Wild Beasts began their UK tour on 5th May, opening at Gateshead Old Town Hall, and with the release of their third album on the ninth, the band are embroiled in a buzz of critical excitement. If the reviews are anything to go by the live shows well and truly do justice to the new album, Smother. I ask Ben Little, who plays guitar and keys, about Smother, the meaning behind the album and what provoked it.
“We wanted to make something beautiful, with our instruments and even with our voices,” he answers, “something honest”. Beauty and honesty are certainly tangible presences on Smother, as they are on Wild Beasts’ previous two albums, Two Dancers and Limbo, Panto. Throughout their career the band have strived to create albums that are beautiful in the purest sense of the word, regardless of what the market demands. These efforts were recognised last year at the Mercury Awards, when Two Dancers was nominated for the prestigious award. “It was a big deal,” Little says, and adds with great respect, “the other bands were really good.” Although Wild Beasts were not the ultimate winners, the nomination “gained us a lot of fans… it was a really helpful tool”. Certainly, being nominated brought Wild Beasts the attention that they have long deserved.
One of the qualities that the Mercury Award celebrates is the value of the album as “a whole piece”, as Little describes it. He feels strongly about both creating and valuing an album in this way, rather than as an individual collection of tracks to be picked, discarded and re-ordered on a whim. He criticises iTunes for reducing albums to these disjointed heaps of songs and for offering its customers the option of “cherry picking” what they want out of an album. He goes on to the damage that low prices (or no-prices, considering the overwhelming number of internet users who download illegally) has on music: “When I was a kid I would buy an album, and even if it was shit I’d have to listen to it because I’d paid ten pounds for it.”
The band demonstrated their support for independent record stores by playing at Rough Trade East on Record Store Day this year, as well as releasing ‘Albatross’ as a limited edition single in honour of this year’s event. Independent record stores traditionally promote music which may not be so popular in the mainstream. Little stresses the importance of promoting bands which put the music itself first, rather than record sales and radio airtime: “So much music these days is just chasing radio stations … music for the masses.”
Although exquisitely produced, Smother feels like a tentative approach in a slightly more experimental direction than the band’s previous offerings. I ask if this is the case. Little pauses over it for a while, agreeing that they have been slightly more experimental in their choice of instruments, adding with a note of finality: “When we pick up a guitar we know what it’s going to do”. Smother is an exploration of what the band don’t know, the less straightforward aspects of making music. Little explains also how the album was a reaction to the hectic touring lifestyle that Two Dancers led them to: “We were living a different sort of lifestyle … we needed the comfort of something softer and less direct”. With this softer album and their manifesto of honesty and beauty, Wild Beasts continue to prove themselves one of the most exciting young bands in Britain.