What would our youths have been without Wheatus’ classic pop single ‘Teenage Dirtbag’?
Since its release way back in 2000, the song has stayed well within the collective consciousness. It’s been covered by the likes of Girls Aloud, 5 Seconds of Summer and One Direction. It’s even been lip-synced by the likes of Iggy Azalea – a true honour, we can all agree.
It seems as though we just can’t get away from that catchy tune. But, then, why would we want to?
Luckily for us, 15 years down the line, the New York based band are still going strong, and they have a whole load more songs under their belt to prove it.
This year, to mark their most epic of anniversaries, they’ve embarked on a European tour. Between gigs, we caught up with Matthew Milligan, the band’s incredible bass player, for a quick chat.
First of all, how are you enjoying the tour so far?
“It’s been great! It’s been really good. You’re talking to me and not Brendan [Brown] because he has come down with a little bit of a cold and his voice is a little bit tired. That’s why I’m doing the speaking so that he can rest his voice and still hit all the high notes tonight.”
Yeah, it’s important to conserve that voice!
“It really is!”
Where is the best place you’ve played so far during this tour?
“The best place? Oh, that’s a tough call. You know, we were in Gloucester last night and it was a great show. We were also in Bristol, in the Thekla, which is that one that’s inside the belly of a boat under water. That was really fun. We’ve played there a couple of times, but that’s always a great vibe too. So, probably one of those two.”
Is there anything you particularly miss when you’re on the road?
“I think what you end up missing is just alone time. Because, we all live together on this bus. It’s a lot of us, you know, it’s all the members of Wheatus and then the crew and the support acts. So, I think it’s a total of 15 people. For the most part, we just live on this bus together. The bus has beds that we sleep in and we just wake up in the next town. We also share a dressing room. So, it’s time to yourself that is the most scarce.”
Do you all manage to get on quite well when you’re touring?
“Yeah we do. We’re very lucky in that respect, in that we all get along quite well. It’s a good group. There are a few new people on this tour that we haven’t worked with in the past, but everyone seems to be getting on really well. In close quarters, if people don’t get along, you find out very quickly.”
‘Teenage Dirtbag’ is undoubtedly your most famous song. After playing it for the last 15 years, have your feelings changed towards it?
“No, we still love it. We’re very aware of the fact that that song has propelled us to this point and kept us alive. The song has just been too good to us for us to not still love it, you know what I mean? It’s helped us immeasurably. Honestly, whenever we play it live, it’s like the crowd still love it so much and everyone gets so excited that it’s hard not to have the same excitement in return. If anything, I think we’ve come to appreciate it more and more as it somehow continues to keep people coming out to see us.”
Yeah and, of course, loads of people have covered it in the past too. What would you say it your favourite cover version of the song?
“Wow, you know, that’s a tough call. When we found out One Direction were doing it, that was probably the most surreal – just because they were playing it to arena crowds of like 50,000 people a night. It was just so mind-blowing to hear that that was happening. Personally? A few years back, Weezer did it at the Reading and Leeds festivals and I’m a huge Weezer fan. The fact that that happened was just an incredible thrill for me and for most of the band. I’ve looked up to them since I was a kid.”
When you first started the band, what music inspired your sound?
“It was a combination of a lot of things. It was mostly Brendan. He’s the singer and the primary songwriter. So, most of the influences are his own. But, I know that growing up a lot of his influences were singer-songwriter types like Tom Petty and Willie Nelson. He was very into metal bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden… So, the combination of hard rock elements, but also it’s all about the song.
“And, the other one that’s a good example, there was a band called Soul Coughing that was based out in New York. They had a huge influence on the production of the first Wheatus record. And, coincidentally, Mike Doughty who is formerly of that band is one of our openers for this tour. We were very lucky to get him. That was a huge opportunity and the perfect opportunity to do something that fits in with the 15th anniversary of that album.”
Over the years, you have had a few different band members. How do you think that has shaped your music?
“I guess probably the most distinct change in the music was that for the first record it was a four-piece band, and then after that he [Brendan] decided to bring on two female backing vocalists and also a keyboard player. That was definitely a big part of the change of the sound of the band. We added a lot of keyboard parts and organ parts and female vocals, where Brendan could do a lot of harmonies.
“The new members that have come and gone have definitely influenced the sound a lot, but Brendan is very much the mastermind behind what we do. Most of the time, he will write a song almost completely in his head and bring it to us. It’s incredible, truly. And we contribute our ideas and flair to it, but, for the most part, it’s all him. I don’t know how he does it, but he does.”
And, for you personally, what do you enjoy most about making music for a living?
“Well, to be honest, it’s just the only thing that I seem to really care about. I love it so much. I’m the happiest when I’m on the road or in the studio making records. I’m very lucky. I think about it all the time – that I’m able to actually make my living making music. And, that I’m able to travel around the world and play these songs for people. I don’t know what could possibly be better than that.”
Can you tell us a little about The Valentine LP?
“Valentine was recorded in 2013 and it came out last year. The one before that was a series of EPs that we recorded live, but this was the first time we went back to a more traditional studio recording. It’s very melodic… a lot of great hooks. There are moments that remind me of the first record, for sure. The songs are much more complex and it’s a testament to how much he’s [Brendan] grown as a songwriter over the years.”
What can fans expect from the 15th anniversary show?
“We’re playing the first album in it’s entirety – a couple of songs on there we’ve never done before so that should be exciting. We’ve also prepared a bunch of songs from our other records. We have five albums that follow the first album and we’re very aware of the fact that, probably, a large number of people in the crowd have never heard anything but the first record. So, it’s the first album that you know and then a little bit of a sampler of everything else we’ve done so that you have a feel for what we’ve been working on over the last 15 years. We’re also not doing set lists – we’re doing it by request and allowing the audience to dictate the show.”
And finally, do you think Wheatus will get to see their 30th anniversary? Will you still be going strong?
“I hope so! It would be great. There were times over the last 15 years where I wouldn’t have even thought we’d get to this point. We’ve had a few moments when it seemed like things weren’t working out for us, but every time that happens, something occurs to bring us back up. Whether it be One Direction covering it or getting put into a film or commercial ad, people always get reminded of us in some way that reignites the fire a bit. Then, we find we’re touring again and people are buying tickets to see us. On this tour, we have more sold-out shows than ever before. The way Brendan says it on stage every night is that we’re going to keep coming back as long as people keep wanting to see us.”
Wheatus play the following European tour dates:
Sept 29: Key Club, Leeds
Sept 30: Academy 3, Manchester
Oct 1: O2 ABC2, Glasgow
Oct 2: Tunnels, Aberdeen
Oct 3: O2 Academy 2, Newcastle
Oct 4: Corporation, Sheffield
Oct 5: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
Oct 6: O2 Academy 2, Birmingham
Oct 7: Talking Heads, Southampton
Oct 8: Electric Ballroom, London
Oct 9: Boileroom, Guildford
Oct 10: The Square, Harlow
Oct 11: Waterfront, Norwich
Oct 12: Komedia, Brighton
Oct 14: Studio 627, Cologne
Oct 15: Storm, Munich
Oct 16: Konzerthaus Shuur, Luzern
Oct 17: Kulturfabrik Kofmehl, Solothurn
Oct 18: Backstage by the Mill, Paris
Oct 19: JC De Klinker, Aarschot
Oct 22: Loveshack, Durham
Oct 23: Engine Shed, Lincoln
More info at www.wheatus.com