Hooting and Howling: An Interview with Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts

For all the new-found open spaces and rhythmic expansiveness on Wild BeastsTwo Dancers, it’s still singer Hayden Thorpe’s majestic, preening falsetto that announces itself like a peacock in bovver boots. (Think Billy MacKenzie’s flamboyance plus Brett Anderson’s cocksure androgyny.) Whether filling harmonies for bassist/platooning singer Tom Fleming’s baritone or strutting out front, Thorpe’s theatrics elevate these slices of youthful hedonism to the level of high drama. On the lead single, “Hooting and Howling,” his dare to would-be rivals still somehow comes off like a dance of seduction.

It’s a Decadents’ manifesto, full of thuggish dandyism and glamorous machismo, and easily the best salve for “dead below the waist” indie to come along in years. As the Brits head into the Eastern leg of their first major North American tour, we caught up with Thorpe to chat about gangsta rap, Lady Gaga, and what gets lost in translation.

It’s not on the level of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, but Two Dancers is a distinctly British record in many ways. Were you worried about how it would translate here?

It’s an enormous deal to have the demand [Stateside]. The States definitely hold a mythical status for British bands because of the scale and the adventure of it. I’m always intrigued by, for example, gangsta rappers. These ghettofied, aggressive stories are miles from where I’d say 99% of their listeners are coming from. People are fascinated by other people. As long as we’re honest and put across our characters that’s enough. To absorb and give out what we take in.

It’s interesting you bring that up since Two Dancers has a very hedonistic, “us vs. them,” “wild youth” kind of vibe. Does that connection hold any water?

Gangsta rap embellishes and glamorizes and glorifies and that’s definitely what we do. We take mundane subjects and try to weave them into these heavenly depictions. That’s what art is supposed to do, in a sense. Make you appreciate the mundane.

Perhaps the biggest tool in achieving that sense of glamor is your vocals. Do some people still see that as a deal-breaker?

People do make their minds up pretty quickly, which is a useful tool for us. If you dig, come along for the ride and there’s plenty more there. Are we gonna play it safe? Will I tone myself down for a more bland palette? I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with putting people off.

Flavorpill recently ran a feature in which we asked whether the big indie acts are a bit dead below the waist, and your name came to mind as a band that very much counters that thought. Care to expand or name names?

Sex is eternally fascinating. It’s irresistible. It’s a major driving force for art or… anything. Society has coping mechanisms for dealing with it. [On a recent radio performance], we couldn’t sing “asshole.” We could sing “dancing cock.” [Laughs] For a long time, especially in British music, indie was stuck in the dark ages. This sort of macho testosterone rock. It had no sexuality to it. There’s a male vulnerability and viewpoint that isn’t often explored. And, you know, Lady Gaga’s use of sex is almost like slapstick porno. That just won’t do. It’s hugely complex and needs to be treated with care.

There’s a lot more open space and rhythmic complexity on the new record, which I think ties into that.

We allowed ourselves to groove for the first time. It’s almost like we picked up 3D glasses, found dimensions we didn’t know existed there. The more in control you become as musicians, you lose control. You become less inhibited. More lucid, more forgiving of ourselves.