After battling clinical depression and citalopram, the mind-numbing medication he was prescribed for his condition, Liverpudlian alt-rocker Matthew “Murph” Murphy came to a conclusion about real life: “It’s best to get beaten up by it a little bit than to try and live in a haze,” he says.
To cheer himself up, the Wombats bandleader began hanging out in Los Angeles, where he currently resides half the year with his new girlfriend and pitbull mix. He wound up composing “Glitterbug,” a concept album about the city featuring shrewd, playful-pop singalongs such as “Headspace,” “Emoticons,” “Greek Tragedy” and “Give Me a Try.”
The move started innocently enough. The Wombats, who play San Francisco Thursday, frequently toured California promoting their first two albums, 2007’s “A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation” and 2011’s “This Modern Glitch.”
“After we played Coachella or the Fillmore, I’d always go stay in LA because I had some friends there,” says Murphy.
At first, the showbiz mecca was daunting. But, Murphy adds, “As time went on, I started to see the spiritual side of Los Angeles, and how friendly everyone is. But I also noticed how spiritual people have this dark side, too – this dark urge for success. And that’s kind of what the album is about.”
Murphy heard the adage that nobody walks in LA. But to learn more about his adopted home, he began hoofing it every day, studying people and taking songwriting notes with his cellphone.
“I just kept meeting random people, like Sacha Baron Cohen, who was wearing a T-shirt that barely covered his midriff,” he recalls. “Even if I was jetlagged, I’d go out and walk around and see what was happening. And you see such extremes of life. On Sunset, you’ll see a parked Lamborghini, and someone sleeping five feet away from it, homeless.”
There were some scary moments, like when his dog got loose and grabbed a tiny terrier in its jaws. He managed to pry them apart. “But the dog’s owner – who was quite possibly the calmest person, ever – was pretty cool with it, while I was certain the animal’s neck had almost gotten snapped,” he says, still horrified.
Gradually, a “Glitterbug” protagonist emerged: “An aspiring artist with a populist background, someone that didn’t really fit, who became real to me, halfway through.”<./p>
Murphy hasn’t gotten into yoga, therapy or other California clichés.
“Some days, I’ll wear the odd crystal around my neck,” he admits. “But I’m a fan of … of just weirdness now. In Liverpool, people were turned off by it. Whereas to be odd is something to be praised in LA!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Popscene, Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S..F.
When: 9 p.m. Jan. 22
Tickets: $17 to $20 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com