Wild Beasts Interview

Sophie: Boy King is a lot more electronic than your earlier music, but there was evidence pointing towards this transition on Present Tense. Does this parallel a growing interest in modern electronic music or is it something you’ve always enjoyed?

Tom: There’s definitely been a desire to change and a desire to incorporate the things we’re interested in. We’ve always used electronics in a fairly dumb, clumsy way – I’m definitely a guitar player at a keyboard if you get what I mean. Don’t get me wrong, the early music was very much guitar-based and drums but it’s eventually crept in and crept in up to Present Tense which is virtually all electronic. Boy King was an attempt to make it sound less cloudy and much harder hitting. The guitars that do feature are super loud and distorted. That was something we felt we had to do in order to not repeat ourselves, and not to tire everyone out. We didn’t want to retreat into making ‘Wild Beasts records’ or what we thought people wanted from us. We perversely tried not to do that.

“I bought a really ridiculous, pointy shred guitar because I’ve always wanted one”

S: I’ve seen far more DJ sets than gigs while I’ve been at uni, and that got me interested in how you’ve blended the traditional components of a band with electronic elements on this record. I want to focus on the track ‘Tough Guy’ in particular, because this one starts off quite minimalistic with just a beat, bass groove, synth and the lyrical melody…but then there’s a heavy distorted riff introduced in the chorus. I heard you had fun experimenting with new guitar sounds and pedals on this record, did you find it easy to balance this with the electronic vibe?

T: I bought a really ridiculous, pointy shred guitar because I’ve always wanted one, and it just seemed to make sense to have distorted sounds against synth – it felt consistent. FX pedals are a really good way of blending the two. Pedals and modulation effects kind of simonise the guitar in a way that takes it somewhere other than the strummy-strummy stuff.

S: As I said, I go to uni in Newcastle, and club culture is massive up here. I’ve seen far more DJ sets here than gigs. Are there any particular DJs/ electronic artists that influenced this record sonically?

T: My relationship with electronic music is very rarely through the front door. Certainly this record was influenced by things like Nine Inch Nails and ambient Black Metal. The last record was more influenced by Dance music and Hip Hop. This record was a lot more Metal and Pop. They were like the twin poles we were trying to combine. I wonder if it’s changing up North, but I lived in Leeds for a lot of years and there were always bands and DJs but the two would never meet. Whereas down South it feels a lot more combined and it’s just presumed that if you like horrible Indie music you’re involved in electronic music as well. Any correspondence is good.

S: Relating to club culture, you guys recently made some comments about the human need ‘to get fucked up’. You’ve said the track ‘Celestial Creatures’ is about feeling like a god at a rave or when you’re fucked, and to me it sounded like the lyrics were also about feeling at one with fellow people who are fucked and that sense of companionship. Would you say you feel more empowered on stage in a live band, or when you’re immersed in a crowd in front of a DJ, and why?

T: Personally-speaking, I think I leave some of the real me on stage – that’s kind of the person you wanna be. All the performance anxiety, and human impotence – you just leave it behind and you just inhabit that for a bit. You have this amazing catharsis and then you come of stage and you’re like, ‘that was weird’. That’s why we got into performing in the first place, we wanted to find a way to express something through that.

S: I can imagine its quite fun fiddling around with synthesisers in a studio but does playing these on stage take away from the raw energy you get from playing in a more conventional live band at all?

T: This record feels like a lot more of a rock show when we play it live, I’d say the guitars are very dominant. On the record we all do play electronic stuff so we’ll all be programming stuff or using samplers and keyboards but essentially this record was made up of band-in-a-room performances rather than in-the-box production – it was more like, ‘this is the sound we make, let’s play it in two or three takes’. For example, real drums have just been put through effects and filters, so it’s very much a ‘band performing’ record. We have keyboards around us, but it’s not just us standing around at keyboards.

“it’s a protest album of a fairly cynical kind of living”

S: Now onto the lyrics, you seem to have addressed themes like sexuality in ways that are slightly less crude than in earlier tracks. Would you say this is a subconscious sign of you maturing musically and just as people, or was it intentional?

T: Well, any criticism of this record has been that it’s too dumb or too macho which I was fine with. It’s a lot more cut and dry and I think there’s a lot of performative masculinities on the record which is satirical. In the early days we were being a lot more tender and lyrical, and Boy King is bit more brutal, in some ways it’s a protest album of a fairly cynical kind of living. I hope it’s a cathartic record.

S: There’s a lyric on the album: ‘I like it messy, don’t you make it neat’, and I think Hayden referred to Boy King as a bit of a mess in an interview. To me, sonically it feels structured because of the way that there’s a beat/ running pulse that flows throughout…in what sense is it messy to you guys?

T: It was made really quickly – we wrote it for ages and then recorded it in a couple of weeks. And we weren’t really concerned with how it was gonna be received. It was almost a deliberate and perverse raiding of our back catalogue. Compared to the meticulous planning of Present Tense it was an entirely different prospect.

S: You talk about your own individual capacity as human beings to be gods, and tough guys, and big cats, and alpha females ruling the world, but do you have any role models either musically or not who inspire you and who transcend humanity in your eyes?

T: A lot of those posers on the record are satirical and are made from frailties. I’ve always liked writers and I’m a big reader. I loved female writers like Angela Carter and people who did crazy things with storytelling and challenged everything I’d thought was certain. I’ve started exploring unpleasantness and unpleasant masculinity. What I really like about good music is that it seems to be about something small but it’s actually about something a lot bigger and that also applies to instrumental, electronic, minimal stuff, it’s a thread I can follow through all the music I like.

S: You kind of answered my next question there – I’m an English Literature student so I was interested by the references to literature and literary characters in your earlier albums. Does literature still influence you musically today and are there any particular texts that influenced Boy King?

T: Yeah, it does, but I think I’ve lost the desire to prove I’m clever. We’re all over proving our intellectualisms. But it definitely still features.

“I’ve lost the desire to prove I’m clever”

S: Finally, you’ve talked about pushing yourselves in new directions musically rather than settling for a particular sound. I know you’re still touring Boy King but do you know what direction you’d like to take next, or is there a genre you’d like to explore? I heard a Wild Beasts’ soul record was initially on the cards…

T: It was but that got broken up along the way. I think we’ll be touring Boy King for quite a while so we’ll stew our ideas during that period. We’ve gotta let things happen in their own time.

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