Saturday, December 19, 2009
Upon their imminent arrival to these shores, Wild Beasts’ singer HAYDEN THORPE tells ANDY HAZEL about gleaning inspiration from suppressed violence and sex in English country towns.
With their second album Two Dancers still clogging up Best of 2009 lists, Wild Beasts have enjoyed an warm critical and commercial reception since the release of 2008’s Limbo Panto. The first album announced the idiosyncratic nature of the band and, most notably, the piercing falsetto of singer Hayden Thorpe, an instrument that Two Dancers sees somewhat restrained, allowing for a richer and more sonically diverse album. “With the first album we put limits on ourselves because at that early stage in any artist’s career it’s easier to say what you don’t want to be than what you do. Once we’d done that, we didn’t have to repeat it. We enjoyed our freedom from that point onward. Making the first album was a huge learning curve, was a crash course in a way, and it informed the second album in a big way.”
With Limbo Panto noted for it’s imaginative musical clarity, and lyrical and vocal drama, Wild Beasts immediately set themselves apart from any other currently popular British group, polarising audiences with many still disliking the band for its ‘pretentiousness’ and ‘the singer’s voice’, both views Thorpe is willing to leave uncontested.
Deciding to record the album in their adopted hometown of Leeds instead of Malmo, Sweden was a very conscious decision to expand their sonic palette and challenge themselves again. “In Malmo we were young guys, eager for adventure, and very much open to learning,” Thorpe intones carefully. “We wanted to inherit Swedish pop tricks and by the end of making Limbo Panto I did feel I’d done a five-year degree in six weeks. That experience meant we had new knowledge that we wanted to put into place straight away. [Two Dancers producer] Richard Formby did our first two singles on a local label and while he’s not quite our mentor he has always had a wise word for us, always suggested and implied rather than instructed or restricted us; in the studio he’d never say no. Making Limbo Panto felt like making a new age recording, we had used a lot of computers and very cutting edge Swedish methods because that’s what they’re like. Richard is very much in alliance with the old methods of tape recording. Two Dancers was a collision of two worlds and it worked; our new knowledge and his standards met beautifully. We recorded straight to tape which gives you discipline as you only have five or six goes at each song, and much of the time was spent just getting the sounds right, then picking through takes which gives an energy and enjoyment in the playing.”
The idea of duality and pairing is clearly forefront in Thorpe’s mind, inspiring the album’s title, as he animatedly explains: “Two Dancers…it’s as if it was always there. The dancing theme is quite big for us, the rhythms and things, what we were trying to get at was uncovering behaviours that people suppress to do with violence and sex. A year spent touring watching people in the front of us losing themselves night after night, as figureheads you feel king, you recognise it as a beautiful and rare thing. A lot of people have to work very hard for a small percentage of time in enjoyment. We wanted to capture the essence of that small part of people’s lives. Dancing is letting the body rule the mind and letting go. Two Dancers was a reference to the fact that we fell into the classic boy/girl template of songwriting, which was very freeing; we know where we’re starting form so we can go somewhere new and interesting.”
Going ‘somewhere new and interesting’ could almost be a band motto. Likened to 80s legends Kate Bush, Orange Juice and The Associates, the band have a sense of constantly challenging themselves and are gradually amassing a like-minded fanbase. Though not sounding especially ‘80s’, there is a sense of freedom about the band that could be associated with the early 80s vitality of pop music. A time when genuine characters and genuinely new ideas and amalgamations of styles existed in the public eye; when an 8-minute minimalist ode to a long-dead French composer recorded on a home 4-track could crack the UK Top 5.
“I think a lot of people ‘got it’ it,” explains Thorpe keenly. “The album was a very much designed as a user-friendly streamlined thing. In retrospect, Limbo Panto was a very dense and complicated thing, you needed rules to understand it and enjoy it, people can move more quickly into the second album. Before, we were breaking down the door with a sledgehammer and busting into the room and now we can walk through the door in a more composed manner.”
As you can see, Thorpe thinks carefully about his words and, judging by his lyrics, has a vocabulary rarely seen this side of Morrissey’s heyday. Raised in the British village of Kendal, Thorpe puts this approach to lyric writing down to his love of reading (with Australian author Tim Winton being a firm favourite, discovered after Thorpe spent formative years living in Fremantle) and the supportive nature of his hometown. “I think ultimately the grape tastes like where it’s grown and it’s very much like that with music too; you can’t dig up your roots because the tree dies. I have a strong bond with the place, a strong connection with the atmosphere and the landscape. It’s very grounding and humbling, vast and beautiful, you see yourself as a small thing rather than another face in the city. I couldn’t go back to Kendal to live though. Leaving, I felt slightly like a creature of the deep getting pulled above the water and seeing things for the first time, having said that people there have been very supportive of us. A few weeks ago we were on [British TV show] Later, with Jools Holland, I went out to the pub after and people were shaking my hand and acknowledging me so I think there is a sense of pride. When we did last show of the year us in Kendal it sold out and that was a good indicator. I’ve got a younger sister who is studying at the school I went to. When the 16 year olds are given a lecture on their choice of career after leaving school, they used us as an example of working and making a living in the entertainment industry. I wouldn’t want any child following in our footsteps!” he says laughing.