Joey Santiago. Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton. Maddi Waterhouse, sister of Suki. A host of other famous faces waiting in the wings. And tying it all together, furiously thumbing out guest requests from the studio, one Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy of The Wombats, the driving force behind the marsupial Gorillaz that is Love Fame Tragedy.
“A supergroup?” Murph muses down the phone from LA. “Not really. Something like that is hard to hold down, with everyone’s schedules. One of my friends has started this Beatles cover band with Graham Coxon and Matt Bellamy and loads of people [Dr Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band]. That sounds like a logistical nightmare. But trying to get as many people as possible involved and playing on stuff is a good tier below that.”
Love Fame Tragedy started life as a bunch of songs Murph began squirreling away in 2016, personal and confessional songs which didn’t fit with the tone of The Wombats’ fourth album ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’. Three years later, following recording sessions in London and LA with producer Mark Crew and plenty of favour-calling, the first fruits of Murph’s solo labours emerge today in the shape of ‘My Cheating Heart’, featuring Maddi Jean Waterhouse.”
“It’s a song touching on excess and feelings I had when I first moved to the States,” Murph explains, “touching on a particular time I had with my wife in San Francisco and dealing with Californian excess to a certain degree. It’s a confessional song about love and relationships. It was to do with status and how important status is in Los Angeles, San Francisco and California. The most objectifying lyric in it – the money, women, cars thing, which is probably the grossest line – is kind of what ties the whole thing together.”
Murph plans a series of regular track releases, combining to form EPs and albums as they amass – forthcoming songs feature keyboards and vocals from Unger-Hamilton and duets with Maddi Waterhouse, whom Murph met after writing a song for Suki. As the first track premieres, we tracked him down to dig into the plot of Love Fame Tragedy…
What kicked off the project?
“Every person in a band wants to do this or have a go at it, so this is my time. I wanted to wait for the right time to come around and it felt like everything was good with the band and this was the time to try something new.”
No big Wombats blow-outs, then?
“No, there’s no issues in the band, but we’ve been in a band for fifteen years, living in the same tourbus with one another and it’s not like the Gallagher brothers but there are politics when making an album when you’ve been doing it for so long and with the current music climate no-one cares about politics and I just wanna have a new outlet where it’s snappy and quick and fast, not overthinking it. Write a song, ‘is it good?’ ‘yup’, ‘okay, let’s record it, make it sound really good, okay it’s out in the public, where’s the next song?’ Rather than over-analysing a snare pattern.”
“I just wanna have a new outlet where it’s snappy and quick and fast, not overthinking it.”
How do the rest of the band feel about it?
“They’re pretty positive. They’ve done their own stuff and I’m sure they knew it was coming and they’ve both been really supportive. I don’t think they’re running marathons holding a Love Fame Tragedy torch but they’re supportive of it.”
How did you bond with Joey Santiago?
“We got on when we were doing the Pixies and Weezer tour. We had breakfast in Oklahoma one day and really got on. We had quite a few things in common, one of those being our relationship with excess in the past, and golf and food and coffee, all this shit. All of the Pixies band and crew were awesome but out of the whole tour he was the one true friend I made, I think. We were regaling one another with ridiculous stories – there are probably a few too many but my wife’s favourite is the one where Pete Doherty told me to go to bed.”
“It was probably Reading or Leeds or V Festival 2011 or 2012. I’d met him loads of times, he’s an awesome guy and we’ve always had great chats whenever we’ve hung out but there was this one time when I was far too gone. Joey and I planned to meet up when we both had some downtime. We were in LA and I just texted him saying ‘hey, I’m starting this new thing, will you come and slap some guitar all over it?’ and he said yes. It was all very quick and painless.”
How did you meet Gus?
“We had the same tour manager back in the day and I met him at Coachella. He’s one of my only real proper true go-to-the-wedding kind of friends who’s also an artist, and we always meet up in LA or London whenever we can. Again, I asked him to come and slap some keys and do some singing on this so I could talk about him and not myself all the time, and he very kindly obliged.”
What weren’t you doing in The Wombats that you’re able to do in Love Fame Tragedy?
“There were no roadblocks in The Wombats. It wasn’t like ‘I’m having such a weird time I have to break out and do this new thing’. I wanted to try something and experience what it was like to have collaborators on the songs and if I want to have an African tribal group all over one song I don’t have to sit down and talk about it for an hour.”
“I don’t really care what people think of me so I’ll ask whoever, whether they tell me to fuck off or not.”
You’ve worked with Macca in the past, will you be getting him on?
“That would be really good. For now it’s play the cards close to the chest with people you actually know well and obviously if things go well, start throwing it out to whoever. I don’t really care what people think of me so I’ll ask whoever, whether they tell me to fuck off or not.”
The band name comes from the title of a Tate Modern gallery show, what was it about the name that suited this project?
“I had lots of names but they all in a similar vein to The Wombats, it was all fluffy and cuddly. I decided to do something more jarring, and I wanted something that had a looping feeling to it. It felt so good, positive and negative and ethereal. It struck me and I decided not to overthink it. It suited the kind of aesthetic I had in my head for the project.”
“It’s somewhere between Gorillaz and a solo project.”
You’re planning a run of small shows across the globe for LFT – will your guests be appearing at the gigs?
“I haven’t broached that subject yet but if people are around and up for it then definitely. Maybe that’s further down the line. I’ve got some small shows coming up, it just depends on people’s schedules. It also depends on how much of a ball-ache it’d be – if it’s literally turn up, plug in a guitar and go for it or days of rehearsing beforehand. It depends who it is and what they’re like. I would like to get them onstage at some point.”
Is this your Gorillaz?
“Yeah, it’s somewhere between Gorillaz and a solo project. I wanna keep collaborating and getting people on board, and if they’re around in the same vicinity and we can make it happen, that would be awesome.”
Love Fame Tragedy play the following dates:
September 13 – Moth Club, London
September 17 – San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop
September 19 – Los Angeles, CA – Moroccan Lounge
September 21 – Chicago, IL – Subterranean
September 24 – Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
September 25 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade
September 16 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
October 6 – Yours & Owls Festival, Wollongong
October 8 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
October 9 – Howler, Melbourne
October 10 – The Zoo, Brisbane