Gig preview: Wild Beasts at Canal Mills, Leeds

Wild Beasts. Picture: Klaus Thymann
Wild Beasts. Picture: Klaus Thymann
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It may be four years since Wild Beasts swapped the colder northern climes for the bright lights of London but it seems that Leeds, where the four-piece first flourished, remains close to their hearts.

Next week the band bring their electronic art rock to Canal Mills in Armley for a special festive celebration gig with an extensive supporting cast including East India Youth, Evian Christ, Nathan Fake, Fryars and Forest Swords.

Tom Fleming, Wild Beasts’ co-vocalist and bass player, agrees that the show – which rounds off a busy few months touring their fourth album, Present Tense – will be something of a homecoming for the band who found their feet in West Yorkshire after relocating from the Lake District in 2005.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to put something on in Leeds,” he says. “We missed it a bit on the touring because we’ve kind of been all around and it felt like an itch we hadn’t scratched.

“The album’s been out a little while now so rather than just come round and play a show we wanted to put something on.

“All the guys who are coming with us we are really big fans of and I guess it’s our chance to contextualise the more recent sound by putting on acts that we really like and I guess we kind of borrowed from a little bit.”

The night will be “a little bit of a party”, he says. “It’s a little bit indulgent for us to take some of our favourite musicians up to a town we know and love and also – I hope this doesn’t sound patronising – but to take some sort of adventurous music up north. It would be very easy to try and put this out at the Barbican or something. Also the Canal Mills venue which wasn’t there when we were around, it seems like a really cool space. Everything kind of came together and it was, ‘This is what we’re going to do then’.”

When Present Tense was released in February it became Wild Beasts’ highest charting album to date – reaching Number 10 in the UK. Its success seemed vindication for the band’s decision to take stock after extensively touring its predecessor, Smother, in 2011 and 2012.

“There was never a question that we weren’t going to make another record, it was just a question of how we did it, a question of really feeling like it again,” says Fleming. “The same way that Smother wasn’t supposed to be a real kick away from Two Dancers [the band’s second album], we needed to do something different.

“I think we were very cautious of making another ‘Wild Beasts record’. We had to go away and I guess use the experience we had to decide what we were doing next – and that took time. It probably took more time than we at first appreciated. We thought it would maybe take a couple of months and it ended up being a year.”

Musically, Present Tense signalled a progression for the band. The idea was to “dig deeper into the Talk Talk/Blue Nile axis of adult pop but also marry it to a more contemporary R&B sound”.

“We listened to a lot of hip-hop instrumentals, ambient music as well – older stuff like Brian Eno but also more contemporary stuff like Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker. It varies – what East India Youth’s done and Daniel Avery, those kind of artists, marrying those kind of sounds.

“As always we tried to combine what we’ve been listening to to where we were trying to go in the first place. What we try to do is wrestle with different kind of things and new techniques as well – these songs are much more computer-written.”

Fleming and co-vocalist Hayden Thorpe also had a desire to simplify their songwriting.

“When you’re younger you don’t really know what you’re doing, you work on instinct a bit more,” says Fleming. “After you’re written a few songs you’re aware that the shadow of selling out is much easier to attain. We had to learn from that and to think, ‘Let’s stay adventurous with this. The adventure was to try and strip back, it was to try and say less. I’d been thinking of songwriters who do just kind of say things and let them sit. Obviously we’ve got nowhere near this far but someone like Scott Walker – his lyrical style is to just state things out of context and let them sit and do their own work. We were trying to attain some of that flatness.

“We also talked a lot about things like English folk and how that is like bald statements of facts then you’re supposed to intuit sense form them. I think that’s something again we tried to keep in our minds. It’s supposed to be a type of communication, it’s supposed to say something about if not your experiences then certainly your kind of context.”

Life changes and the shadow of mortality also played their part.

“I don’t think any of us were the sort of kids who thought we’d be young forever, we never felt like the successful kids in that respect.

“The thing is our songs have very often been about sex and the thing about sexuality is very much connected with how things decay and how things change for people, I think there is an awareness of that.

“I don’t think it’s a morbid record but I think it’s definitely in there, an inescapable kind of shadow in the music and I do think that’s true of a lot of good music. There is an existentialness to really good music.”

The band have also talked about Present Tense reflecting the time in which it was written.

“I don’t think it’s an overtly political record but it’s about the world and in some ways it’s about what Britain feels like today. That’s filtered through our own oddball sense of what it means, but it’s definitely about the influence of technology and how people interact with each other and frankly how unfair things are. Life is pain and then you die, but then that’s true of everybody. It doesn’t mean there’s no beauty to be seen but ultimately things are difficult.”

Wild Beasts play at Canal Mills, Brandon Street, Armley, Leeds on December 11, 7pm-2am, £17.50.