Interview Wild Beasts: ‘We Almost Justified Our Existence’

Tom Fleming explains why it’s rare for a band to reach four records and not question everything. DIY goes in the studio.

“We’re coming.” Two simple words on the surface, but look a little closer, you’ll learn they signal much more. The return of Wild Beasts is imminent, and it all began when they made a live return last month, pre-cursored by that tiny sentiment.

2013 was admittedly a rather quiet year for the four-piece. Having completed a rigorous touring schedule for their third album ‘Smother’ in December 2012, it was given the true send-off that it deserved when they performed it in full at last year’s ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas. The next ten months, though, were to mark a new era for the band; it just so happened that it all went on behind closed doors.

“To be honest with you,” starts the band’s Tom Fleming, on just why it was important for them to stay away for a while, “I think with the last couple of records, they almost bled into one another. Certainly, the touring did, so we’ve been on the road for almost four years solid. I think we just wanted to go away and - to be honest - re-engage with what it is that we want to do.

“Rather than just make another ‘what we thought should be a’ Wild Beasts album, we wanted to really decide where we were going and what we wanted to do; why we were still doing it, because not many bands make four records. When we started out, I was twenty and now I’m closer to thirty, so where can we go from here? What are we really interested in and what do we want to say? We almost justified our existence.

“We work mostly on gut instincts, and that’s partly been from necessity. For once, we had a bit of time to go away and think about… I’m saying ‘think’ a lot, but it’s more about giving it the time to develop. Obviously, there’s a point when you have to get back to your desk to really work, but also, songs at first are pretty fragile things. You’ve got to them be what they want to be.

It turns out the process was key in the birth of the band’s fourth album. What with the ever-constant rigamarole of touring, the band had become so accustomed to life on the road that it was difficult to pull back into the real world. Within the suspended reality that band life had become, Fleming explains, it was important for their feet to touch upon real ground again.

“While playing shows is an absolute joy, touring can be monotonous. It’s not a real world situation and you can’t really make music about the world if you live like that. You become this weird kind of tour-boy; there’s a temptation to believe that the world revolves around you because there’s this self-affirming echo chamber of me, me, me. You’re going places and people are cheering for your songs and it’s great, but it’s not real. You’ve got to kind of live in the world to have anything to say about it. If you want it to be, it can totally be an extended adolescence. I think we’re all kind of been there, done that now, but it is an alternative reality.”

It seems that that same idea - of getting back in touch with the outside world - has filtered directly into their forthcoming album, as Tom offers. “It’s a bit more about the world than about yourself.

“I think we wanted to sound like a gang again and shake off that slightly mournful, inward-looking feel of the last record. I guess, where ‘Smother’ was quite a gentle record - quite textured and foggy - we wanted this to be more brash. When a synth comes in, it’s in; you can hear the joins a bit more. It’s weird because it’s a more electronic record, but we’ve tried to avoid that trap of being produced in that sense, being perfected and stuff. I think it sounds more like the band of ‘Limbo, Panto’ days than ever.”

Developing the sounds of ‘Smother’ has also seen them attempt to shift the outside perceptions of the band. “I think we didn’t want to be ‘adult contemporary’. I think we wanted to demonstrate that we’re older and wiser, but we’re not heading to the suburbs just yet. The thing is, a band like us could potentially make ‘Smother’ again and play to a slightly bigger audience but where do you go from there? That’s a complete artistic dead end. We wanted to demonstrate that we learned something, but certainly to not settle down into anthemic tourist territory.

“I think, for want of a better phrase, we wanted to repel the beards a little bit. The slight dad-rock crowd; with touch points like Kate Bush, Talk Talk, it’s very easy to slip in to a facsimile of that. We’re very aware that this is 2013 and we can’t do that.”

Their newest full-length also marks a change into production direction: having recorded both ‘Two Dancers’ and ‘Smother’ with Richard Formby, the band decided to change things up a little with their fourth effort. “Well, the thing is,” Tom assures, “we will work with Richard again; he’s an inspiring presence. It was just that we’d made two records with him and we wanted to try something different. Lexxx mixed the last couple of records, so he kind of inherited the throne, as it were. He’s very good on sonics. Both he and Leo have kind of a pop background; they’re kind of like the new generation. I think they were very interested in making, essentially, a contemporary sounding record. Lexxx has been a software engineer and Leo is a great session player as well as a producer. I think working with new people always gets different stuff out of you; it can be better, it can be worse or it can be neither of those things but it’s certainly different.”

With new people, came new environs too. Despite spending the majority of the process writing in London railway arches - “this is a record very much made in London circumstances: space is really expensive, it’s a cramped city, so a lot of it was composed on a computer first, and then played in a room” - they did manage to escape for some time, when they relocated to a studio near Bath.

“It was brilliant. The difference in breathing space and mentality just can’t be underestimated. The live room had windows! I’m talking about it as a luxury but it is a luxury!” he laughs.

“It was a really beautiful part of the world and we’ve always liked the sense of de-camping. I do like London but it definitely gives you a certain outlook on the world, so it can be helpful to escape that sometimes.”

Wild Beasts are set to release the follow-up to 2011’s ‘Smother’ in early 2014 through Domino Recordings.

Taken from the December-January Class Of 2014 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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