Wild Beasts are one of Britain's best bands. They have remained one of the most constantly innovative and exciting guitar-based groups ever since they released their 2008 debut album Limbo, Panto, and although critically acclaimed, are criminally little-known in America. Hopefully, their stunning fourth album Present Tense will change that. It's a wonderfully balanced, mature record, that sees Wild Beasts blending bold new electronic elements with the detailed, imagery filled lyricism and rich vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming that have become the band's hallmarks.
With Present Tense out February 25 (buy here), we spoke to Tom Fleming about the new album, the constant sensory overload of modern city life, and that surprising Lady Gaga remix. Listen to Wild Beast's recent mix of songs that influenced the new album (plus a beautiful Leonard Cohen cover) while you read the interview below.
It’s been three years now since the release of Smother, are you approaching the whole album release process differently this time, having given yourself more time between records?
Yes, definitely. That was part of the point. To be perfectly honest with you, there was a sense of exhaustion about touring for so long, and touring the same record, especially a record that was so not designed for touring. It’s almost a very gentle record.
Smother is quite personal, it’s quite a private record...
Yeah. And then suddenly, we were playing quite big festival stages. Ever since we made our first record in 2007, we’ve pretty much been touring records, touring records, touring records. And also, the thing about working in music, is it’s so ‘me me me me me’. So I think we wanted to go away and really think about what we’re doing and re-engage with what we like about music, why we think it’s important to us, and what we want to say.
We wanted to go away and really think about what we’re doing and re-engage with what we like about music, why we think it’s important to us, and what we want to say.
So I think that’s what that time was for. And through touring a lot, this was the first time we actually didn’t have to rush back in the studio because we weren’t absolutely broke! Any record is finished when you run out of money. That’s pretty much how it goes. We had more money, so we took more time, and we really wanted to—four records in—make sure this one was right.It signifies a new period for us. The last two records were companion pieces in some ways, they kind of play off each other, they were recorded in the same time period, and I think we were very keen to make a break from those.
What feeling was it that you wanted to re-engage with? What does it mean to you to make music, and to go out on stage and play it for people?
Well, I think of myself as a teenager. I think of how I felt, how angry I was growing up in a small town. We all did, we felt disconnected from the world, patronized, and not knowing how to speak, having nothing to speak about. I think I carry that forward bit. That sense of "if I don’t say it, who’s gonna say it for me." And also I think this record is intended to engage with the world a bit. You know, I’m approaching thirty, I’m trying to stop being a wannabe—what’s the word—troubadour. I’m trying to start putting myself in context within the world and actually say something. I still feel like we have something to add. There’s a lot of great music being made, but I still feel like we can do something within that.
Also you know, I’m probably unemployable, to be honest.
I like the first part of the answer more. That’s the part that people want to hear!
[Laughs] That’s the part I carry in my heart, at least.
The new album starts with “Wanderlust” which is quite an aggressive song with lyrics touching on a sense of discontentment with society that a lot of people feel. Did ‘Wanderlust’ stand out as an obvious track to start off the album?
Well, it was one of the first ones we put together in the studio. Considering how long we had, still everything was quite last minute. By the time we went in, we were still trying stuff out. It definitely informed what the record would sound like, and what was possible, in terms of simplicity and almost dumbness. We kept wanting to vary it more, but I think repetition is a big part of what that song’s about. I think the reason we put it first, and put it out as the first single, was because it says, "look! this is how we sound now."
Really, we're hoping that people would think they had put the wrong record on. As you said, that song is quite aggressive, and it’s quite difficult to place anywhere in the record. Plus I like starting big. I like opening hat tricks, so the first three songs will have to be "bang bang bang," then you’re in the record. Which is not really an artistic thing, it’s more how you go about engaging people, but it’s equally as important. I’m really into sure-shot records, so I think that’s part of the way to structure it.
I’m a country boy and I’ve lived in London for five years. It’s an extremely unfair city, in an unfair country.
Sticking with “Wanderlust” people might be surprised by the lyrical content. As artists, do you feel a pressure, or a desire to comment on the world around you, specifically its injustices?
Yeah, I mean I don’t want to overdo the political aspect of the record. I feel like getting political with a capital ‘P’ is a bit strong. But, I’m a country boy and I’ve lived in London for five years. It’s an extremely unfair city, in an unfair country. And it’s interesting to imagine yourself… well, not even imagine yourself, but to think about your place in the world. How did I get where I am? Why are all these other people jumping ahead of me? What or who do you have to trample over to get to the next stage?
And you know, I guess they maybe are quite idle concerns. While we have no desire to get old and be an adult contemporary band, you can’t be saying the same things at thirty that you were at twenty. I think you need to be able to contextualize it a bit. And not just "me me me" and troubadour moaning.Continue Reading