Wild Beasts – “A bit ugly, a little bit crude, a bit awkward”
“We’re getting better at flirting with disaster in our songs and getting away with it”. Wild Beasts mix it up for their fourth album, ’Present Tense’
Wild Beasts: Chris Talbot, Tom Fleming, Hayden Thorpe and Ben Little
When does a band go from being “good” to being “important”? For Wild Beasts it happened around 2011, when their third album, Smother , was released to great fanfare and the best reviews of their career. Comparisons to genre-defining acts such as Talk Talk abounded and the Kendal quartet were described as “the most inspirational, intriguing, effortlessly enrapturing band at work on these shores” by the BBC. No pressure, then.
“The thing is, you always think you’re an important band,” grins Fleming. “In your head, you always think you’re the shit, and it’s either true or it isn’t. You can drive yourself crazy worrying about what other people think of you.”
On a brief pit stop in Dublin ahead of the release of their fourth album, Present Tense , it’s evident that the working relationship between the articulate pair has been refined and buffed over the course of 11 years of making music together. Since 2008’s Limbo, Panto – which introduced us to their unique, jubilantly oddball, hyper-intelligent indie-pop with remarkable vocals – the duo’s songwriting partnership has gone from strength to strength. The well-received Two Dancers followed in 2009, before a move to London from Leeds the following year offered the new horizons explored on Smother . Fleming says the city’s influence can also be heard on Present Tense .
“This record was very much imagined in London,” he explains. “It’s very much a ‘city’ record in every sense. In practical terms, it was begun on a computer because space is expensive there; in a lot of ways, it’s reflective of living in an expensive and unfair city.”
“London’s one of those cities that gets in you; it kind of gets under your nails and imposes its ways upon you,” agrees Thorpe. “London chooses you, and I think it’s definitely a record made under that guise. There’s a kind of competition with a huge amount of musicians and creative people, and that stirs up a lot of aggro - but I think it kind of suits us, in a way, because it’s not comfortable. It’s certainly not this romantic creative hub. I think it’s very important not to become too big a fish in a small pond.”
There were a lot of changes this time around, not least the period of time it took to record. While their last two albums had been done in intense, two-week blocks, Present Tense was given space to develop between January and May last year, and was recorded with new producers Lexx and Brian Eno’s protégé Leo Abrahams, rather than the band’s regular collaborator Richard Formby. The extra time meant the foursome could put some thought into where they are going next, and not just “make another Wild Beasts record”, as Thorpe puts it. The lead single, Wanderlust , with its dark, pinging synth and repetitive drumming, is a good example of the shift in style. While much of Smother retained a warm, comforting throb, there is a wilful abrasiveness to Present Tense . It is about “beautifying those ugly feelings” in a less obvious way, says Thorpe.