Thursday, July 10, 2008
When it comes to originality and a true spirit of individualism few bands actually live up to or actively pursue these terms as resolutely as English four-piece Wild Beasts. Like them or not (and many are bound to be turned off within seconds of hearing lead singer Hayden Thorpe's piercing strident falsetto, a reaction Thorpe is comfortable with) they certainly don't sound like any other band on Domino's current roster.
Forming in the English village of Kendal, a place more famous for its mint cake, the four members have ties that run deep, developing without an older local fraternity to turn them onto any 'respected' music. "Growing up in a small place you just sort of know each other, you don't really know when you met. A lot of the kids I grew up with wanted something beyond working in a factory, so to say you wanted to be in a band was a pretty weird thing to say. We decided early on we had to lay our cards out and accept that we were going to have a slight weirdo status, and I think there is a slight arrogance in claiming that your music is good enough for other people to listen to. Particularly in Kendal."
The roots of this band are the key to understanding their odd position of having a decidedly polarising sound, being signed to one of the hippest labels in Britain and resolutely uninterested in, as Thorpe puts it, 'chasing the middle ground'. "We started playing and, right from the beginning, were adamant that it was a pure thing, absolutely untainted by outside influences. We kept it secret. We built our own studio, we hammered it out and learned craft. Me and Ben [Little, guitar] had the same guitar teacher, Jeremy J Jackson...I don't think he was a dwarf but he was really small and when he played out with his covers band around town he had to play a kids guitar. One of the things he taught us was that if you have the impetus to do your own music you have to do it, otherwise you'd end up playing the same 50 covers every week in an old people home like him. It was only once we got to Leeds that we started playing to people. In the beginning it was always received with a sense of minor shock that people would have the audacity to try something new, and a lot of people still think it's the worst thing they've ever heard. When we're playing to new audiences there are those two groups of people, one who can't deal with it and another who we appeal to because we're being a bit audacious and pushing the boat out a bit, and I'm happy to work with those people who are into it."
The move to Leeds was a turning point for the band and it's a place that, while not being home, is clearly very dear to them. "When we moved down to Leeds it was odd. The people we met and know in Leeds are all people we know through being in the band, so my life is pretty insular there. We're lucky we ended up in Leeds actually," Thorpe ponders, "we could have gone to Manchester, but it's a place not weighed down by it's own legacy, it's still inventing itself. We've always valued daringness in musicians and bands because we're so used to the mundane. It's an unusual thing for the musical landscape at the moment, people are actually surprised at genuine individuality and that's something we really value."
To promote the release of their debut album Limbo, Panto Wild Beasts have plans to visit Australia next year. A big fan of Australian author Tim Winton, Thorpe is very familiar with corners of this country, "I lived in W.A. till I was five or so I can buy into that lingo and the way his characters interacting with each other. The way Aussies communicate is quite unique, it's quite similar to England in some ways but it really has some unspoken sort of manners. Winton is an amazing writer, I've ripped off many a Winton line."
Though Winton himself might not see his influence, it's the lyrics that have garnered Wild Beasts some of their greatest compliments and criticisms:
"My top's off I'm a goose-pimpled god! / My girth rests upon the Earth, gunna give it what I got / The messed bottom bunk bed of the dead / This foul fallen nest, this dried up drooping breast / I hold my hips at his cosmic apocalypse / The world's a whoopee wibbling wantingly / On my crooked seat." - Assembly.
"I think the line is very thin," explains Thorpe, differentiating lyrics from poetry. "I don't even like the word 'lyrics', that word gives you the license to write dross with a nice melody. If you're going to sing these words and sing them for years of your life you should really take the time to make them interesting and meaningful. We spend a lot of time with our words, and I hope that in the long run people will value that. Sure they're difficult to understand and quite ambiguous - they tell half a tale, the rest can be made up by the listener. No song references anything. There is a different between poetry and songwriting, poetry has to define what it's about whereas in music the lyrics and melodies make their own setting and the words embellish it."
Describing the band as a pop due to the challenge they embrace attempting to compress their ideas into a commercial four minute package, Limbo, Panto was recorded in the gorgeous surrounds of Malmo, Sweden, a place the band travelled there for one reason only. "Tore Johansson." intones Thorpe solemnly. "Johansson worked with Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans, Tom Jones even Charlotte Church - a real spread of strange artists. He produces music that is radio friendly yet has integrity and dignity, music that is complex yet has character and can still be played on daytime radio. One of the rules we had was the first record would have limited effects, so we made it very stripped down, guitars straight into amps. We want to make music that isn't dumbed down yet breaks into that league of music that is open to the masses, we'll get there and we want to keep going toward that ideal." With stakes as unique as theirs, it's unlikely that they'll be losing their way anytime soon, and if they do, Kendal will be kind.