Interview w/ Wild Beasts


Wild Beasts’ lyrics aren’t stymied by cloyingly banal word choices, instead they are aplomb with unique textures and colorful petals. And while the band’s lyrics can be pleasantly barbed, the delivery of the words, sung with aloof playfulness and sometimes even carnaptious snark, come off as fascinating as they are multilayered and rich. Wild Beasts’ love for all things literary is evident, as their subject matter resembles a gumbo of everything from Charles Bukowski’s thorny carnality to Oscar Wilde’s bottle-conditioned wit. Frontman Hayden Thorpe and company’s newest record, Smother, has built upon their last album’s successes as a Mercury Award nominee by jumping onto the UK album charts. Cinema Spartan caught up with the horned poet laureate, Hayden Thorpe, to talk about the band’s emergence as a critical darling.


Robert Patrick: In an era that is so dominated by mp3 singles, digital play lists and instant gratification by way of electronics, do you think that people have been desensitized to the practice of sitting down and listening to full albums as they were intended to be listened to?

Hayden Thorpe: Yes certainly, though it’s hard to say if the electronics have created this high turnover culture or our culture itself demanded that electronics are designed to gratify the need. For a long time people have been able to change the vinyl, the tape and the CD. It’s just a bit less physical now with the mp3. I just think the great scramble for “newness” has created a lack of concentration in many of us, including myself.


The day before you guys played Later with Jools Holland you were told that you cracked UK’s top twenty list. What was on your mind when you heard this news, and did it affect your performance on the show in a positive way the next day?

Perhaps it helped the confidence a little. It felt good to break out of that strange eccentric box and carry a bit of extra weight. Though in the moment the performance is always a sharp cocktail of panic, bravado and exhilaration. TV isn’t a natural habitat for musicians, I can never quite get my head around the audience of millions watching from the other side of the lens.


If you had to choose one song, for a first time listener to hear, which track would it be and why?

Maybe “Reach A Bit Further”. I think this song demonstrates our instinct. It wears our DNA heavy on it’s sleeve, perhaps because it was written very collectively and very quickly. It makes for an easy entry point. All of our parts our quite emblematic of our character and style.


Everyone wants to know why your music is so carnal. To me, the nuances in the band’s lyrics are humorous, sad, introspective and playful. Do you ever feel surprised at how often people bring up the sexual content of your lyrics? Do you feel that people misinterpret them?

I change my thoughts on this constantly. Today it comes from the thrill seeker in me. That element of danger, victory in the mouth of potential disaster, it is always a draw isn’t it? Where is the fun in being safe? The words are cathartic for me in that sense. I gain a sense of release. Existing in the space between comfort and discomfort are where the real mechanics of who we are lie. I don’t really ever feel the words are misinterpreted, they are there to be interpreted, to be pushed around, to be prodded and probed. They are what you tell me they are and never visa versa.


There is a sort of continuity that I have noticed with the band: each album has had an even ten tracks with none of them going over 45 minutes. What I’m getting out of this is that succinct is more. What is the strategy that the band has when you guys go about making a record?

There is nothing worse than an outstayed welcome. You don’t want to the clutter the clarity of your message. I suppose in that sense we rely on pop’s great philosophy, that functionality and simplicity must come first. Everything beyond that point is decoration which must be justified. Ten is just a natural round number for an album. It creates a clear beginning, middle and end. It allows for balance. We always have more songs to use but have never found reason to use them.


There is a certain literary elegance in the way that you guys cherry pick words for your songs. Are you guys influenced by classic or modern literature?

Absolutely both. Classics are always more modern than we give them credit for, and modern literature is a product of it’s past. I think in tone and consciousness we try to be relevant and up to date in a sense. Though equally if you rely to heavily on your era then the aging process isn’t kind on you. You get wrinkly and worn it places you really don’t want to be.


The band has been nominated for the Mercury Award for “Two Dancers”. And while the band has often said that reviews and awards are not a compass for personal success, was this particular nod a sort of bedrock of confidence for the band going forward?

It was an important level of acknowledgment for us. It opened us up to people who wouldn’t necessarily have had an easy access point to our work and that was the most empowering thing. It gave us a little room to breath. Once you know a certain bunch of people are listening then you don’t have to work so hard at being listened to and can indulge more in what it is that they will listen to. It allowed us to plunder deeper depths.


Do you think that Pitchfork Media is the new Rolling Stone magazine to today’s music consumers? Is the website an asset to artists and readers or can those stamps of approval really create black marks for bands that do not receive praise on the site?

There are repercussions to a lack of endorsement, but over endorsement carries it’s own pitfalls in the long term. It is an asset to artists, but more than ever nobody’s word is gospel, influence is perhaps more evenly spread than we like think. It does worry me when publications begin to wallow and relish their own power, it feels a little medieval, thumbs up or thumbs down, to be saved or to be slaughtered.


The mediums of music and film often seep into one another. Have films ever influenced you in any way when creating music? What are some of your favorite movies?

Almodovar’s “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown” had a big influence on this record for me. Lyrically more than anything, which is strange bearing in mind the film is subtitled. Though I think the subtitles throw out interesting, sightly skewed versions of what was meant and I loved the clumsiness of that. Maybe when you have to read dialect in a film you take more notice also, instead of just sitting back and letting it wash over.


What was the band’s process for adding synthesizers into the newest record? How did the band agree on the changes for the newest album?

Any agreements are always unspoken. There’s never really a plan of action or blueprint before we begin making a record. It feels as if the record is already there, it always has been, you just have to find the right tools to uncover the fossil without damaging the detail and spoiling delicate parts. Synthesizers crept their way onto the record, it wasn’t so much of conscious thing, it was more of a filling in of space. We explored space a little more in general. Laying it on thick at times and going skeletal at others. Creating greater contrasts always garners a more dramatic effect.


For more on Wild Beasts, visit their official website, their Myspace page, or follow them on old trusty Twitter.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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