Tom Fleming gehört wohl zu den wohl eloquentesten Musikern, die der Interviewer je zu sprechen das Vergnügen hatte. Der Gitarrist und Sänger der Wild Beasts ist zusammen mit seinem Band-Kollegen Hayden Thorpe auf PR-Tour in Berlin und dazu noch bester Dinge. Es gibt ein schöneres Ambiente als die Küche des Label-Büros. Aber Fleming lässt sich nichts anmerken. Er ist freundlich, redselig und vor allem: Er weiß wovon er spricht. Schließlich haben die Wild Beasts mit „Boy King“ ihr bereits fünftes Album draußen.
JOINMUSIC: While preparing for the interview it became apparent that you might actually be the band with the highest interview rate of all times. Do you like verbalizing your music and talking about it?
TOM FLEMING: Well I think it’s important to have something to say about it. I don’t think it’s equivalent of making the stuff itself. I feel like our music is as small as it can be. You know what I mean. There’s nothing else to say about it really other than to explain what we meant by or how it was made or something. I don’t mind. It’s also nice when people want to know about it. We’ve been doing this for a long time but we still don’t take things for granted. We’re not a mega huge band by any means. We want people to hear what we say and it feels nice when people want to talk to us. It sounds like false modesty, but it’s true. All we ever wanted was to get heard. And that’s kind of where we’re at now. We don’t mind.
JM: Have you read the „Boy King“ press release?
Tom: Yeah, we have. It’s always a funny one. Obviously what’s written in there is completely true. There’s no bullshit at all. But probably not what we would ourselves would say about it.
JM: Then here’s the quote I want to ask you about: „A Complete Change in how they approach their craft“.
Tom: Yeah, by which we meant, ahm, we think less and do more. You know what I mean? We spent a lot of time making this record. We pretty much spend a year in a studio in London writing and rewriting tracks, throwing songs away, that kind of thing. When we eventually detached us to record it, we recorded it in 12 days. And threw away a lot of parts. A lot of arrangement stuff that we put in. We just played, it was like 2 or 3 takes in a room. And those were the basic tracks. The actual production of the record was really quick. And painless as well. Surprisingly at this stage we’re better players than we used to be. When we got the pressure, you know, when the red light is on, we’re not sitting around thinking, trying out and saying I want it to sound like Burzum or Clams Casino. You know. It’s like fuck that and just play it like it sounds. There comes a point where you have to do the athletic part and just do it. This is a very big feature how we play and played together as a band on this record. The last couple certainly very much more studio productions.
JM: Another quote off the press release is attributed to your fellow band mate Hayden: „Do all the things you said you’d never do“ – What would that be?
TOM: Aha – let’s see. I think it’s kind of – this is our sunset strip record, you know what I mean? This is like our America record. There’s all this stupid and squealing guitars and stuff. Much more „sexy“ vocals. It’s much more forward. The songs are so much more kind of poppy. We were describing it as „feminist cock rock“. There’s an element to it that makes it a more masculine record. But there’s also this almost electronic soul pop stuff. I guess we were unburdening ourselves from a little bit of brutishness. The British indie band stuff, the British shyness…
JM: … which carries heady stuff …
TOM: Yes, it does. It’s only being outside your own situation that who really know it’s that. No one else is bothered by this. Forget it. Try to at least put it to one side.
JM: I’m almost done with the press release. In the release it says you’re from the British Indian Ocean Territory – what’s that about?
TOM: What? I think that’s a mistranslation. It’s English Lake District. That’s very strange. I mean we’re from a small town, but it’s not that remote. That is fully hilarious.
JM: Something that struck me as odd – I went through your older albums and I found out that „Boy King“ is your fifth album containing roughly about 10 songs and running for roughly 40 minutes – is there like a template to it?
TOM: We like short records. It doesn’t have to be template, only a nebulous kind of one. I mean I’m a fan of all kinds of exploratory music. Ambient music, prog, metal that kind of shit. But I also think that brevity is really important. And awareness of your listeners. We always try to keep it at certain amount of precision, that’s what we do. But it is a bit of a pattern, isn’t it? I hadn’t really realized it. I actually think it’s a good thing. It wasn’t deliberate but maybe we should have been aware of it – hehe…
JM: For the next one you are. Are you aware that with this you’re sort of going against a trend?
TOM: Which one?
JM: The Make-Albums-Longer-Because-Streaming-Numbers-Contribute-To-The-Charts-Position-And-Longer-Albums-Do-Have-A-HIgher-Probability-To-Generate-Significant-Effects-Trend.
TOM: I guess we’re just not clever enough. There was a trend – it’s kind of subsiding out – but there was a trend for films for example: Hollywood Blockbusters with Superheroes for kids were like 2,5 hours long. And this kind of self-importance grinds my gears in a certain way. It’s the same with albums: With really long records, unless they’re just out there, I tend to think: Gosh, get on with it. And who needs five remixes at the end of a Drake record? You know what I mean. Just have the thing. But with the streaming thing: It’s really interesting. And really boring. It’s interesting for boring reasons. Sorry for my mind flow…
JM: The general tenor about „Boy King“ is: The new Wild Beasts album is grittier, maybe even wild beasts-lier. There are plenty of tracks on the album for which I’d have to agree, but it doesn’t seem to be the case with „Dreamliner“ „Eat Your Heart Out Adonis”, „Ponytail“ and „2BU“.
JM: So with these songs is the gritty-ness part of the sound design?
TOM: Yes, it’s the sound and in some ways, probably with the exception of the last track, it’s a crueler record. It’s less giving. It’s less emotional. It’s – maybe gritty is the wrong word – more aggressiv. It’s more straightforward. But I don’t think we’re going to abandon melody. I’m pleased you picked up on some of the melodic elements. I think that’s really important. Even when the dirty sounds are attached to pop hooks or ear worms. I do see this as a kind of rock record. Partly due to what we wanted it to sound like. Part due to John Congletons production work. It’s not a straight rock record and it’s not a straight electro pop record either. It’s slightly on the edges of both, maybe?
JM: „2BU“ and „Ponytail“ are sung by you, right?
JM: Ponytail sticks out because it features what would call the most classic bass line of the record. There’s no distortion or any other major effect to it. Just the bass groove consisting of a couple of notes. Plus – although there’s groove all over the record – „Ponytail“ is like the danciest song of „Boy King“. Is or was this a conscious and collective decision to feature an overtly exceptional track like „Ponytail“?
TOM: I don’t really know about conscious but the last decisions on this song were finally made in the studio. And quite quickly. But certainly, we had it as a song a little while before we finished it. And it’s Hayden playing the bass and the song is really written around that bass line. There’s not a lot of change. And we’re big fans of R’n’B stuff, where like nothing changes. The bass repeats itself the whole way through. The melody changes but really it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop. And then it’s over. That kind of economy is really key to what we’re trying to do. Rather than having loads of ideas. Honestly: The more I think about this track there’s absolutely nothing on it, really. So few ideas. But every little idea has the most juice squeezed out of it, you know. Every melody is just attached to this one bass line. You know: Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best. That’s cool, you know.
JM: „2BU“ is a 4/4 beat, and although it sounds rhythmically odd, at the same time it’s ultimately catchy. Which definitely reminds me of „Wanderlust“ – you have this sort of rhythmical stumble, but it’s stable and just goes on and on. So you can hook your ears around it.
TOM: That’s great. Chris, our drummer, he’s a musician who plays drums, rather than just a drummer. He really thinks about drum sounds as hooks, he crosses rhythms and I would almost say it’s Afrobeat but it’s not really funky. There’s something awkward about it. We were in the studio thinking: oh yeah, we’re like Chic or Curtis Mayfield. And actually it’s like: No, guys, you sound like Kraftwerk. It’s much more northern European, you know. But it’s definitely a trademark. I think a lot of British bands forget about rhythm. But rhythm is the number one. That’s the first thing you do.
JM: I’m from that planet, too. For those tracks, do you rely on drum programming?
TOM: For „2BU“ that was all life. Sometimes when we’re writing we use drum programming and we have used it as a sort of effect, but generally it’s all live drumming.
JM: You just mentioned a couple of well-known names – you as a band and you as an individual – do you listen to other people’s music?
TOM: Absolutely. Of course – we’re fans first and foremost. We try not to get to bogged down in what our peers are doing right now, u know what I mean. Not that we’re not listening – you got to have your trajectory as well. Obviously. It would be dishonest to say we don’t take notice of the people around us, because of course we do. You have to attach this to something you would be doing anyway. Otherwise you just tend to be following the brightest flame. We listen pretty widely, I think.
JM: Was or is there anything that really got you fixed?
TOM: The Anohni record. Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never productions we’re fans of. That’s been awesome. And some some major Hip Hop from Kendrick Lamar called „Untitled Unmastered“: I never really got Kendrick before. I found it rather a bit ordinary. But with this I can say this is cool, I kind of get it now. Hayden has been listening to the Max Richter record called „Sleep“ which is really fucking great. And then … I loose track of when things were released. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of heavy music as well. Going back to my youth I guess. The early eighties stuff. Like. Van Halen. I don’t want to overemphasize Van Halen but it’s definitely on the record. As well as Living Colour. There’s a lyric from the Scorpions in one of the songs, “Tough guy’s a virgin killer” – that’s a Scorpions lyric. But I also dig Sugar. Bands that play heavy music but also feature ambient passages and stuff. That’s what I mean; if you’re just listening to music that’s like yours it’s a kind of death. It’s a kind of masturbation. You got to be aware of what’s going on I think.
JM: I was just going to say „Eat Your Head Out“ to me sounds like very eighties industrial like which I find wonderful.
TOM: That’s cool, man thank you. „The Downward Spiral“, the Nine Inch Nails record, kept coming up in this record. But Hayden very early on played „A Warm Place“ and I thought: fuck this is very contemporary. And then I was at some conference and met somebody who knew and worked with Trent Reznor. And we were talking about how his songs are in 15s and 16s and all the odd rhythms. I mean: This is the Nineties, it’s a major label metal record really: What the fuck?! And there’s this awful feeling – well, it’s not awful, it’s natural. But when you think you got somewhere as an artist or as a musician and then find out that someone artistically beat you 20 years ago – it’s like realizing your parents were alive before you were born. It’s that kind of thing: I’m not the first one to do this.
JM: „Dreamliner“ obviously sticks out, because there’s no beat to it. Have you tried it with one?
TOM: Yeah, we did. We went through lots of versions. It once had a much fuller arrangement. But it just wasn’t working. So we took it right back to the very very basics. Which sometimes is just the best thing to do. But it’s screaming out for a beat, isn’t it? If anyone wanted to put a beat on it, it’s just there. Sample, Sample. Import beat. Track. It’s that simple. It would definitely work. It’s a simple chord sequence and a beautiful melody. I think the record needed that as well. You need the stillness to see the things flying past it…
JM: Your statement „rhythm comes first“ makes it even more exceptional because „Dreamliner“ is lacking at least that distinctive rhythm.
TOM: Well, one of the things about rhythm is: Rhythm doesn’t have to be a beat. A lot of the times rhythm is just kind of undulating, creaking. And that kind of thing really interests me. That kind of negative space I guess, rhythm without drums, rhythms without beats as such. Know what I mean?
JM: The accents you don’t play.
TOM: Exactly. I Mean I’m not an expert in dance music at all, but since we’re in Berlin we’re kind of at the heart of minimal techno where stuff gets taken away and taken away, until the point where you’re like using one oscillator to make everything. It’s a cul de sac, obviously. Butt hat kind of approach really appeals. Reducing down reducing to what are we actually doing here. And again: obviously it has been done before, by the likes of John Cage and such but I think it’s still an interesting idea and mileage in it. Cause you’re brain, expects to hear sounds in certain places. And if you can fuck it up a little bit, just like with cross rhythms, it instantly makes it more satisfying for the listener. I think.
JM: Actually there’s only one question missing but it doesn’t really make sense to ask you about it: I was going to ask Hayden about his dance performance in the video for „Get My Bang“. Do you know if he had any experiences in that field?
TOM: No, not at all. Not at all. He was terrified. He went out a day before we did. And he basically took 12 hours of choreography with a choreographer. The one in the video is a professional dancer and she looks the shit, you know, she’s really, u know, he lets her carry him. He was terrified, he is naturally quite shy, doesn’t want to do these kind of things, but: If you want to do something with conviction it’s best to do it and then apologize later. I think he did really really well.
JM: It came out great.
TOM: Cool, thank you. Well, my job was really easy: It was just: Stand in the alley and pretend to play – that was really easy. So Hayden – he really made that video.
JM: Thank you for the interview.
Foto: Tom Andrew
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