Interview: Wombats Guitarist Matthew Murphy Discusses Influences, Touring and Illegal Raves

Growing up in Liverpool, England, Wombats guitarist Matthew Murphy was encouraged to play the classical guitar from an early age.

But there was no keeping him on that instrument once he saw Radiohead perform on TV.

When he witnessed guitarist Johnny Greenwood rip into his Fender Telecaster, Murphy knew he had to have one of his own.

“I wanted to be like him,” remembers Murphy, 27, whose band is crossing the US in support of its latest album, 2011’s This Modern Glitch, through May 12. “He’s a huge influence on me wanting to be in a band and playing the guitar.”

Considering that Murphy pulls triple duty as the singer, guitarist and keyboard player in his three-piece band, there isn’t enough time (or hands, for that matter) for Greenwood-esque guitar heroics. However, Murphy does don a unique Blue Flower Telecaster whenever he hits the stage.

Instead, Murphy explains that his songwriting is more informed by the likes of Elliott Smith and Super Furry Animals, although he also confesses to harboring a soft spot for pop acts like Katy Perry. Both This Modern Glitch and The Wombats’ 2007 debut are filled with the singer’s goofy, descriptive musings on life. For instance, Modern Glitch single “Techno Fan” chronicles the time he was dragged to an electronica-fueled rave in London.

“I’m not really into techno music, but I did have an enjoyable evening,” he says.

The Wombats’ US tour hits Minneapolis Tuesday and ends with a two-night stand in Las Vegas May 11 and 12. Read’s full interview with Murphy below.

GUITAR WORLD: When did you first pick up the guitar?

My dad bought me a classical guitar when I was about 5. I did that for a few years, but then kind of lost interest and got into the band thing. The classical guitar wasn’t doing anything for me emotionally, and eventually I got into bands like Radiohead. I remember seeing Johnny Greenwood and I wanted a Telecaster and to be just like him. He’s a huge influence on me wanting to be in band and playing the guitar.

The Wombats formed in college. Was the goal to make a career out of the band or just have fun playing around school?

The first three years we were just playing shows and trying to have as much fun as possible. Then we left university and had to decide if we wanted to make a career out of this. We went down to London and there was an A&R guy that wanted to sign us and fortunately we built up a small fan base, got a publishing deal and signed a record deal. We try to just stick to the music we write - weird, big pop songs. We definitely never thought we’d accomplish what we have thus far.

Your lyrics are often very specific. Are songs like “Techno Fan” and “My First Wedding” based on real-life experiences?

Those are based on things that happened, but they’ve been slightly exaggerated for artistic purposes. “Techno Fan” is about an illegal rave I went to with my ex-girlfriend in east London - I’m not really into techno music but I did have an enjoyable evening. A lot of my songs are about bizarre experiences I’ve had at one point or another.

Who do you consider to be your biggest influences, both in playing guitar and writing lyrics?

Elliott Smith has always resonated with me, but I find myself listening to all kinds of stuff. I was in a bar last night playing pool, and there was this old-school blues on and I loved that. I’ve also got a bit of a soft spot for great pop songwriting, as well as really weird Elliott Smith and Super Furry Animals kind of vibes.

The Wombats also hit the US on last winter’s tour. What’s your favorite venue to play stateside?

To be honest, the place we’re playing in Washington, D.C., the 9:30 Club, is pretty amazing. At the end of tour we’re playing in LA at the El Rey Theater, which is also awesome.

You’ve mentioned that The Wombats have already started working on album number three. Will you be debuting any new songs on this tour?

The last few weeks, we’ve been working on a few new songs and we’ll work on them when we get back to the UK. There was a big gap between our first and second albums and we don’t want to do that again, so we’re trying to get to work. I’d like to keep working on the record and let it come out full-force rather than have some crappy recordings on YouTube, though.

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