What’s it like going from headliner to support act? We chat with Tord from The Wombats

There’s no denying that Australia loves The Wombats, and the packed Amphitheatre crowd at Splendour In The Grass echoing their lyrics is proof enough for me that band are in demand here, and probably will be for a long time.

Matthew Murphy, Tord Øverland Knudsen and Dan Haggis have been making music under The Wombats since 2003. One of my favourite songs – which I shout back with the rest of the crowd – sings about being a teenager in the 1990s… when the song title is the year I was born. Younger music fans are springing from hearing their songs on TV shows, or because they’ve been featured on every just about every ‘indie classic’ playlist on Spotify.

The Wombats will always be the band that filled the dancefloor at parties growing up, the band I’d play when I needed energy. I think many others feel the same way, hence the roaring burst of positive vibes that reverberated through Splendour as they brought their show to the stage.

Their latest album released earlier this year, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, is no exception to the feel good indie pop they’re known for. Murph spreads wit throughout the lyrics and makes light of bad situations.

Before their set at Splendour, we sat down with bassist, keys man and backup vocalist Tord as he sipped on a long black to chat about their hectic touring life, living in different countries, and going from being a teenager covering Weezer songs in a small band to supporting Weezer on tour.

The Wombats
Photo by Brooke Tunbridge

We sat down with Tord from The Wombats at Splendour In The Grass to discuss their hectic touring life, living in Norway and the strange experience of supporting Pixies and Weezer.

TORD: It’s getting a bit nippy out here isn’t it

HAPPY: It is! How’s the weather in Norway?

TORD: This summer has been ridiculous, it’s been like 30-plus for the last four weeks. It’s the hottest and driest summer we’ve had since the ’50s.

HAPPY: Geez. Have you spent much time over there?

TORD: No this summer has been pretty much away touring, we’ve been to America for like 3 and a half weeks, and then a few festivals. I spent a little time at home at the beginning of Summer.

HAPPY: So how’s the Australian tour going?

TORD: Yeah really good. Started in Melbourne in Festival Hall. We’ve been the supporter in America supporting Weezer and Pixies so have been trying to win over people and playing to people who had never heard us before. Doing that and then all of a sudden doing full sets with full production and everyone singing the songs back at us. It was such a mind-blowing experience. Not that I’d forgotten about it, but it was just a reminder like “oh wow people actually know our music here, this is ridiculous”.

HAPPY: Yeah there’s always a massive demand for The Wombats in Australia – you just announced a show in the Hunter Valley, near where I live.

TORD: Yeah I’ve actually been on a wine tasting in the area, we went wine tasting like a few days ago. It was the whole crew and the band and we all went to Hunter Valley… I’ve been there before but have never played there.

HAPPY: So what do you love about Australia?

TORD: Just the people I think. The people and the atmosphere. It feels like you guys have kind of nailed the perfect balance between what’s great about England or the UK and what’s great about America. Then you kind of made a perfect combo in a way. That’s what it feels like to me. I’m from Norway so that’s my opinion anyway.

HAPPY: Yeah so you’re living in Norway, Dan in London and Murph in Los Angeles. How’s that going? Has that been happening for a while?

TORD: Yeah we’ve been living in separate places from the second album actually. Murph was in London but Dan was in Paris and I was in Liverpool. The distances were smaller but in theory, it’s the same thing really. You have to be in the same place for some amount of time to write and make music and then obviously when we record it we need to find a neutral ground or wherever the producer is based and record. To be honest, it’s not really a big problem, it’s nice that everyone is in different places, we can pick up different inspirations and then meet up and take the best parts of whatever we’ve been working on and make songs.

HAPPY: Yeah I guess it would be good to have that time apart so when you come back together you’re-

TORD: – fresh. Yeah, excited about being in all in a room again. It’s quite intense touring this year is pretty full on, we’ve done over 100 gigs already…

HAPPY: I can only imagine. It sounds so full on.

TORD: Yeah it can be quite full on.

HAPPY: After the 15 years of being a band, do you ever look back and wish you knew something at the beginning, that you’ve learnt along the way? Any advice for bands just starting out?

TORD: I guess you need to do the mistakes. No one’s experience with touring is the same. It’s never exactly the same from one band to another, although you’re all kind of doing the same festivals or the same gigs, I don’t know, everyone experiences it in a very different way. I feel like no one can tell you what to do and what not to do at that stage because I feel like no one really listens to that advice… It might not be right for that band or artist. You just have to roll with it and learn from your mistakes.

HAPPY: Experience it for yourself

TORD: Yeah, I think that makes sense you know.

HAPPY: Did you have people when you were starting out trying to guide you in a certain direction?

TORD: We were a bit rebellious in the beginning, telling people to fuck off (laughs). To the people that tried to direct us too hard. After a while we kind of realised whether it’s a label or management, it’s an ecosystem and you need to listen to each other. Sometimes you need to just put your foot down.

HAPPY: Are there any major moments in your career where you’ve looked back and thought, how did we get here?

TORD: Yeah I get that. I mean just in Melbourne the other day, it was one of those pinch myself moments, the fact that we can still come back here and play to that many people. It’s not like it’s a short-lived thing it’s 11 years since our first album came out, and we can still come back and do these shows, and still come here and play [Splendour In The Grass]. I think it’s pretty crazy. I will never get used to that… It is what we do and we do it a lot but it’s still one of those pinch yourself moments.

HAPPY: So what do you all do when you’re not playing or writing music?

TORD: To be honest, I usually make other music, I’m still spending lots of other time in the studio. I’ve got a daughter now so a lot of my spare time goes to playing with her and trying to re-experience my own childhood through her. You know like ‘I used to love that’ and ‘oh I want to take her to this spot’. Experience things again through your own child and I think that’s amazing.

HAPPY: Yeah definitely. Is she your first child?

TORD: Yeah. It’s awesome.

HAPPY: Let’s go back to the Weezer and Pixies tour. What was it like to be the support act?

TORD: Yeah it’s just a very different experience. You’re the first band on, you’ve only got half an hour – we’ve released four albums, how can you pick a setlist for half an hour?! So we kind of swapped out a few songs. We had three or four that were constant and were always in the set and then we swapped out the other two or three.

Obviously being first on, it wasn’t necessarily packed. It’s kind of strange the venues we played in, they’re called sheds, so they’ve got this little area in front where people could stand, loads of seats and it’s all different, the nearer the stage, the more expensive the seats. Then the cheapest tickets were right up the back and that was the lawn, some days we would play to just people on the lawn and nobody at the front. It’s a bit awkward, it’s really strange.

But I think it’s good to get that experience as well, you learn how to be completely professional about it. You can’t get fed by the audience to give energy or to do the show so you need to somehow just play with each other. We were like it’s us three and we’re doing our thing, we were just trying to do that as best as we could. It was really great, I’m a big fan of Weezer and Pixies. We got to know Pixies quite well, we used to hang out after the shows outside the tour bus, they made us an outside bar, with camping chairs and called it the Crow Bar, so we were all just hanging out there, drinking wine and eating cheese.

HAPPY: Do you have any other music icons that you’d love to tour with?

TORD: I mean I’m a massive fan of anything that Dave Grohl does. I think he comes across as the nicest and most humble rockstar. That would be really cool to tour with them, the Foo Fighters, that would be insane. To be honest, Weezer are one of the reasons I wanted to be playing in a band. When I was a teenager, I’d listen to their album and learn all the chords to the songs and play along. I was even in a Weezer cover band.

HAPPY: No way, really?

TORD: Well not a Weezer cover band we just happened to play Weezer

HAPPY: Okay so not strictly a Weezer cover band?

TORD: There was some Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins…

HAPPY: Were you in a few different bands before you met the guys at university and started The Wombats?

TORD: Yeah, I’ve been in bands since I was like 12 or 13. I didn’t meet the guys until I was 20 so I’d already been through like, I don’t know, ten different bands before we formed. It was just back in Norway, some more serious than others, but a lot of it was just fun. Learning how to play together and make songs.

HAPPY: That would be pretty surreal to have been covering Weezer’s songs in a teenage band to then supporting them on a tour.

TORD: It’s absolutely ridiculous. Hearing “Say It Ain’t So”, which is one of the first songs I learnt on guitar, I was like “okay…this is really happening”.

HAPPY: I have to ask, Murph mentioned something about a new project. Can you share more about that?

TORD: Yeah he’s got a side project that he’s working on at the moment. That’s the only thing I can say because I haven’t heard any of the music yet, I have no idea what direction he’s gone with it, he said he’s still kind of waiting for that one song to shape the rest of the songs. I think there’s going to be an EP next year at some point.

HAPPY: Tell me more about your side project Imitating Aeroplanes.

TORD: We released an album in September last year, so I may be doing another EP or album. I think we’re going to start working on new stuff for maybe early next year.

HAPPY: You sound so busy…

TORD: Yeah, we like to be busy. If we don’t do music then we just sit on our arses and do nothing. It’s nice to do different styles. I do a bit of production as well so I work with other artists, which is fun to work with a completely different dynamic. Keeping the mind working.

The Wombats’ new album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is out now.