The most idiosyncratic of 2008’s pop successes, Leeds-based four-piece Wild Beasts have taken their singular sound to the masses and seen it clutched tight to many a warm bosom.
‘Limbo, Panto’ ranks in the Clash top 40 albums of the year – check the current issue to see precisely where – and the band’s debut album, released via Domino, featured the track ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, which landed at five in our top 40 tracks of the year – click HERE to read about it.
With eyes now fixed on the band’s continuing fortunes in 2009, Clash got on the phone to bassist Tom Fleming to talk the year that was, and what shall be…
Hey Tom, whatcha up to right now?
We’re practising at the moment, as we’re hoping to write and record our new album as soon as possible. We think we’d like it done sooner rather than later, and have a new album out next year.
Keen to strike while that proverbial iron’s hot?
Absolutely. We’ve got a lot of songs floating around, and a lot of the ‘Limbo, Panto’ songs were around a long time before we recorded them. We want the new songs to come together in the studio.
I noted you play one new number at the Borderline gig…
We played one new song at the Borderline, yeah – it’s the only one that’s written for a full-band arrangement at the moment. But we’ve not recorded it or anything yet.
The reception for you at that show was something else. There was a real sense of reverence, and respect, in the room…
It was quite something, the Borderline show. It was pretty touching. We were not sure if anyone would come, so it was great to see a packed room, and people were good to us – they noticed when we did something different. It was amazing. I dunno… The thing is that when you start out in a band you think you’ll be playing and people will be shouting at you, but then it doesn’t happen, so when it does it surprises you and feels amazing – it means much more, and it’s touching to know people are listening to what you’re saying.
And it caps a great year, during which your profile has grown and grown…
It felt a little slow-burning, but it seems things have caught fire now. People are aware of what we’re doing, and while it’s nice to be a curio, it’s nice that’s worn off and people like us.
I think that it took a few people a fair while to get into the band, be it because of (lead vocalist) Hayden’s falsetto, or the simple fact that there’s not much else out there that sounds like you. But once it clicks, you hear these amazing pop songs…
I have been told that, that some people needed an album to get into it. I think our music needs a bit of patience. I hope the new one will be more immediate, but that will reward more patience, if you get what I mean. I think it’s something we have to do, is slightly tone it down. The first album is quite well produced in some ways, but to us it is very raw. It’s more polished than the early singles, but they were recorded quickly, straight to tape. We’ve never really been in a studio before… But hopefully we will be in January. I shouldn’t really speculate, but that’s the plan.
And you’re working with a label that’s given you the time and space to grow, naturally?
Domino seem to be fans of what we’re doing. A lot of people talk about our record being a risk, and have complimented Domino for putting it out, but we hear it as a pop album. We understand it’s probably not like that to others, but they’ve been really supportive of us.
I think I hear a pop album, too. At least now...
That’s what we’re going for. I think the mistake some people make is that they think pop musicians don’t listen to much music, but I think to make quality pop music you have to be into a lot of different things.
Do any of your shows in 2008 really stand out as highlights? Or any other moments, for that matter…
Well, to be honest, I know it’s recent memory, but the Borderline was really good. The last gig of the year, and it felt we’d finally arrived somewhere. Also the album coming out – it didn’t appear with fireworks or make any tips, but it meant we could stop saying, “Wait until the album,” and that we had our name on something people could check out. It gave us something to defend our claims that we were worth listening to, not just as a band, but as individuals.
The album was ‘sold’ to journalists as being the product of an act outside of trends, outside of fleeting and fickle fashions. Was that pitch something that benefited the band, and that you were happy with?
That’s kind of not our business. I think we made a mistake –maybe – in thinking we’re a pop act and that we’ve got these hit singles, as people commented we were geared to the more leftfield side of Domino’s roster. And maybe we are, and we’re happy to work with that. I think that’s still true, but what is very interesting is that we’re not in a position to swan around – I’m in a freezing farmyard at the moment. I think there’s no point in being involved in any scene, because there isn’t one. We’ve never been in one anyway.
So you didn’t hang out with other bands before coming to wider attentions? That’s something Glasvegas mentioned, too…
We know other bands, and have friends in bands, but we tend to be quite insular when we’re working on the music. Everything that happens in this room, we leave where it stops and pick it up the next day. A lot of people ask us who’s good and who’s coming through, and the truth is we don’t know. We’re in the worst possible position to say, because we really are only interested on our own stuff. You shift your focus for a while, but then it’s time to work.
Have you set yourself any deadlines for new material?
We are under some pressure – we’ve set ourselves about a month, all of December. We’ll hopefully be finished just after Christmas. We want it out less than a year after ‘Limbo, Panto’ came out, but once you finish recording an album that’s only the start of it. And we’ve got to get it finished first.
It must feel different, doing album two, knowing that there’s a fanbase out there that wants to hear new songs from you…
It’s hard … you have to be able to not think if people will listen to it. I know there are big fans of the band who want to hear whatever we’re doing, but you have to not think of that. People do care, though, and it’s great that someone, somewhere is listening.
Any fear that they may not care, eventually?
We’ve all got lives ahead of us. If the worst was to happen and we weren’t able to continue, I think we’d do our own things with the same ethos we bring to the band. We certainly have no intention to stop making music in some capacity. That isn’t a Wild Beasts are splitting up scoop by the way! We’ve got plenty more to say.
And after the February UK dates, do you have any definite plans?
After the February dates we’re not sure, but we are very focused on the album. We feel we’ve toured quite a lot, and now it’s time to get back to why we’re touring, the thing that enables us to tour and has people coming to see us. That’s what we’re working on in here.
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Wild Beasts’ ‘Limbo, Panto’ album is out now on Domino. Find the band on MySpace and see them live next year as follows…
17 Manchester Deaf Institute
19 Bristol Louisiana (get Bristol tickets)
20 Brighton Audio (get Brighton tickets)
21 Norwich Arts Centre
22 Coventry Tin Angel
24 London 93 Feet East (get London tickets)
25 Sheffield The Harley
26 Newcastle The End
27 Glasgow King Tut’s
28 Wakefield Escobar