An exclusive interview with one of our Winter 2011 Featured Musicians, Wild Beasts.
Well, first of all, you’ve gotten a lot of really excellent acclaim overseas and have won very, very awesome awards. How does your American audience differ from your British one ? Do you think there’s a different sort of grit to them ?
Tom: Well, I think there’s definitely a different interpretation when we come to the U.S. Since we’re not an American band, people approach our music differently here, which is good because it gives it less baggage. There’s an expectation in Britain that you have to be a certain thing, whereas in America, while there’s a lot of awful, mainstream dirch, there are also many places to fall into. The U.S. is a very big country with a lot of variation. It can be an intimidating place to come, but we’ve always been made to feel that it was worth our while coming here. As artists, we thrive on ambiguities and things which aren’t quite cut and dry, so we have to allow people to come with us in order for them to understand our music. Here, we’ve found that people are really ready to do that.
Hayden: For us the empowering thing when we come over here is that we’re bringing our sort of, very specific brand. We always fought quite hard against English bands trying to be like the American bands. Americans bands have a very quick queue list in the U.K. because of romanticism and this sort of reputation of growing up in places like L.A. and New York. But at the same time, even though all these places seemed very exotic and exciting, they didn’t really speak to us at all. We had no real knowledge of what those places represented in the real. So when we come over, it’s always felt good that people acknowledged us for being ourselves. I can’t think of anything worse than singing in an American accent to an American audience. I think that’d be really embarrassing.
There’s a graphic sense of sexuality in all of your albums which even increases in your titles . The latest one, particularly, deals with sexuality more intensely –the danger, the fallout and the joy of it. Do you consider yourselves to be romantics? And what does it mean to be a romantic?
Hayden: Well, we’re definitely romantic in what we do. I wouldn’t say we’re overly romantic compared to anyone else in the world but I think it is sort of our job to find romance in things. Everyone’s got romance in them. One of the greatest challenges, however, is to find romance and beauty in the small things, the everyday life.
Tom: Yeah there’s a mystery in everything. Romanticism is all about allowing uncertainty in your life and finding interest in it. Everything is interesting and everything should be interesting and dignified. The tide of soppy nonsense and the love songs that you generally tend to hear make it difficult in practice though. Even if this album is mainly love songs, the screw is a little bit turned. And I think that’s necessary.
I think that’s a really good way of describing it. You look at sensuality and physicality in a very straightforward way, but also acknowledge the ugliness, and the banality of it in a very unique manner. Especially for a group of all dudes.
Hayden: Well the ugliness is almost more beautiful than what’s supposed to be beautiful. Nowadays there’s this Hollywood version of love songs which is so unfulfilling and unsatisfying because it doesn’t really speak to you at all. I think the fucked up ending – the one that doesn’t make sense, the one that’s unfair, the one you don’t want to happen –is actually way more satisfying because it’s the closest one to reality. A creative outlet is there to make you feel like, “thank god I feel like that and you feel like that as well.” There’s that sort of mutual recognition of “let’s celebrate this sort of dysfunctionality of what we are.” – which is much more consoling and vital than any sort of Hollywood version.
Tom: It’s not just about romantic love, it’s more about the whole thing that underpins it. I don’t think it’s good enough to be going back to those old tropes as some people are doing. I think we need to be human.
Hayden: It was quite unexpected.
Ben: Yeah, it was a little odd at first.
Hayden: It was really the antithesis of what we’re trying to strive for. But at the same time, that was almost the lure because it made us flirt with that idea of…
Ben: Turning it on its head.
Hayden: Exactly. If it hadn’t been someone who we instantly recognized and felt an alliance to, then it probably would’ve been less attractive to us. It’s not really a typical Lady Gaga song either, it’s more of a freak song. It’s produced by the Def Leppard producer and it’s got Brian May playing guitar. But the unlikeliness and oddness of it was a real reason for doing it. Also she’s got a fan base of two and a half million people so it was really exciting to impose our character on something that’s so alien to us. It opened us up to so many people who would otherwise never come across what we do. I think there were people who were disappointed that we did it because of what she stands for. Also, there were people who felt this wasn’t musically representative of what we care about or what we do, you know. So, in some ways it was a risk, but it was one worth taking.
It’s funny because it certainly is not a Lady Gaga song. I don’t think you were aiming for any sort of pop/dance-friendly music in what you guys created. You really latched onto her vocal and turned it into more of a chant.
Hayden: We all grew up during the ‘90s rave period – and I think dance music is always what we do in the sort of simplicity of it and the sort of duality of it. There are a lot of great happy-sad dance songs which have the energy and the upbeat-ness of a party track, but also a sort of solemn, heartbroken vocal over the top. That’s a pretty winning combination. It’s actually something that I think the British did well for about five to ten years.
I don’t want to turn this into an “us versus them” thing, but that is a very British thing. I mean nobody did emotional dance music like you guys.
Hayden: Yeah, I think it’s a good European thing. Like I think the Scandinavians are really good sort of Baltic, bleak, heartfelt dance song, I think as well.
Tom: That’s something we kind of always looked for. The aftermath – after everything’s gone and the room is cold –and the desperation of dance music. The fact that “we can have a good time despite all of this” is something really European.
Hayden: I think it’s also something that’s quite specific to the North of England, as well. There were pretty significant movements in the North which is quite rare. London felt very distant, so we’ve always had a sort of faint affiliation with it.
Alright. So what is your own Wild Beast spirit animal?
Tom: Oh god. Well we had someone in Italy who asked us what kind of wild beast we were and then said: “I’m a wolf.” Just stone-faced.
Do you think they asked you that maybe just to lend that piece of info?
Tom: I reckon, yeah. I think that’s probably the whole interview piece.
Hayden: He said unironically, in all seriousness, “sometimes we’re cats and sometimes we’re dogs.”
Tom: I guess I’m kind of drawing attention here, but there is an amazing variety of dogs in New York. Every dog is so different and yet they all recognize each other as dogs. A huge Mastiff will be sniffing around a Chihuahua and they’ll both just know they’re dogs. That kind of variety is really nice, so I’d like to be a dog.
Hayden: I think if you’re away from home you get very soppy about little animals.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Hayden: And that’s the real key to this.
What about you guys?
Hayden: I don’t know. We get asked this question quite a lot.
Well, that’s what you get for a having a group with such a name
Hayden: Yeah, yeah. I always just get this weird wave of thinking about dolphins. I don’t know why.
Ben: I was gonna say dolphin as well. I love dolphins. They’re really intelligent.
Hayden: They’re intelligent, but they’re also real nasty.
Hayden: Yeah, and they have weird sort of sexual politics as well – and they’re quite creepy.
Tom: You find them creepy?
Hayden: Oh, really creepy.
Tom: Yeah, sea creatures are quite scary if you’ve seen like preying, manatees are quite scary.
Hayden: Yeah. I think we do get asked that a lot. I don’t think The Field- which is one of our favorite dance groups- gets asked on a regular basis, “What’s your favorite sort of field?” “Corn? Or oat-based field?”
Well, there’s something very archetypal about beasts…
Hayden: It’s true.
I mean, there’s not something as archetypal about fields.
Hayden: It’s true.
Tom: Well, I think we’re kind of growing into our name. Originally it was more of a nod to the Fauvists and Matisse and this movement of painters who were doing things that were subtle, but were branded as un-schooled or un-tutored and crass. It was also a nod to pop-rock booty bands like AC/DC cover bands and those kinds of stuff. I think we’re growing into it better, but if you look at Freudian dream series and that kind of thing – it’s only afterward that you become aware of these things and realize you were actually right all along. I read somewhere that Les Savy Fav also had the same inspiration.
Hayden: Oh, really?
Yeah. And dolphins. I read in some factoid that they’re the only other animals besides humans that have sex for pleasure.
Hayden: Yeah, and also, they rape and things like that.
Hayden: Yeah, it’s not nice.
So where are you guys heading from here?
Tom: We have three weeks in the U.S. and then France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Romania, the U.K., Ireland, Mexico. It’s a big tour, but we’re looking forward to it.
Your first tour is in a few months. So you must be rested up.
Tom: Well, we’ve had a busy summer. We haven’t been here for a while. But we’re always kind of ready to go.
My last question – and I ask this to everyone – is what is your favorite article of clothing that you have to bring with you and why?
Hayden: I think shoes are important. I always bring too many pairs of shoes. I think especially when you’re on stage – feeling grounded and feeling like you can hold yourself is pretty essential.
Tom: Yeah, I have these boots which kind of feel like World War I boots. They just make you feel like a man, you know what I mean? I feel like a serious person if I have proper shoes on.
Hayden: [to Chris] You have to wear a particular pair of shoes to drum.
Chris: They’re the last thing I put on before a show. They probably don’t do me any good wearing them, but I’d be lost without ‘em.
Hayden: [to Ben] And you’ve actually gotten a pair of shoes nicked.
Ben: I did, actually. Because I take ‘em off on stage and someone stole them ‘cause the leapt on the front of the stage. I couldn’t find the same ones anywhere, so these are my replacement. I kept them well back away from the front of the stage this time.
So all of you guys say shoes across the board.
Ben: And underpants. I’ve got – underpants are really good.
That you really treasure?
Ben: Yeah, I’ve got a lucky pair – well not a lucky pair, that’s horrible. But just a comfortable pair of underpants.