Wild Beasts released their sophomore outing, Two Dancers, to critical acclaim in 2009, bringing the Kendal, UK, ensemble a much larger following. Known for multi-instrumentalist Hayden Thorpe’s luxuriously soulful falsetto and Tom Fleming’s contrastive methodization, the band’s Two Dancers is upbeat and infectious, but there are also moments that are delicate and unperturbed. More importantly, though, the success of Two Dancers gave the quartet of Thorpe, Fleming, Chris Talbot, and Ben Little the chance to record music in a manner in which they saw fit. Now, at the pinnacle of their musical career, just as their most anticipated album, Smother, is set to drop via Domino Records, Consequence of Sound had a chance to talk with Fleming about the logistics of the new record and how it came about.
You’ve received a lot of attention for Two Dancers and rightfully so. What was it like to be nominated for a Mercury Prize?
It was nice, a sort of culmination of a lot of work by other people as well as by ourselves. I think it’s important not to get carried away with the athletic and Darwinistic side of making records, though. The main thing was that it had been a very slow and very organic process of people discovering us and listening that had got us to that point, and that all it really was was a nice congratulatory evening for all the people that had made it possible.
How do you feel the making of that record differed from Limbo, Panto, your first record? Why do you think it received so much more of a positive reception?
I can only think it’s because we approached it more calmly and from a place where we were in complete control of our music. It was also made in pretty desperate circumstances, and it pulled us together towards the common goal of the album. I think the songs are better in some ways, more concise and better expressed.
You’ve stated that after Two Dancers came out, people actually knew who you were. Instead of playing for 350-people audiences, you can now play for audiences of 3,000 people. Did this growth in popularity change the process in which you recorded your upcoming LP?
I think we felt like we no longer had to shout to make ourselves heard, that we had an audience already that would follow us into the rabbit hole if we asked them to. While I suppose that it should equal pressure, we never really felt it as such. We were energized.
The consensus amongst fans is that your music is “strange” and/or “weird.” Would you put the same tags on your music as well, or would you just label Wild Beasts as an experimental rock band?
I think we’re a pop band, which is a wonderful way of getting out of defining yourself. We do try and push at things, and as we learn how to use more things, we will make more unusual sounds, but we have always tried to adventure inside the familiar, write concise songs and melodies.
You’ve been reported saying that Smother reflects more of a synth pop sound. Particularly, you’ve listed Fuck Buttons as an influence. Have they always been an influence on Wild Beasts? How did they impact the making of this record?
Fuck Buttons were one of many, but I think they in particular have that crudeness versus sophistication that makes the best electronic music interesting. I think this record reflects our listening habits more closely than ever, and the grit and gloss of Fuck Buttons is certainly an influence.
Lead single “Albatross” is certainly evocative of Two Dancers, highlighting Thorpe’s otherworldly falsetto and your commanding vocalization. It’s all very ethereal and instrumentally founded. Do you feel the rest of Smother holds a similar aesthetic?
“Albatross” was an early song from the sessions and sort of provided an aesthetic signpost for where we were going: slower, more synthetic, more reflective. It’s definitely a quieter record.
Smother, as stated by your PR, consists of “10 love songs” and explores the “erotic downbeat.” How do you feel this differs from Two Dancers?
Two Dancers was, in a lot of ways, a dance record, based entirely around the drums, really. Smother is a lot more textural and, as such, is more about the interior, what happens to people in sex and love, what it does to you, and the way you feel about yourself. It’s still quite rhythm-driven, but it’s a lot gentler and more whispered; the sounds are more padded and warbling than short and tight. What we took from Two Dancers was the atmosphere. This album is definitely an abstraction upon that.
Was it the natural progression of Wild Beasts to continue towards this downbeat trajectory, to move farther away from the louder rock music that you started with on songs like “Through Dark Night” ?
I suppose it’s getting older, learning how to do more with less, and trying to do something with all those awful adult realizations that people have. We also no longer feel the need to be a “proper” band. “Through Dark Night” especially followed the Beatles model, and we’re feeling the need to disappear into our music these days.
It’s been rumored that Smother is influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Is that pertaining to the lyrics?
“Bed of Nails”, especially, is a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to it, but more generally, there’s that sense of not belonging and of falling between the cracks of life that has provided us with a lot of alleys to explore.
You’ve stated that on Smother, Wild Beasts will be “spreading their wings.” What do you mean by that, exactly?
We’re stretching what we can do. We were more free than ever to pursue what we wanted to do on this album. I always feel like each album is our first, that we’re always just fumbling around and trying to piece something together from fragments, that we don’t yet know what we’re doing. It’s like kids in the toy box, to an extent, and it is always exciting.
Producer Richard Formby and Domino have stood strong as friends to Wild Beasts for a long time now. How do you feel they’ve impacted your sound and position in the indie music scene?
Richard certainly has an influence on our music and the way in which we do things. He will never say no and has lots of ideas to help to bring together the mess we often bring to him. His approach to music is very down-home, very involving, and he’s a great presence. Domino have always let us do what we wanted as much as possible. This time it was a case of them setting a timescale, giving us some money, and telling us to bring back a record in the manner we saw fit. We’re fortunate.