Interview: Wild Beasts
Each Wild Beasts album is different from the last, and Boy King, their fifth full-length sees them making their biggest leap yet. Whilst their previous records have gradually moved towards a more serene sound, Boy King pushes in a new direction, embracing punk aggression and political angst.
We caught up with the group’s bassist and co-vocalist Tom Fleming, to talk about the new record.
Chris Bohlsen: How are you, and where does our interview find you today?
Tom Fleming: At home in London, recovering from the first run of shows.
CB: How’s the recording process for Boy King been treating you? Feel geared up to tour?
TF: The recording process was hugely painstaking in the demo stage, then wonderfully quick, even life affirming in the actual recording. I think this record will lend itself really well to playing live. It’s a band-in-the-room record despite all the synthetic elements, and the gestures are a little bigger than we’ve done before.
CB: Each of your albums feels very much like a natural evolution of its predecessor, with Two Dancers being stripped back into Smother, then made punchier with Present Tense, then even more so on Boy King. Do you think you’d ever want to make a really dramatic change in sound or style between albums, like a Kid A-level shift?
TF: Well I’m glad you see a logic between the records. This one to me feels like our sunset strip record, a limey band in America making a processed sounding rock record. It’s funny that what we see as a big aesthetic leap actually puts us more in line with our earlier recordings. Certainly we have it in us I think, we just want to make sure it’s consistent with everything else we’re doing.
CB: What was John Congleton like as a producer? Is it intimidating to work with someone with a resumé of his calibre?
TF: John was a joy to work with. Of course he would tell us something in no uncertain terms if he felt it was wrong, but he also said that ultimately, it was our record. He worked very quickly and at a very high level, he had us up and running in something like 20mins, which is absurdly quick. We were very aware of what he had done up to that point, and how man great records he had made, so we wanted to turn up match fit and with a good collection of songs.
CB: Whilst at first the lyrics of Boy King seem to be somewhat of a return to the style of your debut, you’ve indicated that they may be somewhat more complex than that, eg: Get My Bang being about the “orgy of consumerism”. Given how much fans and critics associate your work with sensuality, do you worry your themes are being misinterpreted?
TF: I’m not sure it’s ever something I worry about, as I know you have to sail quite close to the edge to say something that’s of interest. Certainly it’s possible, the innuendos are left in there deliberately, and our focus on unpleasant masculinity and self-loathing might sound a little off-centre, but that’s part of the point. We’re not just trying to be seductive when we talk about sex, we want all the nastiness and doubt and uncertainty out there too.
CB: You’ve said that you wanted everything on Present Tense to be “as small as it could be”. What made you decide to change tack with Boy King?
TF: Haha probably the opposite. We went for deliberately dumb this time, big gestures that could not be missed. If anything Present Tense feels a little stiff to us now, and we wanted to let some of the dirt and grit back in. And have some fun on stage!
CB: Some of the lyrics on Present Tense seemed quite contented, especially in regards to personal relationships, but a glance at the tracklist for Boy King demonstrates some more aggressive stylings (Tough Guy, He The Colossus, Eat Your Heart Out Adonis). Is there due to your own personal lives, or more outside stimuli?
TF: It’s a mix of both I suppose. We are all past thirty now, and the best version of ourselves is not just around the corner anymore, so when disaster does happen, it’s very hard to pick yourself up and just start again. These are cruel and selfish times, and we wanted to make a record that reflected that. A healthy distaste for the straight world has to be in the suitcase when you leave for the studio.
CB: When you released your last two albums, you also released a solid roster of B-sides. Can we expect the same from your Boy King sessions?
TF: Absolutely. There is a Boy King Trash composition, which is made up of phone recordings, loops, demos etc etc, and a Boy King Negatives (alternate versions of the songs) which I think is available exclusively through Rough Trade. There is a 7” of two songs that didn’t make it to the record. I also imagine there will be more drip-fed as the album comes to life a bit more.
CB: Your album art has seemingly become progressively more colourful over the course of your last few albums. Would you say that represents a sort of maturing, or less of a need to take things so seriously?
TF: Ha I think that it’s both. We’ve survived 10 years in the music industry and at this point we have zero fucks left to give. Maybe as we’ve got older we’ve learned to wear our learning more lightly, rather than hammer people over the head with the books we’ve read. I think , maybe we’ve got more accurate and precise as we’ve got older, so when we stretch what we’re doing, we know exactly why.
CB: As band members, do you have rigid roles, or are you willing to experiment with your respective positions?
TF: Absolutely not, and more by accident than by design. I began playing bass, now I play almost exclusively guitar, thereby switching with Hayden. He and I also share lead vocal duties. Benny migrated from guitar to synth and back again, Chris plays all the drums but also a lot of keys in the studio, Hayden does a lot of programming. We’ve always been the Beatles model of everyone does everything, even if we look more like a trad rock band than ever before.
CB: Given the neon-hued aesthetic of Boy King, it seems like you’re making a bit of a push away from typical “art-rock” stylings. In the past, you’ve talked about wanting to write “good pop songs”. Would you say that’s been more of a goal on the new album?
TF: I think less art, more rock, but in reality we’re always going to be a skinny British outsider band I think. We started with post-punk and English folk, so that isn’t a typical seed from which a straight bar band grows. I think part of this record is leaving some of our artier tendencies aside, or at least giving them a more streamlined and photogenic gloss.
CB: Your cover of Wrecking Ball was loads of fun. Do you think you’ll take on more covers outside your typical sphere of influence? Or remixes, like you did for Born this Way?
TF: Thanks, it was a lot of fun! I don’t see why not, it’s something we were reluctant to do at first in case we were better known for that than for our own songs, but I have to say, I used to play in a covers band way back and I do like singing other people’s songs. I’m sure we will.
CB: Have you been listening to anything that’s influenced Boy King, or do you think your sounds come about more naturally? It’s interesting that as lots of pop and indie music is becoming more minimal, yours seems to be expanding.
TF: Well, speaking personally, and the guys will hate me for this, but when we were writing the record, I would go home and listen to Van Halen and Def Leppard for a break, and in the end I think a lot of that made it on to the record! Bowie died as we arrived in Texas, so his records are a big factor on the record, as were Nine Inch Nails, who we were all listening to heavily. I think it’s important to stick your neck out and take a lead in things, we’re sort of baiting criticism with this record; we have no desire to be a traditional sounding British indie band.
CB: Thanks for your time.
TF: Thanks very much!
Wild Beasts new record, Boy King is available now.