Off the Deep End: A talk with tour-happy WHARVES

Left to right: Matt, Scott, Fraser, and Mike of WHARVES at the Grace Darling Hotel, 2 November 2019. Photographer: Ivy Emily Trim.

WHARVES are the Aussie indie-rock band that will keep you grooving till your legs hurt and keep you company when your heart hurts.

Hailing from Lennox Head, WHARVES is made up by four of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet: Fraser Perrott on drums, Mike Watson on guitar, Scott Finch on bass, and front-man Matt Collins on vocals and guitar. With steady releases since 2016, including personal favourites ‘It’s You’ (2016) and ‘Man You Want Me To Be’ (2017), WHARVES have only become bigger and better since they won Triple J's Unearthed artist competition to play Splendour In The Grass in 2017.

WHARVES released their debut EP Sooner or Later just last year, a drawling, pulsating, and positively groovy record which feels like AM meets Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not meets the lovechild of Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. WHARVES will conclude 2019 having released two devastatingly handsome singles ‘BLAME’ and ‘Never Missed Anyone Like You’ with the help of their producer (and honorary fifth band-member) Steve Schram (San Cisco, Paul Kelly), who they’ve been working with since 2016.

We caught up with WHARVES before their ripper show at the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood on 2 November 2019, where they were supported by the incredibly fun Peach Fur and dreamy-as-hell Denise Le Menice. The Melbourne show was the first of their end-of-year national tour launched immediately after returning home from supporting DZ Deathray's UK and European tour in September and October.

The guys proved there’s no slowing down the WHARVES train as we talked about how far they’ve come since we first spoke last year, inscribing emotions into music, and vomiting all over the European continent.

How did it feel being back home from one-and-a-half-months travelling across the UK and Europe touring with DZ Deathrays?

Matt: There are certain things I've really appreciated about being back. It's so much slower.

Mike: For me it was birds, the ocean. There was just such a smell of native Australian trees, it was crazy. It felt like home, but I didn't want to be home.

Scott: The first night, just being in your own bed, was just really good.

How was your first overseas tour?

Scott: It was our first proper tour, where you're doing shows right after each other.

Matt: You drive two or three hours to the next city, check into your hotel or go straight to the venue and set up. It was proper lifestyle touring.

Mike: Six in a row was the most we did, which is unheard of here [in Australia].

With most of your time spent cooped up in a van together, what did you learn about one another?

Fraser: Scott lights fires! (All laugh)

Matt: Overall, we're pretty respectful of each other. We make fun of each other and everything, but I think we get along pretty well. We always pick up if someone's upset or something, or if someone gets sick like me or Scott did. Everyone looks out for each other.

Scott: There was a point where Matt threw up and his whole body was shaking, and we were all like: 'Dude, are you okay?!'. [Fraser, imitating Matt: “Fine, how are you?”].

Mike: Yes, we had lots of vomit in the van.

Was that due to some particularly bad hangovers, or did you come down with something?

All: Food poisoning.

Scott: A Vietnamese place in Cologne.

Matt: Jonah, our photographer, got it and destroyed our bathroom.

Scott: It was about 2am and I couldn't sleep because I was feeling really shit as well, and then I just hear him vomit in bed. I was like, 'Oh Jonah, are you okay?', and he's like 'Yeah! How are you?' (all laugh).

Fraser, imitating Jonah: “Yeah, I'm tryna sleep, asshole!”

Mike: And then Scott went under.

Matt: Everyone was like 'Oh, we're all going down.'

Mike: Then we had a six hour drive to Munich, where Scott was still throwing up.

Matt: He got a standing ovation from DZ for getting through that gig.

Scott: And then they kind of... all... ran away from me.

Fraser (proudly): But Mike and I didn't throw up once! Not once!

Did you guys ever get tour fatigue, playing shows night after night? What does self-care on tour look like for you?

Mike: Putting earplugs on, napping. I got a bit 'over' people in Antwerp. I just woke up and didn't want to talk to anyone.

Matt: I found that the van was quite good. I was just writing in my diary, keeping track of what we'd done each day, because it was just so much going on all the time.

Mike: It was quite overwhelming going into a new city where you don't have any idea, there's a new language barrier, and you're meeting a whole new crew at the venue. It gets pretty full on. But it's also amazing.

Did you guys find yourselves missing home while you were away?

Everyone: Nope!

Fraser: Sorry!

Your two most recent releases, ‘BLAME’ and ‘Never Missed Anyone Like You’, carry quite a melancholic undertone. Matt, as the lyricist, how do you go about channelling those sorts of darker emotions into what becomes the WHARVES discography?

Matt: There were two different ways they were written. 'BLAME' was a band jam that we liked and we were playing a fair bit. I took it away, wrote a few melodies and all the words, and told a story of a previous relationship I was in. 'Never Missed Anyone Like You', I'd written by myself, made an Ableton session, then brought it to the band.

I think a lot of great songs - even songs that feel happy - usually there's got to be a heart-wrenching thing in it. Even the best pop song has those darker lyrics.

A lot of the times I write, I don't really know what I'm feeling but I know that I'm feeling something. I try and zoom out and figure out what it is, and then the words will come later. Or I'll find words that I'd written separately, then try and make them work.

How did you select the five songs on Sooner or Later? Who would you say were your main stylistic inspirations for the EP?

Matt: We found songs that worked together and showcased two sides of us.

Scott: There's the party side of Mo's and All The Things versus the more serious, more stadium rock sound.

Matt: Bloc Party was a big influence on 'All The Things We Do'. I really liked David Bowie's 'Heroes' for 'Sooner or Later'. I even included a lyric - "Where are our heroes?" - that kind of shouts out to that.

Fraser: 'High School Hero' is a bit like 'Smooth Sailing' by Queens of the Stone Age.

Mike: Franz Ferdinand as well, 'Evil Eye'.

Matt: 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' by Ian Dury, 'One Night in Bangkok' (Murray Head)... Everyone who heard the song [High School Hero] had a different reference which made heaps of sense: 'Reminds me of the Clash, reminds me of DEVO!'

Looking at your recent singles, compared to earlier releases such as 'Man You Want Me To Be' and 'Buildings', how do you feel the WHARVES style has progressed?

Scott: It's always changing, but I think we're starting to nail it a bit more.

Fraser: I feel like there hasn't been a super consistent style in order for it to develop over a really long period of time, because there's been a lot of micro-styles within our overarching sound.

Matt: With the last lot of recordings like 'BLAME' and 'Never Missed Anyone', we wanted to not have to hide behind any production ... we just wanted to be like 'this is us, and this is the song'.

What’s in store for Wharves for the rest of 2019, and into the new year?

Scott: We’ll be done [the national tour] by Christmas, and then our second EP out early next year.

We've got four [songs] that are definitely ready - including the two we've already released -and trying to get one or two more for an EP. Then more touring!

Matt: A few little summer shows and then hopefully head back overseas. There will probably be a tour roughly April, then heading back overseas in May.

Would you be supporting or headlining the overseas tour?

Matt: Dunno yet! That's what we did last time - we knew we wanted to go to Europe in September, and we manifested it with the universe.

Listen to our last interview with WHARVES on The Grapevine with Ivy, May 2018 HERE.