Wild Beasts


Just when we thought Wild Beasts couldn’t get any better, they’ve returned with a career-beating fourth album that positions them as one of Britain’s very best bands. Here, singer Hayden Thorpe explains how Present Tense “stepped out of the ruins of Smother… like the hero appearing from beneath the rubble.”

A massive congratulations on Present Tense, it’s fantastic. Now the dust has settled, how do you feel about it?

It feels as if we took it as far as we could have taken it. I won’t understand quite what we have done until the comfort of retrospect has set in. For me there are two polarities within which we must abide. One is an attempt, at least, at originality, which on the most part just means a new way of reorganising old ideas. The other pole is the bravery to put heart into the work. I’m not one for the ice-cool; I want to know the blood and guts of people.

Generally speaking, are you able to listen to your own records?

On the most part, yes, but I don’t undertake too many retrospectives to be honest. I listened to our old B-sides today, and it reminded me of our idealistic, cruder selves, the weird haircuts, the silly clothes. I was heartened. We’re an odd bunch of guys really.

How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since Smother?

I would like to think we have distilled the nature of what we do into something more clear-eyed, more focused, perhaps more direct. We attempted to instill this record with some optimism; not the thumbs-up, joke-cracking sort of optimism, but a sense of acceptance and resilience. This record stepped out of the ruins of Smother, chest puffed out, like the hero appearing from beneath the rubble. God, that’s over the top.

What did you set out to achieve sonically with Present Tense? Was there a plan?

We were drawn to electronic instruments. I feel we make music of the body – sensual music – and synthesisers are such a powerful tool when trying to evoke such things. Emphasis was put on adventure: I think the good stuff comes when you’re working in the space between the craft and the not knowing.

How did the creative process differ to that of your previous albums?

We took much longer in the making of this record. It felt like an indulgence we owed ourselves. I’m of the belief that, if an idea is good enough, it will always endure, no matter what you put it through or how long it takes. I guess we tested that theory: the album took 18 months to 2 years to make. Previously we churned albums out in a matter of months. You can’t go on relying on that youthful momentum; there comes a time when it is important to live within your work, to get to know better what it is you do well and not so well.

Were there any specific musical reference points? Or any cultural reference points that proved particularly influential?

I feel the record is a period piece; it is a product of its time. It’s a reaction to the sheer wealth of information and stimulus we endure every day. It’s a lucid realisation amongst the chaos of the now. We were quite happy drawing from very disparate and often juxtaposing influences: high art to low art from verse to chorus. We listen to a lot of ambient music – Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Philip Glass – but equally I was – and am – fascinated by Rihanna songs, Cyrus songs, Detroit house…

What attracted you to work with Lexx and Leo Abraham?

Lexx was of the royal bloodline, he inherited the throne. Having worked on both Two Dancers and Smother, he has a lot to do with our sonic identity. Leo conducted the emotional aspects of the record. He is very deft at realising the heartbreak moment.

Lyrically, where were you drawing inspiration from this time round?

I think we stayed true to character in our fascination with what I would call the big five: love, sex, birth, death and betrayal. What art is about anything but these things? The lyrics are our response to the pressures of the now; they’re about dealing with a swamp of memory at the same time as driving towards the future at lethal speed.

And that ties into the album title, right?

The now is sandwiched between our history and our hopes for the future. It exists in such a small sliver of time, constantly bullied by before and after. It is a lucid moment within the turmoil.

Wanderlust’ has been described as your most political moment to date. Is that a fair appraisal?

Probably, yes. It is a song about marking our patch, what we stand for, what we believe in. When undertaking creative work you have to decide what it is you’re not before you know what it is you are. This is our manifesto.

There’s certainly a sense of aggression in the closing refrain – what was the catalyst for that?

I have a personal dislike for the big business hijacking of emotionality within art. I feel it’s a cheap trick: by all means pull the heartstrings if you mean it, but how can you mean it if you’re singing in an accent that isn’t your own?

Is there a track on the album you’re proudest of?

I feel we worked for a long time to be able to pull off a song like ‘Palace’. It flirts with disaster, as if it could topple into the abyss for ever after. It is a very personal song which also requires a bit of bravery. Though I think the musical execution is what I’m most proud of: it is made of so little yet does so much.

What have you learned about yourselves making this album?

I do believe our greatest asset is our collective collaboration. We are old-fashioned in that sense; a proper band. It is by embracing the chaos of not knowing that all the happy accidents happen.

So what’s next for Wild Beasts?

Touring, touring, touring, touring.

And where would you like to be in twelve months time? What are you aiming towards?

Touring, touring, touring, touring. No, in reality 12 months time is a distant dark continent at this point. The not knowing excites me. I hope this record has the legs to get us there. In some ways the greatest achievement of any album is to allow you to make another album. Trying to give any order to the future at this point is a finger licked and stuck in the air; I don’t know which way the wind will blow.

February 2014