Hometown: Kendal, United Kingdom
Members: Hayden Thorpe, Tom Fleming, Ben Little, Chris Talbot
For Fans Of: Antony and the Johnsons, The Smiths, Twin Shadow
Wild Beasts’ music delves into the cathartic and the reclusive, the visceral and the calculated. But rather than stirring up more raw emotion, the group’s mission for its latest record Smother was simple: to make something beautiful. And after hinting at its potential for two records, the English synth-crooners have not only created a beautiful album, but have expanded their musical repertoire.
The band’s third album Smother continues the heartrending falsetto-laced chords that defined Wild Beats’ previous efforts but with a greater emphasis on the electronics. Paste recently caught up with frontman Hayden Thorpe to discuss the group’s instinctual creative process, Frankenstein’s influence and the meaning behind several of the new record’s tracks.
: In your opinion, what are the biggest differences between Two Dancers and Smother?
Hayden Thorpe: The consciousness of these records is different. We came out of the Two Dancers campaign different people to those who went into it. Smother is an attempt to gather up and document all those bits and pieces which need acknowledging before they are left behind like a shedded skin.
: You’ve mentioned that this record takes inspiration from the classic book Frankenstein. Why was that an influence here, and why at this particular point in your career, when Wild Beasts are respected and recognized by more people than ever before?
Thorpe: I think the emotion translated in Mary Shelly’s book are far wider reaching and universal than just applying to our slightly freakish nature as a band. That sense of neglect, regret, heartache and not belonging are essential to the human condition. The Frankenstein monster is just an amazing symbolic vehicle for portraying those things. It is these essential human dynamics that fascinate me.
: You’ve described your creative process as a very instinctual one, where you initially just create music without overanalyzing things in the moment. Could you elaborate more on composing in that mindset?
Thorpe: Working in this way is slightly unexplainable, which it should be. All the most beautiful things are enigmatic and hard to grasp. I think the way we work is just a faith in the feel of things, we’re excited by the unknown, it heightens the senses. There is a thrill to going into the darkness not knowing what you’re going to come out with. I also think essentially we didn’t want to pretend to be making a record, often the space between the spark of an idea and it’s realization is cluttered and dulled by time, we were trying to get as short a gap as possible to give an edge, to capture this genuine sense of epiphany.
: With Smother, it seems like you’ve definitely shifted towards a more electronic focus. Why the change on this record?
Thorpe: Yes. We used a huge amount of new equipment, mostly synthesizers and software. We get a great deal of excitement from feeling like we’re going into the dark, not knowing what we’ll come out with. Using equipment in this way generates a sense of adventure, a crude approach devoid of too much thinking or calculus. It’s more instinctive. It’s important to dare yourself to do something new. For instance, if I picked up a guitar I would have a far better idea of how it was going to behave then I would a Juno synthesizer. But I went to the Juno every time because it threw something back at me from a blind spot, it revealed greater possibilities and space.
: There’s a certain sense of intimacy emerging from Smother. How has it been translating these songs to live performances?
Thorpe: I feel you can rely upon a fundamental human directness when playing live which allows an idea to carry along way. The flesh and blood of the songs will be there but maybe not the tiny details that you hear on record. It is the same gene pool though, the same DNA. And it is always our fingers and hands making the sounds. That’s vital to us. I suppose it’s our job to just give as honest an account of ourselves.
: How would you describe this record’s sound to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
Thorpe: Our mission statement was to make something beautiful. So would I would like to describe it as something of beauty, but also something real, pockmarked in places, uneven and weatherworn in places, but something essentially of good will and something which is hopefully healthy for the heart.
: What was the experience of working with producer Richard Formby like once again on this record?
Thorpe: Richard is in a way our guru, he’s our mentor. He’s the odd number to our even parts. I think we wanted to work with Richard again because we feel if there is trust and love and care between all the people who are involved in a record then it will translate and make for a more genuinely beautiful record. Some atmospheres and feels you cannot fake. I had the time of my life recording this album with my close friends. I think that comes across.
: Several songs stand out that I particularly love. Would you mind sharing a little more about the following songs: “Lion’s Share,” “Albatross,” “Reach A Bit Further” and “End Come Too Soon?”
Thorpe: “Lion’s Share”: A song about selfishness, mostly sexual selfishness. [It] plays with the idea of cruelty and the admittance of wrongdoing. It was an early song we had in the writing process, but we created a very Wild Beasts-almost-parody-seeming version of it. It was as if all of our singles had combined to create this sickly sweet monster song. We scared ourselves and stripped it back to its skeleton. The atmosphere is so descriptive of the atmosphere when recording the record for me.
“Albatross”: A guilt song. [It’s] reliant on the Coleridge classic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s about the heavy feeling of destroying the thing or person that guided you to where you are now—quite cathartic really. [It was] put together during my crude fumbling with recording software. The guitar was recorded badly in my front room during the early hours of one forgetful morning. We couldn’t replace the take though. It held a majesty we couldn’t recreate for all of its faults.
“Reach A Bit Further”: We wrote this collectively start to finish in about ten minutes. It fell out of us without too much thought. I think it was a result of one of the first demo sessions after not being creative with one another for eighteen months or more. We were heavily pregnant. It’s very instinctive. Benny had a guitar line, Chris bedded it with a beat. Tom had a chorus, I reacted with a verse—beautifully simple really.
“End Come Too Soon”: One of the first songs we had but the last to be finished. In a way it’s a product of all the other songs on the record. It’s trying to capture both musically and lyrically that very rare moment in time when you feel that you could quite happily exist in this current state forever. It’s a snap shot of that wholly euphoric feeling. Probably the hardest task of the whole record was trying to create that sense of woozyness yet hold on to enough structure to pin down the song. Designing something to sound undesigned is a tricky business!
: Tell me a little bit about the video for “Albatross.”
Thorpe: The woman dancing was symbolic of freedom, both physical and mental. It represents a letting go of learnt rules. Obligation, restraint of the bodily impulses. The insects in a way were a metaphor for the albatross, as in the Ancient Mariner. The albatross being the burden, the guilt that someone must live with as a result of their actions. We are trying to play with the relationship between letting go and holding on. We wanted something abstract and non-narrative, I really dislike videos that have that sense of “this is what the song is about”. Most of the time we need reigning on our ideas for videos, I always want some totally abstracted bizarre dada video. But we have MTV to cater for.
: What’s next for the band after the LP comes out?
Thorpe: Just to continue the cathartic process of what we do. No grand schemes. Just to keep learning, keep discarding the bad ideas for the good, hopefully. We’ll be touring a lot, we have ground to cover, people to win over, so the horizon is a tiny spec in the distance right now.