Interview: Dan Haggis from The Wombats (UK) talks his upcoming solo album and the future of the band

On the eve their new Australian tour, English pop rockers The Wombats’ drummer Dan Haggis reveals to The AU Review that he is planning a new solo album to be released next year.

Aussie favourites The Wombats are touring the world again on the back of their hugely successful 5th album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Only four months after performing at Splendour In The Grass, the love affair between Australia and The Wombats will continue as they waltz around Australia, performing at a few festivals and a bunch of headline shows in November.

Telling the story of romantic misadventures, 15 years into their career, The Wombats are performance pros, still enjoying every moment of every show.  Humble and genuine, their relatable comedic lyricism and positively vibrant melodies create high energy, uplifting performances day in day out.

We were lucky enough to have a one on one chat with drummer Dan Haggis, reminiscing about the past 15 years, delving in to the future of the band and snagging the exclusive goss about an upcoming album from his solo project, Dan the Man.

The Wombats met at music school in Liverpool and even though you say you haven’t been directly influenced by The Beatles, do you think there is something unique about Liverpool which is producing great artists? 

Yes. The Beatles’ influence in Liverpool is in the back of your mind.  You sometimes think “those four guys are from Liverpool and look what they did” and then it gives you a bit of belief – maybe we could actually end up having a career in music. We went to the school that Paul McCartney founded so it kind of adds to that, as he put his money into the future of music and he wants to help educate and get kids really involved in the art form.

So yes, their influence directly rubbed off. I suppose in some terms they have pretty much influenced all popular music that exists today in some way or another. It’s (Liverpool) honestly such a great city, there are so many great venues you can play at which is really important when your band is starting out. To be able to play in front of like 30 people, most of them are your friends and family and just experience what it’s like to be on stage, because there is no way you can learn that. You need to just get up there and do it.  You would go down with your little mixtape and give it to the guy and he’d put it in to the cassette and say “what are you doing on Friday do you want to play from 7:30.”

You guys made your name through hard work and constant touring.  With everything changing with streaming services and fewer intimate gigs around, how do you feel about the future of music and what would you say to artists who are just starting out?

Yeah I suppose inevitably as a band, as your career progresses if the crowds are getting bigger, you start playing bigger venues. But actually, earlier in the year just before we released our album we ended up doing some shows for grassroots charities that were trying to protect small venues and the kind of places that we started playing. We did a week of shows in towns that we had never played and It was so refreshing. There were smiles on our faces like “holy shit this is just like the early days.” You’d have someone leaning over and knocking in to your stand and they can just reach out and touch your guitar. The closeness and intimacy is very effective and really fun.

I would say too that I really hope city councils and stuff properly protect those venues that are the bridging ground for new bands and new music. Because it is really hard for them to make a living and its so easy in city center areas for developers to come in and just turn it into flats which obviously people need places to live as well, but if you just ignore these places that are closing it makes it harder for young musicians to get a chance to play on stage.

For young bands I would say as soon as you’ve got your first six songs written that you feel happy with just try and get gigs and often the songs will evolve when you play them live on stage. You might realise there are parts that don’t work very well live so its just an invaluable experience. So even if your first gig is a bit crap just keep going and eventually it will get better.

Coming back to Australia three times in less than two years, its become somewhat of a joke that you should be given residency here. You’re here in November but do you have any plans to come back here next year to keep the joke running?

Not at the moment but we don’t want to ruin anyone’s jokes! I mean we obviously love coming over to Australia its like a home away from home and same for Australian’s coming over to the UK. It’s quite an easy place to go and feel at home. So as long as people want us to come over we will be there!

The Wombats have always had a great set up and light show and even dancing wombats on stage. Can we expect anything new in your live show and more importantly how does one become one of the dancing wombats?

We have a few people as wombats. In terms of our live shows, the dancing wombats at first were just supposed to be a one off thing at the Sydney Opera House last year and then we just enjoyed it so much and so many of our friends and family were coming to shows and saying “where are those costumes we want to do it” and so we were like “alright.”

Every show we did we seemed to have friends or family who would come and everyone would want to do it and then our tour manager got really addicted to doing it and doing really dry stupid shit in the wombat costume and he’d just run on stage and in the middle of a song and pull up a chair and read a book or crawl out from under my drums and try and surprise us in different ways.

Actually this reminds me of a story… he was trying to surprise us again at the Isle of White festival earlier this summer and dressed as a wombat  he walked along the barrier where the security guards are. He was dancing and was trying to climb up on stage and the security guards didn’t know he had authority to do that. So the security guards grabbed him and took his arms behind his back and frog marched him out of the venue. It’s hard to hear the voice of people in the wombat costume so he’s yelling “I’m the tour manager” and they couldn’t understand him until they took his head off as he was yelling “it was part of the show.” So yeah… its not to be worn lightly the wombat costume, it can get you in to all sorts of trouble. My mum was actually in the costume a couple of months ago and she absolutely loved it.

Over the years you guys have mastered writing self deprecating, wonky love songs. Do you think the fact you are all maturing, settling down and lead singer known as Murph is now married, this will effect your ability to write these sort of songs?

As Murph always says he ends up in relationships that just naturally breed situations that he finds inspiring or feels the need to write a song about to understand what’s happening or as a little self therapy session.  He does say about his wife that she is an endless source of inspiration and keeps him on his toes. But I don’t know, we will see. But yeah of course as you get older and your outlook changes, you’d like to think that we’d maybe start tackling some other subjects. When you’re younger, girlfriends and love and stuff is the main focus and the main source of inspiration which may end up changing but at the moment we are definitely not in any danger of that happening.

You’ve now released two great albums under your solo project Dan the Man, where you play a whole heap of different instruments and also sing! How was this experience for you?

Yeah its really cool actually.  All three of us have always done different avenues of music as well, whether we have released them or not. With the Dan the Man stuff I just had all these songs that felt like one thing – all personal songs.  And with the Wombats I don’t write any of the songs that much, it mainly comes to Murph and so its great to actually get a lot of that stuff out. As a songwriter I was just like ” you know what? I’m just going to get it all out.” I did get some friends to play various things but in general it’s also a place for me to try out different production things and just a learning experience in the studio.

When we get off tour going in the studio is just fun and I absolutely love going in there and trying out new things, writing songs and all the rest of it. Especially the second album. Tt was just after my uncle had died and my granny as well. So lots of the songs just came as a therapeutic thing which really does help you get through these periods.

Everyone finds different ways to deal with death, or girlfriends in The Wombats case, or whatever it is, just trying to make sense of the world. For me that side project is just definitely me dealing with some other things in my life and I guess with the Wombats music a lot of it is upbeat and that higher energy positive side of me comes out. Dan the Man stuff is definitely a bit more broody and alternative folky.  So it’s good to have a balance.

Everyone knows in a group of three, there are inevitably 2 people who gang up while the third person gets picked on. What are the group dynamics of the Wombats like?

We always try to avoid that obviously if possible and be as democratic and diplomatic as possible. But obviously it definitely boils over sometimes.  I think over the years it sways a little bit. Sometimes I might be the mediator or maybe me and Murph will be hanging out and agreeing on things more and Tord might feel like “hell you guys always say the same thing.” Sometimes me and Tord might be agreeing more and Murph might be like “you two are doing my head in.” It’s always going to happen but there have definitely been moments when I’ve been thinking “oh you two numpties.”

It’s fine though. That’s to be expected. Especially when we are on tour where we spend so much time together. We actually get on really well with all our crew as well so it doesn’t really feel like its just the three of us, it’s all of us in it together. We get on well with our manager as well so he’s an extra person to throw in to the mix. I think it’s just good to disagree sometimes isn’t it? You need that to push things forward.  If all of us were saying “oh yeah that ideas great” then you wouldn’t push each other to try and come up with something better or we wouldn’t sound the same as we do.

You have been together for 15 years now, is there a specific year that sticks out as your favourite or do you think your best is still yet to come?

I think this last year has been up there with the best of them. 2007/2008 when we released our first album and toured the world for 18 months was insane. First experiences are obviously the strongest and it was almost too intense. Thinking back it was this whirlwind of activity and feelings. It felt almost like you were constantly just running as fast as you could to keep up with something that you could never quite keep up with. It was always just a little bit out of grasp. We were just clinging on for dear life but it was very exciting! Now we know a bit more about what to expect so we know to be a bit more sensible and try and get some sleep when we can, do a bit of yoga, try and keep ourselves healthier and more on top of things. Also you take it in your stride a bit more which also means you can enjoy it more. I also hope our best year is still to come though!

So finally tell us something we don’t know about yourself or the wombats.

I’ve nearly finished my third solo album, I haven’t told anyone that! I’ll record that early next year hopefully, but yeah that’s nearly finished!

Do you ever feel like you should get the chance to be the lead singer and do more writing for The Wombats since you clearly do have the capability? Or you just love jamming out at the back on the drums?

Yeah to be honest there have been songs on every album where each of us have been more or less involved in the writing.  With this last album it’s the first time we’ve written some of the lyrics together but I don’t really feel any more attached to those than I do to another song, because whether you’ve written a line or two as long as the song feels really good and it does what it needs to do that’s the most important thing really. So I’m quite happy.

Maybe one day, but who knows.  Murph could one day say “why don’t one of you sing this song.” If the right song comes then who knows but you always get a bit worried of that idea of people going “here’s the new Wombats song” and pressing play and expecting Murph’s voice and going “What is this?”.

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To catch the Wombats when they are back in Australia this November visit their website HERE.

Thur 15 Nov:  Red Hill Auditorium, Perth

Sat 17 Nov: Spilt Milk Festival Canberra

Sun 18 Nov: Entertainment Centre, Adelaide

Mon 19 Nov: Palais Theatre, Melbourne

Thur 22 Nov: Powerstation, Auckland

Saturday 24: Nov Grapevine Festival Yarra Valley

Fri 30 Nov: Riverstage, Brisbane

Sat 1 Dec: Grapevine Festival Hunter Valley

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