Wild Beasts interview
It’s Laneway nest week. That’s exciting. They’ve got several artists I’d like to have a peek at – including Bridezilla, Florence And The Machine, The XX, Daniel Johnston and Wild Beasts. Rockin’! To celebrate, here’s an interview I conducted with Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts. Raw and unedited as it is, it’s also an EXCLUSIVE to you, dear reader.
You’ve described the new album Two Dancers as “more minimal and adult”…
“We tried to develop more restraint on this record. We grew up a lot as a band, as individuals, between the two records. We tried to introduce some adult longing on this record. The album is sexually charged, I guess, there’s a lot of love and sex and cheating and lying on it – and they are more adult themes, or at least we’re thinking about them in a more forgiving way. It’s not a relationship record, it’s a knowing record. We’re no longer angry young kids.”
There’s a great quote from you: “We don’t rock out, we ooze…”
(nervous laughter) ”We’re playing with our image as being dirty Nancy boys. We are more of a rock band than we ever were. We’re not four to the floor, we use triplets, we’re skittering. We don’t bang it out. We hope that we’re slippery and funky rather than brutish and rough. This album was supposed to be a version of dance music, so as such we play it more metronomically, with controlled energy rather than with exuberance.”
Are you a fan of new music, or do you think the concept is redundant in an age where anyone can follow the trail if they want to?
“We were just about pre-Internet. I’m 24 years old. I’m from a small town, and I can remember going into a shop and ordering a Captain Beefheart or a Marvin Gaye record and waiting two weeks for it to show up. It’s great being a consumer rather than a producer, cos it’s always on your plate – but there will always be people who will want to do something. There’s definitely stuff I wonder how I missed, but at the same time I always try and discover new music. It’s easy to be disappointed, the emperor’s new clothes. A lot of stuff touted as the next big thing is a load of crap. Everything is worth your time, but some things really are. They’re revelatory and blind-side you. Something you haven’t comes across before can be absolutely liberating. Just recently a duet (?) Michael Gira did with Xiu Xiu, a duet. I have no idea how we missed them.
“Michael Gira is Angels of Light (and pretty much my favourite songwriter when he’s on form). The duet is called ‘Under Pressure’ and it’s the most hilarious thing I’ve ever heard, and they’re generally pretty sombre writers. All the Xiu Xiu I’ve heard has been a revelation. Dirty Projectors seem to divide people but I think their last record was a load of fun. A man calling himself Mount Eerie released a pretty spectacular album this year. The band The Invisible also did (think that was ‘09).”
Do Wild Beasts fit in with other bands?
“Maybe more than we did. We’re from the background where the music industry is a distant dream that happens to somebody else. We had no choice but to choose our own way. We don’t know other bands personally. Obviously, we live in the world. We’re trying to do something with the music we hear, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. We’re aware of our environment. We’re not retro-ists. We’re looking for a modern experience.”
“It’s very fluid. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t know where to start. There has to be an awareness of what’s to come and where you are now. It’s very tempting to be referential to the old.”
Please give me three non-musical influences.
“The French writer, Helene Vixous – she’s like a feminist writer. She wrote my favourite book (if pushed), Le Livre de Promethea, which is a kind of a love story. ‘If you forget to love me for even an instant, my life would be instantly obliterated like a dream.’ It riffs all over again and again about the idea of being on fire. It’s awe-inspiring, and I don’t read French, which is frustrating.
“Repeating metaphors is a big thing on the album, the idea of sex and the idea of suffering – obviously we take what we need and leave the rest. I also like English writer Angela Carter: the mix of the fable with the very frank sexuality is very cool. The start of her book Nights At The Circus is where we got the ‘Watch me! Watch me!’ line from. I also like Passion Of New Eve (‘Walls of meat and slimy velvet’) and I caught Hayden hitting on The Bloody Chamber recently. That idea about performance and degrees of uncertainty, you never quite know what’s real and what isn’t. These are two very great writers.
“‘Watch me, watch me’ is also from James Brown’s ‘Superbad’.”
‘All The King’s Men’ calls out to the “Girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley, girls from Hounslow, girls from Whitby”. There’s a degree of humour on the album…
“I’m glad you see that. It’s supposed to be like a Carry On film, but a little bit disturbing, the small town diary of driving around in a Range Rover and picking up girls from the Sixth Form. It’s a character thing, where you put on a character. It’s supposed to be a dirty joke.”
Tell me about the importance of performance.
“We’re a lot less flamboyant in person than on record. It gives us that freedom. We’re not mucky bastards all the time. It’s a relief, playing live – it doesn’t work walking around trying to be interesting all the time. Putting on characters, it’s more real to tell a story. A story should be interesting enough and it should be embellished, there’s a way of telling the truth that’s more than I’m working in a supermarket and God I’m miserable. You talk about that and make it into something else. Then it’s relatable.”
You reined in some of the wildness for Two Dancers…
“It was conscious. We were aware there were four people all trying to speak – because of that not everyone can get what they want. We think that’s healthy for a band. Emotions are more powerful when they’re kept in slightly, more restrained. Anyone can release that frustration. It’s trying to do something with it.”
Were you surprised at the over-the-top reception for the album back in the UK?
“Yes. When we made it we had no expectation. When the record company heard they went absolutely ape-shit. I was astonished at the way we suddenly clicked with some people. It’s as if we challenged people in the right ways – like we’re got something right that we didn’t get on the first record. The Associates thing still surprises me – they’ve something that’s never quite allied with me. There’s the occasional Queen reference, but generally speaking…”
Tell me about the perils of being from up North…
(laughs) “It’s what I’m talking about, having to be the blunt Northerner and being macho and trying to show your emotions against the flamboyance, and looking enviously at US music and wondering why I can’t be that. The Smiths, A Certain Ratio, The Gang Of Four… we don’t have anything like that now. I still live up there, because we ran out of money. I moved back into my parents… it was very nice of them. There’s no liberating distance being from down South. I find being down there very stifling, but then you get the whole thing of being an intellectual band when you come down South – and the accusations of being a posh boy, a public school boy, when you meet your accuser is very funny. It’s very strange the way people associate intelligence with class. It’s complex.”
What are you feelings about ‘lad rock’?
“When I was growing up, dance music filled the hole that lad rock later occupied when I was a teenager. I’m really not into strum bands with 60s haircuts but there are plenty of people who are. PLENTY. At the time when a lot of people my age were getting into these bands, I was getting into American metal, so I can’t really hold my head all that high. I think that we’re maybe on the lad-rock continuum though, bearing in mind the time and place we’re from. The first song I wanted to play, aged 10, was ‘Wonderwall’.”
How do you feel about the “skipping-CD Beach Boys Meets The Lion King soundtrack” generation…?
“I think you’re referring to my generation. It’s a hilarious description and I’m not overjoyed by twentysomethings in their bedrooms on ableton (Animal Collective are not in this category). I think that the kind of sound you mean has been interesting and is now really formulaic, as happens to anything. I have a lot of optimism that this is a transitional period, and that a lot of good music has been produced recently – as opposed to the couple of years earlier, which bore some abhorrent trends.”
Is J.M Barrie an influence?
“Like escapism? Or like never growing old? We’re fantasists and romantics I suppose, but in relation to what I said about true stories being boring, I think all our fantasies are just readings of real life.”
Two Dancers is both melancholy and sexual…
“Thank you very much. Sex is kind of Sisyphean, again again again again. Desire happens against your will and there’s nothing as powerful. And the gulf between fantasy and reality is huge. But there’s a beauty in that, which is something you can only work out for yourself as it happens to you. And that everything you do has an affect on somebody else. And that the genitals and the head and the feet and the eyes and the ears and the memory are all part of the same whole. There’s a lot of pulse and movement on the album, and some pain, and some joy. Love is very confusing.”
Favourite artists (visual, etc)…
“I really like a Californian painter called Darren Waterston, he’s a landscape painter with the landscapes removed, totally abstracted. Hockney is a Don. I fucking love Bosch and Breughel, but I’m not sure how much any of these rub up against wild beasts. Consciously, anyway.”
Are you familiar with the work of comic book writer Grant Morrison – he was in a Scottish band called The Fauves in the 80s?
“I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.”