The Wombats' Matthew Murphy on Picasso, "Black Mirror," and Solo Project, Love Fame Tragedy [Q&A]
After 17 years at the helm of the English indie rock band The Wombats, Matthew “Murph” Murphy decided it was time for a change.
In a two year span, The Wombats toured with The Rolling Stones, Weezer and The Pixies, released their fourth studio album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life and made sure to hit up all the spots on the festival circuit this summer.
When he wasn’t on the road, Murph was spending time in Los Angeles - ultimately moving there from London - and working on new material that didn’t quite fit The Wombats’ mold. He played a little of what he calls “contact list roulette,” recruiting musical collaborators to work with him in the studio on some new songs.
And that’s where Love Fame Tragedy was born - the solo project sees Murphy exploring different musical avenues and creating an entirely new sound. “I just wanted to try something new,” Murphy said in a statement. “Something that didn’t involve any politics.”
He found inspiration for the name after visiting a Picasso exhibition at the Tate Modern in London. “It triggered a lot of things,” he said, “and a lot of songs flew out after that.”
Love Fame Tragedy finds Murphy joined by a cast of companions, including The Pixies’ Joey Santiago, Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton and former Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain. The singles had been trickling out slowly all summer, but, at long last, we have the full EP.
I spoke with Murphy over the phone a few days before the EP dropped. We chatted about the project, as well as drawing inspiration from the likes of Picasso, moving to LA and Black Mirror. Get a look inside Murphy’s solo project, Love Fame Tragedy, and make sure to check out his debut EP, I Don't Want To Play The Victim, But I'm Really Good At It.
OTW: Let's talk about the name "Love Fame Tragedy.“ I understand you saw a Picasso exhibit and were inspired by one of the paintings. What in particular inspired you?
MM: Whenever I have days off, I go to museums or try to get some inspiration in some form. I saw this Picasso exhibition and it was so hilariously dark because, you know, the whole premise behind "Love Fame Tragedy" is him painting his mistress out of town whilst his wife is in Paris and he's in the countryside... it's pretty dark shit. I was also looking for something that had, like, a looping kind of comic feeling, which I think "Love Fame Tragedy" does. I think [the paintings] are kind of linked, and one leads into another. I just liked it. Before I knew it, I'd completely ripped off a Picasso exhibition and that was the name of the band.
OTW: When I first saw the name, I couldn't help but think of The Wombats' debut, A Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation. You certainly have a thing with threes.
MM: Yeah, I do. Well, three's a very powerful number, apparently.
OTW: Both the sound and the music videos have been pretty experimental for this project. What was the songwriting process like?
MM: The songwriting process for me is the same as it's always been. It's just me trying to excite myself. For this project, I'm working with this one guy Tyler Cunningham. He lives in LA. He and I are doing the videos and doing all the artwork together. It's exciting to be creating this long thread, which I've never really done on an album before. It's always different directors for this, the label wants to do that, whereas this is very much streamlined. It just means I can be a bit more creative and clever with artwork, videos, and general content.
OTW: LA is such a creative hub; almost everyone there is a transplant. What are some things you've gotten from immersing yourself in the city?
MM: LA's been such a special place for me. I met my wife and had a baby there. The essence of collaboration that's running through the water there is important. I've been inspired by that. That's why I've had other people guest on this record, and I just feel 10-15 percent happier there. It's a very New Age-y place, and that kind of rubs off on you. I just feel like happiness and sadness are really conducive to creativity, but happiness even more, so I'm really thankful for LA for providing me with that.
OTW: You mentioned all the different guests on the record. You've worked with some iconic names like Joey Santiago (The Pixies) and Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam). How did having all those different minds working together impact your thought process?
MM: It was all pretty chilled out. Me and Joey played golf beforehand; we kind of bonded on the Weezer/Pixies tour and I said, "Do you want to come to the studio?" And that's what he did. There wasn't too much overthinking. Collaborating with people and making new friends all the time is a much better existence than locking yourself in a room in London and writing for ten hours a day like I used to.
OTW: I loved how you let the songs trickle in slowly, kind of building the anticipation for the full EP.
MM: I didn't really decide to do it that way (laughs) I wanted to make a Love Fame Tragedy album, and all I've been doing is writing the songs, getting them recorded and being happy with them. But I am excited about the way it's coming out. It's exciting for me. There are going to be two EPs and then an extra handful of songs, which will all make one big, pretty long album at the end of it, next year. But it is fun doing EPs because you can treat everything like a mini album; everything's got its own title, its own artwork. It's kind of a cool way of doing it and a way I was happy to go along with. It just seems like a much more exciting way to do things.
OTW: You performed some of the new songs at the Reading Festival. What was that experience like?
MM: It was horrendous! (laughs) Everything went wrong. It was a baptism of fire. It was kind of amazing that that happened because every show since then has been so great and so strong and exciting. I think we got all of the bad juju out. It wasn't that bad a gig, I just had no guitar for the whole thing so it was just really weird. The other guys were great. We had the voice and we had the rest of the band. We just didn't have my guitar, which was pretty interesting. But people seemed to like it.
OTW: I feel like sometimes happy accidents like that help you grow as a band.
MM: I think so. I mean, I'd met the guys way before that, but it was definitely a real bonding experience.
OTW: What do you hope your fans will get out of these live performances?
MM: Same reason I write music: I just like to make a connection with someone, and want them to feel something. That's kind of all I do. There's no dramatic or political statements or anything I'm massively pedaling. They're just confessional songs and I hope they hit people the way some of them have hit me.
OTW: I think the subject matter in the songs resonates with a lot of people. Like in "My Cheating Heart," I noticed themes of self-indulgence, materialism, temptation... love, fame AND tragedy all kind of combined into one explosion of a song. "Backflip" kind of reminded me of modern dating.
MM: "My Cheating Heart" is about a state of anxiety, really, and a lot of things that I felt when I first moved to Los Angeles and how I dealt with it... or didn't deal with it. And "Backflip," I guess, is about modern dating. I feel like that's more so because of the video and the visuals and things.
OTW: Very Black Mirror-ish.
MM: Yeah, it's completely ripped off from "Metalhead!" I had the idea for all these shifting shapes, or whatever, which apparently is an idea people had a few years ago. I just said to the director, Watch 'Metalhead'... can we just make it look like that?" I think we did a pretty good job.
OTW: Hey, Quentin Tarantino says he steals from every movie ever made, so don't feel bad.
MM: (laughs) Oh no, I don't feel bad!
OTW: What other themes do you think you'll explore with this process?
MM: A lot of the songs are barking up the same tree I've always barked up. Problems with relationships... maybe relationships are like a metaphor for me having problems with the outside world? I don't know. When I find them, I'll be sure to explore them.
OTW: Before we go, who are your Ones to Watch?
MM: I really like Emily King. Me, my wife and daughter listen to her every morning. I think she's pretty special.