Interview with Tord Øverland-Knudsen from The Wombats

In Interviews by indiespect

The Wombats are a indie rock trio from Liverpool. They got to know each other at the LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) and released four records since they have formed in 2003. Bass player Tord Øverland-Knudsen is originally from Oslo, Norway, and moved to England to study at the university which was co-founded by Paul McCartney. Before his concert in Switzerland he told us about the reasons to move away from Norway and his future plans with The Wombats.

The Wombats are:

Matthew Murphy (vocals, guitar, keyboard)
Tord Øverland-Knudsen (bass)
Dan Haggis (drums)

Indiespect: The Wombats are known as a band from Liverpool. You’re originally from Norway. Why did you choose to study in Liverpool at first?

Tord Øverland-Knudsen: Almost by accident, really. In Norway you do something called folk high school. It’s a gap year before you go to university. You center it on a topic you like. Let’s say if you like taking photos you do a photo course, if you like music you do a music course. I was in a rock ‘n’ roll course. In this year there’s no marks or anything. It’s still educating but more about fun. You live in close environments. 120 pupils live in the university. They had a collaboration with the LIPA which is the university I ended up going to. It’s a serious music university, like a bachelor in music. They did auditions in my school. So it was super easy. I didn’t have to travel anywhere or think too much about it. They asked if you want to do the audition and I was like: yeah, I’ll give it a go. I always wanted to go to that school anyway. I knew about it because Paul McCartney founded this. I knew people from Norway who went to it. They did quite well in music or theater and went to that school as well.

Indiespect: Do you think that there is a difference of bands that come out of a school like this and the ones that start out just for fun?

Tord: I feel that you can still can do that. If you go to university and learn about music you maybe want to rebel against what you’ve learned. If we would have followed the rules I don’t think we would sound like The Wombats, necessarily. It was via touring, playing gigs and listening to other bands. The only difference is that you can actually explain something in a room because you know the basics behind it. I do a side project with a friend called Imitating Aeroplanes. It’s a music project I’ve been having with one of my best friends from back home since we were small, basically. We had numerous names for it but we always made music together. He never learned any theory. He just listened to Smashing Pumpkins records and learned all the guitar playing through tabs and stuff online. Whilst I came from a family where my father was classically trained. I played Cello from six and learned how to read music. It’s the complete opposite but somehow we still found this mutual love for similar kind of music. Even though it’s a complete different approach, it still ended up bounding musically.

The Wombats

Tord Øverland-Knudsen, Matthew Murphy and Dan Haggis (from left to right)

Indiespect: Murph told in an interview that when he met you at first, you played in like 55 bands at once. Isn’t it hard to focus on one project and push that forward?

Tord: To be honest, when you’re in your university you are just excited. You’re hungry to meet people, play music with people and explore different styles. I guess I was just sourcing out what was going on. My downfall is that I find it hard to say no as well. That was the problem in the beginning. But I eventually learned to say no. Because otherwise I’ll piss people off for being busy with this and this and this. So, I was just narrowing it down. I think it was year three when I was in a couple of other bands that were quite serious and on the verge of getting signed. The Wombats was really happening at that time. It had a progression and got more and more fun as well. I enjoyed it a little bit more than the other projects and I had a little more of a feeling that we’re onto something.

Indiespect: Good decision.

Tord: Yeah, now it seems to be. (laughs) But at the time it was a hard decision. Because I had to leave the other bands. In one of them I was making the music as well. But it was kind of hard to get things happening and we’ve been five people in the band. It was just harder to organize and therefore to progress. That’s one of the reason why it’s nice just being three.

Indiespect: Were you the singer in one of those bands?

Tord: I did some singing but I prefer doing the production parts and playing instruments. I do backing vocals and stuff but I get super nervous if I have to sing lead vocals.

The Wombats where they belong: on stage at the Kofmehl in Solothurn.

Indiespect: Your fourth record «Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life» was released almost exactly one year ago. Since then you are on tour with it and in summer you will play festivals again. Do you have time to create new music?

Tord: We haven’t had any time, yet. We’re all working on side projects and that’s what we will be doing after this tour finishes. We’ll just finalize some side projects. We gonna start writing our next album in March. Me and Dan are going to fly over to L.A. We are songwriting in Murph’s studio. That’s where he lives.

Indiespect: Is it always like this that you go to L.A. to write and then go to Oslo?

Tord: No. Actually, when we did this album, they came to Oslo because I had a child. It was in the beginning of parenthood and it was challenging. I didn’t want to be away more than necessary. The guys just kindly decided to come over. I also have a studio and we did a lot of the writing there. This time around Murph is going to have a baby in May. Now it’s my time to give that back and travel there.

Indiesepect: Did your relationship to the songs of the current record change, now that you’ve played them so often during one year?

Tord: You’re always excited about what comes next. But we did add a couple of new songs to the set as well. Bee-Sting was new. We only recorded that in the summer. So, it still feels fresh. I’m not bored or anything now. I still enjoy playing the songs from the first album. It comes down to an atmosphere in a venue, the crowd and how things work. I enjoy it most of the times. But obviously, we’ve played around 150 shows this year. You do get to a point where you’re a little bit on autopilot. You don’t necessarily think about the details anymore. You just do, because it’s all in your bones, right?

We’ve played around 150 shows this year. You do get to a point where you’re a little bit on autopilotTord Øverland Knudsen, The Wombats

Indiespect: You played a huge show at the SSE Arena in Wembley on the 1st February this year. The pictures really looked impressive. How did that specific show feel to you?

Tord: Playing Wembley is something every band is dreaming of, I suppose. When I was a teenager, I was maybe 13, I was joking about the time I would play in Wembley.

Indiespect: Was the autopilot still on during that concert?

Tord: You feel the nerves a little bit more when you do big shows like this, I have to admit. The butterflies in your stomach are wilder than usually. During the first two or three songs the adrenalin was a little bit higher than usual. The whole thing is to try and switch that around. You’re going to be an hour and forty-five on stage. You need to make sure you feel comfortable. That was something I was working really hard on the first two or three songs. I freaked out a bit, the adrenaline was through the roof. I managed to pull it back and get comfortable. I think we all three did. That made it feel somehow like any other show.

The Wombats

Multi-instrumentalists at work: every member of The Wombats plays several instruments.

Indiespect: But when you see the lights of the smartphones up, you realize how many people there are.

Tord: Yeah. When you see so many people you go: crap! When you’ve done a lot of festival stuff, you’ve seen big crowds before. The only difference is that they all payed to come and see you. Which is crazy to me.

Indiespect: Tonight you have support from Circa Waves. They’re quite big on their own. How did this line-up come up?

Tord: We share the same booking agent. They obviously do really well in the UK but they haven’t done that many headline tours in Europe, yet. I guess that’s why. I didn’t really have anything to do with that. Obviously, they’re from Liverpool, so there is a cool link there. BLOXX who are on first as well. Really, really cool band. Same management, same booking agent. It’s a part of the extended family, I suppose.

Indiespect: During «Lemon to a Knife Fight» you play the acoustic guitar. Since you went to an arts school, are all of you able to play more than one instrument?

Tord: I think the only instrument that we can’t rotate with is drums. Both, me and Murph are pretty bad at drumming. That’s where we would struggle. Dan has to be back there.

During the live performance of «Lemon To a Knife Fight» Tord switches from bass to acoustic guitar.

Indiespect: But Dan could play guitar?

Tord: He can play guitar and bass. He’s the best keyboard player out of us as well. We enjoy playing a lot of instruments. I don’t think any of us is specifically super good at one instrument. We can play a lot of them alright. It’s more about the creational aspect rather than how fast you can play some scales at the end of the day.

Indiespect: If a band goes to the studio, they don’t necessarily think about how to bring the songs to the live environment. They want to create everything they have in mind with no boundaries. Is that the same with you?

Tord: Yeah, you deal with it after. We use a lot of analogue gear like synths or pedals that we haven’t got for live shows. You figure out a way to solve that later down the line. There’s only a couple of moments when we have the feeling: oh, how the hell are we going to recreate that? But with the technology these days you can sample things from the record. You can literally just copy or record a specific sound and sample it to a keyboard. Then you’ve got it everywhere. There are so many clever ways of doing it. Even if it’s not exactly the same, you can get away with that.

We can play a lot of instruments alright. It’s more about the creational aspect rather than how fast you can play some scales at the end of the day.Tord Øverland Knudsen, The Wombats

Indiespect: Do you think that the streaming age is changing the sound of bands?

Tord: I’m sure it does have an effect. But it’s hard to say if it’s down to streaming. But then again I think things are more streamlined, just to fit into a certain category. It’s almost like it’s less creative in a sense.

Indiespect: Do you think it does also influence your music?

Tord: Of course it does. But I think it’s just about finding inspiration in anything. Whether it’s lyrically or things that happen in your life or in the world. Or if it’s a new record that you’ve heard. I listen to both new music but also go back in time. Go back to the 70s or 60s. I listen to stuff that I never heard before. Older prog stuff from the 70s. I never had a moment in my life where I thought: okay, I’m gonna sit down and listen to that records. Then I did that and though: oh fuck, there are so many good bands. I find it super inspiring because the structures of the songs are mental. Lyrically maybe not so interesting. Because I think it’s a lot of over the top topics. (laughs) But musically there is so much to pick from, really cool production for example. Couple of weeks ago I started listen to loads of 90s shoegaze stuff. I always liked that kind of style but I haven’t listened to that records in a while. My Bloody Valentine and all of those super noisy, but cool bands.

Indiespect: You played at the Kofmehl Solothurn several times. Eight years ago you’ve been partying in the club afterwards. Do you still have that kind of nights out?

Tord: Most gigs we’ve done here ended up shitfaced in the backroom.

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

«Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life» is the fourth and current record of The Wombats. It was released on the 1st February 2018. The trio from Liverpool has been on tour with it ever since.

Indiespect: But back then you were celebrating in the venue itself. Because there was a party going on.

Tord: If there is a club night in the same building we might as well, yes.

Indiespect: And sing to some of your own songs?

Tord: I dearly not. That’s just weird sometimes. But if you’ve had enough drinks, you don’t give a shit. (laughs) We do have the occasional party but it’s definitely more controlled. We know when we can have a bit of fun. Usually we call it roadie Friday. It’s any day before a day off. On roadie Fridays it’s okay to have a few drinks.

Indiepsect: But tomorrow you have to play in Milan.

Tord: We play in Milan tomorrow, yes. So tonight is probably going to be a little bit quieter. And it’s a Monday night. So, it’s not happening in Solothurn. Not this time. (laughs)

Indiespect: Thank you for taking your time.

Tord: Yeah. No worries!