Did you know that motorway accidents are the leading cause of wombat death in Australia, even more so than sarcoptic mange? It's true!
Wombats co-founder Dan Haggis isn't altogether surprised by this bit of marsupial trivia, and for good reason: Both he and bandmate Matthew "Murph" Murphy managed to crash their vehicles during the making of their 2011 sophomore album, The Wombats Proudly Present... This Modern Glitch.
In retrospect, do the Liverpool hitmakers feel it was a poor name choice?
"Yeah, I think we've become the name, rather than us naturally being like that," says Haggis, who claims to be showing early signs of sarcoptic mange as well. "Murph crashed his car, and then I ended up crashing a dune buggy in Dubai. Fortunately — touch wood — with all the miles we've covered and all the traveling we've done since then, we haven't had any accidents."
So why Wombats, then? "It was just something to go on a poster in Liverpool," says Haggis. "I guess we never assumed that we'd end up having it on posters in Colorado or wherever. We didn't think that far ahead. But it's served its purpose."
Over the past five years, the Wombats have scored a half-dozen Top 40 singles in their native U.K., including such tongue-in-cheek indie-rock gems as "Let's Dance to Joy Division" and "Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)." The trio has come a long way since Haggis, Murphy and Tord Øverland-Knudsen (who also has a side project with Haggis called The Captain & The Princess) first met up at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a university cofounded by Paul McCartney.
In fact, the former Beatle has cited the Wombats as a band he'd consider working with: "I don't do much production now but it might be very tempting," McCartney told BBC 6Music. "I'm not sure they would want me. I had one of the guys from The Wombats in one of my classes — and now, years later, they're doing great."
"It was very flattering," says Haggis. "He's a really nice guy, and we actually interviewed him on radio once, which was quite nerve-wracking being on the other side of the microphone as him."
And what about being on the other side of a recording studio? "If he ever had time and wanted to do something, we'd obviously be interested."
Pop will tear us apart
As much buzz as the Wombats have generated, their U.S. tour finds them visiting venues a fraction of the size they play back home. Even though This Modern Glitch debuted at No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 2 in Australia — they really do like wombats down there — they've had comparatively little commercial success here in the States.
As such, the Wombats carry on in the tradition of British talents — from the Kinks to the Buzzcocks to Pulp — whose droll humor and heavy accents don't necessarily translate stateside.
"I guess it's more a British thing, laughing at the dark parts of life," says Haggis, whose band invites comparisons to the Horrors, Franz Ferdinand and Art Brut. "We play this sort of happy energetic music, but on the flip side, the lyrics are often dark. We just try to laugh at things as best we can do, but we never wanted to be like a comedy band. We just wanted to make people think or react in some way."
Or as the band advises in one of its best-known lyrics:
Let's dance to Joy Division,
And celebrate the irony,
Everything is going wrong,
But we're so happy,
Let's dance to Joy Division,
And raise our glass to the ceiling,
'Cos this could all go so wrong,
But we're so happy,
Yeah we're so happy.
"Lots of songs are true to life and based on experiences," says Haggis. "And it just so happens that Murph and his ex-girlfriend were dancing on a table in a bar to 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' by Joy Division, and hence the song. They were just having like the best time — obviously in an early stage of a relationship— while the song they were dancing to is about the fact that everything's gonna fall apart at some point. So it's just trying to laugh at that, and to embrace the moment."
Larger than life
It's no surprise that the Wombats' lyrics are as sharp as ever on their more recent hits. What is surprising, though, are the huge advances the band has made musically. With its stately synth hook and larger-than-life chorus, "Jump Into the Fog" definitely deserves its more than 2.25 million YouTube hits, as does the infectious "Tokyo," which is following close behind.
"We wrote 34 songs for this second album," says Haggis with a laugh. "I mean it took us a long time. Obviously quite a lot of songs didn't make it on the album, but lots of them became B-sides that we've used for various countries and special releases and whatnot. None of it's been wasted, and we wouldn't have gotten to some of the songs on the album if we hadn't made some of the ones that didn't."
As for the future, the Wombats hope touring and random mishaps won't lead to another four-year gap between albums.
"We're going to try to release the third album a little bit quicker than the second," says Haggis, "because we don't want people to forget about us."