With a gutsy new sound, the British quartet is living up to its name. Natalie Hughes meets Wild Beasts to talk guitar solos, growing up and good shoes.
This article was originally published on MATCHESFASHION.COM.
It’s a warm summer morning in north London and Hayden Thorpe, lead singer of British band Wild Beasts, is admiring the chaise longue in the decadently furnished house we’re shooting in. ‘It’s like an opium den,’ he says, having arrived from a long train journey back from Cumbria, where he was visiting his mum. Drummer Chris Talbot has also just returned, from France. Bassist Tom Fleming and guitarist Ben Little are in tow, too. The shoot offers something of a band reunion, the first stop in the promo run for latest album, Boy King.
The quartet is refreshingly ungiddy, chatting about current affairs with tempered maturity and clothes with irreverence. Pun aside, this isn’t Wild Beasts’s first rodeo; the band has been active since 2002 – originally as a two-piece under the name Fauve, the French term for ‘wild beast’. Their unique brand of cerebral, anti-macho, melodic indie rock has won them critical acclaim, a Mercury Prize nomination, and sonic buoyancy in a sea of ephemeral, dime-a-dozen indie bands. ‘It’s been a very gradual slope, it’s not been an overnight success,’ says Talbot. ‘We’re not in our twenties anymore; we’re not four Peter Pans like we thought we were three or four years ago. There’s a fear of being invalidated – that has been the main drive with this record.’ Unsurprisingly, Boy King was hotly tipped pre-release, and the glowing reviews at the time of publication justify the hype.
Though their footwear may wildly differ – Thorpe is clad in work boots, Fleming’s in high-tops, Little’s wearing Paul Smith trainers and Talbot has a pair from his 50-pair-strong sneaker collection – each band member has their feet firmly on the ground, something bassist Fleming attributes to their small-town beginnings. ‘It feels like I’m always one pay cheque away from the job centre,’ he says. ‘That kind of hand-to-mouth thing is really important – having to work and knowing how fortunate you are, how far you’ve come and how long it took.’ Singer Thorpe speaks of his Cumbrian upbringing with fondness, revisiting it via one of his favourite books, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. ‘It depicts the Lake District that I recognise.’ I ask him if he likes Wordsworth; he shakes his head. ‘The romantic poets were always in the higher echelons; you had to be wealthy to write,’ he explains. ‘I’m more familiar with the machismo of growing up as a guy there. It’s a robust, manly, working-with-your-hands culture.’
If previous records have rebelled against bullish masculinity, Boy King pulsates with swagger, from predatory anthem Get My Bang to the punchy viscerality of Tough Guy. Are Wild Beasts living up to their name? ‘For me, it’s a very life-affirming, joyous record, but it’s also a very dark record,’ Thorpe muses, as lyrically as he does in the songs. ‘I think it celebrates the whole spectrum of human dynamic. You live out your darkest urges with the people who bring you the most light.’ This isn’t gung-ho rock ’n’ roll, it’s the thinking man’s version, despite the growling guitar. ‘I think we all fell in love again with guitars,’ Little admits, name checking Jon Hopkins and The Rolling Stones as influences. Speaking of musical inspiration, the band’s personal playlists are as eclectic as their shoes. During the making of the album, Fleming was listening to Swedish metal band Meshuggah, Talbot had Kanye West and Michael Jackson on his headphones and Thorpe’s listening spanned The Weeknd and Nine Inch Nails.
A kind of eclecticism found its way into the writing process, too. Fleming explains, ‘There were choruses from one song which are actually in another. Or a guitar part which Little wrote for one would resurface as the other.’ ‘There were a lot of rewrites,’ Thorpe adds. The final iteration came together with the help of producer John Congleton, with whom the quartet recorded with in Dallas, Texas. According to Thorpe, he added ‘a very American kind of laissez faire’, which likely explains the punchier, dirtier sound.
The hyper-grizzly basslines seem to lend themselves perfectly to performing live, and after a year of being holed up in studios, the band is keen to get on the road. ‘There are a lot more big gestures on this,’ Fleming enthuses. ‘I get to do some genuine guitar solos, which’ll be fun.’ ‘It’s a larger-than-life record,’ Thorpe continues. ‘We have to metaphorically go to the gym and drink a protein shake and fill it out a bit.’ Will the stage costumes be as bold as the riffs? ‘You’ve got to live a large version of yourself on stage’, Fleming says. ‘It’s putting on the red lipstick.’ Little adds, ‘It’s sad, but we call them “headliner pieces.”’ I suggest matching white linen suits. ‘More like a smart leather jacket,’ he laughs.
Thorpe’s the most sartorially daring of the band, dressed in double denim and lace-up boots on set and expressing a keen interest in classic American working clothes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as garments that blend of form and function. ‘Now I’ve reached my thirties, I need to consider, is this look going to be sustainable?’ he says. ‘To have lots of pockets and to have non-crease trousers becomes as beautiful as something beautifully tailored.’ He extols the virtue of a good shoe, specifically the patent lace-up variety: ‘You need to have a grounding; you need to be earthed.’
Wild Beasts may have grown up, but their reason for making music remains the same. ‘We’re on a chaise longue, I may as well psychoanalyse myself and why I get on stage,’ Fleming says, laughing. ‘Certainly, there’s a need to record. The extended adolescence of being a musician… We’re trying to tell lies to tell the truth.’