Photo: Jack Johnstone

Interview Hayden Thorpe on new album ‘Moondust For My Diamond’: “There’s an unlikely wonder to my work now”

The former Wild Beasts frontman on channelling the natural world for solo LP2.

Hayden Thorpe has never been a small thinker. With Wild Beasts - the band he fronted for five critically-acclaimed albums until their split in 2018 - he helped create fantastical musical worlds that embraced inquisitiveness and intelligence. On 2019 debut solo album ‘Diviner’ (during which time, he graced our April cover), the Kendal singer dug further inside than ever on an album that we labelled “sparse, haunting and frequently stunning”.

Now, he’s back with its follow-up, ‘Moondust For My Diamond’, and where ‘Diviner’ felt intensely vulnerable and intimate, his latest fleshes things out with brighter moments of positivity. Steeped in spirituality and nature, Hayden explains how moving back to his hometown, letting go and leaning into life’s more mystical forces has led him to LP2.

Now you’ve had a bit of time to reflect, how do you look back on the time around ‘Diviner’ and the experience of stepping out alone for the first time?
I think I’ll always remember that period of time very vividly because I was experiencing everything in a new way. They say childhood is such a rich time in the memory because nothing is habitual, there is no auto pilot. There was I, a grown man going into the world as an individual for the first time. I was learning about myself in real time as the campaign went on. With each show I realised, ‘Oh! I can pull this off’. During interviews I was reminding myself that I’d better finish my own sentences. ‘Diviner’ was a pretty soul-baring record too, so the public intimacy was a little bit of a shock, but one I was glad for. I wanted to feel that overly close sensation, only there does the serious dance happen.

What lessons do you think you took from that debut, and what did you want to push forward second time around?
I went on an inner man hunt for the ‘real me’, expecting to reach a kind of destination within myself. But the further I ventured, the more I realised there is no ‘real’ to be located. I came to think the legend of our time is the one story we tell of ourselves to the world. So I stopped looking in and began looking out. A songwriter’s trade typically assumes that emotions must be waved wildly like a flag, but I got more interested in the flag pole.

You suffered from some throat problems whilst making ‘Diviner’ that you said made you need to sing in a different way. Are you back in full flow on this record?
I would say so. For some of the songs, vocals took one go without even consciously meaning to, and others took meticulous effort and patience. I wish there were a more definite manual to singing but the truth is songs need you to inhabit their skin and sometimes you have to wait for it to fit right. I guess much of the craft is about being the best pretender you can possibly be until the day you’re no longer pretending.

Tell us a bit about the writing process of ‘Moondust For My Diamond’ - where were you based and how did it come together?
It’s a real multi pack this one. There is no definite location as to when and where it was made, I pieced it together over five years or more. Quite a few songs ripened together like a fruit bowl, one sets the other off. I guess the connective tissue between them all was the meditative state of mind I was looking to capture. And capture is a strange word to use because I realised you can’t capture the subconscious at all, you have to lay in wait and let it bubble up. So it became a beautifully optimistic process; I kept faith that the right words and chords would emerge if I were open enough to allow them to. A go-out-and-get-em attitude might have scared off the substance I was after. This reads a lot like laziness, but it was more subtle than that.

“A songwriter’s trade typically assumes that emotions must be waved wildly like a flag, but I got more interested in the flag pole.”

You've said 'Moondust...' looks at "the meeting point between science and religion". What does that mean for you? Do you naturally tend to align yourself with one side more than the other?
I’m definitely a science guy, but I see it as a grand narrative rather than being an ultimate truth. Science is a belief system written according to our best perceptions of the universe. But our perceptions are just the one channel we tune into amongst a whole rainbow of possible channels. Science allows us to tune into other channels like tree sentience for example. Religion gives form to those channels we can sense but cannot comprehend. That’s where music comes in, the vibrations of our universe that configure within our brain to give form to an order that would otherwise go unfelt. I think that’s why our songs are so much about love and spirit, because they are the invisible values that stitch our reality together, the dark matter of everything.

Has the making of this record and the exploring of these topics led to any big personal shifts or revelations for you?
I keep coming back to my favourite Leonard Cohen line in 'A Thousand Kisses Deep': 'You live your life as if it’s real'. And that’s just it, we assume ourselves to be a definite thing but we’re just a temporary cessation of chaos, but ultimately still a chaos. Maybe the surrender to that had allowed me to let go more. As a result, I’ve become more interested in the natural world and less interested in the human world, if that makes sense?

On this album, there are spoken moments where your Kendal accent really comes through - what influence does your hometown have on you or the record?
Being away from the chatter and hubris of the big city does focus the mind a lot, there’s nothing I have to front up here so I get on with things according to my own instincts rather than any group think. Living beside the mountains also crushes the ego, everyday I think, 'Man, I am nothing'. If you see someone in passing here you tend to talk about the landscape rather than each other, I enjoy that.

Tell us more about the breath workshops and dives into psychedelic therapy that you've been doing alongside making this record.
I’ve become really interested in treatments that don’t medicalise our humanness. Sadness for instance is an ostracised sensation, something 'other', not useful to a 'successful person'. If we don’t honour sadness in all of its flavours then we lose the richness and value that sadness can offer, we sever head from heart and we lose nature and the processes which govern life, death, decay and regeneration. Breath work and psychedelic therapy aren’t new, they’re method of healing as old as time that’ve been overlooked in favour modern medicines. Integrating them into my own life has been a fun musical journey as much as anything, the sounds and shapes of those altered states are exciting.

What does 'Moondust...' say about you as an artist and a human at this point in time?
I’d say it’s the sound of a control freak surprised at the sheer joy of relinquishing all control; there’s an unlikely wonder to my work now. I hadn’t expected that giving less of a shit about things would make room for other better things to grow of their own accord.

And finally, tell us one thing that's made you smile since we last caught up with you in 2019.
I’ve got a pet hedgehog living in the garden called Nettles, I rescued him off the street one day, he was a youngster quite lost, just a hoglet. I feed him cat food and he eats some and slips and slides in the rest. I’ve not seen him for a while, he’s probably tucked up for the winter.

'Moondust For My Diamond' is out now via Domino.


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