15 years-old is not a landmark that every band can reach and celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than a best-of? Since 1998, The Womb has been undergoing a constant mutation, evolving from one style to another, collaborating with numerous talents and voices, and still making great music all the way. As a testimony of these 15 years filled with music, this best-of is the perfect introduction to this one-of-a-kind band.
First of all, can you introduce yourself?
I am the sole constant member of The Womb, a band that has existed in various forms since 1998. We began as a bunch of schoolboys making music in a caravan in a small village in England, and after bouncing around various cities in the UK are now based in Melbourne, Australia. We recently released our 20th album ‘XX’ as well as a 15th anniversary Best Of compilation designed to introduce new fans to The Womb.
You've been making music for a long time now: indeed, The Womb celebrates its 15th anniversary with this best-of. How does it feel looking back? Do you see yourself releasing a "best-of, volume 2", to celebrate your 30th anniversary?
I’m very proud of the Best Of album and think the quality compares to just about any other greatest hits compilation you could name. When you hear all these songs sequenced together, it’s really striking how many great songs we’ve created over the years. It’s good to hear my various collaborators together on the same album, too. Collecting songs from different eras means the songwriting styles and genres are even more diverse than usual. I’m sure we’ll release Volume 2 at some point. It was really hard choosing 13 songs from the hundreds we’ve released to best represent The Womb.
You're a prolific artist, with more than 20 albums under your belt. Is this best-of a good introduction for those unfamiliar with your music? Selecting 13 tracks from your whole repertoire must have been a harsh task!
Yes, this compilation was designed with new fans in mind. The internet is a great outlet for releasing music, but it can be tricky for people stumbling upon our website to get an accurate first impression of what we do. We have songs in so many different styles that people could get a totally different sense of who we are depending on which one they happen to click on first. So the Best Of is an ideal starting point, featuring seven different lead singers and many genres of music, but a consistent quality of songwriting. If people find something they enjoy on here, hopefully they’ll be intrigued enough to dig deeper and hear some of the songs in the context of the original albums they appeared on.
Your previous material is being remastered. How is it, breathing new life into old material? Is this some kind of recovery?
I’m really excited about the remastered albums. Many of those early albums were recorded before I’d acquired the production skills I have now, so while the songwriting and performances are strong, the original mixes are often unlistenably lo-fi. So it’s been amazing to retroactively apply proper mixing techniques to those early tracks, and finally hear them as they were intended to sound all along. It’s made me realise how good a lot of those songs always were, and that it was only the mixes that were letting them down.
A variety of styles can be found on this best-of - and by extension, in your whole discography. How do you juggle with so many genres?
It’s always just been natural for me to jump from genre to genre, rather than stick to any one style. I’m constantly inspired by very different forms of music. One day I might be listening to Leonard Cohen, and be inspired by the quality of the lyrics to try writing words that powerful. And the next day I might be inspired by Underworld, and their amazing atmospheric textures. And usually that’ll result in me wanting to create something that fuses the best of both influences. Life is short, and there’s a lot of different music I want to make.
I also love contrast as a musical technique in itself. I love the way you never know how Primal Scream are going to sound on their next album, and I like to apply that philosophy from song to song. There’s something thrilling about a pounding techno beat kicking in unexpectedly after an acoustic ballad. Being diverse in style gives those individual musical choices more impact than if you stuck to the same genre for the duration of an album.
Most of the songs have a female lead voice. Why is that?
Some of our best songs have female lead vocals and it’s simply a sound I’m unable to create on my own. After 20 albums, I’ve just about managed to attain a respectable quality of male vocals – on songs like ‘Ex Ex’ you can actually hear me singing, as opposed to the semi-spoken style that dominates a lot of my earlier recordings. But I don’t have the vocal quality and melodic range that my female collaborators use to elevate their songs to a whole other level. It’s amazing being able to hand over lyrics to them, and hear the songs as I’d imagined them sounding, but would be unable to perform myself.
Do you write all of your lyrics yourself? Where do you get your inspiration for your lyrics, your sounds, your arrangements...?
I write all the lyrics myself, and that’s probably the only aspect of the sound I’m a control freak about. The only exception is when a friend of mine died before we were able to collaborate, and I was able to take some lyrics she’d left behind and put them to music. But I’m always open to musical input from others, and any collaborations with guest musicians usually have equal input from them.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. There are a lot of different songs covering a vast range of genres, emotions, subject matter, etc. I mainly try to inhabit each song fully when working on it, and maximise the unique qualities of each individual track. Music is obviously very therapeutic and like a lot of musicians I’m mainly trying to process and make sense of my life and the things that have happened to me, as well as the world around me and the way we relate to each other.
From the beginning, you chose to share your music for free. Why did you make this decision?
We released our first album in 1999 just as sites like mp3.com were starting to make sharing music online a possibility. I was amazed that making and releasing an album was not something you needed to wait for permission from a record company to do, but was just something you could do totally independently. So basically I didn’t want to wait to get my music out there. The Womb are not an easy band to sell, anyway. How am I supposed to put together a 3-track demo to send to record companies when we’ve got hundreds of songs in so many different genres? And the more I released music for free, the more it made sense for me to do so anyway. I’m lucky to have food and shelter and the ability to make music, and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the chance to hear it because they couldn’t afford it. So my music is free for anyone. If you’ve got internet access, our whole body of work is yours to download and experience for free.
I believe The Womb has never stopped evolving since its creation. It started as a band, then you went solo, and then accumulated numerous collaborations. A constant mutation! Is it safe to say that every time, the band renews itself and explore new fields?
Yes, moving around so much and working with different people has definitely added to the sense of diversity, which is probably why our Best Of album sounds like a compilation of ten different bands. It also keeps things fresh and exciting for me. We’ve released nearly 100 singles, and I love that our shortest single is a two-minute punk thrash, and our longest is a 36-minute piece of ambient classical music.
Every time I finish and release an album, I get really inspired by the blank canvas and the knowledge that I can go in whatever direction I want next. And I’ll get some idea in my head like “I’m going to make a surf-guitar album now,” but as usual, I end up working on songs in six different genres, so I end up with another album of totally diverse styles, but often with a common emotional theme that unites them.
Now that the best-of is out, can you tell us about your next musical project?
Having finished the Best Of and another batch of remastered albums, I’m just starting to put together some ideas for The Womb’s next albums. The last album ‘XX’ had some unusually long songs on it, meaning the album only ran to 6 tracks, so we’ve got a few songs left over from those sessions that I’m looking forward to developing. It would be silly of me to predict what the album’s going to sound like, but I’m definitely feeling inspired and like my songwriting and production skills are the best they’ve ever been. It feels like every album we release is our best one to date, so mainly I just want to keep challenging myself to keep improving and connecting with people through more and more powerful songs.