Dan Haggis, (seen here on the right), drummer with The Wombats, chats with Kevin Cooper about his musical inspirations, playing Sydney Opera House, their latest album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Dan Haggis is the drummer with English rock band The Wombats. Formed in 2003, the band also comprises of lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Murphy and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen.

Having sold over one million albums worldwide, they released several EP’s before their 2006 album, Girls Boys And Marsupials, which was only released in Japan. Their debut studio album A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation was released the following year. Their second album, This Modern Glitch was released in 2011 and in 2015 Glitterbug was released. The band released their fourth and latest album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life in February 2018.

Whilst making preparations for their forthcoming tour, Dan Haggis took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Dan how are you?

I’m good thanks Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we start let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s no problem and thank you for your time in speaking to me.

And just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment is really good. We have been busy rehearsing as we are about to start our UK tour and it has been so much fun getting ready for our first proper tour to promote the latest album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. The album was released on the 9th February and it has been great hearing the fans positive reaction to the album. Hopefully by now some of them have had the time to actually sit down and listen to the album prior to the tour kicking off and we are hoping that they have learnt some of the words to the new songs so that the whole tour will be a huge singalong (laughter).

On the subject of the new album I have been playing it for a few days now and I have to say that I love it.

Ah cheers mate, thanks for saying that.

Are you as a band happy with it?

Yes we are, we are all really happy with the album. I guess that you are always happy with the newer stuff that you make. It just feels more relevant and recent but I honestly think that there were some good moments on this album together with some sounds and vibes that we haven’t really done before. And yes, it just feels really good.

From what I have been reading it would appear that the fans who have had the chance to hear the album are really happy with it.

Yes they are; the feedback so far has been great. That is the good thing with social media these days, you can now get instant feedback from people whether it is after they have been to a live show or after they have heard the album. They have now got a place where they can literally write to you straight away and say “oh I am loving this song” which take it from me is always nice to hear (laughter).

On the subject of social media, you will spend a lot of time both writing and recording the album, you will spend time rehearsing and sorting out the set list, and then you will perform the live show. However, thanks now to social media any surprises that you may have in the show will be going all around the world before you get to the next city. That must anger you?

(Laughter) you are so right. People will immediately take out their phones and start taking both pictures and video of the show as soon as we step out onto the stage. However, I don’t think that watching the show via a short video clip, or reading the odd comment or two can ever be the same as being in a room with a load of other people enjoying the feeling of the sound reverberating around your body. In my opinion the video clips that you will see posted on YouTube can never be the same as actually attending a live show. So yes, if there are any surprises or songs that we play which people are not expecting, the surprise may indeed be ruined but that doesn’t really matter.

I personally think that there are enough other positives from being at a live show that it’s not going to spoil anything for anyone. However, I have to agree with you and say that there are a lot of people who will instantly take out their mobile phones and record what feels like the whole show. They are standing in the front row directly in front of the stage and all that they do is stare at their phones for the entire show making sure that they have the correct angles (laughter). I guess that if you are a budding film maker or if you are just obsessed with filming stuff then okay, that’s fine but in general as you say, maybe people are not thinking of the show, they are thinking more about their YouTube channel.

All they want to do is upload their video clips and say “oh I did this and I had a great time” and I just think ‘are you really having the best time because I am pretty sure that the chap standing next to you with his top off with beer all over his head is having a far better time than you are’ (laughter).

Where did the title of the new album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, come from?

As with all of our previous albums we normally end up with a short list, or should I say a long list, of ideas of what we are going to call the album. This time Matthew (Murphy) sent over a bunch of ideas on WhatsApp from Los Angeles with a note asking ‘do you have any thoughts on these, are any of these okay’ so we looked through them all and as soon as me, Tord, our manager and a bunch of other people all thought that Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life really did stand out. Admittedly it is kind of weird but it grabs you and at the same time you are thinking ‘I wonder what they mean by that’ and it makes you think about what the title could possibly mean.

We really like that side of things; we have always liked titles that jump out at you whether it is a song or an album, just something to grab you and make you think straight away ‘I wonder what is going on in this song or this album’ so that really was the rationale behind it. Also I guess that a lot of the songs on the album in general are lyrically from what Murph writes about; it is always from a very honest and real place. The people that you find yourself loving and admiring, the very people who are the closest to you are the very people who can inflict the most damage or heartbreak. Their words mean far more than the words of the people who you are not as close to. There is a real possibility that the most beautiful people in your life are most definitely more likely to hurt you. However, we also hope that different people will take different meanings from the title as well.

At the minute there are four tracks which I keep going back to and funnily enough none of them have been singles. I really do like Dip You In Honey, Ice Cream, White Eyes and Out Of My Head.

Nice one and I have to say that I love how that happens with all of our albums. You will start off and you will have your favourites and then all of a sudden towards the end of the album sometimes there are tracks which make you say “oh fucking hell, why did you put this track towards the end on the album” (laughter). For me, there was an Elbow album and I got to the very last song on the album, Open Arms it was, it was a massive song and they had left it until the very last song on the album. I thought that it was a really great way to end the album. So for me it is great to hear from lots of different people that their favourite track on the album is very different from everyone else’s.

It seems that everyone finds their own personal favourite track on the album which really is awesome for us to hear. It is great to hear that there are people who are actually listening to the album let alone that it starts meaning something to them (laughter). That really is so cool.

Putting you on the spot do you have a favourite track on the album?

Back in January we did an American tour and we took the decision to add four of the new songs onto the set list which just so happened to be the first four songs on the album. That wasn’t out of choice, it was just the way that things turned out. However, I think that from those four it is between Cheetah Tongue and Black Flamingo, both for very different reasons. With Black Flamingo I love the Americana harmonies that we have got going and the trippy middle section where it just loops over ‘give me a leg to stand on,’ (laughter). For me to be singing that section whilst playing the drums, well for me personally that is so interesting.

With Cheetah Tongue I love it when it all kicks off at the beginning of the chorus, the whole feel of that track is so bouncy and I love playing it. So for me personally I would say that my favourite track on the album is one of those two tracks.

Keeping the pressure on you, tell me why I should buy the album?

(Hysterical laughter) well my cop-out to that question is that you don’t need to buy it these days as you can simply listen to it on Spotify (laughter). The main reason that I would give to people as to why they should continue to buy albums is simply down to the amount of time and effort that goes into making an album, not just the music itself but also the artwork and the lyrics. I personally love looking through the credits, the lyrics and the artwork in general. I find that it adds a different dimension to what is otherwise just a JPEG file on your mobile phone. I think that is always nice but at the same time I personally use Spotify all of the time as a way to discovering new things. I won’t simply go out and buy the album. However, in answer to your question, I don’t think that my marketing skills would really ever work to convince someone to buy our album (laughter).

Have you been dragged kicking and screaming into the current cassette revolution (laughter)?

(Laughter) I must admit that I have heard a few people saying “why didn’t you release the latest album on cassette” but to be honest with you I think that the whole recent cassette revival has passed me by (laughter). I can remember first buying cassettes from Hairy Records up in Liverpool. I actually bought Reckless by Bryan Adams on cassette and I have to say that I absolutely loved it (laughter). Plus I would be making mixed cassettes all of the time for my friends. I just think that just like the way that things have gone back to vinyl, people are now throwing away their CD collections simply because they no longer play them.

A good friend of mine has now put all of his CD collection up in his loft all nicely packed away in a box. I think that when my kids are older they will be probably be looking back at CD’s as being physical relics of albums and that it is crazy that we all didn’t simply stream the music that we wanted to listen to.

I personally still believe that we don’t have, as yet, a level playing field. I can buy the latest CD from my local supermarket for eight pounds but still have to pay almost thirty pounds for the same album on vinyl. However, I do honestly believe that when the demand for vinyl increases they will then have to build more pressing plants in order to meet the demand thus forcing the prices down.

I totally agree with you on that point. On our last tour, after the first few weeks, we ran out of vinyl copies of the album because we only had fifty or so copies pressed, and when we asked our label to step in and help us out they told us that they were trying but there was such an incredible waiting time to get anything pressed up simply because there are literally only a handful of vinyl pressing plants left in the world. You physically can’t get enough of them some times. We had to meet a deadline day of at least three months before the album is physically released.

I got the test press of the vinyl in December and then it took another two months before all of the vinyl copies would finally be done. I suppose that we really do need to open a couple of vinyl pressing plants here in the UK. In my opinion someone out there is missing out on a brilliant business opportunity.

Going back to the album, would you say that it is your best work to date?

(Laughter) I would have most probably have said that after our last album, and possibly even after our second album too. To me, all of the songs on all of the albums that we have ever made, they are just a time and a place and memories of what we were doing at that specific moment in time. I personally find it hard to go “oh yes, this is most definitely our best work to date” because firstly it sounds a bit pompous and secondly I don’t know if I necessarily feel that. I just get excited that we have manged to record another album, and I think that there are loads of really good songs on it. Of course I am really proud of just how it has turned out, but I wouldn’t put all of our albums into a competition and start to judge each one of them.

They each mark a period in our lives and you would hope that you would get better as you get older but funnily enough that is not always the case with music when compared to other industries. Which really is weird because you usually tend to gain experience and get better at what you do, whereas I think that with music sometimes the excitement and the creativity when you are younger is just different. I like all of our albums and what I will say is that they are all different in their own unique way. You cannot compare our first album to this one because back then we were three little terriers snapping at the heels of music (laughter).

This year 2018 should be a busy one for you as it is the fifteenth anniversary of The Wombats forming in Liverpool and the eleventh anniversary of the release of your debut album A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation.

(Laughter) let me just say that you are right about it being our fifteenth anniversary of being together as a band but in relation to it being the eleventh anniversary of the release of our debut album, I think that you might just be wrong, it was the tenth anniversary last year so, oh yes fucking hell, you are right. Sorry for doubting you on that (laughter).

Looking back over those fifteen years, when you were all sat around the kitchen table saying “okay let’s give it a go” did you envisage that you would still be together playing music some fifteen years later?

(Laughter) I mean at the age of nineteen you really don’t envisage much other than where your next pint is coming from (laughter). We definitely knew that something was finally coming together with the band, compared to other projects that we had, it felt really good, there was chemistry there. Whenever we would all get together in a practice room we would always have so much fun and songs would simply come tumbling out. After that playing live was just so much fun and as time went by we became more solid and as with all relationships we have had our fair share of both the ups and downs but I personally think that makes you stronger in the end. I think that we are definitely in a good place now and hopefully we can keep this weird little family going (laughter).

Do you enjoy touring?

Yes I do, I absolutely love it. The first time that you play new songs to a new crowd in a different city, every night you are wondering just how the people are going to react. Whenever you are on stage it is very much like the reaction to the songs is right there in front of you, when people are kicking off, crowd surfing and having a really good night. It is just so much fun. That makes all of the travelling, the sound checks, the sleepless nights and all of the rest of it, it makes it all worthwhile. We all really do love touring.

How many of the new songs do you think will make it onto the set list for the current tour?

I would have to say that most probably between six and eight of the new songs will make their way onto the current set list. Whenever we play a headline set we are usually onstage for an hour and a half and we have always got to be aware I think of not overdoing the new songs plus we don’t want to play the whole album in full because we will most probably be doing another tour later in the year. Not necessarily here in the UK but over in the States and maybe next year we will play some more UK dates so it is always nice to leave a couple of songs back that we have never played before which just keeps it exciting for us as a band as well. So I would have to say that maybe seven is a good estimate.

You will be playing Rock City here in Nottingham on Wednesday 21st March and I have to ask you, from a musician’s perspective is Rock City a must play venue?

Yes, I have to say that it is, it really is an awesome venue (laughter). Whenever we play there we always have such a fun show. It is a really good room as well; it feels as though everyone can see what you are doing. It is quite a wide room together with the balcony, so it always seems to go off in there. I have to say that the people who run the venue are lovely, and no doubt they will be treating us once again to home-made food and we always have such a great experience whenever we play there.

Who has musically inspired you along the way?

To be perfectly honest with you there are simply loads of people that have inspired me musically. I would have to say that the key people have been Dave Grohl from the very first time that I saw him playing the drums with Nirvana. I remember watching MTV when we first got that channel and seeing the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit; watching this guy playing the drums and thinking ‘oh my god, that looks like so much fun’ (laughter). I was about twelve years old at the time and from that moment on pestered my parents shouting “can I get a drum kit, can I get a drum kit” and eventually for my fourteenth birthday my parents actually did buy me a drum kit (laughter).

In terms of big decisions or huge coincidences that happen in life, for me, that was up there with the biggest. I sometimes just sit and think to myself just what would have happened if I hadn’t seen that video. I think that I would still have probably been involved in music somehow but as I say, that was a big decision for me. So I would have to say that both Nirvana and The Foo Fighters most definitely led me into discovering the likes of Green Day and Blink-182. I found myself getting into quite a lot of American rock really but I would also have to say that Radiohead were another massive influence on me. They really did mark my adolescent years (laughter).

I just got so into them and I still listen to them all of the time. Obviously Radiohead are a different side of music when compared to Nirvana. I guess that it is more energetic in terms of the music and how it is a bit different and an alternative side of music. What I like about Radiohead is how they have not been scared to change; they have always been prepared to push their own boundaries, and all of a sudden record Kid A for example. There have been lots of moments listening to Radiohead where I have just gone ‘wow’ (laughter). They really are a musician’s band; they are so inspiring to so many musicians, so I would have to put them in there.

I then went through a massive appreciation of Folk music, perhaps because I was at that time in a folk trio. I was then listening to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, and every day I was discovering more of this stuff. We would play covers of things and I think that in terms of lyrics and song writing that most definitely stayed with me.

You briefly mentioned it but was there ever a Plan B just in case the music didn’t happen for you?

Well I actually did a one year course in music and sound technology up here in Liverpool and after that I was intending to do a degree in French, Spanish and Music but I dropped out shortly after my second year. So I suppose that I would like to think that I would have been involved in music in some capacity whether it was teaching or something else. Who knows I may even have gone over to a French or Spanish speaking country and taught English or music? I honestly have no idea what I would have done if the music hadn’t worked out for me. However, I really do love to travel so one way or another I think that I would have travelled and had experiences of living in other countries.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

To be honest there have been a few but the one which came straight into my mind when you asked me the question was when we played two sell-out nights at the Sydney Opera House down in Australia last summer. I think that was a moment where it felt really surreal and what made it extra special was that we were performing tenth anniversary shows of the first album. We were playing songs off that album that we hadn’t played for the past eight years so that put you back into the mind-set that you had back then when you originally recorded the album. Lots of memories came flooding back and for us to be in the Sydney Opera House, and for us to play a venue like that which is so iconic, it almost puts a stamp on your musician’s passport. They really were two very special nights.

We were worried that people would be sitting down at the shows but as soon as we walked into the room and onto the stage, everyone just stood up. There were just beaming smiles and people singing along the whole time. They really were very special nights for us. Also backstage there was a grand piano and when we were warming up I was sat playing the piano whilst looking out of the window at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and it felt like ‘what the hell is going on’ (laughter). It was like ‘how are we here. How the hell has anyone let these three idiots from Liverpool play at this iconic venue’ (laughter). It really was just like a proper pinch yourself moment.

That’s the highlights taken care of but on the other hand there must have been some low points along the way. Has there ever been a time when you have thought that’s it, I have had enough?

No not at all, I have honestly never felt like that. However,nthere have been some moments when we have been out on tour where it has been like I haven’t known how we were going to keep going because we have all been so knackered. The idea of actually getting up there on stage really was starting to frighten me. My personal lowest point would have to be when we were about to play up in Glasgow at the Academy back in 2008. Glasgow is always such an amazing show but with our touring schedule we had pretty much been out on tour solidly for about eighteen months. At that time we would be playing two hundred and fifty shows a year and let me tell you, it was gruelling.

We had been around the world three times on that tour and because the demand was there we simply kept going; we just kept playing and playing. Being totally honest with you we were drinking too much, we were partying too much, we weren’t taking care of our bodies properly, and we were not doing any of the stuff that you learn as you go along. I can remember being backstage before the Glasgow show, lying on a couch and all that I wanted to do was to sleep and not be on tour. I simply couldn’t be arsed with any of it anymore, but obviously in the short-term. I remember going out onto the stage and became freaked out at just how many people were looking at me, it was so weird (laughter).

I can remember thinking ‘oh god, they are all staring at me. What happens if they can see deep into my soul and realise that I don’t want to be there’ (laughter). It was so fucking weird that all I did was sit there, play the drums and look over to my left for the whole show. I just couldn’t bring myself to look at the crowd. I think that really has to be my lowest point in terms of gigs. Having said that, all that you need is a couple of good night’s sleep and then you quickly get back into it and since that point we have just learnt that there are certain routines that you just have to get into whilst you are out on tour in order to survive. I guess that we just learnt the hard way (laughter).

One of the things that really does help is just being there for each other. I think that is the one thing which all three of us, together with our crew are all good at, trying to make sure that none of us ever gets to that point again. If anyone is seen to be getting overtired then that person will not be at the sound check, they will be sent off to get a massage or simply a lie-down, just to make sure that it is that persons wellbeing and mental health that is not being overlooked. So in answer to your question no, there has never been a point where I have wanted to call it a day.

On the subject of crowds, which do you personally prefer, the smaller intimate gigs or the larger arena gigs?

You will think that I am sitting on the fence here but I personally feel that by playing both it helps to keep it varied. We were recently in the States where we played some shows that had a five hundred capacity, and then we will be over in Australia where we will play shows that have a twenty thousand capacity. And then a few weeks ago we played some really small intimate shows here in the UK where there were only a hundred and fifty people. From my point of view I really do feel that the smaller gigs can be just as much fun as the larger festival type of shows. It is all down to just how much pressure you perceive in a way because once you get yourself into the right mind-set then it doesn’t really matter.

You are playing the same show that you would play to a hundred people as you would play to a hundred thousand really so I like the variation of it. I think that it you played exactly the same sized venues all of the time it would in a short space of time become just a routine whereas I think that difference in stage size throws up different challenges.

What was the first record that you bought?

I think that would have been Reckless by Bryan Adams.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was Mary Black because my mum was really into Irish Folk Music. That was at The Philharmonic Hall here in Liverpool.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) fucking hell where did that come from (laughter). I have to be honest and tell you that I don’t cry very easily so I might just change cry to goose bumps. I think that the last time that I got goose bumps when I was listening to a piece of music was the last time that I heard the theme tune to the film E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (laughter). We were driving to a gig in Stoke a couple of weeks ago now and we were listening to Classic FM, simply because it is just so relaxing. The theme from E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial came on the radio and we were all trying to guess which film it came from. We all knew that it was John Williams but we couldn’t remember the name of the film (laughter).

There are some moments in that melody which seemed to trigger some nostalgic memories of watching the film when I was a kid. It was just amazing. If I come back from a gig or a night out and I am drunk I will sit on my couch and quite often one of the songs that I will want to listen to before I go to bed will be either the theme tune from the film Finding Nemo or the theme tune to Wall-E by Thomas Newman. Either of those songs will give me goose bumps whenever I hear them plus they will both get me off to sleep as well (laughter). You may have worked out that I am a sucker for soundtracks.

Dan on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic. Take care and I will see you here in Nottingham at Rock City.

Nice one Kevin, thanks for having me and make sure that you say hello when we get to Nottingham. Bye for now.