When we speak to The Wombats' lead singer Matthew 'Murph' Murphy just before Christmas, it's a reminder of the great leveller that is the Christmas season. We're informed of the impending arrival of his parents due to the festive season, and it's easy to relate. Christmas can be a time of year where things feel overwhelming. As he wryly puts it, "not to be overly Scroogey or Grinchy about it, but I just want my kids to be happy and have fun. That's what Christmas is, but all the rest of it, I just can't be fucked."
The Wombats have just released their fifth album, Fix Yourself, Not The World, and it's an album that was created largely within the pandemic. However, it doesn't serve as a time capsule of this time - while the actual creation of the album was influenced by the pandemic, it's not bogged down in the events of the last two years thematically, musically or lyrically. The album features a handful of songs that Murph and fellow band members Tord Øverland Knudsen and Dan Haggis wrote in Los Angeles (where Murph lives) in 2019, as well as songs that were written and recorded remotely. Despite the change in environment, the album flows seamlessly.
The remote recording process is one that Murph enjoyed, as it created a different sense of freedom. "The recording process was very different, but I loved it because you didn't have to debate every single guitar sound or every single change that you wanted to make," Murph explains. "For the big stuff, we would get on a Zoom call and talk about it. And then those Zoom calls got smaller and smaller until there weren't any Zoom calls."
Fix Yourself, Not The World is a timely reminder of The Wombats' pop prowess. The soaring If You Ever Leave, I'm Coming With You is one of the band's most festival-ready moments, an accomplishment for a trio that have become festival mainstays, both in Australia and overseas. It's an album that is the result of a band that's supremely comfortable with their creative processes, having spent the better part of 20 years honing them.
Left-turns like the spoken word that features on Worry - a moment that will take even the most ardent of The Wombats fans by surprise - doesn't feel out of place on the album, given how creatively free it sounds. As Murph puts it, "Worry has some spoken word at the start, which I have no idea how that happened. And I certainly wouldn't have seen that come in when I was 21." Ditto for the fuzzy, slightly cloudy outro Fix Yourself, Then The World (Reach Beyond). Murph's vocals feel somewhat detached, and it's a proper outro - yet it feels integral to the album. It ushers the listener back into the real world.
Lead single Method To The Madness features the prominent use of an upright piano, and as lead singles go, it doesn't reveal too much about the overall sound of the album. Songs like the stomping Wildfire and the glittering This Car Drives All By Itself are more reminiscent of older The Wombats material, but it's an album that doesn't suffer from the shackles of the past. Murph reflects on the creative choices of the album, explaining, "I'm enjoying taking turns of any direction, whether they're left, backward or right. I think we are more confident as a band and I'm more confident as a writer to be able to just try different things."
While Murph describes the benefits of the recording process - "I was working a 9 to 5 day with an engineer and then going to see my kids, which I wouldn't be able to do if we were all in a room" - he describes the assembly process as a "shit show". Leaving each other largely to their own devices was a different experience, and the assembly process is when things all came together, for better or worse.
Murph explains that the separate recording sessions resulted in "so much audio that I hadn't heard before or ideas I hadn't heard. And then when Mark [Crew] sent over or whoever was producing, whatever song sent over the initial kind of monitor mix or whatever, I was like, 'Oh my God. What's happening? There's so much shit on here.' When there's too much shit on something it's like, imagine the Mona Lisa with rainbows and sparkles and flying unicorns all around it. Once you've seen it, it's hard to take it away. We had to press delete a lot.
"We each individually had to kind of get over ourselves and certain things that we were connected to if it wasn't for the greater good of the song. That part of the album was the most challenging, I think." Thankfully, the end result is a polished album that sits snugly within The Wombats' enviable discography - but it wasn't 100% smooth sailing from go to woe.
There's an obvious sense of pride when Murph talks about fatherhood. Becoming a father has fundamentally shifted the way he approaches music, altering his relationship with writing, recording and performing - for the better. "Music was the most important thing in my life. It was all I would think about, whether it was The Wombats or Love Fame Tragedy [his solo project] or anything else that I've been doing, whereas now it takes quite an obvious second," Murph tells us.
"And in a way, it's been better for it. Now that it's not the most important thing in my life and now that I'm not focused on it 24/7, three, six, five, I've actually given it some more space and room to breathe. And I feel like it's getting better. That's one way how it's changed my relationship with music, but it's also changed my relationship with everything, because I've been broken like a horse. It's just the craziest thing I've ever done in my life. It's a fairly wild ride."
Taking a bird's eye view of The Wombats' career to date, it feels like Fix Yourself, Not The World is their most positive album ever. Murph confirms this, pointing to early albums A Guide To Love Loss & Desperation, This Modern Glitch and Glitterbug as being more cynical and downbeat, wherein many ways, Fix Yourself, Not The World, is the opposite. As he remarks, it sounds like LA is rubbing off on him.
"I feel like my first three albums are kind of about ... they're quite cynical, quite negative in a humorous way. Whereas this one is really about understanding how powerful being positive is and how it just makes your life far more interesting than the other way around. So, if anyone can get a bit of that, then that would be nice."
It's a message that in the hands of another songwriter might feel trite, but coming from Murph, it resonates. He's a songwriter that has previously revelled in the nihilistic, and through fatherhood he's learned to embrace the light - and the music is all the better for it.