Interviews

Wild Beasts – Interview

Wild Beasts have been around since 2008, when their debut LP ‚Limbo, Panto‘ came out. Since then, the band have gradually grown from ’strange outsiders‘ to critically acclaimed Indie stars. Their newest record ‚Smother‚ features intriguing, biting lyrics that seem to follow the themes of literary texts concerned with sex and mystery. Some have labelled them ‚the modern-day The Smiths‘.

I was lucky to catch Tom and Ben from the band backstage at Glasgow’s Electric Frog festival on September the 11th 2011, just after they had finished playing to a very receptive crowd…

Martin McWhite Tapes (M): Hi guys! Thanks for taking the time to talk – it’s been a great festival so far. We should begin with this: after band The Fall came on this evening, I feared a little bit for Wild Beasts; not because I don’t think the band are strong enough to deal with following crowd-pleasing acts, but the reaction for The Fall was so wild, I wondered… there’s an old adage – if you win over the Glasgow crowd, you can win them all over…

Ben Little (B):  Yeh we have heard that one…

Tom Fleming (T): Yeh…the thing is – we were always told that, in Glasgow, it’s an amazing and really crazy crowd, but the first time we come up here we thought – oh. It wasn’t like that at all! It’s taken us a little while, but now we’ve grown as a band – i think actually it has taken us a long time to elicit that kind of reaction we had tonight… as a live band…

B: It was daunting though – going on after The Fall. They’ve been around for years…

M: Yip. 19 years…!  As I said this gig perhaps represented a potential ‚tough one‘ for you, and you came out of the traps flying, winning the crowd absolutely.

T and B: Well, thank you…

M: No problem. So, some fans of Wild Beasts have been accused recently of being, and I quote, ‚bandwagon jumping Wild Beasts fans‚…

T and B: (laughs)..

M: …due to the recent higher level success of the band; being invited to more festivals, three albums down the road now… critically well-received… it’s been rapid. How do you view your fans?

T: I actually think for the most part, I would say this, but yeh…our audiences seem to be quite varied. Pretty intelligent – they’re willing to give us the time of day… they’re willing to kind of come with us on this journey, and I think that in terms of ‚bandwagon jumpers‘ – well, for a hell of a long time, there was no ‚bandwagon‘. Do you know what I mean? Things do tend to get pretty rapid as you go on. Thinking about it, I personally am never really worried about why people are into us…

B: Yeh…when we first started it was sort of clear there was a difference of age, of those people that were into our music…

M: When releasing ‚Limbo, Panto‚ – in my view, a terrific debut LP – did you think you would get to where you are now?

B: Well, we got shipped off to Sweden to record that, and the guy that produced it was like, a ’super-producer‘, and we were kinda promised the world, to be honest. We thought it would be easy…but of course we were young… 5 years later, we’ve realised it’s a fucking hard slog…

T: I still feel a little disgruntled by how ‚Limbo , Panto‚ was received because I thought it was really obvious what we were doing – I mean, some people really loved it – but it was generally met …not with a shrug, but with a…‘what the hell is this?‘ kinda attitude…

M: So basically, some people reacted with shock, initially to that record? It’s a record that you have to give time. A casual listener will be put off. I feel you need to dedicate yourself a little bit to Wild Beasts music to enjoy it.

T: I do think going back to what you said before – bandwagon jumpers – i do think we’re a band that’s it’s difficult to jump on the bandwagon of…there’s just too many sharp edges. There are too many know… ’stick in the throat‘ type moments… but that’s to an extent deliberate. But to the same extent when we made ‚Limbo Panto‚, we were sure people would get into it, because it was so obvious to us what we were doing. Of course, we now realise we were actually lucky to be so naive. It very much informed what we did next. The shock of ‚oh..this isn’t what we expected’… helped us form the other records. Maybe confusion helped us make a better second record – yknow – asking ourselves ‚what are we doing here?‘ That kind of thing. Not to go deliberately for the jugular, but… when we made ‚Limbo, Panto‚, we didn’t know if we were going to do another one.

M: I understand … perhaps being stung into a reaction from the way the first record was received by some stung you into a positive reaction in the music to follow…

T: Yeh I do think so. I think you never stop being stung by reactions – you of course get used to it, tough to it – but of course, you want people to like your music and albums…and not everyone does like it, of course… that’s how it goes…

M: Well, enough Glaswegian ‚beastie‘ fans downstairs would back you up…

T: Yeh, exactly.

(interrupted by a man ‚looking for a DJ‘  We don’t know where the DJ is… so we say sorry, and wish him luck in his search).

… M: Losing a DJ… how do you do that?

T and B: *shake of heads*

M: So, sorry – that’s a long time ago, your material has moved on. There is a love of language present in Wild Beasts music – in the lyrics it’s very evident. Is that a result of some well-educated youth, or passion, or is that all just…bullshit?

T: No, there’s a shared realisation that there was no desire to just…grunt in, with a few choice phrases… we wanted to extend the range of what is was possible for us to write. Equally, I think these days we’re all about trying to… state it better. There is a kind of playfulness to what we do, but equally something else. I mean – I really like country singers. People who can put you on your arse just by saying the simplest thing. That’s incredibly hard to do. So in everything we do, we have to start really far out and bring it in – that’s the way it kinda works.

M: You mention playfulness….there’s also an undeniable sexy edge to a lot of the lyrics; or sex-inspired lyrics… who pens most of these?

(Ben grabs a chocolate bar – a Chomp – and eats it)

M: A chomp! They are pretty old.. are they still 10p?

B: yeh, 10p.

M: Space Raiders are 20p, downstairs

B: Oh. Profit.

(laughs)

T: Generally speaking, it’s me and Hayden that write the lyrics. If somebody sings it, it’s theirs. They’ve written it. Everything is of course open for argument and disagreement, but generally speaking it’s Hayden and I.

M: Things like ‚please sir, with your hot breath upon me‘…. ‚I couldn’t be, more ready, I couldn’t be more ready‘… ‚He was your bull‘… or track on new LP: ‚Reach A Bit Further‚. Is sex on the forefront of your mind when writing lyrics, or is there more to it? Have you levelled out now on ‚Smother‚?

T: I definitely don’t think we’ve levelled out. I think ‚Smother‘ is a record more about sexuality than any of the others. I think the thing is… there’s a lot of ways to talk about sex – what it does to you, as a human, as an adult… the real kind of…desolation

M: Sexual desolation…

T: Yeh, that kind of post-orgasmic chill – as well as the real stuff – the arms of your mother. Those things. When you kind of make those connections they take you places. To not try to detail it, but to make reference to it… there’s a lot of sex, but not a lot of ‚come on, baby’…. Well there’s some! Ha!

M: It’s kind of ‚the dark alleys of sex‘.

T: Yeh, I guess that’s a kinda nice way of putting it.

M: Ok, cool. So what’s changed, in terms of the inner-working of the band, since you toured first record ‚Limbo, Panto‘?

B: I think we’ve just changed a lot – In ‚Limbo, Panto‘ we went into the studio – picked up tricks – got better at recording albums… we just became a better band. We were like, 18, 19. Wanting to learn, to keep it exciting – wanting to pick up different instruments. Keep the surprises there.

M: I see. I have the feeling that owning Wild Beasts LP’s is like owning the first three books from an author. Do you feel the same way, or do you look at your collection of records so far in a different way?

T: They’re definitely sequential – one informs the other. I do believe the best writer always kind of writes about the same thing. There is always the core there, it’s always kind of the same. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing. There’s a heart to what we do that doesn’t change.

M: Yes. Recently, when interviewing Munaf from the band Explosions In The Sky, he said something very similar – you may get older, fatter, greyer, more successful, less successful, but you are still you; the essence of you is still … you…

T: Yeh, absolutely. We feel the same.

M: So last question: How do you see your material growing now, post ‚Smother‘: have you already discussed ’new directions‘?

T: Not ‚directions‘ – we tend to be very bad about talking about things, and better at doing them – but i think we have a flow of ideas – but we want to take a little more time on this. We made three records very quickly – very concise records. I do think no one is doing exactly what they want to do – we work together. I think that there is an exchange going… we’re on tour to the end of the year, then again at the start of the year. I think it would be a mistake to say ‚we don’t enjoy touring‘ – because we do. It’s important.

B: Yeh, we do a lot of touring. We go to America for five weeks on …Thursday. That’ll be amazing, but at the same time, it’s full on…

M: Yes, but in the states there is Taco Bell and Mountain Dew. So you’ll be ok.

T: …of course, it doesn’t really put us in the best place for writing – what we really want to do is write. We need a balance.

B: It would be nice to just have a bit of time – some space. The last albums were rushed, and we didn’t have lots of money – now we can sorta… take a look at it, we hope.

M: If you’ve felt these constraints on the first three LP’s, and received that overall acclaim, and stop and think about that… that must be rewarding?

T: Well yeh. But even the smallest time would be nice. It’s always the cry of every artist, isn’t it? ‚I want more time, I want more space‚. But – there might be a small moment we can actually have that…soon.

B: I just want to be… a normal human being, really.

(laughs).

You do get sick of being a ‚rock-and-roller‘. Sometimes, you just want to go home and have all the things people have…

M: Like chicken lasagne from your mother…

T: That sounds great.

M: You’ll get that soon. Well, thanks guys! Best of luck with the rest of the tour, and hope you get your home comforts soon.

T and B: Thanks very much, take care.

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