Interview Wild Beasts: That Dangerous Sensation Of Need

“I don’t think we’re ever at risk of over exposure, we’re a bit too weird.”

Wild Beasts are on the brink of their third album release. Two records down and a Mercury nomination under their belts, it’s easy to see why they might be a touch nervous of bringing out another album. However, for Wild Beasts at least, these nerves seem absent as we catch up over a coffee in East London. Frontman Hayden Thorpe and drummer Chris Talbot talk us through ‘Smother’, feeling claustrophobic and why they’re looking forward to Glastonbury so much.

Your album is out next week but it was recorded last year. How are you feeling about it’s release? Does the material still feel fresh to you?
Chris: I think there’s a time when you’ve got to let go of what you’ve created; it’s no longer yours. It’s happened already, in a way. We can’t claim ownership over that album anymore. What we do have to do is show our face and tour the record.
Hayden: I think there’s a really cathartic nature about what we do. There’s a lot of release in the songs and once you’ve had that release, you give them away, they don’t really belong to you. You have to be quite carnivorous about it and leave them for dead, in a way. I always get confused when people feel great ownership of songs that are years old because they’re our old selves. If you’re going to make an honest, true song then it’s at some point going to become outdated to you.

How do you think that dating process is reflected in live performances of older songs?
H: Live is a different thing in that you come to occupy the world that you’ve created and you live inside that world. On a good night, it takes you back and you can work within that world. That’s sort of our responsibility live, to delve deep and get back in. On a bad night, you’re just an empty vessel performing this thing as a monkey would, but it depends on the night and on the song.
C: I think any band that claims to love touring is probably forgetting why they started doing this in the first place, and are doing it for the wrong reasons. On those bad nights the last place on earth you want to be is on stage in front of people, half-arsed performing songs that you did a year ago. But it’s the nature of the beast; you’ve got to do it. I think any band would rather be in the studio recording.

Obviously, your sound evolved quite a lot between your debut and second album. Where has this path taken you with ‘Smother’?
H: It’s a lot more delicate, it’s a lot more understated. We’re not having to make such bold, sweeping statements, such obvious movements. I think we’ve realised that we can do things on a small scale and be subtle. It’s learning what not to do as much as learning what to do, it’s almost a greater skill to sit on your hands and allow the song the space than it is to try to fill it up. If you’re fearful about a song, you try to do too much to it. They’re quite simple songs so we’ve just let them be.

What concept takes centre stage on the record?
H: Good question. Essentially we exist in this line of unpicking the deep dynamics of people, again it goes back to concept of being cathartic, a sense of release. There’s something fascinating about revealing everyday, taken for granted dynamics that exist but people either choose to ignore or pretend aren’t there. There are uncomfortable but important parts to people involving sexuality and relationships that we have the same as everyone else. Our starting point is existing inbetween those places.

How do you think the Mercury nomination you received for ‘Two Dancers’ affected the way you approached ‘Smother’?
C: I don’t think it really changed anything. It was nice to be under the microscope and feel like we’d been accepted by the wider community. The nomination was very late in that album campaign anyway so we were already looking towards the next chapter at that point. It was nice to feel vindicated, that we weren’t banging our heads against a brick wall anymore and that people were listening, which is a really powerful tool for us to use now: we have people waiting to hear our next offering. Not winning is something to mention as well because the pressure that The XX must be feeling now is going to be the monkey that they’re carrying around on their backs for the rest of their lives.

Did you feel that you had to make this album more accessible to a wider audience?
C: We were always going to do something that was, amongst ourselves, quite insular. It’s always going to be an honest record with Wild Beasts. Whilst we’re calculated in some ways, we’re not calculated in what we’re selling.
H: We’ve always made music for ourselves, fundamentally. We’ve made music that we would want to listen to and would be important to us, and in that sense, we’re still making that for ourselves. I think it’s just a sense that we would hope people see in us what we see in ourselves, really.

We talked about playing old material earlier and you’re heading on tour very soon. How’s the new record going to fit into the live set?
H: I think we’ve just about figured it out and I think the songs are better. We realised when we went back to the old stuff that they might be a bit less direct but the whole record is about this immersion and stepping into a world and I think the songs really do that. They’re all from the same gene pool, they’ve all got the same DNA. It’s still us.
C: It’s definitely going to be predominantly new stuff that we’re playing. We wrote the record without really worrying about how it was going to be replicated live so we’ve had quite a task in the last six to eight weeks, picking apart all of that and stitching it all back together. I think it’s certainly a more morose album than ‘Two Dancers’ was but like Hayden said, they’re all one DNA.

With the shoe on the other foot, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at the festivals you’re playing this summer?
H: Oneohtrix Point Never ‘s playing at Field Day and he’s really one to watch. He’s amazing, immersive musician. We get to see Aphex Twin in Ireland, Caribou, Flaming Lips. At Glastonbury, there’s Beyonce, obviously! I think she is the genuine article, which is why it’s so exciting.
C: The nice thing about festivals is seeing some bands that you don’t know about yet. I know from a band’s perspective, you’re almost going into war, playing a crowd that isn’t necessarily yours, so it’s nice to stumble across a good band that are fighting their corner.

The album title, ‘Smother’, has certain connotations. Was that intentional? Were you feeling claustrophobic due to all the attention you received around ‘Two Dancers’?
H: Yeah, I think there’s definitely such thing as too much of a good thing. There’s that sense of I love you too much and that dangerous sensation of need. I think the last record did smother us in a way. We were definitely in an intense mind state because we started writing this record three days after the last show for ‘Two Dancers’. We went in with ‘Two Dancers’ at the start of the campaign as different people than we came out at the end. I think it was wanting to document that change in our psyche, we were definitely in an intense, smothered state.

With this album you’ve made trailers to tease fans. Was that your idea or was that down to your label?
C: They’re just like dangling the bait. They’re a very crude way of getting the excitement going.
H: I think word of mouth you can rely on if your album’s good. I don’t think that clever marketing campaigns can compensate for mediocre music. If you’ve got a good album it is important to consider how it’s being put across to people because there’s so many avenues now that you don’t want to be in people’s faces all the time. They don’t need to see us everywhere. I think the teasers were a good way of saying the music’s here if you want to listen to it and to get the mouth watering. I don’t think we’re ever at risk of that over exposure because we’re a bit too weird, in a way. Our music’s not really on that tabloid level, I suppose. Less is more, sometimes.

With this being your third album, are a lot of the people attending your shows the same or are you picking up a new audience with each release?
C: Certainly with the last album, it was ever-growing. It does feel like there’s been a core of people that have grown up with us - it’s been six years. It feels probably more special to those guys but we want to welcome everyone in.
H: There’s such a culture at the moment with needing to satiate people’s hunger. Every six months there needs to be this new thing, every month even. There’s nothing worse than feeling that you have to like something. There’s nothing more off-putting than someone saying, ‘Oh, you’d love this.’ There’s something about self-discovery that’s really important. If it enters your orbit, it means all the more to you. I think that goes back to how you put yourself out there and the teasers. We have the faith that people that would care about us and see worth in what we do will find us, be it on this album or on the sixth. A lot of our favourite music, we’ve come to retrospectively as well. It’s not all about the now. Again, a lot of our culture is so instantaneous but we’re not trying to make a point that’s going to be valid only this month, we’re trying to do something that will last longer than that.

Wild Beasts’ new album ‘Smother’ will be released on 9th May via Domino.

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