Image for Wild Beasts – Abstraction and Spontaneity

Wild Beasts – Abstraction and Spontaneity

Written by Michael Carr on May 25, 2011

With their latest album Smother seeing them reach their highest position on the UK Albums Chart to date (#17), Wild Beasts are a band whose choice to experiment with their sound has been well and truly vindicated. The album seeing the band embrace synthesizers and samplers as well as software such as Logic to explore more abstract and emotive territories with their music, has proven to be a real turning point for the band. Reaching new levels of popularity with the album, the band are at the same time finding ever greater creative satisfaction in their work and experimenting with new approaches and methods.

Set to visit our shores for Splendour later this year, and with their current single Albatross at radio right now, we caught up with singer and multi-instrumentalist Hayden Thorpe to discuss the new album, how they approached making it, as well as the ramifications it’s had on how they work together as a band, and how samplers are changing the face of music today.

Music Feeds: So how are you; you’ve got Smother out and it’s doing pretty well, must be a pretty good feeling?

Hayden Thorpe: Yeah, it is actually. You hope for the best you know, but it’s a really nice feeling when people give you the benefit of the doubt for the most part and get it, and it seems people are getting it, so it’s just a really heartening feeling.

MF: You took a bit of a different direction with this album compared to your first two; were you worried about people not getting it?

HT: No Not really, I think it’s a waste of time second guessing what people are going to get or not get. I think in a lot of ways we kept the DNA of our sound intact anyway, we just sort of expanded upon it.

MF: I remember reading a quote from someone in Primal Scream speaking about when they were working on Screamadelica where they were saying that their discovery of samplers to them was just like discovering a new colour palette, like they went from black and white to full colour; was it a similar instance with you guys?

HT: Yeah, I’d say so, it sort of expands our range. It’s very textural what we started to explore and the synths and whatever allowed us to really play around with that and led us to discover that we can be more dramatic with our music by doing a lot less. The writing changed slightly in that there are a lot more parts making up the sound. Where before there would be four parts making this one sound and now it’s probably the equivalent of a dozen or so.

MF: I read that Steve Reich and Fuck Buttons were big influences on the new direction; can you tell me about how they influenced you?

HT: I think it was the abstract quality of their music that really attracted us. We learned that if you take a leap of faith and trust that people can follow very abstract ideas, and that things don’t have to be so compressed and concise. We started to look at things in a much more kaleidoscopic way I suppose. I think the key thing about Reich and Fuck Buttons is that there is no human voice in the music but they’re still very emotive. I think we learned how to be a lot more emotive with the music and that the vocals didn’t need to be so performative, which allowed them to serve a more narrative purpose.

MF: You wrote the whole thing in one six-week period; can you tell me about that process; was it a very considered undertaking?

HT: It was mostly experimentation actually. We tend to go into things blind because that’s where the real excitement is, we’re not really that good at planning things. But after five weeks we were twiddling our thumbs and we decided it was time to down tools and that we’d done everything we needed to do before going into the studio. We really didn’t want to over think it you know; we wanted to keep that feeling of spontaneity and those moments of epiphany in the recording.

MF: Approaching the music from a more emotive perspective as you mentioned earlier, did you find that the writing process was very different from the last album?

HT: Yeah, it was slightly different actually. We used software a lot more; we discovered how to use software and how to really manipulate it. Software’s a really amazing tool for quickly pushing things around, and we found that it adds this new element. When you put something into software it has its own character and it reflects things back from a different angle.

Also we weren’t creative together for eighteen months while we were touring the last record. We were all working on our own, and I was writing and writing onto laptops and having to think more in depth about things because I didn’t have the opportunity to show it to the guys and work on it straight away. Songs were tweaked over a space of 18 months or so, so in a way I think the basic structure is a bit more accomplished.

MF: Would you want to work like that again?

HT: I don’t think I’d want to work that way again. I think there is a sense of once you’ve done that once you don’t need to do it again, it doesn’t hold that same thrill. I mean, I remember when I first discovered Logic and it was just a really eye opening experience; you can’t really replicate that. I think it’s more about developing both styles together and I think we’re becoming more collaborative really. It’s actually a sort of strange scenario where we’re writing a lot more on our own, but we’re also becoming much collaborative and open to each other and spontaneity, it’s exciting times.

MF: Yeah, it’s very important to keep things fresh to maintain a long running creative relationship, rather than falling into a routine.

TH: You have to, it comes across you know. If it feels routine it sounds routine, it’s not something you can really fake.

MF: So talking about software before, how has that affected the live show; what do you use on stage?

TH: We have samplers now; that was a real turning point, I’m the only one without a sampler, so there are four samplers on stage now. We’ve taken on a new set of hands in the form of our friend Katie Harkin, who’s in a band Sky Larkin, but basically we were very determined not to play to a laptop onstage. It seemed like a real threat to us as we’ve spent so many years forming our own dynamic, we didn’t want to take that away. Every sound you’re hearing is being triggered by our fingers.

But samplers for me in a really sort of Eureka moment have blown me away with their power.

MF: Yeah, they’re sort of the new guitars nowadays. It makes sense though, they’re so affordable and versatile.

HT: That’s what’s important to people when it comes to instruments, affordability and versatility, and samplers have both of those things. So yeah, I’m really excited by them and it’s really exciting to see what these younger guys are going to do with them. I mean I’m 25 and I grew up with guitars, and it’s interesting to see these kids growing up with samplers and Logic before they have guitars you know. I think guitar bands like us might get dated by these samplers if we’re not careful.

One danger with samplers is that they can mask a lack of ability, you can make them sound good easily. In some circumstances though, they’re even harder to use originally, and I think the idea is still the currency of music, never the equipment or the sound you make; it’s the musical idea that matters but that will never change. You can give five people a guitar and all of them can learn to play them, but only one of them will do something original and different with it, you know what I mean, it depends on the person.

Wild Beasts will be touring later this year as part of the Splendour In The Grass Festival and their third album Smother is out now.

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