'They're Usually Kinda Crap': The Wombats Frontman Knows Solo Projects Are No Easy Task

12 September 2019 | 8:55 am | Anthony Carew

The Wombats' frontman, Matthew "Murph" Murphy, may have a new solo project, Love Fame Tragedy, but, as he tells Anthony Carew, it's just "business as usual".

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“I don’t like it when people in bands go and do solo albums, they’re usually kinda crap,” laughs Matthew "Murph" Murphy, the 35-year-old frontman of long-running English indie-rock outfit, The Wombats. It’s an amusing declaration, given Murphy has just minted his own new project, Love Fame Tragedy. “I didn’t want to frame it as ‘Matthew Murphy’, or call it anything like that. I wanted it to be far more interesting and exciting.”

Love Fame Tragedy is, Murphy offers, “a bit of an experiment”, a project where the parameters have been totally removed, and “the only thing on deck is: ‘hey, let’s record a song’”. While he exhorts that Love Fame Tragedy is “not quite so ‘middle-class rock’ as things I’ve made before”, he’s not willing to go much further. “I know it’s not called The Wombats, it’s called Love Fame Tragedy, but it doesn’t feel completely different to me,” he says.

Murphy has, in interviews, grown more candid over time (“constantly saying that everything’s amazing quickly grows fucking boring”), and honesty, in this situation, means admitting that his new project isn’t that far from his usual one. “For the basis of this interview I should really be saying it was this really fresh, brand new thing, but it really wasn’t,” Murphy admits. “It was kind of business as usual. I’ve been the principal songwriter for The Wombats, now I’m the principal songwriter for this. I’m still a human being, comprised mainly of water, singing about my feelings. That never changes. [The difference] is in the studio, [in] the more collaborative aspects.”

The debut Love Fame Tragedy EP, I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It, finds contributions from Maddi Jean Waterhouse, Gus Unger-Hamilton of alt-J, and Joey Santiago, guitarist of indie-rock legends Pixies. But, they’re definitely all just guests. “Sometimes it comes off, in blurbs in the press, as if Joey is in the band, or Gus from alt-J is in the band,” Murphy says. “But they’re not, really. They just came by the studio for a few hours.”

Santiago’s appearance is notable, given the Pixies arrived in Murphy’s life at a formative time. As a kid, he’d largely listened to happy hardcore, but when he heard Radiohead’s Creep playing at a 1994 New Year’s Eve party, things started to change. As a teenager, he’d haunt indie dance clubs, often strutting his stuff to, say, Debaser. In 2018, Pixies, The Wombats, and Weezer went on a North American tour together, and Murphy and Santiago met.

“We just kind of bonded one day,” Murphy recounts. “I think it was in Oklahoma, or Ohio or—oh fuck, I can’t remember where it was to be honest. And we stayed friends. Then, I took him out to play golf, and then he swung by the studio to play guitar on three or four tracks. It took a few hours. We kept the best bits and deleted the worst.”

While it may sound strange to associate indie-rockers with golf, Murphy started playing when he was 13, and hits off a three handicap. “I wanted to be a pro golfer more than a professional musician,” he recounts, of his adolescent obsession. “You just hit one good shot, and it just consumes your whole life. It’s a meditative sport. I probably play 70 percent by myself. I think it’s very important for my wellbeing, at this point.”

But, Murphy laments, having just had his first child, he has little time for golf, and his game has “gone to shit”. With the arrival of a baby and the birth of a new project, things are changing in Murphy’s life. Looming in the future is the great unknown of Love Fame Tragedy on stage; as of this interview, he’s yet to play a show, and an imminent Australian tour will be among the project’s first-ever gigs.

“It’ll be nice to be down [in Australia] with a new project,” Murphy says. “Because, Wombats, honestly we’ve just hammered it down there. I can’t say to people what to expect, because I don’t know what to expect myself. I’m intrigued to see how it’s going to turn out, because honestly I have no idea.”