Hearts of darkness
With their fifth album, Wild Beasts have unleashed an ‘emotional apocalypse’ of brutal, relentless brashness. ‘I didn’t think we had this record in us’, frontman Hayden Thorpe admits to Lauren Murphy
They have always been the weirdos, the outsiders, the band that are just that little bit out-of-step with their peers. The difference between the Wild Beasts who have just released their fifth album and the Wild Beasts who put out their debut album in 2008 is that they “fucking embrace it” these days, as frontman Hayden Thorpe succinctly puts it.
When the band were recording Boy King in Dallas earlier this year, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was beginning to gain momentum.
“I think that kind of climate did play into the record,” Thorpe says, “in thatwe became more emboldened to celebrate being different, and our weirdness amidst that kind of fearful and hateful rhetoric. We really felt this sense of ‘I’m going to be unashamed to be so weird and so different’.”
Over the course of four very different albums, Wild Beasts have become one of the most exciting and innovative bands on the music scene, shedding their skin with each release and slipping into a different mode, a different style, a different way of doing things. For Boy King, that meant “becoming everything they were afraid of”, as Thorpe puts it.
“In fairness, we’ve never had the kind of Goliath type of successful record that we’ve forever had to adhere to – so our strength is in our creative nimbleness, as it we’re. We’re the tricky winger who can be the flair player,” he laughs .“In many ways with this record, we kind of became all of the things that we objected to being.
“The band started out as this kind of artistic vision, with these high-minded ideas and effeminate presentation, and that was a response tothe macho gritin rock at the time of our incarnation.
“There’s a real joy and liberation to becoming that thing that you thought you’d never be,” Thorpe says, “and I’m kind of enjoying being that guy. I didn’t think we had this record in us, so it came as a surprise to me, too.”
Although they have previously touched upon themes of masculinity, sex and the concept of dualities on songs such as All the
King’s Men and Plaything, the title of their fifth record refers to the dominant theme of the “lad” culture that permeates society.
The concept is dotted liberally throughout the album, underlined by lyrics such as “Now I’m all fucked up and I can’t stand up/ I better suck it up, like a tough guy would”, “I like it messy, don’t you make it neat” and “We are vigilantes, we’re on the streets, we’re running free/ And you can have me anytime, just flaunt those come-to-bed eyes”.
Though Thorpe’s soaring fal- setto remains intact, the lush and delicate moments of their past albums are few and far between on
Boy King, replaced by a brutish, relentless brashness, both lyrically and musically.
“I guess it’s a fallout record, a post-apocalyptic fallout. And by apocalypse, I mean emotional apocalypse,” he says. “There’s very little romance on the record, there are no love songs. It’s more about the satiation and gratification of those very functional needs – those id desires, the carnal desires of being human, I guess.
“It’s a celebration of those aspects, though, because I guess the world teaches us to hide away our animalistic tendencies; we’re supposed to be higher-minded than that, we’re supposed to be better than that. And we’re not, y’know? They’re the mechanisms by which the world goes around; they’re the mechanisms by which we exist.
“And I love that; there’s a joyousness to that,” Thorpe says. “That’s what music and art is for - to give some tangible shape and sense to those parts of us which can’t be reconciled, which are so crazy and just a mess.
“It’s carnage in there,” he laughs. “And y’know, good luck to you if you don’t feel like that, but my god, I do. So the Boy King was a kind of mythical alter-ego - this kind of all-conquering, all-powerful male figure, this hyper-male that is bigger and more powerful than I’ll ever be. But I get to be the guy that channels him.”
Tapping into that pruriency is a result of both experience as a musician and in life, he says.
“I’m 30 now, and what has come wit habit of ageist here a lisation that the darkness, the abyss, is the real fuel. And rather than make music that turns away from it, it’s actually a case of harnessing that darkness, turning in to it. That was a real breakthrough for me–that my dark sideisaspower--
The world teaches us to hide away our animalistic tendencies; we’re supposed to be higher-minded than that, we’re supposed to be better than that. And we’re not
ful as my light side.”
The quartet have embraced the darkness musically as well, judging by the audible sense of grime underneath the fingernails of these songs. 2014’s Present
Tense caught many off-guard with its incursions into bullish electronica and syn th pop–particularly after the soft, im mer sive th rob of 2012’s Smother, which paid homage to the likes of Talk Talk and Blue Nile, the latter a long-standing influence on Thorpe.
Boy King picks up where they left off in 2014.“We’ve mentioned Nine Inch Nails a lot, and The
Downward Spiral as an album that really galvanised us and made us realise there was a huge emotional resonance to that kind of heavy music; that distortion and weight,” he says of their musical touchpoints this time around. “It spoke to our angst and our energy, and that really changed things. “I heard the song A Warm
Place and that really blew me away, because it was made in 1994 and it reminded me of Burial, or something. I began to realise that these delicate, soulful songs that we were making could actually tolerate the harder, distorted sounds – and they could becomemore emotionally powerful. That was a big impact on us.
“A good example of that is the song Closer, which has the chorus ‘I wanna f**k you like an animal’ and is this self-loathing, kind of masochistic, funky sex song, I suppose. That in itself was an inspiration, just that audacity.”
So Wild Beasts push the envelope and strive to avoid repeating themselves with each album . But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a long-term strategy in mind.
“As long as we’re a relevant vehicle for expression for ourselves, then I guess we’re still a living, breathing organism,” Thorpe says. “I certainly have no desire to be a heritage band; I have no desire to keep flogging the circuit and keep rolling out ‘Wild Beasts albums’. To me, that sounds like suburban death. I hope we realise, when the supernova comes, that we can get out of the way. But bands are like nuclear reactors, and they do have a half-life.”
Thorpe has spent the last few days in Leeds, visiting his old haunts and reflecting upon what the Hayden that pushed Limbo,
Panto tentatively out into the world, hoping that it would sail and not sink, would think.
“I went for a run around my old haunts and it was kind of creepy, taking pictures of the houses that I lived in,” he admits with a chuckle. “But it was a nice sensation to stand outside these houses as the guy I am now, and think: ‘Would you take this position now’ – that boy who moved into that terraced, red-brick house in a run-down estate in Leeds – and be able to answer ‘F**k, yeah’. ‘Would you wanna come back to Leeds in 10 years, having recorded your fifth album in Texas? F**k, yeah.’
“I don’t credit us being in this position because of any sort of innate talent or gift; it’s just come from being able to hold our nerve, and being willing to take it.
“Being the outsider,” he says, sighing contentedly. “Eventually, it pays off.”
Boy King is out now on Domino. Wild Beasts play Electric Picnic on September 4th
“I guess it’s a a post-apocalyptic fallout. And by apocalypse, I mean emotional apocalypse.”