Roaming Free: pop profanities Wild Beasts on their surreal balancing act
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“I did an Irish Car Bomb once,” starts up pencil-‘tached balladeering lead Hayden Thorpe.
“You have to down the Guinness before the Baileys curdles.”
Comparing Jägerbomb experiences isn’t quite what you’d expect walking in to meet the modest Kendal gents, but it’s a welcome introduction to the warped world of the intoxicating Wild Beasts.
Resembling something of a No Man’s Land between the off-kilter pop of Orange Juice and a post-war church fete, all doilies and dancing, there is a timeless, surreal charm to the outfit. A deranged detail lies underneath Thorpe’s beguiling falsetto operatics, talk of “chips with cheese” and a sense of humour not far removed from the pages of Viz (more). So is there a conscious ‘spanky bottom’ sensibility to the forthcoming LP, Limbo, Panto?
A smirk curls across Thorpe’s face at the remark. “That sense of humour and awareness doesn’t get old. My favourite albums are from bands that become more concentrated, and even parodies of what they are, as they go on. There is that element of 'spanky bottom' and what you can get away with, which is something that is exciting to push.
“There is that sweet spot between being outrageous and how-the-fuck-can-we-
get-away-with-that and yet being acceptable and accessible.”
Bassist and baritone to Thorpe’s shrill vocal, Tom Fleming joins. “You’ve kind of got to go there and come back, push it above the threshold and bring it back a bit to understand where you lie. We’re bobbing between right and wrong. It’s a question of both how playful we can be and how serious we can be.”
As glorious as they are nauseating, the balance to the ludicracies being struck is somewhat detailed in the decision to title their magnificent debut Limbo, Panto.
“We didn’t have a title until the end of the record. We had a song called ‘My Home, The Ghetto’ which was one of our first songs and had the words “limbo, panto” in it. It was a terrible song and that was about as much good that came from it, but we feel it depicts the duality in the album between the limbo – that quite morose, tragic state – and the panto – which is the dramatic, larger-than-life sensibility. So it was making a panto out of the limbo and making the misery theatrical.”
Revitalising, refreshing, but with one foot sunk firmly into some fictional heyday, if not in their braces-and-boots get-up alone, Wild Beasts are truly removed, surreally difficult to place. But for all the wincing vocal acrobatics there is a noble pop sensibility that underpins the remarkable bawl. Pop sensationalists?
“We feel we make pop music that is accessible, and universal in that we’re not trying to catch on to a certain audience. That’s our ideal and I don’t mind being told that the ideal is wrong but we make unpretentious pop music that can be appreciated by a wide range of people. In terms of the future we just want to have that strain of pop music which is both creative and outrageous,” says Thorpe.
“For me, the front line of pop is Radio 1, where the battles are lost and won. You grow up with that music so it makes a vast impression,” finishes Fleming on their dose of musical aniseed.
Truth is, it’s not a line you expect these young gents to breach any time soon. As eager as some may be to proclaim their recent release of ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ as an utter triumph, such unequivocal madness is not made for Woolworths. So, if they were to have one bona-fide pop hit of yesteryear to call their own?
Thorpe: “‘Billie Jean’.”
“‘When Doves Cry’,” replies Fleming.
“‘Nothing Compares 2 U’,” comes the trumping response.
That tag of being ‘eccentric’ is one to be suffered as well as celebrated; sat as the oddball everyone knows in the corner. “Wild Beasts aren't concerned with being of the modern, or being of the renaissance, being baggy pantsed or being tight pantsed, being in a scene or being in a place. Wild Beasts' music just is,” reads the record’s inlay and underlines they appreciative the withdrawn otherworldliness. It’s one that fellow Cumbrian compatriots British Sea Power have recently bemoaned and that Wild Beasts see as a clumsy peg to hang them from.
“I think these ‘quirks’ are often structural to the music and implies they’re like little decorations when I don’t think it’s the case at all. I think they’re integral,” exhausts Fleming on their rockist seniors. “With their lyrical twists that are seen as unusual, I think they are a way of seeing the world which we feel we understand, or at least empathise with.”
Thorpe interjects. “In Kendal people don’t see us as eccentric. We’re only eccentric in that we want to be musicians.”
Young ducks seized, Wild Beasts signed to Domino last year off the back of a string of releases on Bad Sneakers. It was time to play the waiting game and off to Malmö to gather their thoughts and record an album.
“When you’re 18 you think you can write the best album in the world, but it took ‘til we were 22,” remarks Thorpe. “It wasn’t as if we were trying to get on the back of a smash-and-grab scene so we were lucky enough to be able to wait and, to be honest, it then took forever to record the album. But looking back on it, it was an important fermentation period.
“It's live by the sword, die by the sword. If we do try to be that different then we’re going find that group of people who will just think ‘this is fucking awful, get this off my stereo’.”
It seems fair to assume that may well be the case. Outsiders splitting opinions, Wild Beasts are obtuse pop profanities that should be celebrated.
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