photo from Wikimedia Commons
“Britain is damp, claustrophobic, introspective, and has a very singular way of looking at the world. We’ve always tried to make something that is our own, that could only have come out of our situation… I suppose that, in our way, we are very British sounding.”
UK-based alt-rockers, Wild Beasts, so-dubbed by Tom Fleming, bass and tenor player, do embody a variety of sounds. Sometimes there’s a hint of Radiohead, other times, a tinge of Interpol or U2; they’re pop but they’re not; rock but not hard enough to be quintessentially so. And maybe there’s a bit of that euphoric, synthesized energy many of today’s post-post modern bands orchestrate. Regardless, Wild Beasts, England’s latest vibe-raters, are one of a kind, and they’d absolutely like to keep it that way.
“Without meaning to be rude, I think these bands are pretty removed from what we listen to or wish to sound like”—(in reference to aforementioned similarities)—“Radiohead maybe,” comments Fleming, the final addition to the band, a decade in the making. “Our influences are spread pretty wide – Kate Bush, Swans, Talk Talk, Talking Heads, Flaming Lips, DOOM, Joanna Newsom, Martin Carthy. The bands you’ve mentioned certainly have wonderful career paths, but I shudder when I think about this as a ‘professional expert career,’ or use terms like ‘career advancement.’ It’s a pleasure to make records.”
Wild Beasts are currently on their third. The new album, Smother, was released May 9th on Domino Records, a follow-up to 2009’s Mercury
Award-nominated, Two Dancers. Smother has already reaped much acclaim across the blogs, and sent the band on a worldwide tour hitting Europe, Australia and the US over the summer. Marked characteristically by the falsettos of lead vocalist, Hayden Thorpe, the album explores sexual regression, personal longings, and the psychosis of loneliness through its acoustic piano odes, and electric sparkles of the guitar and percussion.
First discovered by event-turned-label promotion company, Bad Sneakers (now the band’s management), Wild Beasts began as a twosome in England’s Lake District, eventually growing to four. Bad Sneakers was—and still is—a recurring Saturday night gig at The Faversham nightclub in Leeds, known for highlighting up and coming musical acts, among them Arctic Monkeys, Hot Chip and Lily Allen. After performing regularly at the club, the band became a local sensation, and Bad Sneakers took them under its wing, releasing their debut single, “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants.” The buzz from the work ultimately led to their venture with Domino.
Ostensibly, Wild Beasts is one of those acts that thrives in a niche market, but also sparks the intrigue of those in the masses really paying attention. They’re as likely to be spotted on Pitchfork and Spinner as they are on top of MTV’s Music Meter, due to the fact their work lends itself well to a multitude of tastes. Intuitive and melancholic at times, the band’s tunes are in no way indicative of their feral pseudonym. Then again, the name Wild Beasts doesn’t stem from a particularly savage inherent nature.
“This is sort of a reference to the fauviste painters (Matisse etc), twinned with the desire of our name sounding like a pub covers band (as all the bands around us were),” explains Fleming. “It was sort of to throw everyone off, but I think it suits us better than we imagined these days.”
Perhaps the band’s video to their new single, “Albatross” offers testament to such paradoxical qualities. The song tells the story of a secret misplaced or maybe never revealed, the lyrics describing a tale of torture and inner blame. Concurrently, the video is a weaving of black, whites and grays, cutting between the wanton image of an interpretive dancer, and the group lamenting in the aura of a grand piano. The images are interspersed with close-ups of a moth-like insect and the wilting black feathers of an absent bird, making the visuals a metaphor of clandestine yearnings.
Says Fleming of the new album, “It’s slower and quieter, more textural. It’s sort of an album of love songs…More adult, hopefully without being soothing or comforting.”
As a group, Wild Beasts still exemplify the distinguishing guise of their native land. A pale quartet of twentysomething Anglo-Saxons decked in plaid shirts, cardigans and jeans, the band is intentionally quaint. With their hair gelled in a modern coif and their attire accentuated by chic overcoats, they collectively define the approachable stature of many young rock bands out of Britain. Even their rider is simple: fruit, coffee, wine, and water.
Touring appears first on Wild Beasts’ priority list this year, along with promoting Smother. If given the choice, Fleming says he would love to open for an artist like Bjork, whom he describes as “magnificent;” on the flipside, he’d welcome the chance to have Crispin Glover on the road with his band. And, like most acts of the new era, the group has embraced social networking.
“Our Twitter is intended to be an informal voice, no third party promotion, and no ‘just had a shit lol,’” stresses Fleming. “It’s nice to be able to keep things somewhere near a human scale. I guess the Internet can be alienating, but I don’t really see it that way.”
Fleming’s keen sense of pragmatism broadens into a self-awareness rare in most musicians. Accordingly, he states the bands goals as purely to “create more records, chasing down the uncatchable thing,” and “to eat.” Such stoic thinking will likely enable Wild Beasts to prosper in a century defined by oversaturation and mediocrity, compelling numerous acts to sink before they even had a chance to swim.
“The thing is that it’s now virtually impossible not to have heard a record,” observes Fleming. “We’re just about old enough to remember time without the Internet, and it was incredibly difficult to get hold of the things you wanted. Now you can get more or less anything at any time, and mostly for free; you can draw lines between anything you want. There are thinner and thinner boundaries between different sorts of music. I suppose in that sense we’re very much a pop band, interested in everything. You’re sort of required to be a bit of a polymath as a musician today.”
Pop, rock, emo, psychedelia, oracles of the progressive age – Wild Beasts are all of the above, and then some.