Since the release of their debut album 'Limbo, Panto' last year, Kendal indie foursome Wild Beasts have been appearing on critics' 'Ones To Watch' lists all over the English speaking world. The band are currently touring with its follow up, 'Two Dancers', an engrossing and novel record that proudly brandishes primal rhythms, even more primal lyricism and a set of perfectly twinned male vocals. I chatted to guitarist and vocalist Hayden Thorpe, a soft-spoken, thoughtful and all round gentile sort of chap, about his wonderfully unique falsetto voice, his love of Kate Bush, and how he's gotten better at writing pop songs. | Words: Jenny Mulligan
I was lucky enough to catch your set at Oxegen during the summer. You didn’t get the most respectful crowd. Did you enjoy it anyway?
That wasn't our best festival slot, but festivals are a different kettle of fish for a band. You've got to just to what you do regardless. Any gig is an absolute gamble, it;s a group of people who've been thrown together, but when you put that gig in a field in the middle of nowhere, and you take into consideration the weather and the fact that people have been on their feet for three days and are probably highly intoxicated, it becomes this animal that you've just got to allow it to be, you can't really fight against it and we just did what we did.
You played on Later… with Jools Holland last week. Was that good fun or was it a bit nerve-wracking?
Oh it was fantastic, I really enjoyed it. I was very nervous, to be honest, until the moment that the tape started rolling, and then I just got this sensation of 'now or never', really. I like the sensation of having to step up to the plate, you know, it feels good.
Was it strange to go onto a set that you're so familiar with seeing on television?
It felt surreal that's for sure, when you go on set, and you see old lighting and the old stage set. The atmosphere in the studio is actually incredible. What you see on TV is what you get, there's no camera tricks. It is an important show, definitely, because there's not a lot like it anymore, and it was a real victory for us to get on, because there's always a big scramble for bands to get.
I gather the name Wild Beasts is based on the Fauvist art movement that centred on the likes of Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. Is there something in particular about Fauvism that appealed to you?
It was the fact that they broke away from the norm at that time and did a few things that were different and because of that they were perceived as being a bit outrageous and unsubtle, but in time it's come to be seen as quite forward thinking and quite thoughtful. It's a good basis for us, that whatever you do will make sense in time, so don't worry about initial reactions.
And is that something you try to replicate in your music – to stand out from the norm?
I think it's a case of not getting swept away with what's in vogue. I've been in the band since I was sixteen, so it's seven nearly eight years now, and I've seen so many things pass by already. So I think its a good way of working. In the end it'll pay off not to get wrapped up in that.
Would you agree that Two Dancers has a more accessible sound than Limbo, Panto?
Yeah I definitely agree with that. I think it's more simplistic, it's more streamlined, it's more stripped down. 'Limbo, Panto' was an album that took us five years to write. If anyone writes an album over five years, or writes a book or makes a film over five years, it's going to be dense and complicated. In a way I'm really proud of it because no one else had any involvement with it, we weren't told what to do, it was purely our imagination, it was purely our vision. And because of that we could only surprise with what we did next, and we learnt a hell of a lot as well.
And were you conscious that the new songs were more accessible when you were writing them?
We always thought we were making pop songs. That was our goal, always to condense songs down into these little nuggets, three or four minutes long, that had hooks and verse/chorus/verse/chorus like pop songs. I think we just got better at it, because it's a unique skill taking big subjects and packing them down into these digestible sized things. It's like being an Ikea designer in a way, taking these big structures and making them sort of user friendly. And I think we got better at it.
As for the lyrics, the themes seem to be quite adult in nature?
I think lyrically, we wanted to come across as being as human as possible, it was definitely warts and all. It's very honest. I think what it was trying to show is people's vulnerability, but it was embracing the vulnerability and because we embraced it, it became quite joyful. "This is what's wrong with us, but hey, that's who we are, let's just get on with it", and I think that's quite a comforting subject.
At the same time, there always seems to be a sense of humour in your lyrics. Is it important to you never to take it all too seriously?
I think humour is a unique tool. It puts you across more than anything else. What you find funny is a marker of who you are, really, so in that sense it allows us to put ourselves across even more if we put our own sense of humour in. And people will get it, or they won't get it, depending on how they look at it. It's a bit of a risk on our part, because we could potentially turn people off. But in a sense it's useful as a kind of speed dating, 'do you like us or do you not?'
You're never afraid of turning people off then?
Not at all. At the end of the day, we can only make music that we would buy and that we would want to listen to. And we're not strange people, we're normal guys and there must be other people like us out there.
Obviously you have a very unique voice. Have you ever been classically trained?
No I was never trained. We were always so stubborn that we just refused to be taught. BEcasue we started so young, we were still at school, and the band was our way of doing what we thought was right, and we always refused any advice we were given. For better or worse, we like to learn the hard way. My vocals were developed with the words and with the music, so it was more of an entity, they're never really taken away from the music. I realised you could say quite ugly things in a prettier way if you sang like I sing, and also that's how I hear melody, that's how I sing best really.
I hear you're a fan of Kate Bush?
Yeah definitely, but I only discovered Kate Bush once people started saying that I sounded a bit like her. And that was quite a breakthrough for me to find her, because then I just fell in love straight away and bought all her albums. I think the great thing about Kate Bush is the more she pushes, the further she goes, the more outrageous it gets, the more you want. She's addictive.
Has she influenced your songwriting?
Hounds of Love and The Sensual World especially. The production of those is very, very intimate and almost grotesque, it's almost a little bit perverted, and we sort of liked that sensation.
What other artists have influenced you?
I think Marvin Gaye was definitely an influence, in the continuity of his albums. They were all in the same book, in the sense that each song is a chapter. We wanted to capture that.
And also a lot of electronic music influenced this album, like Junior Boys and The Knife and all sorts of early 90s dance. In a way we were trying to play very efficiently, and play in a groovy way, but ultimately, we're not machines, and I think the fact that we left those human glitches in made the album more endearing. We didn't try to fix it up with computers, I think a human groove always works better than a computerised groove anyway.
Do I hear shades of The Smiths in there too?
Yeah I think The Smiths were a big deal, they way they crucially moved as one animal. They were a set piece, there wasn't any hangers-on. And also the way the music became a soundscape for Morrissey to narrate, I think that's something we strove for.
What’s next for Wild Beasts?
We're just in the middle of touring 'Two Dancers'. After we come back from Ireland, we're going to Europe, then we're going to Australia and then America. It's a case of just bringing up this album. It's like having a kid and having to bring it up properly, making sure you do everything for it, to give it the best chance in life.
Wild Beasts play the Limelight in Belfast on Wednesday November 4th and The Academy, Dublin, on Thursday November 5th.
Watch them perform 'We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues' live on 'Later... With Jools Holland' below