IN THE isolation of the English Lake District, a group of young men, fascinated by French art and poetry, started to make music without any regard for the prevailing trends in London or Manchester. Through being as uninhibited as their French heroes they have created a unique sound. They are Wild Beasts.
Wild Beasts make their Galway debut when they play Strange Brew at the Róisín Dubh on Thursday March 25 at 8pm. The band are looking forward to this Irish tour and indeed lead singer Hayden Thorpe has Irish blood in his veins.
“It’s about time we spread our wings a little in Ireland as we’ve only been to Dublin and Belfast before,” Hayden tells me from his hotel room in Toronto, Canada, where the band are currently touring. “My mum’s maiden name is Regan but she is Australian, but she is definitely descended from Irish Catholics who went to Australia. That’s the only Irish link I can find.”
Wild Beasts - Tom Fleming (tenor vocal/bass ), Ben Little (guitar ), Chris Talbot (baritone vocals/percussion ), and Hayden Thorpe (falsetto vocals/guitar ) - were formed in the small town of Kendal, in Cumbria, northwest England.
The town’s isolation from the main music trends in London, Manchester, Oxford, and Leeds were crucial to the Beasts’ development of their highly individual take on indie-rock.
“Being out of the cultural loop meant that as a band we had to be self-sufficient and the dynamic had to come from us,” explains Hayden. “I think in the long term that helped as we already had our mind made up about certain things other young musicians can be influenced by.
“By the time the latest trends made their way to Kendal they were already six months old so we could look at them with a certain scepticism and feel ‘They’re not as great as they’re made out. Why the big fuss?’ That influenced us immensely.”
Kendal’s isolation allowed the band time to grow on their own terms, without being distracted by outside pressures.
“When me and Ben were writing songs together,” says Hayden, “we explored our sound and found that from very early on we gained most excitement when we were at our most unhinged and uninhibited.”
In particular it helped give birth to the band’s signature sound - the chiming, echoing guitars which create a clean, dream like, sound, and above all Hayden’s beautifully uninhibited falsetto voice, which dances freely and majestically over the music.
“I wouldn’t sing in any other voice and it’s the best relief and pleasure,” declares Hayden. “It becomes a dependency and it’s even better as a coping mechanism, and that it is mine. It’s a very bodily thing and it’s soothing for me. It was never a big deal until we went public and that’s when people started taking my voice as the main reference point, before we just took it for granted.”
The band’s origins lie in a group formed in 2002 by Hayden and Ben called Fauve. Fauve is the French for ‘wild beast’ and was also the name given to a group of French artists, including Henri Matisse and André Derain, when they exhibited a controversial, but influential, series of works in Paris in 1905.
“Fauve was the name given to them referring to them as outrageous, non-conforming artists, slandering the good name of art through their use of colour,” explains Hayden, “but in the long term they were seen as visionary and forward thinking, and that interested us.
“We always thought it was a great starting point for making art. Being willing to shock and surprise and understand the value of being free in that sense is huge. It’s worth more than cheap praise for having a sense of safety. There has been a slight reflection of that in that we have been put down as not entirely digestible.”
The band anglicised their name to Wild Beasts in 2004 and released their eponymous demo EP that year. In 2005 they relocated to Leeds, building up a reputation for their live shows, and releasing the Espirit De Corps and All Men EPs. In 2006 their debut single ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ reached No 17 in the independent charts.
The band signed to Domino Records and released their debut album Limbo, Panto in 2008, followed by the magnificent Two Dancers last August. The album was deservedly hailed by critics as a great work, with The Sunday Times calling it “one of 2009’s indisputable masterpieces”
Another French artist, the poet Arthur Rimbaud, has also been an inspirational figure to Wild Beasts, particularly to Hayden when writing the lyrics for Two Dancers.
“What struck me is how instant he was,” says Hayden. “He could deal with very ugly subjects and wouldn’t be afraid of writing about the mundane and brutal and making it into a beautiful thing. He did that expertly. He has that element of shock but he is doing something more amazing than just shock tactics.
“He was a teenager when he was writing these poems and I like the fact he tried to capture that teenage confusion that pop music captures, as pop is built on teen emotions. He was dealing with those same emotions in his era and what he felt was very similar to what I felt as a teenager in this era.”
Not surprisingly Wild Beasts consider themselves Francophiles. It is also not surprising that like the Fauves, in paintings such as Matisse’s Le Bonheur De Vivre, or the poems of Rimbaud, the band deal with sex in a frank and earthy manner on such songs as ‘All The Kings Men’, ‘The Fun Powder Plot’, and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’.
“It’s a constant well of material and it’s a human fascination,” says Hayden. “People like exploring it, hearing about it, scandalising about it. If we weren’t fascinated by sex humans wouldn’t be here. It works for us and it’s rare, in a band sense, for guys to speak so frankly about it.
“For so long we were stuck in the dark ages of testosteronic rock with a black and white comic book style approach to sex. We want to be more complex about it as it’s a complex subject. We feel more comfortable at those most tender points where you’re feeling a bit too much but by being that open it makes you more open to other facets of yourself.”
The quality of Wild Beast’s magnificent music, the acclaim they enjoy in the process, and the rising public interest in Britain and Ireland, sees them on the verge of big things, but how are the band being received in their home town of Kendal?
“Warmly,” says Hayden. “There’s definitely been a sea change after being on Jools Holland. He introduced us as ‘a band from Kendal’. People were surprised and happy Kendal was being mentioned in the same breath as more international places.
“We don’t often go home but when we do people shake your hand in the street and say they are proud of what we are doing and that’s wonderful to hear. We did a Christmas homecoming show which went great. It’s strange but the further we go the less attached we feel but the more attached Kendal becomes to us. It’s a strange irony.”
Support is from Villagers and Lone Wolf. Gugai will be DJing afterwards. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.