Music interview: Wild Beasts
Being one of British pop's most articulate and creatively restless bands, Wild Beasts have never been ones for standing still.
In August the four-piece are due to unveil their fifth album, Boy King, a record that swaps the sleek electronica of its predecessor Present Tense for the youthful vigour of electric guitars.
“Electronic music is kind of maths and algorithm and I guess we felt the logical step forward from there, were we to continue that meticulous music by design on Present Tense, would be to don lab coats and make music in the lab, as it were, or don the leather jackets and embrace the chaos and carnal force of rock ’n’ roll – and it was always going to be the leather jackets route,” quips singer and guitarist Hayden Thorpe about the band’s latest change of musical direction.
“By nature we’re a band and I think we embraced our teenage love of the guitar and how it was a kind of tool against adulthood. When you’re a teenager it’s that weapon against authority and when you embrace that teenage prowess again you kind of make music with the lightness and joy of teenagers – and we’ve been making music since we were teenagers together.
“I guess in many ways we became the band that we initially set up to be against. Those rock gestures, those cod Americanisms were against the effeminate and gentle first formings of the band, so it’s strange how we’ve gone full circle, in a way.”
Publicity for the album has mentioned a “newfound friction” between Thorpe and the band’s co-frontman Tom Fleming. Thorpe believes it’s the key to their creativity. “I wouldn’t say it’s newfound,” he says. “All bands, in their nature, it has to be this chemical composition between people and it just emits such force and energy, it’s kind of like a nuclear reactor. It’s up to you to harness that energy and to get behind it and let it guide you.
“Obviously if you get too close to that energy it can be radioactive but we did come to the record with disparate ideas. I came with these quite heartbroken, soul songs and Tom came with his axe and skyscraper of amps and, you know, it took some navigation but we began to release that these songs of heartbreak and pain of my own, of anguish, were about the male sensibility within myself and the broken structure of that and we came to realise that Tom’s axe-wielding was in many ways the perfect artistic, aesthethetic representation of the broken man.”
Thorpe has talked of letting his “inner Byron out” on this album. He admits that bohemian side had been tucked away for safekeeping for a while. “I think it took me time to realise if your grandmother and your parents-in-law listen to your record and think you’re a nice boy then you’re probably making terrible art,” he says. “I came to realise it’s the kind of id and the corruption within us that needs satiating – that’s what music and art is for, it’s to reveal the cracks. No one ever made music because they’re a nice person.”
Having also talked of Boy King being an ‘apocalyptic’ record, he admits to feeling a general unease about what was going on in the wider world while he was writing its songs. “We don’t exist in this kind of bohemian balloon, we are amongst it ourselves, we’re working people like everyone else. We made our first record [Limbo Panto] just before the recession [of 2008] and now our fifth record is coming out just after Brexit and it feels like the backdrop to our musical career has been amongst the slow breaking down and degrading of the adult world we thought we were moving into and I think that has informed the music. There is a sense of bewilderment and pain and frustration, this wasn’t the adult world we were promised.
“That said, this record in response to that is supposed to be a party record. It’s kind of a defiance of the weight, it’s saying ‘Yes, this is heavy but we can wear it with a lightness and dance.’”
Wild Beasts are due to kick off their British tour with two shows at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. Thorpe says the band, who spent their formative years in Leeds, regard the Hyde Park venue as “ground zero”. “It really is our birthing pool, if you allow me to put it like that,” he chuckles, “and there’s no coincidence as to why they’re our first two shows. It’ll be getting on for ten years since we first played there and it feels like the right place to present this record and to start from there.”
Wild Beasts play at Brudenell Social Club on July 26 and 27. Boy King is out on Domino Records on August 5. For details visit http://wild-beasts.co.uk/