Wild Beasts weren’t a band which was going to make it big. Sure, Domino signed the band after they released their first singles in the UK, but that decision was made with the same motivation as remastering and compiling the work of Orange Juice and Josef K: reinvesting all their Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand profits into promoting post-punk acts long gone that people would otherwise never hear. Some record companies are cool.
The Beasts’ debut album Limbo, Panto was fantastic, but their falsetto vocals and wood block percussion wasn’t the most fashionable music. Now they’re back with a new album, Two Dancers, out September 9 on Domino Records, and it sounds like they’re ready for the top. Bassist and shared lead vocalist Tom Fleming took time from preparing for the band’s first North American shows to answer a few of my questions.
Daniel: Where does the music of Wild Beasts stem from? Is it a personal reflection of the band or a neatly designed aesthetic merging your influences?
Tom Fleming: It’s instinctive, to a point. Obviously it’s closely related to what we’ve listened to in our formative years, but we’ve tried to filter it through who we are and what we’ve seen and done. The aesthetic of the band was formed in practice, in rehearsal in our basement, rather than being an abstract idea of what we’d like to be. I suppose it’s something that’s only about 10% choice and thought, the rest is down to just trusting what you think is right.
Daniel: Many of the musical elements found on your first album Limbo, Panto can be found on Two Dancers: chiming guitars, low growls to high falsetto vocals, and non-traditional percussion. However, where they were once used as an all out joyous assault on the listener, you seem to be trying and succeeding with various new styles by using a more calculated method. How do you describe the new direction in your sound?
Tom: We wanted to pare it down and make something that was more minimal and adult, more telling of where we were when we recorded it. We’d been sitting on the songs off Limbo, Panto for what seemed like a long time, whereas this was more automatic, written and recorded quickly with a lot of things left to chance. We’d been listening to a lot of electronic music, and we’ve tried to think about the structures, sounds and restraint of that approach, while still keeping the human grime intact. And thank you.
Daniel: Is the name Wild Beasts a reflection of your appreciation of art or just a clever name? Does modern art make you want to rock out?
Tom: Les Fauves was one reason for the name, that these subtle painters who were messing with the tradition were branded vulgar and distasteful. It’s also a red herring name, like it’s the sort of name a pub rock band might have. The band used to be called Fauve, which was then translated both to wrongfoot people, but also to get out of the trap of using a clever French name when an English one would be more of a reflection. Actually, we were recently talking about Stanley Spencer and Darren Waterston, but we don’t rock out, we ooze.
Daniel: Whereas many of the songs on Limbo, Panto had been released in alternate versions on Bad Sneakers Records, Two Dancers features all new songs. How has your album development and recording process evolved on your sophomore album?
Tom: This was a lot more accidental, there was a lot more trusting of each other. It was a very cottage-industry release, done quickly, on a relatively low budget with cheap equipment and with people we know well. I think we risked the correct things and took care of the correct things. I suppose that although we felt we were riding a wave at the time, it might not have worked out. We are trying to eliminate the songwriterly aspect of our music, make it more automatic and capture the instinctive response that comes about in rehearsal.
Daniel: Two Dancers has barely been released and you’ve already received acclaim from many reputable music publications. How do you measure success?
Tom: We’re very pleased, flattered and humbled that people are praising what we do. I suppose success is your music travelling farther than you have, and doing something that only you could do at this particular time. And having more to do in the future.
Daniel: Is Wild Beasts an “indie” band? Coming from Kendal, England and having toured all over, is there any difference between what indie means in England and places afar?
Tom: “Indie” is a very troublesome word in the UK, all skinny boys in leather playing skiffle on major labels. In the traditional sense, I’d argue we definitely qualify. In the musical sense, it’s what you tell people if you don’t want to get into describing how you sound. We try not to get too hung up on it being the albatross around our neck, I think we’re doing it in the right spirit.
Daniel: What do you think of the today’s musical landscape? Are you fans of new music? If so, do you have any new favourites you would like to share? If not, is it Liam Gallagher’s fault?
Tom: Whilst this is an awful time for the music industry, it’s also wonderfully fluid and confusing time for music. New favourites, personally, um, The XX, Little Dragon, The Invisible, Mount Eerie maybe. I’m aware that looks like a try-hard’s list, but you have to grasp at the things that float into your view. There’s always going to be more nonsense than sense. Liam Gallagher, bless him, is but a man.
Daniel: What is one album that you believe everyone should listen to at least once in their life?
Tom: Trout Mask Replica. There are more, but this one was a real education.
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