Wild Beasts have, for a long time now, been the band to have soundtracked every night out I go on. I don’t mean that I go to some special bar where all the DJ plays is the four-pieces discography back to back (although this would be great), but their tales of love, lust and everything in between retold through lush layers of instrumentation and gorgeous vocal, have shaped how I see the world when most my vision is blurry.
The band, from Kendal, have recently solidified their place as one of the UK’s best bands of all time with their new album Boy King, a ballsy rock album, something that no one, not even the band, thought they had in them. On September 28th they will be taking over Motion for a huge show to celebrate the new release, so I called up singer and bassist Hayden Thorpe for a chat just before he hit the road:
How’s packing for your upcoming tour coming along?
Yeah, good. You kind of have to put your life into deep freeze. You know in those sci-fi films where someone’s put into a cryogenic chamber and when they wake up they’re lightyears away from the place they got in at? It kinda feels like that. The Hayden I know will be frozen, and I’ll thaw him out in a couple of months and hope that those lightyears haven’t taken their toll.
Your new album has signaled a change in pace of sorts for the band, with more boisterous sounds dominating. How has it been playing these songs live?
I’ve found it a very life affirming experience to be honest. I get to be both the good cop and the bad cop, both the villain and the hero. I guess that’s the dynamic of the album; both myself, the band and masculinity, are quite ballsy and bold, and I like to get to be that guy. But it also has a hint of vulnerability and honesty, and that’s very powerful to put in front of people. It’s been a different experience. It’s our fifth album and this one has felt different in some ways. But it feels different in a way I like, it feels different in a way that has taken time to be brave enough to get to.
Just by the nature of your music, you must have to slip between these good cop and bad cop ‘characters’ from song to song.
Exactly. To put it in a freudian way, I slip between the ego and the superego, and the id. All three! I get to be the animal and the intellect. But I guess that’s what performing always is. It’s always a highwire act, and terrifying in some respects. But all the most life affirming and powerful things tend to be terrifying in the end.
With the new songs sonically very different, have you found yourself having to bring a whole new set of gear along on tour to recreate it live?
Well as I play bass for the most part, my personal role is as the band’s mate who can’t play very well and gets told what to play; my role is as simple as possible. But for the other guys, yeah they’ve been constructing some other shit with their feet and I leave those concerns and stresses to them. But I think the spirit of this album has been leaning upon the fact that we’ve been playing together since teenagers so really it’s been incredibly intuitive to put on stage. It was kind of built for that, it was kind of it’s purpose.
So the album is a regression of sorts to teenage you?
I’d say less a regression and more a completion of the circle. We’re going back to the place we began. The first chorus of the first song on our first album is “Men to be men, must love and pity / So deeply and secretly” which I think is kind of our manifesto. We took a veer left to try and make a point about ourselves and our lives and the men around us, and that left eventually went all the way around the roundabout. We’re kind of becoming both men.
Does it almost feel like you’ve switched perspectives from the man to whom you were viewing on your first album then?
I guess in many ways. You have to go to greater and greater lengths to get the same sensation from work. You have to dare more and more, and risk more and more, to get the same nauseating, but very fulfilling sense. So in some ways I can appreciate why it might seem that we’ve gone more blunt and less nuanced, but if anything we’ve reabsorbed and reimagined all those things. I think it takes greater deftness and craft to pull off what we’re doing now than what we were capable of before.
When you released second single ‘Celestial Creatures’, you posted on Twitter that it set the sonic tone for the new album and, I feel, it bridges the gap between Present Tense and Boy King. Is that how it felt when writing it?
I think it was a real bolt of lightening for us. That song began as a light piano ballad and we kept dialing it up and plunging it’s face into the darkness, and eventually it took. We realised that we could make music that was both tender and spiritual, but also heavy and dark. That was a new thing for us. But I think you’re right that it was a bridge point.
Did it feel weird to ‘dial up’ your sound rather than reduce it?
If anything, when we took the record to [Boy King’s producer] John Congleton, we scaled it down from where it was. Maybe part of the process for this, and being locked in a room together for an entire year, is that you can begin to overthink and over fiddle. That’s why it became so important to make this such a break and get away from our sense of comfort to see what was useful and what was superfluous. We had no intention of going over old ground. That felt like a bit of a death knell for us; just making a record with dad rock sensibilities and careerism. There was an absolute refusal to do anything that was career-safe. No band releases a debut like Limbo Panto and then creates something that’s career-safe. We’ve never been careerists. That’s what I’m proud of [on this record], the bravery. If people don’t take the record to their heart or are not into it, I completely feel that and that’s fine. But for someone to turn round and say ‘you were safe’, it’s just the greatest of insults.
Was it refreshing to not ‘overthink’ songs?
Present Tense was an album of meticulous design. [Recording] that was a surgical procedure and the patient was often hanging between life or death, us with a scalpel in our hands. This time we wanted to just let it burn and see what happened. That’s why I think it’s more robust, because we let it be that creature. I think also that often overthinking is the death of a good idea. The shorter the distance between the initial spark, and its realisation normally the more powerful that idea is.
Were the lyrics more of a gut reaction than before?
The lyrics are a very superstitious, invisible process. I can never recall when a song came about. It’s like panning for gold; you keep panning away and little bits pop up. As a process, it didn’t feel any different than before, but I think me as a person came from a different place. For life reasons, for growing up reasons, for collective reasons. There is an aspect of being in an emotional state where I’d just say “yeah, let’s go with that, let’s go down that route.” Also the craft of having done it for a while mean I’m able to nail that line a little sharper, a little quicker.
Visually, the new album has looked great as well, with your new logo and striking set of single covers. Can you talk me through the album artwork?
It was very much a collective process with us and a company in Brighton called I Love Dust. They had done some significant work with LeBron James, so they were used to making these mythical images of men and we wanted to create something that almost seemed mythical. So the anguished face is supposed to look almost greek, mythological, like Colossus or Adonis. We also lent quite heavily on Metropolis and the existential crisis of technology and morals of that film. But also we wanted it to have a bit of sleaze about it. We wanted it to look like the kind of record you’d put on in some dive bar in or downtown LA. It’s supposed to be the limey band in America type look.
Finally Hayden, is there any song that you’re particularly looking forward to playing on the upcoming tour?
Well I’m a bit of a slut, so applause of any sort massages my ego. But it changes night to night. Some nights I embody and exist within that song, and are that guy again but then that next night that song will feel like a mask. It’s always a collective experience. The more I see people responding to something the more I lean into it. Very rarely do I think “we played that amazingly and the crowd hated it”. Normally the two go hand in hand.
Get tickets for Wild Beasts’ Bristol show on DICE here