The Wombats

The Wombats

Barns Courtney

Monday, October 15

Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$20 - $40

This event is all ages

The Wombats
The Wombats
Wombats fans. Thousands of ‘em. The Reading & Leeds promoter checking his onsite heat-tracking app was stunned to discover hordes of fans descending en masse on the Festival Republic Stage set like an alien swarm, one of the biggest stage-rushes of the 2015 festival. Two months later the band stepped onstage to headline Alexandra Palace for the first time, kicking off the most euphoric pop party of the year. Somewhere between those two moments, the UK went Wombats crazy. Again.

“Something happened in the UK at the back end of ‘Glitterbug’,” says singer Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy, recalling the fresh wave of Wombat-mania that swept the country in the wake of their Top Five third album. “It felt like a bit of a u-turn for us and made me feel more secure being in The Wombats. Maybe there was a slight sense of establishment that came from those shows. It felt like there was a resurgence for us in the UK, which was really exciting for me.”

Not that there’d been any sign of a stumble along the way. Ever since Murph, bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen and drummer Dan Haggis – who met and formed The Wombats at the Liverpool Institute Of Performing Arts in 2003 - emerged in 2006 and swiftly became chart-quashing champions of the noughties guitar pop explosion with hits including ‘Moving To New York’, ‘Kill The Director’ and ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’, they’ve barely looked back. The euphoric tales of romantic misadventures in cinemas, forests, weddings and rock clubs that filled their platinum-selling 2007 debut album ‘A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation’ garnered them a strong and dedicated fanbase in thrall to Murph’s amalgam of irrepressible hooks and downbeat tragi-comic lyricism and, with such bare-hearted emotional depth to their ditties, The Wombats resolutely refused to be a flash in the pan.

Their 2011 second album ‘This Modern Glitch’ hit Number Three in the UK on the back of “flawless” (BBC) and “triumphant” (Daily Mirror) tunes such as ‘Techno Fan’, ‘Tokyo (Vampires And Wolves)’, ‘Jump Into The Fog’ and ‘Anti-D’, Murph’s brave, confessional epic about his addiction to antidepressants. And by the time their more synth-pop third album ‘Glitterbug’ was sent Top Five in the UK by a whole new generation of Wombats fans and had gone gold in Australia, they’d proved themselves amongst the most enduring bands of the noughties indie rock generation and one of the UK’s biggest and best guitar pop sensations.

Though their Alexandra Palace headline show was “amazing… insane”, and the string of lower-key 2017 shows to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the debut album (including two sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House and a Brixton Academy show that sold out in a day) were a “ridiculous party” involving various drunk friends and crew members dancing onstage in wombat costumes, like all the best creative minds, Murph craved refinement.

“‘Glitterbug’ was a weird one for me,” he says. “I like the songs but it felt a bit too kitchen sink-y. We were pushing the red line button a bit too much and needed to think a bit more organically – less is more, rather than recording ten different harmonies and turning them up to twelve. I didn’t want to make that kind of record again. I wanted to make an album that had more swagger, was a bit more laid back, something that wasn’t punching you in the face every time you listen to it.”

Escaping their deal with Warners, the band signed with Kobalt and set about writing their fourth album in February 2016 from three corners of the globe. Dan was in London, Tord was nursing his new family in Oslo and Murph had already relocated to LA ahead of ‘Glitterbug’ to be with his new partner, so the trio convened for fortnight-long writing sessions in Oslo, keen to produce a follow-up sharpish because “when we’re not on tour we don’t know what the hell we’re doing”. Though many songs were written by Murph in LA, their long-distance methods actually helped bring the band together. “I’ve been perpetually jet-lagged for about a year,” Murph says, “but on every level, musically and interpersonally, we’re much closer now than we were on ‘Glitterbug’ and I think you can hear that. A few songs on this album were the first time we'd ever started and finished a song all together from scratch in the studio, so it was nice we’ve now got that gun in our arsenal.”

Recorded at The Pool in Bermondsey (in April 2017) and One Eyed Jacks in Wimbledon (August to October 2017) with producers Mark Crew (Bastille, Rag’n’Bone Man) and Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice), ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ finds The Wombats stepping up to the frontline of alt-pop innovation alongside The xx, Perfume Genius and The 1975. From the ultramodern whooshes and AI heartbeats of ‘Cheetah Tongue’ to the Vampire Weekend-doing-‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ that is ‘Dip You In Honey’, it sounds like a 2040s indie record today, slavered in Blade Runner synths, future grooves, celestial solos and space age melodies.

Lyrically, the new material acts as something of a surrealism-tinted sequel to the autobiographical meltdowns of ‘Glitterbug’. “The last album was about me meeting someone and my life going upside down in Los Angeles, partying too hard and getting myself in trouble,” Murph explains. “This album is about me battling against that, trying to live an adult life. And failing.”

Recently married, Murph claims to love the LA lifestyle and that his anxiety and depressive issues are “at least 40 per cent better” as a result of being lifted on the wings of the City Of Angels, but on the album he characteristically pans in on the more nightmarish side of the Californian dream. “I guess that’s what I’m drawn to, the difficulties and negatives,” he admits. “I’m definitely more content out there but I still have the same bullshit going, directly related to anxiety and depressive issues. My life is all kinds of fucked up but there’s a part of me that actually enjoys it.”

So the state-of-the-art buzzpop of ‘Lemon To A Knife Fight’ is about how Murph is “constantly dominated” in his relationship, inspired by “getting my arse handed to me” on a drive along Mulholland Drive after a fraught dinner. ‘Black Flamingo’, built around a ‘Coffee & TV’-like rhythm, reflects his comfort in dysfunction in lines like “I wanna stay here in this curse”. And then there’s the Fiestian ‘Lethal Combination’, “about how me and my partner continue to fuck each other up and we’re actually terrible for each other but there’s nothing either one of us is gonna do about it. That’s her favourite song.”

There’s an intractable draw to the dark edges of a silvered life – to the loss of control at the edges of sanity. ‘White Eyes’ recalls a night in New York where Murph’s social awkwardness tipped over into “a freak out”. ‘Out Of My Head’ reads like a diary of the deranged – “That was when I’d just moved to LA and felt like everything was crazy,” Murph reveals. “It sounds like someone who could be on the brink of a nervous breakdown, which I did feel like I was at the time.”

There are moments of all-out euphoria on the record too: psychedelic Ibiza noir of ‘Turn’ is “a full-on love song” according to Murph. And perhaps the album’s finest example of The Wombats’ tongue-loosely-in-cheek dance into the darkness comes with the Strokes-like ‘I Only Wear Black’. “That’s the most me song on there,” Murph says. “It’s appreciating my moodiness. It’s maybe the closest song to ‘Let’ Dance To Joy Division’ that we’ve had, the lyrics encapsulate The Wombats perfectly.”

Encapsulating The Wombats, however, is about to get far trickier. ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’ is a giant leap into maturity, a record that’s still instantly sing-along but demands to be taken seriously. “It’s probably my proudest moment,” Murph says. “We always figure out a way to triumph in the face of adversity. Occasionally we’ve been given a bad rap but we’ve always come through. It’s like in The Shawshank Redemption when he swims through a river of shit but comes out clean on the other side, that’s this album for me. It’s the album we always should have made.”

If beautiful people ruin The Wombats’ lives, the resulting album will make your year. The ‘Bats take wing.
Barns Courtney
Barns Courtney
“I always knew I wanted to perform somehow,” says Barns Courtney. “There are photos of me at three years old, with my teddy bears all lined up, singing into a plastic microphone. Music is just an inherent part of me, and it was something I couldn’t help but pursue.”

Suddenly, that pursuit has exploded into one of the most exciting music stories of recent times. The young artist went from working part-time jobs and sleeping in his car to scoring hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Fire,” Barns Courtney’s first U.S. single, took off at SiriusXM’s Spectrum channel and ultimately charted in the Top 5 at Triple A radio and within the Top 15 at the Alternative format. Bradley Cooper and Harvey Weinstein personally tapped it for use in the film Burnt. “Fire” was subsequently heard in advertising campaigns for the Showtime network, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and BOSE Soundsport Wireless Headphones.

Meanwhile, “Glitter & Gold” went to No. 1 on the Spotify UK Viral Chart. Soon Barns Courtney found himself opening for The Who at London’s Wembley Stadium and also supporting such artists as Ed Sheeran, Elle King and Blur.

Growing up in Seattle, Barns Courtney’s passion for music was apparent early on. “I’ve always written songs, for as long as I can remember,” he says. “I wrote songs before I could play an instrument, just little poems or whatever, as young as six or seven years old.

“I liked to make the other kids laugh, making up silly songs or doing comedy, but my school was so serious that it didn’t even have a drama department, so I couldn’t see any outlet for who I was.”

The first album that really captured his imagination was Nirvana’s Nevermind, which he listened to every day for a year while walking to school. Courtney wasn’t aware, though, that the band shared his hometown, or the importance of Seattle as a musical hub. When he was 14, an aunt gave him a guitar, which proved to be a pivotal event.

He began performing, bouncing between various bands, and also expanded his musical palette. “My music is based in Americana,” he says, “but I was definitely into the Libertines, the Fratellis, Arctic Monkeys, all those British indie bands.”

Barns Courtney dedicated himself to his songwriting. “I knew that what I was writing was terrible,” he says, “but I thought that if I kept working, by the time I was 20, I might be alright.” He signed a recording contract straight out of high school, but when that deal fell apart, he went through several years of struggle.

“I had no qualifications, and I was the guy who had kind of forgotten to grow up,” says Barns Courtney. “For three or four years, I was working in clubs and at a computer store. It got really scary. But I never thought about giving up—it’s important to put all your chips on one number or how do you rise above the competition? When I was being honest with myself, I realized the importance of pursuing the thing that you love.”

His frustration fueled the songs he was writing. “They were all about aspects of the same feeling, a desperation to get back in touch with the burning passion I had when I started out,” he says. “That huge, defiant feeling—‘I’ll show them, I’ll get there somehow,’ a sense that burns in your gut.”

Over time, Barns Courtney cobbled together a demo tape and sent it around as best he could. It turned out that a friend of his was also a friend of a booking agent, who fell in love with the songs. And miraculously, once they started circulating within the music industry, the floodgates opened. The producers of Burnt put in their offer for the anthemic, propulsive “Fire” at the same time that the BBC started to play “Glitter & Gold.” More television offers followed. “After so long with nothing happening,” he says, still expressing his disbelief, “everything erupted at once.”

Released in February 2017, his debut EP, The Dull Drums, contained “Fire”—which has more than 12 million streams globally, with half of those in the U.S.—and “Glitter & Gold”—which has more than 8.5 million streams worldwide—plus three brand new songs. Paste Magazine hailed him as “The Best of What’s Next” and noted, “There’s confidence. And then there’s the swaggering self-assurance displayed by raspy-throated…blues rocker Barns Courtney on his recent single ‘Fire,’ a swampy, Gospel-steeped stomper.” Baeble Music highlighted the track “ “Hands” as one of its “Songs We Loved This Week” and observed, “Courtney has that something that you just don’t get to hear enough of anymore.”

Now Barns Courtney is at work on his full-length debut. “I want to make an Americana, blues-inspired record,” he says of the sessions he is co-producing, “but I also love Kanye West and the way he’s taking old blues influences and bringing them into modern age.”

Meantime, he’s also trying to learn from the reaction he’s getting from live audiences, as he introduces to them to material they’ve never heard. “The feedback has been so good, it really gives me a new perspective on the tunes,” he says. “I’m realizing that it may be important not to compartmentalize or define my songwriting—that my voice can really be the unifying component for this set of songs.”

For Barns Courtney, an overnight sensation who was years in the making, the greatest pay-off for his work comes when he takes the stage each night. “It’s nice to have people like my music, but that’s fleeting,” he says. “The real reward is that exchange of energy when the singer and the crowd are both on the same level—when there’s an equal playing ground and we’re all in it together.”