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Wild Beasts speak ahead of Southampton university gig
WILD Beasts are a long way from home.
Frontman Hayden Thorpe isn’t quite sure where he is, in all honesty, having just completed five weeks of shows in the United States before diving headlong into the European leg of their tour.
The band, which formed in the Cumbrian town of Kendal in 2002, are about to enter the home straight, however, with a run of UK gigs in November.
“It’s all very disorientating,”
says Thorpe, sitting backstage post-soundcheck at the Sudpol, a venue in the Swiss town of Lucerne. “But it’s all invigorating as well.”
The four-piece released their third album, Smother, earlier this year.
Rapturously reviewed, it followed on perfectly from previous records, word-ofmouth success and Mercury Prize-nominated Two Dancers.
With Smother, however, there’s a genuine sense that the band, despite on paper being something of a preposterous proposition – obtuse lyrics delivered largely by Thorpe’s falsetto vocal – are building toward huge success. The US tour dates also indicate things are taking off overseas, too.
“It’s a gamble,” says Thorpe. “There were some places in America, outside the main cultural hubs of Chicago, New York and LA, that were a huge gamble, but you have to take that risk.
The whole industry is built on belief.
“Since Smother was released we’ve noticed we’ve been given a lot of room and respect, and we’ve not been pigeon-holed either, which happens to a lot of bands that start doing well.
“That does mean, though, that there’s no slipstream for us to fall into to gain easy popularity and be heard by even more people.”
Thorpe, 26, wouldn’t have it any other way and believes the band’s unique sound could prove to be their most valuable asset when it comes to breaking through abroad.
“I think foreign audiences are used to being fed a very particular brand of British indie guitar music,” he says.
“That’s empowering for us, because we don’t belong to any particular sound.
“When I was growing up I was listening to bands from New York and Los Angeles and those places seemed a million miles away, sounding so romantic and exotic.
“We’re now going to those places and saying ‘We’re from a far-off land too’ and our music documents the landscapes we know and come from.”
Obviously a deep thinker, Thorpe’s mind is prone to wandering during conversation, although for someone so precise in his lyric-writing, it’s no surprise to find he’s also hugely articulate too.
Government cuts to arts funding trouble him a great deal, leaving him with the feeling that Wild Beasts could be one of the last bands not to emerge from familial money to make music.
“Britain is incredibly innovative and creative, and historically we’ve always been that way, but I wonder how artists who don’t grow up in money will make it in the future,” he muses.
“What sort of art are we going to create? Creative industries don’t promise much money as careers, so what will happen if we only get art that comes from one point of view?
“Wild Beasts step outside of that. We’re glaringly different.”
He goes on to explain, despite his concern over media and culture becoming more and more London-centric, that he and his three bandmates all moved to the capital several years ago.
“Embarrassingly we did move, yes,” he says. “I say embarrassingly because we only moved for practical reasons. We got sick of the M1 and the M6, basically, but we’ve always been so interested in the art made outside of the main hubs. It’s as vital and as interesting as what’s happening anywhere else.
“The north/south divide is getting bigger and bigger, though. I worry the UK will become like Italy, with two countries in one – one rich, one poor.”
Smother was written in a dingy room underneath a tower block in north-east London.
As with so much great art, the resulting work was a reaction to the environment it was born in. Instead of sounding claustrophobic and squalid, it sounds glacial and sprawling.
“We definitely go to the imagined, romantic place when we’re writing songs,” he explains. “Smother sounds like the abstract place we wanted to be. Back home in the Lake District, I suppose...” he adds, trailing off.
“The usual lifespan of an album is 18 months, and we’re six months in now, and while the album was very cathartic to make, there are a lot of emotions on there ready to be put to bed, I think.”
• Wild Beasts play Southampton University on Monday.