Arts, Features

INTERVIEW: The Wombats’ Dan Haggis talks new album, long-lost mascot

When The Wombats first brought their alt-pop sound across the pond to Boston, they performed for a crowd of 17 people. On Jan. 13, the band returned for another appearance, this time at Paradise Rock Club. The show was sold out.

“It was one of the best on the tour so far,” drummer Dan Haggis said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. “Boston’s always got such an awesome energy — kind of reminds us of Liverpool a little bit. Kind of just a little bit wild and always on the edge, about to break.”

Boston was the fourth stop in the band’s 2018 U.S. Tour. With venues slated coast-to-coast, Haggis, vocalist/guitarist Matthew Murphy, and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen have gigs booked well into July.

In 20-degree weather, concert-goers braved the cold to wait for Paradise’s doors to open.

Inside, the atmosphere buzzed with anticipation as both levels of the venue filled to capacity — more than 900 strong. Throughout the night, the energy continued to grow and encompass the room. The air vibrated with a spectacular mix of The Wombats’ music and the audience’s singing.

There was no need for massive LCD screens or confetti cannons to convey the electric excitement bouncing off the walls. The simple act of turning on the house lights to illuminate the crowd for a moment said enough.

While the performances on the U.S. tour feature many of the hits from the band’s past three albums, “Moving to New York” from their 2007 introductory album “Proudly Present… A Guide to Love, Loss, & Desperation” brought back more than a decade of nostalgia.

Fans will be treated to fresh tracks from a new album, “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life,” which will be released on Feb. 9.

“On this album, we tried to avoid doing certain things that we’ve done naturally,” Haggis said. “Let’s not try and throw in the kitchen sink at the last chord.”

For the band, new guidelines weren’t the only changes in the creative process. This time around, a few thousand miles forced the musicians to modify their plans. Before recording this album, Haggis was based in London, Murphy in Los Angeles and Øverland Knudsen in Oslo, Norway.

The lack of proximity fostered a new approach. Their old method of meeting once, branching off, then meeting again to put it all together simply wasn’t feasible. Instead, they met in Oslo for two-week spans to bring their new album to life.

“This time we tried to be in a room together and from no pre-existing ideas, start and finish a song in the state of a few days,” Haggis said. “It was really fun to do that and brainstorming lyrical ideas and musical ideas. We’d just be playing piano and guitar over a drum beat. It was a fun way to try to build up a song from a different place.”

“Beautiful People” marks yet another chapter for the band. Formed in Liverpool in 2003, their longevity in the music scene can be attributed to their cohesiveness as a group.

“The love for what we do has always kept us going — the fact that we’re good friends and just a really weird sort of family,” Haggis said.

While together, The Wombats have moved beyond crowds in the tens to crowds reaching tens of thousands. Their first gig in Boston was so small that the band learned each attendee’s name.

No matter the venue, Haggis reiterated the importance of the music itself to both the band and their listeners. As a music fan, he understands how emotional connections can form empathy and support between listener and artist. As an artist, he gets a chance to see both sides.

“Being on the other end,” Haggis said, “that is one of the most rewarding feelings and the reason why we want to do music.”

Haggis recounted meeting a fan who used The Wombats’ music to motivate herself to get out of bed and undergo her cancer treatments. While she is now cancer-free, the impact of her story continues on with the band.

As The Wombats’ music continues to reach across the world, the band continues to establish new connections and strengthen older ones. Through the years, the crew has remained intact — minus one.

“We had a mascot that was a wombat when we started,” Haggis said.

The giant stuffed wombat, an imported Australian gift from Haggis’ dad, was affectionately named Cherub and accompanied the band on tour.

“But I lost it at Oslo airport one time, which was quite devastating for the group,” Haggis said. “We didn’t know where he was and he had been with us through thick and thin.”

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