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Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 2nd May, 2011 9:45AM

With Hayden Thorpe's operatic vocals and a musical direction divergent from the resurgence of Brit pop that was rife at the time, Wild Beast's 2009 album Two Dancers garnered its fair share of critical acclaim, including a 2010 Mercury Prize nomination. We caught up with Thorpe to discuss how 18 months of touring has affected their new album, Smother, and ultimately why home is where the heart is.

So you're at home at the moment, what have you got coming up?

Well, we'll probably be going on tour for a couple of years, so we're just trying to make sure all the bases are covered because we haven’t had much time of late.

How do you feel about going on tour for such long amounts of time?

I think it’s very challenging. I think there’s something unhealthy about one hour of your 24 hours being the essential thing that matters, and the other 23 hours don’t matter; it's just your one hour on stage. You gather some amazing experiences and see some amazing things, but you're putting yourself up against the danger that you’re away for so long that when you come back there’s nothing to come back to. I think realistically if we weren’t a touring band then we’d get bogged down in our own lack of diligence. Touring provides a wealth of information-gathering and knowing what works and what people enjoy, and there’s something to be said for being travelers and getting things first-hand. Being an onlooker and you go to new places and you see things with a fresh eye. I think you get an insight into the human dynamic. You see things as they are rather than getting bogged down in the everyday and becoming accustomed to peoples behaviours. You see things with a fresh eye and that’s a really important part of the creative process for me.

And so obviously all this has affected your musical direction?

Definitely. Touring has been really important in terms of latest album, mostly because we were desperate to not tour the same album again. We were absolutely horrified by the thought of going on tour and touring an album about touring. We were really freaked out by that so we made it our main mission statement to create something beautiful that would be hard to re-enact live and was a bit more remote and nostalgic and harked back to the beauty of our home really. We grew up in the Lake District which is a really spectacular, beautiful part of the world and the further we go from our roots the more we’re drawn back to it, and the more those landscapes inform what we do so sure. Touring has had an enormous effect. The title Smother refers to the sense of comfort and the sense of homeliness and this almost ‘I love you too much and I’m smothering you’ idea. I think we make music that we want to hear so when we’re away from home we try to reflect things that make us comfortable.

Tell us a little bit about the writing and recording process of Smother:

We spent about 18 months with fragments of ideas – little pieces of the jigsaw; there was no real concise trajectory. It was all possibilities. Then we had these ideas floating around and we had our last show for the last album on a Thursday and the following Tuesday we started doing this album straight away. We felt very empowered and very pregnant with ideas and we were desperate to capture them and I think again, it references the pillow and where we were resting our heads. I think we were tired and exhausted from 18 months touring but we rested our head on this album and this is where our dreams and our thoughts were. We like to work instinctively and we didn’t want to disappear and then come back and over-think things because I think the more you stick to that initial idea and the realization of that on record the more magic it has.

How do you see this album as a progression from your earlier work, music or otherwise?

There’s no doubt we're so happy with these records because I know it wouldn’t have been made without the other two records being made. There’s a level of subtlety and intuitiveness, and we wouldn’t have known how to make these songs the way we have without having made the songs we have in the past. We probably would have been too heavy-handed. We've learned it’s the smaller ideas that can be the most powerful and we’re trying to condense what we do to make things smaller and simpler. We’re almost to the point where we’re working backwards again. We’re cruder and more fundamental with writing and trying to use three chords when it would be easier to use five. Wherever we can cut the fat to make it more lean and efficient we are trying to do it. We make pop music, but pop music has this dirty name for itself because it assumes that it has this dumbed down nature and we're trying to produce music that goes against that.

More generally, what informed the Wild Beast's sound?

I think we were desperately frustrated and bored with the environment we were growing up in. For a long time England was going through this Brit pop hangover where every piece of guitar music had to be a certain way. I think a lot of our music is informed from a rejection of this. Our first record was a real avant-garde Dada reaction to all the really mundane everyday-ness of the music we were hearing; it was all stereotypical rock band music in the vein of Oasis. We grow up with those bands but when you grow up with them you sort of grow out of them and realize you can and should think differently and that’s how music should regenerate and recycle itself. We think relying on the sound of other bands is entirely wrong. We get the most excited by doing something that we know has the possibility to go wrong and do things that make you think "wow we got away with that spectacularly, that could have gone so wrong." I think that’s the most exiting. In a sense our sound has developed from going into the dark and seeing what we come out with. Our philosophy has always been self taught. I think at the end of the day it’s part of the tapestry of what we do and there’s this unspoken magic about it. I don’t want to figure it out myself – I want some of the ambiguity to remain. When the four of us close the door it’s the four of us and that’s the sound that we make and that’s exciting and magical.

How do you feel music coming out of the UK at the moment is stacking up, compared to the "Brit pop hangover" you mention?

Um, it’s hard to tell generally because there’s constantly new waves, but I think in general I’m a bit worried. I think the music we’re hearing is reflective of the safe, right wing ruling powers and I think there’s a real fundamental problem with the ethos at the moment which is to keep the rich rich and do things that look right on paper rather than all the most beautiful things are completely pointless.

Arguably though, when there's been problematic governments in the UK in the past, there has been great moments of creativity. Do you think this could happen over there?

I think you’re completely right and I think we will I think this will be amazing. The first thing the government did was to massively cut the arts. Where there's a will there's a way and it’s like water; you can’t really hold it back and it will find a new route. It will find a new gully and I’m really desperate for that to happen over here.

By Courtney Sanders