in the hope of getting everything ready for the lead-up to the album. It eventually became this nonstop idea for me to get through the pandemic. I think that’s just how some people’s brains cope. I think as musicians, you’ve got loads of sh*t to get out of your mind, so being in lockdown and stuff, it had lots of moments of “F*ck, I don’t know what’s going on”. I’d find I’d wake up in the morning really down and I didn’t know what else to do other than force myself to focus on music. These creative moments would come along and would spark like this creative process that put forward ideas towards the new album.”
It’s a process that is yet to let them down, and one that must have helped with sanity throughout both lockdowns. We both start to unravel our lockdown sanity hobbies, both experiencing the godforsaken weekly Zoom quiz, something that’s excitement and dedication deteriorated with each passing week.
“As a family, we had a little period when it was like every Friday we’d host a zoom session, but after a while, I think we got to the point where we thought ‘are we doing another zoom this weekend?’ But I guess it’s a testament to humans in general that we all managed to get through it still with one another.
I think it’s important though to say how by the end I found this sense of trauma. I mentally had some kind of feeling of trauma. I think because we tend to go into survival mode to get through whatever it might be we don’t notice at the time the toll it’s taking on us. It’s strange because you wouldn’t think what is so bad about just sitting on your couch or working from home. But I think stripping that much social interaction and normal life away from people shows and makes it so much more understandable. It was a really sh*t time for everyone.
I often found these moments of almost imposter syndrome where I’d be like well, at least I’ve got a flat and didn’t have financial problems, especially hearing all these other stories. So I often found myself saying well, I can’t complain, but then the thing with mental health is that that doesn’t matter, it’s all relative, everyone has something going on in their world. The more you deny that feeling, telling yourself you shouldn’t be allowed to feel it, the worse it gets and it doesn’t mean it’s going to go away, and before you know it, you don’t feel great. But we got through it together and that’s so important. I do say to myself “Thank f*ck, we’ve got music in our lives” having that outlet has been such a lifesaver for us.”
It’s understandable, I tell Dan. It seems everyone had experience with fight, flight, or freeze throughout the pandemic, so many of us experienced some sort of trauma.
“You do have to find ways to cope though. I found that yoga was one of the closest things to the sort of Zen-like status I feel when performing music. Being in that zone where three hours could disappear. It’s been about eight or nine years that I’ve been doing it. It’s partly for my body because I play the drums so much with touring and producing my lower back and tends to suffer but it helps me with having a solid core, but mentally that’s always the main thing I find it helps me with. My mental health is fairly up and down so to have coping mechanisms like yoga creates places where I feel like I can go and get to that point where I’m not thinking about everything else. It makes everything feel all that bit clearer, a reset button.”
I agree, finding stillness is something difficult to do let alone sit in, so I wondered whether Dan’s routine wellness habits are something that helps him on tour for such long periods.
“I think you get used to it, again you almost go into battle mode, but if you’re knackered and haven’t slept properly, because obviously, spending weeks on tour buses you don’t sleep very well, it can take its toll. I mean that part messes up your sleeping pattern in general let alone when you’re jet-lagged. I think the other side is when you play a gig, you find you feel like you’re flying which has an impact on sometimes feeling grounded. Don’t get me wrong it’s so much fun. You get to travel the world and meet so many incredible people. But after two albums I realised you can’t be a tourist and be in a band all the time. I used to get to a city that I’d never been to before and think I’ll get up earlier and go and visit some building or whatever. But once you’ve sound checked, done interviews, and then did the gig, gotten maybe six hours sleep you have none or little capacity or time to do anything more which is the reality of the job. But I love it like the whirlwind of it all. Obviously, you miss friends and family and you miss events, like birthdays and parties and important things there may be, which can be hard when you’re away but fortunately there’s the three of us and our crew, a family in our own right.”
The new album is something of a genius, an ode to us as humans with a narrative that takes a real look into the opposite ideas of that drowning feeling and psychosis almost felt in their previous album, it’s like this album comes back full circle.
“It’s so cliche, but it is just a journey for everyone. I think we are at the point where we’ve all learned so about ourselves. Of course, you have all these different struggles in your fight with yourself and you might be frustrated or have a range of different feelings but it’s so nice when you do get those breakthrough moments where you can step back from everything and kind of just breathe. I have learned that if you’re in an absolute mess in your head, you’re not going to be that much use to anyone else. You have to prioritise yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not going to have the chance to be the best version of yourself. It’s interesting when Murph sent over this title we had a big discussion between the three of us about what it meant because of things like, I don’t know, climate change or inequality. But it’s not that simple. It almost made us think if we think that way does that mean you don’t care about the world? But as we were talking, we did think no, of course, it doesn’t. You do have to get your own house in order first, then you can go after the rest of the world. It wasn’t us saying “F*ck you guys”, that’s not what we were going for, but the more we talked about, the more we were like, no none of us think that at all. I think everyone is feeling that this year’s been a weird one. I feel like it’s all interwoven in such an unusual way that it’s helped me look more at myself better, accepting that it’s okay to feel like sh*t. I’ve never wanted to put the word depressed on something, well, maybe I have been a little bit, but I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough that it’s okay to admit that and to talk about it. So, I hope that the album brings some of that to some people who have listened to it. I hope that they can take that on board and really think about what it means to them, and hopefully will realise how important mental health is.”
I tell Dan that at no point did the album title have negative connotations to me when I initially heard it. If anything, it’s a sentiment to focus on ourselves more without the guilt associated with making personal changes a priority. It’s an idea that comes back full circle throughout the album, exploring the idea of better mental health, a positive 360 from the ideas of psychosis, and personal breaking points found in Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. It’s a beautiful balance focusing on the real capacity we have when changing the world when we refuse to fix ourselves. And following its debut at Number 1 in the UK Album charts, it’s something the fans have not only understood but welcomed with open arms.
Words: Alice Gee
Photography: Tom Oxley