“There’s a sort of black hole between finishing an album and it being released,” says Wild Beasts‘ Tom Fleming. It’s been roughly two years since the British band released Two Dancers, an album full of momentum and movement guided by singer Hayden Thorpe‘s unique falsetto. Between that time and now, the band toured extensively, as well as put together another album, Smother. The band performs tonight at the 9:30 Club.
To make sure it didn’t get sucked too far into that black hole after finishing Smother, the band decided to make a few visual trailers in anticipation of the release. “I guess we were looking for a way of making people aware that we’d been away working, rather than taking a break,” Fleming says. “We wanted to find an intelligent way of plugging that gap. Also video is very much more accessible now, it’s no longer expensive and time consuming and you no longer need the gatekeepers of music TV to approve what you want to put out.”
Fleming is referencing the minute-long trailer for Smother. It’s a quick, yet deep peak into the band’s vision for the album; a somber girl sits on a bed by a window as black feathers piled around her start floating upward.
Feathers are a thematic element of Smother. They’re on the album cover, and there’s a song named “Albatross.” According to Fleming, feathers are “a natural thing of infinite variety. They’re also a beautiful and delicate thing that can be used to kill someone.”
Hence the name of the album—-that’s certain one use for a feather pillow. Fleming had a lot more to say—-about the band, the Albatross reference, and being inspired by other musicians.
Washington City Paper: Speaking of feathers, birds of a feather flock together…how did you form as a band?
Tom Fleming: We went to school together in a small town. The band moved to the bigger city of Leeds, which I already lived in. I went to one practice, and just didn’t stop going.
WCP: What made you guys goes from the name Wildcat to Wild Beasts?
TF: Wild Beasts is a coarse translation of the French phrase Les Fauves, the art movement, meaning untamed, unsubtle, unclassical. I think we fit it better every day.
WCP: You’ve got a song with an avian theme, “Albatross.” Albatross is such a lovely word, and it makes me think of alcatraz, but did you know the word derives from alcatraz, which means seabird?
TF: No, I did not. What a cruel name for a maximum security prison, considering the albatross wanders the furthest of any animal.
WCP: Lyrically, as a band you convey the metaphorical reference of the word albatross, bringing up blame, secrets, and the act of drowning. Were you influenced by the bird itself, the word itself and its literal connotation, or Samuel Taylor Coolridge’s epic poem of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which takes the once-lucky albatross and turns it into a psychological burden?
TF: We were definitely aware of the poem, and the wider mythical connotation. The song in a wider sense is about harming someone you love, which is self harm, so they’re one and same, if you see. We’re also aware of appropriating a sacred cow of ’60s/’70s soft rock for our own uses.
WCP: Does the band take on any other inspiration from other symbols or literary references?
TF: Well, we read a lot, and we deliberately try to cast our net wider than The Clash/Ramones. Not that there’s anything wrong with either. We know there are no new emotions and there is some great stuff out there.
WCP: I read in a Stereogum interview that once you got ahold of albums by musicians like Joanna Newsom and John Fahey, you began to educate yourself musically. I like that you say lyrically, Wild Beasts is turning the knife, and when you describe Joanna Newsom, you say that she’s constantly turning the screw. Why do you use these sayings to explain what contemporary musicians are doing? Doesn’t “turning the knife” mean to make a situation worse? It’s hard to imagine that, as your music is exciting and engaging.
TF: I think what JN does is offer a constant, slowly unravelling surprise, lyrically and structurally. Her first album, her brilliant, desperately reaching first album, taught me a lot about what to expect of myself and a songwriter. John Fahey’s playing, as a guitarist, is just so heavy, and so authentic and yet so clever. Much like Joanna Newsom’s songwriting. They force you to look at the core of what they’re doing. That’s kind of what I mean about turning the screw, that a good artist is always showing you knew facets. We definitely aspire to make music that is more rather than less interesting the more time you spend with it.