This article was originally published on Noisey UK
The furtive years at the tail end of a state education and whatever-comes-next are ripe for musical definition—and I was lucky enough to have mine defined by Wild Beasts. Limbo Panto, released in 2008 when I was 16, was the unruly soundtrack to my first cracked tins of lager in parks, drives around low-lying suburbia, and virgin attempts at squeezing into checked shirts and palatial city nightclubs. Back then Wild Beasts made music that a lot of people found a little less than palatable; coming off like Percy Shelley in Pryzm, they conjured operatic scenes from the pissy-puddles of the very ordinary romance of the British at night. You only need to listen to a track like “Please Sir” to get a feeling for just how romantic cheesy chips can sound.
Back then it was all lust and alcopops, but we grow up; and as we grow up, the night time stops being an adventure playground and brings with it new dangers. The puffed-up bravado you feel as a teenager isn’t as charming when you reach your mid-twenties. Bed by 4 AM becomes somebody’s flat until 10 AM, pints start stretching t-shirts, and the hangovers grow in scale immeasurably. Put simply, nights spent talking about everything you’re going to do when you’re older makes a lot less dewy-eyed sense when you are, well, older.
It’s here that Wild Beast's fifth record, Boy King, picks up: capturing the bruised egos of blokes after dark. For a band best known for tender falsetto and literary references, their fifth record is remarkably, well, uncomplicated. It’s got guitar solos, tracks called “Tough Guy” and “Big Cat,” and what can only be described as a dance routine in the lead single’s video. Yet, despite sounding like a stark shift from what’s come before, they are still dealing with the same boozy breath they always have done.
This may all sound like I'm drawing overbearing conclusions from the act of getting pissed, but it’s just this sort of cosmic significance that Wild Beasts have always afforded their subjects. Basement flats become castles, love songs become calls-to-arms, and now the childish impulses of pissed-up, insecure men are getting a full deconstruction.
It’s eight years since Wild Beasts first record, and eight years since my first nights out, and it seems like both of our relationships with the night time has changed. They say never meet your heroes, but seeing as mine have spent five records critiquing the infallible nature of their own egos, I decided I was probably safe. So, I asked Hayden and Tom from the band if they wanted to go for a pint. Here’s what happened...
Noisey: Hello, Wild Beasts. Your music is based in the semantics of the night. I guess I'm wondering... what was the nightlife like in Kendal where you grew up?
Hayden: Kendal had a very vibrant nightlife when I was growing up. I think we had more pubs per person than anywhere in Britain, and there were a few that kind of welcomed you as a teenager. From the age of 15 or 16 you were integrated into the pub scene.
Tom: There was an open mic night that used to have all the old sods come down to play the blues.
Hayden: Yep—the first incarnation of Wild Beasts played there, actually.
Did the open mic night take place at one particular pub?
Tom: Yeah, it was a place called Dickie Doodles—which has now closed sadly, but it was a local institution. Aesthetically, it was something to kick against, but it was a great standard and a great starting point.
What about nightclubs? I can’t imagine Kendal is known for a banging night out...
Hayden:There were three nightclubs. I remember them being pretty hedonistic actually.
Tom:It was one of those places where you put on your Ben Sherman shirt, your good shoes, that sort of thing.
Hayden: I feel like the 90s happened in Kendal in the 2000s.
The streets around the nightclubs are just as important growing up though, right?
Hayden: Kendal is a town with lots of alleys, gullys, and discreet pockets, which would always be full of people who had fallen in there and were up to no good. It was just commonplace.
Tom: I remember watching the film Kids when I was 13 or 14 and thinking, "Yeah, and…?" When you’re a teenager that behaviour is normal—everyone’s doing it.
Did you manage to avoid getting the shit kicked out of you on nights out?
Hayden: Kendal was far from a dangerous, gnarly place, but it was a farming community. It was robust. There was machismo.
Tom: You could get a kicking for wearing a coat like this for example.
Hayden:Exactly. On those nights out, where everything is heightened and that machismo comes out, people become more daring and brave, yet simultaneously more fragile. You’d meet men who love you so much they want to punch you. I just remember this strange cocktail of exuberant love and violence, and you weren’t ever sure which way it would go. I think that’s part of the reason we go back to it so much.
I feel like this record really captures the hollow bravado that can come with trying to find love in the night time. You’ve mentioned it being a record for the Tinder generation...
Hayden:That always reminds me of a John Steinbeck quote which I reference a lot, which is: “All of men’s vices are a shortcut to love.” It feels like Tinder is exactly that sort of shortcut.
Tom: Certainly on the past couple of records we’ve explored the pain of love and the joy of love, and on this record love is nowhere. There’s a lot of sex on there but it’s all self-gratification. It’s always with the awareness of frailty or guilt. It’s not without consequence.
A lot of the lyrics remind me of the self-indulgent chats you have when you’re really fucked. Are you both guilty of that?
Tom:Absolutely, that’s what alcohol is for!
Hayden:The song “Celestial Creatures” on this record came out of the idea that there is a human need to get fucked up. That it satiates something very important within us. Spilling your guts out in the corner of pub, to a random person, can be hugely profound.
Tom: It’s how marriages happen.
Hayden: We realized recently that the chorus of the first song on our first album, “Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy” goes “Men to be men, must love and pity, so deeply and secretly,” which is a lyric that belongs on this record. That path has been very consistent.
Tell me about all these guitar solos on the new record.
Hayden:I feel we’ve earned the benefit of the doubt that if we’re wielding the axe in this absurd, disgusting way, that the shredding is used for artistic purposes. But when you think about it, if it’s a record about men and their absurdity, then what’s the most absurd of male objects? It’s the guitar and a skyscraper of amps. It is men. I always think of a man’s shred face being one of the most exposed, vulnerable moments.
Tom: It’s power, anguish, uncertainty.
It's sort of like your ego's come face... It does feels like you deal with the concept of masculinity as a flawed mythology.
Hayden:It’s broken. Not to get too heavy-handed about it but the biggest killer of men under 50, other than cancer, is suicide. That suggests something is broken. On a basic level.
Tom: We’re old enough now to see people around us have faced real crisis, problems with illness, depression, suicide, death due to drugs. The real shit starts coming out when you get a bit older. I’m glad you pick up on that. I feel like we’ve always drawn a lot from the sexual politics we were given, while directly lifting from feminist writers.
Do you ever fear talking about masculinity so much that people may think you've made a record about men’s rights?
Tom: For sure, but I’m hoping people pick up on the nuance. There is a tendency for people to shout in debates now, particularly in the echo chamber of the Internet. Take the song “All the King’s Men” on Two Dancers for example. Most people understand what that song’s about but some people will still come up after a show and say, “That song is so misogynistic.” I feel like saying, "You haven’t a fucking clue, have you?" There’s an element of satire about it all, but it’s a satire we’re very intimately involved in.
Hayden: We are the joke, that’s the key thing. We know we are part of the absurd joke, we are "the guys in the band."
What’s the worst night out you’ve ever had?
Tom: I got in a fight on Christmas eve once. I must stress I’m not a violent person, but I’d gone back home for Christmas, then out drinking with friends and this guy was talking down to me… I ended up in my parents house with blood on my knuckles thinking, "That’s somebody’s face. What am I doing with my life?"
Hayden: Mine was the night Present Tense was announced. It started out with a world exclusive with Zane Lowe. We got the play, and then obviously commenced drinking immediately. In a bar somewhere we ended up bumping into Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan—and I’m a Newcastle fan—so the rest of the evening was me, off my head, trying to talk to them and declaring my love for them. They were more occupied by a couple of women in the bar, and if you ever see a footballer’s mechanisms at work, it's quite something. But yeah, that evening was a bit of crisis of adulthood. I was in the toilet vomiting, then coming back and chatting to these footballers. It was pretty shameful.
There’s a lot to be said for football reducing people to pretty base level responses.
Hayden: It’s something that needs to be looked at. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the US this year, going to basketball and ice hockey games, and to go to sport events and not have the violence is a kind of odd experience. Where is the self-loathing?
Tom: Where are the away fans?
Hayden: Why is no-one here a cunt? I think it’s a very British performance. This aspect of the inner-psyche that requires playing out violence. It’s so closely linked with sensuous emotion as well.
It's a very strange dichotomy.
Hayden: It’s almost as if to fill the gap left by love you have to fill it with violence.
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