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Two Dances - Encounters with Wild Beasts

Posted on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 | No Comments

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I'm afraid that due to a variety of reasons, some fun and some less so (preparing for a friend's stag go - fun, job hunting - not fun), I've fallen slightly behind with some of my planned articles. I'll try and catch up in the next week or two, but until then, here's two interviews I've done with members of Wild Beasts for NARC Magazine - one back in 2009 as they prepared to release 'Two Dancers', and one in 2011 just prior to 'Smother'. They're one my favourite bands of the last decade, and I for one really can't wait to hear whatever they've got up their sleeves for album four later this year. 

Tom Fleming - 2009 


 Unique.  Singular.  Individual.  On the release of last year’s much-acclaimed debut album Limbo, Panto, Wild Beasts, thanks to their intricate song craft, their dazzling lyrics and Hayden Thorpe’s staggering falsetto, were defined by their otherness and their separation from current fashions and trends.  Little over a year on, and with their new record Two Dancers set to stun believers and non-believers alike, we got the opportunity to talk to the band’s bassist and co-vocalist Tom Fleming about both their new material and their place within the musical landscape.

Describing the genesis of the new album, Tom points to the experience of the release and tour for the first album as a major catalyst.  “We learned a lot from it…we had a sense of momentum, and we had more songs.  It became clear either we made a record, or we would have to keep on touring.  We recorded it quickly, because we admire a level of work – bands in the 70s, or someone like Neil Young, who would always put out an album every year” (later on, Tom suggested that they hoped to record another album in the immediate future).  Recorded in two weeks of fourteen-hour days, the record fulfils their stated aims of making something that “hangs together and has a life to it – we wanted it to be an album, with certain chords and sounds recurring”, and undoubtedly its two-part title tracks, its intensity and its literary flair signal a formidable intent.

Although the Kendal-raised band currently resides in Leeds, the home of similarly ambitious acts like Grammatics and iLiKETRAiNS, Tom states, “We’ve never had a choice to be in a scene.  We’re not from arty families; there wasn’t much of a tradition of expressing yourself for us.  We want to have something to express – most people get into bands for the lifestyle, and that was never cool for us…it was this weird thing amongst our contemporaries. We wanted to do it, and we still do, and because we’ve had to think about it, we’re insular.  Ninety-nine percent of bands are crap, one percent are good: we were very selective about what we thought was us and we went out on a limb.”

Indeed, one of the things most remarkable about the new material is how it precisely it balances experimentation with pop hooks, its pristine production clashing with its sexually charged subject matter.  Tom talks of the lyrics as “reconciling expectations of masculinity and repression…masculinity and vulnerability deliberately co-exist within our songs.”  Incorporating influences like Kate Bush and Talk Talk, the record’s cast of  ‘young reprobates’ and ‘brutes hoping to have a hoot’ embody a British identity far more conflicted and troubled than the lad-rock of recent times – as Tom says, “when you grow up with nonsense like Britpop, you want to do something more complex than that.”  

Those adjectives at the start still seem pretty apt.  But it’s doubtful whether they would want it any other way, and right now Wild Beasts are on the cusp of true brilliance.

Chris Talbot - 2011 

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It's been a busy two years for Wild Beasts since the release of Two Dancers: having spent over a year on the road touring the album (including shows with The xx), the band immediately sat down to writing the alluring gothic pop of their third album Smother, out this months. Before they set off on tour again, NARC caught up with Chris Talbot to discuss their new album and beyond.
 
“When we came off tour in September, we had the weekend off, but then we started writing the following Monday…” Chris explains. “We sat down to do it, and we all quite weary from touring the last record for so long, so we wanted something more hushed and beautiful – beautiful was the key word for this album really. By the end of touring the last record, it was in danger of turning into this balls-out rock show, so we wanted something more consoling than that.”

It’s something the band has pulled off with aplomb: from the glorious build of opener Lion’s Share to epic closer End Come Too Soon, it’s a work of subtle but deep majesty. Discussing the track Burning, possibly the album’s biggest deviation from the Wild Beasts of old, Chris informs us “it started out as Tom’s baby on acoustic guitar: we were doing a set of demoes in Leeds with our producer Richard Formby though, and he has this massive library of sounds we were flicking though. We found this sample of spoons played backwards on piano, and Tom assigned those to a keyboard, so we started layering it up that.”

This new calmer sound is one the band have had to incorporate into their live show: “we wrote the record without thinking of replicating it live, and we ended up having to get a new player in, Katie Harkin [from Sky Larkin, currently on hiatus] – she asked us jokingly about some session work for the next twelve-eighteen months, and we had to go ‘well, actually…!’ It’s been a tough six weeks rehearsing it, but we’re there now.” 

On their May UK tour, the band have also taken a step away from the usual rock touring circuit, playing primarily older, more intimate venues (including a sold-out stop at Gateshead Old Town Hall on 5th May). “It was a conscious decision to do something special, kind of a reward for the people who’ve been following us over the last two years. We deliberately picked older venues, because we prefer going to gigs somewhere else than the local Academy ourselves. The London venue, Wilton’s Music Hall, has this kind of Moulin Rouge vibe: there’s tiles falling off, and it’s just untouched – we’ve been told that if we play too loud, the building might start coming apart!”

When asked about the pressure of following up a record as loved as Two Dancers though, Chris is charmingly unfazed. “It’s nice to know that people were watching and waiting: it’s not something we’ve experience before. That kind of slight anticipation is a really good tool to utilise – before we were quite angry people really, and around Limbo, Panto it just felt like we were smashing our heads against a brick wall.”

Fitter, calmer, more comfortable: the Wild Beasts of 2011 may be more accepted, but on the basis on Smother, they’re every bit as individual and unique as ever.

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