Wild Beasts have another moody and atmospheric slab of music out later this month and Middle Boop caught up with Chris Talbot, the drummer and one of the three vocalists for the band, on his way to the rehearsal studio. We talked about what it’s like transitioning into a new sound, sucking corporate cocks, and what to expect on their upcoming tour.
Middle Boop Mag: Present Tense feels like an extension of the sound you were playing around with on Smother, the band getting comfortable with electronics. Present Tense seems like the outcome of you all gaining confidence in that direction. Is that how the recording process felt?
Chris Talbot: “Yeah, I think it’s always been a natural curiosity of ours, well a growing curiosity, certainly over the last four or five years. When we did our first album, Limbo Panto, six years ago we would be fooling around with synths and whatnot. I think you do have a duty when you’re a musician to kind of explore ground that is maybe a bit outside of your comfort zone and for us it’s electronics. That’s not to say that we’d never go back and revisit the old ways. It is somewhere we’ve been going for a few albums. I like to think that we maybe experienced it a bit more wholeheartedly on this record. When we first started out recording we were not really playing on our guitars and I was not really on the drum kit at all. It eventually comes back around to what you know. You’ve always got to remember what got you there in the first place. I definitely agree it’s just somewhere that we’ve been edging towards for a couple of albums now.”
MBM: You say that you’re going out of your comfort zone by using more electronics but I think that has become your comfort zone. I read that you are trying to ditch your guitar setup completely, why is that?
C T: “Yeah, that was the case. We never really set out with a grand mission statement but I suppose the one mission statement we had for this album was originally no guitars, but I think we kind of found a place for them on the record. There are guitars on the record that don’t sound like guitars. I mean you do have to play your strengths and we do have three very shit-hot guitar players in the band, but definitely not me. You can’t ignore that sort of intuition and when you’ve been playing an instrument for that long and it’d be stupid to completely ignore it.”
MBM: With electronic music nowadays, it’s a lot easier to become a perfectionist and tweak and tinker with certain sounds to no end. That’s a lot like how Present Tense sounds. Did you and the band find yourselves becoming perfectionists while making the album?
C T: “The trick with electronic music is actually not to be overly perfectionist because you are making something that necessarily isn’t a noise made by a human’s finger tips, you’re telling it what to do but it’s playing out the sound for itself. You have to hear little mistakes in there otherwise it becomes inhumane music. It’s certainly not the kind of music that gets us interested. It’s very important to have those little moments especially when you are going down the electronic route.”
MBM: On the new album you worked with producer Leo Abrahams, who has composed film soundtracks, what was it like working with a musician that has worked on movie scores?
C T: “He is without a doubt the best musician the four of us have ever encountered. I wasn’t humiliated by his musicality because he doesn’t play the drums so I felt like I was still the master of that but he could literally pick up any instrument and play what you’d play straight away only ten times better. We worked with a producer called Lexx too and I suppose the danger was working with him was that we had maybe gone too far down the sonic rabbit hole and not really thought about the music that was being made. Leo definitely provided that counterpart. Sometimes he wasn’t massively hands on but I think that’s the mind of a great producer, you don’t always know that presence in the room but you know it’s there as a guiding light.”
MBM: “Do you think you will just keep going deeper into this sonic rabbit hole of electronic music in the future or do you ever see yourselves going back to the Limbo Panto kind of sound?"
C T: “Well it has to be a constantly revolving thing. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a sound the whole band will be comfortable with. Not that we found a comfort zone with Smother but we probably made the record that was not sonically too far removed from what we did with Two Dancers. We didn’t realize that at the time. With this new record we had a bit of time and we could think about direction and sonic sounds a lot more. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the Limbo Panto sound but we’ll always be changing things up.”
MBM: Hayden [Thorpe – guitar, bass, keys, vox] said something interesting about the current state of music as an art form: The more audacious artists that want to make a name for themselves might not be able to pay rent at first, which is “OK”. It made me think about alternative bands that put their songs in TV ads, which has always seemed strange. I thought about what it would be like if I heard a Wild Beasts song in a TV ad. Then I did a bit of research and found that Underbelly was used in an advert for a bank. Is that something you regret agreeing to?
C T: “Yeah, we sucked corporate cocks at one point. I think it is quite a hard world out there and sadly sometimes it is quite easy to make ends meet by just being completely single minded and not being 100% pure on your output for what it’s used for. I think that when that opportunity came along, it’s not like it bought us all four big houses but I did mean that we could carry on doing what we were doing. It was the last 30 seconds of a song and it seemed like a great way of making money. I don’t think we could shoot anyone down for selling their music to an advert, once you’ve made that music and put it out there it’s no longer yours anyway. Granted I think it is connected to things with which you don’t want to be associated, some people would say a bank [laughs]. I think when that sort of offer is put to you, you know what it means for your own creative endeavors further down the line. It’s sad because if we were still in the 90s and made money from our records and playing live like people did in the 90s it wouldn’t have been a bridge we had to cross.”
MBM: ‘Wanderlust’ is one of the strongest lead singles I’ve heard in a long time and one the band’s best yet. Do you have a song on the album that’s your favourite or one that you’re particularly proud of?
C T:“Yeah, for me it would be 'Pregnant Pause' It just sounds so effortless and so beautiful. When we recorded it about eight months ago everyone just fitted in nicely with each other. It’s just effortless. It’s the sort of music that I would listen to.”
MBM: Have you played any of the new songs live yet?
C T: “We finished a short set before Christmas to a few people. It had been a year since we played live. We wanted to make sure people knew we weren’t dead and we were still alive and still going because it had been a while since our last album. Back then we were playing music for people who hadn’t heard the record so hopefully I think when people have actually had time with the record they’ll love it, not that it was badly received when we played it in December but we’re pretty confident that we’ve got a good show going on. I guess we’ll see.”
Questions asked by Stephen Barker