August 15, 2016


How Do Wild Beasts, A Great Rock Band, Overcome the ‘Tyranny of the New’?

Tom Andrew
Tom Andrew

“What do you hope for in a skydive?” Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe asks. “You’re hoping to feel fucking good for a minute—what other point is there to jumping out of a plane?”

We’re not talking about skydiving, really. We’re talking about an artist’s drive to create no matter the circumstances or “buzz” around a specific project. We’re talking about the British quartet’s insatiable desire to reinvent after spending a decade releasing dizzyingly ornate indie rock and slowly scooping up fans, some in the United States and most across the pond. Why do they keep going? Because they need to feel alive.

“What other point is there to make an album,” Thorpe continues, “to expose yourself to everyone to put yourself out there, other than to satiate that craving within yourself?”

Thorpe says that Wild Beasts could have rested on their laurels with Boy King, their fifth album, released on Aug. 5. They could have decamped once again to London and, as he puts it, “started looking at albums with a backyard, or an album where the kids can run around.” In other words, Wild Beasts could have become middle-aged. 

All four of their previous albums have been critically acclaimed enough to bestow Thorpe and co. with sizable audiences; in 2009, sophomore LP Two Dancers was given a Best New Music grade from Pitchfork and earned a nomination for the Mercury Prize in the U.K. That was seven years ago, and although Wild Beasts have released two excellent albums since (2011’s Smother and 2014’s Present Tense), the online adoration has become a little less pronounced with each new release and tour, the new-car smell squarely dissipated since last decade’s breakout album. The problem with being as consistently good as Wild Beasts are is that there’s no fresh narrative for casual fans to sink their teeth into.

“I think there is a ‘tyranny of the new,’” says bassist/vocalist Tom Fleming. “We’ve been around a little while, so it’s hard to generate as much attention as we did in the early days. In terms of legacy, the ground is ever-shifting beneath our feet, so I think we all took the attitude that we’re only ever as good as the next thing we make.

Fleming continues, “I think we have accumulated various thinkers, outsiders and weirdos along the way who subscribe to what we do—which is really amazing for us! I think we are very keen to keep twisting the knife, to find new modes in which to say something.”

For Boy King, Wild Beasts decided to record in the U.S. for the first time, flying to Dallas in January to work with John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans) and mine a more muscular, unforgiving sound. Gone are the careful arrangements and subtle gender politics, replaced by more guitar pedal, heavier drums and unrepentant masculinity. Fleming and Thorpe trade declarations like “I feel it, the real id!” and “That’s how I get my bang!” on “Get My Bang”; on “Tough Guy,” they try to figure out how exactly to grow up with virtue, and without getting their asses kicked.

It’s an album about “being an unpleasant bastard,” Fleming notes, and he credits Congleton for helping Wild Beasts extract that sneer. “I think there’s a confidence to it and a zero-fucks-given attitude, which I think John helped us achieve,” he says.

Thorpe adds, “Given our British sensibilities, having someone encourage you to ‘stop fucking saying sorry’ was kind of quite a powerful thing. There was no self-consciousness. There was nowhere to hide.”

Once again, Wild Beasts have earned favorable reviews for Boy King, with an average score of 78 out of 100 on Metacritic upon its release; they’ve also scored a Top 10 debut on the U.K. album chart, despite minimal sales in the States. No matter: The band will continue making indie rock for those who still want it—maybe back with Congleton in Dallas, which they loved.

“Recording an album is like a chemical reaction,” says Thorpe. “With any chemical reaction, it changes things permanently. Putting a record out changes your life permanently—it is a piece of work that will exist in our lives forever.”