Why Do Australians Love The Wombats So Much? An Investigation

We headed down to the band's sold out Melbourne show to ask fans: LITERALLY WHY?

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20 July 2018, 1:58am

As long as I’ve been an active participant in music culture––that is, downloading songs, going to shows, actively discussing music that I hadn’t just heard through my parents–-I’ve been conscious of The Wombats. At one point, around the age of 13, I might have even considered myself a fan (admittedly only because my friends liked them; I lied about having listened to their albums in full.) But at this point, right now, in the year 2018, I have to admit: I don’t really get it.

There is something about this band, this deeply inoffensive trio of scruffy British men, that rubs me the wrong way. I tried to listen to the band’s debut––a record with the garishly twee title The Wombats Proudly Present A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation––again a few days ago, and couldn’t make it past the song where the band’s lead singer, Matthew Murphy, complains about a woman because “she wanted Mary Poppins and [he] wanted King Lear”. Across the band’s four records, things don’t really get much better: for the better part of a decade, The Wombats have continued to write the same song over and over, always a jaunty, upbeat, offensively inoffensive pop-rock track about being sad and young and being Very Misunderstood. To my ears, The Wombats are the epitome of lowest common denominator music, disposable advertisement-sync drivel designed to appeal to people who saw The Perks of Being A Wallflower and felt that it was a Major Poetic Statement.

But here’s the thing, though: stats would dictate that I'm in the wrong here. People absolutely love The Wombats. Especially in Australia. Probably a bit more in Australia, in fact. While the band’s cultural cache has declined significantly in the UK and Stateside (where, realistically, they never really hit that hard) The Wombats are still exceedingly, inexplicably popular. Wombats albums have debuted higher on the Australian charts than they have on the UK or US charts over the last few years, and the band have had eleven entries on triple j’s Hottest 100 since their debut with the execrable “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” over a decade ago. Since the band started, they’ve played 37 shows in Australia, including three sets at Splendour, a few tours with Groovin’ the Moo, and many, many headline shows.

I can’t really explain Australia’s obsession with The Wombats, so I decided to go to the band’s (sold out) Splendour sideshow at Melbourne’s 6000-capacity Festival Hall to ask fans: literally why?

RILEY AND YASMIN

Yasmin (left) and Riley (right)

So, Riley and Yasmin, why do you like The Wombats?
Riley: I dunno! I’ve listened to them for like, ten years. They’re just an awesome poppy rock band. And we didn’t get tickets to Splendour, so…

What’s so good about them?
Riley: They’ve got an amazing energy onstage, and for the three of them, the sound they make is really amazing. They sound like a full band, like a six-piece band, or something.

Why do you think they’re so popular in Australia?
Yasmin: We like English music. Yeah, Australians really like English music, but it’s also got that bouncing, popping fun to it.
Riley: They’ve got a really young following, too. Which is surprising, because they’ve been around for quite a while. Their lyrics are really interesting and really easy to follow, so I think a lot of people really connect.

A lot of people really, really don’t like The Wombats.
Riley: Really?

Yeah. Why do you think that might be? How would you win over someone like that?
Riley: I’d probably say to just go and see them. I dunno! People don’t like them? Do you guys like them?

Um, kinda.

CHRIS, 47

What is it that you like about The Wombats?
They sound great! Just their sound. From the first time I heard them, I thought ‘These guys sound great!’

What won you over?
Just their sound.. I really like their sound. They’ve never done anything that I thought was disappointing. I still think their first album is the best one, but this one’s good.

Why do you think Australians love The Wombats?
Because they’re THE WOMBATS! They’ve picked an Australian animal as their name! I guess it gives them some kind of link to Australia. Plus they’re just an awesome band, I don’t really see why anyone wouldn’t like them.

Interesting you would say that, because I happen to know that a lot of people, my colleagues for example, really hate The Wombats.
I’d say to them.. you’ve got really bad taste in music!

Thanks for that.

LIAM & HAYLEY, both 19

How’d you get into The Wombats?
Hayley: I reckon I just heard them on the radio.
Liam: I’m a big soccer fan, and obviously they’re a Liverpool band, and I’m a big fan of Liverpool, and… I’m not sure if they’re big soccer fans, but they’re from the same city, so.

Uh, okay. A lot of people really don’t like The Wombats. Why do you think that might be?Liam: Maybe because they’re pretty mainstream. A lot of the mainstream bands just cop it.
Hayley: Everyone has different taste.

Why do you think Australians love The Wombats?
Liam: It’s easy music to listen to.
Hayley: It’s groovy, and it’s funky, and it’s just easy to listen to.

What would you say to a die hard Wombats hater?
Liam: Why? I don’t know why.
Hayley: Just give it a chance! Be open-hearted, give it a go.

What song would you tell them to start with?
Liam: We love “Lethal Combination”.
Hayley: If you want more of a classic, “Dance to Joy Division”. That’s a bit of a classic.

JOHN, 18

What is it that you like about The Wombats?
Good question. It’s just like a funky.. I don’t know. It’s just exciting to listen to.

What’s your favourite song by them?
“Emoticon”, I guess.

What is it that you like about that song?
That’s a good question. Um… I don’t even know.

So, you don’t know why you like The Wombats?
It’s just enjoyable to listen to. Do I need a reason?

You sure don’t. Why do you think Australians love The Wombats?
Seems relevant to the youth… Young adults demographic. And it’s slightly angry, sometimes. Not, like, angry. No idea. Because wombats are Australian?

LUCY, 31

What is it that you love so much about The Wombats?
They’re infectious. I adore them, they’re my favourite band.

Is there any song that really speaks to you?
Maybe like, “Techno Fan”. I dunno. As soon as it gets started, everyone just jumps around. It gets right under your skin.

Say you have to win over the most ardent Wombats hater. How would you do it?
I would probably.. I dunno. I’d probably play them the third album.

Which one’s that?
I dunno.. This Modern Glitch? No, actually, that’s the first one. [Editor’s note: it’s the second one.] I don’t think anyone could hate them.

Oh, yeah?
I’d be shocked.

You’d be shocked?
Absolutely.

ANNIE, 24, and JOSH, 25

What is it you like about The Wombats?
Josh: They’re probably one of our favourite bands. We’ve seen them… four times?
Annie: Yeah, four times.

Together?
Annie: Nah. Second time together.

Oh, are they like *your band*?
Annie: They’re my band.
Josh: They’re not mine.
Annie: I love the lyrics.. and, I dunno. They’re just fun!

What’s your favourite song by them?
Annie: I like “Turn” from their new album. “Techno Fan” is probably my favourite.

Why that one?
Annie: I dunno, it’s just so much fun! I guess secretly I’m just a techno fan. [Editor’s note: The Wombats song “Techno Fan” contains few-to-no elements of techno music.]

If you had to win over the most ardent Wombats hater, how would you do it?
Annie: Play “Techno Fan” really loud!

Why do you think The Wombats are so popular in Australia?
Annie: Well, they’re named after an Australian animal! And they play here all the time!
Josh: Lots of word-of-mouth too. We’re always telling people about how good they are.

DANIEL, 17 and KIM, 18

What is it that you like about The Wombats?
Kim: That’s an interesting question. I like the harmonies. And the chord progressions.

And that’s what you like about them?
Kim: Yeah, mostly.
Daniel: I like something a bit different. Something pretty cool. Not like the normal stuff.

Any other reason that you like them?
Kim: Not really.

No other reasons? Okay. Why do Australians love The Wombats?
Kim: Well, they’re called The Wombats.

That’s why they’ve sold so many tickets here?
Kim: I really don’t know, to be honest.
Daniel: They play like, every festival.

If you had to win over the number one Wombats hater in the world, what would you do?
Kim: I’d just be like “stuff you” and keep listening to them.

Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australian editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Additional reporting and photos by Liam Parsons.