“LA to me is probably one of the strangest, weirdest places in the world. It’s the least realistic place in the world. It’s kind of detached from everything else that’s happening.”
The Wombats have a special relationship with Australia. Not only do they take their name from an animal unique to our fauna, but there’s another little thing: we can’t get enough of them.
They’ve had five songs in the triple j Hottest 100 so far, with the first single from their new album, Glitterbug, Your Body Is A Weapon, reaching number 25 last year. Before that, in 2011, there was Jump Into The Fog, as well as three others including crowd favourites 1996 and Techno Fan.
Since the late 2000s we have watched the Liverpool lads evolve. Their first album, appropriately titled A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation, was arranged more simply, with most songs revolving around guitar, bass and drums. For their second album, This Modern Glitch, The Wombats changed things up by adding a synth (or four) to most of the tracks, producing a more upbeat, dance sound. Their 2015 release continues that trend, but at the same time Glitterbug represents new territory for the trio. Bass player Tord Øverland Knudsen says they’re more comfortable now with their adapted sound.
“On This Modern Glitch we ‘found’ synths in a way, but we didn’t really know how to use them,” he says. “This time around we’ve learnt how to manoeuvre them properly and gone into more detail on using them and playing around with sounds.”
Knudsen attributes their refined sound to experience, labelling their new album as more professional. “On This Modern Glitch we had three or four sounds doubling each other and everything was doubled, tripled. This time around we’ve tried to find the one sound that would do the job instead of having three sounds running at the same time. It’s a bit more stripped back in that sense.”
While their second album was recorded in Los Angeles, The Wombats headed back to the motherland to record their latest release, working on demos of the tracks in Liverpool, where they remain based.
“We did most of the stuff there. We spent days making them sound good,” says Knudsen. That explains why The Wombats are credited as co-producers of the album. “If you listen to the demo versions and the final versions they sound pretty similar. The final version sounds maybe 20 per cent better, so a lot of the production work was done before going into the studio.”
Knudsen believes the band took a lot from its experiences recording in LA. “We’ve been doing it for so many years now we’ve picked up some tricks,” he says. But for the final touches on Glitterbug, the trio headed to London.
“The producer we worked with was Mark Crew, in a tiny little studio in London. The first time I came in I was like, ‘Really? This is smaller than my hotel room. We’re going to record here?’ But it was great.”
Crew had previously worked with Bastille on their debut album, Bad Blood, so it was not the producer’s first foray into synth-laden indie rock. That was good enough for Knudsen. “If he did Bastille there, I knew it should be okay; that album sounds great.”
Although Glitterbug involved a move away from LA logistically, the city’s influence is still recognisable in the lyrics of the album’s songs. Lead singer and songwriter Matthew Murphy claims the album is inspired by LA, but to Knudsen the city was initially confronting.
“LA to me is probably one of the strangest, weirdest places in the world. It’s the least realistic place in the world. It’s kind of detached from everything else that’s happening.
“After spending months and months there recording our second album, I started to really like it,” Knudsen says. “I started to know where’s good to go for food and nice bars where you can get to know people. I think it’s a great place to record and spend time.”
Another country with an unexpected influence on the album is Japan, where Knudsen purchased the keyboard that features heavily in tracks such as the lead single, Your Body Is A Weapon. “I went to Japan and I bought a Roland Juno-60, so that had a big impact on the sounds on the record. We ran that through an amp and loaded up some pedals. We really played around with sounds more than we’d ever done before on Glitterbug.”
The bass sound has evolved over The Wombats’ discography, too, although Knudsen says he hasn’t changed his gear. “The bass was a lot louder in the mix on the first album because it was more of an honest sound,” he says. “There are moments on this album where it comes to life a little bit more.”
Knudsen is known to be a multi-instrumentalist, picking up synths, guitars and bass, but when asked what his number one weapon of choice would be, he remains loyal. “I think the bass. Or my baritone guitar. When we’re recording we all play whatever part that makes sense. If Murph comes up with a part he plays it, for example. Dan (Haggis) plays all the drums because I’m a terrible drummer and Murph’s even worse than me. I usually do the bass, but apart from that we swap around.”