The effortlessly dreamy soundscapes served up on Wild Beasts’ third studio album Smother may not have catapulted them to the commercial success their sheer talent deserves, but it cemented their place as one of the most inventive and unique bands in Britain today. After a self-imposed break, the Kendal band are back on the road this month. Chris Moriarty catches up with drummer Chris Talbot ahead of their visit to Warwick University.
“We finished our last tour and we decided to take a two month sabbatical basically because we just needed the time off from each other,” admits drummer Chris Talbot. “I think that it’s important you have time off when you’re living in each other’s pockets for the best part of six or seven months.”
With the shift in buying habits of music fans in the digital age, touring is what puts bread on the table for most bands these days, so staying off the road for too long was never an option. Although the reality of a living out of a bus is perhaps not quite as glamorous as it may seem, as Chris explains.
“You don’t get away from anything on a tour bus. You wake up smelling someone and go to bed smelling someone so it’s not the most pleasant environment. Everyone thinks it’s a lap of luxury but it’s just not, when you actually get on there it quickly becomes this little, grotty hellhole.”
Still, it was a life that was attractive enough to tempt two of the band to quit university in Leeds where three of them were enrolled when they signed their first record deal six years ago. “The record deal came along when me and Hayden were midway through our second year; Tom had already been to uni a year longer so he was half way through his last year, he had three months to go so we waited for him but me and Hayden kind of looked at each other and when you’ve just been given a record company advance and the opportunity to become a professional musician you don’t really want to go back to university. I think the uni were actually quite
supportive, you’ve got to follow your dream at that point, they probably thought we were a little bit stupid — they probably still do — but we don’t mind.”
They will be making a return to university, of sorts anyway, this month with a show at Warwick University in Coventry; not that they will be spreading the message to drop out to all those impressionable students.
“I’m not advocating it but I think it’s important that we had an opportunity to explore a career path that we all wanted to. I don’t really want to talk about it as a career as it isn’t as scientific as that but I think when you’re given an opportunity you’ve got to grab the bull by the horns so to speak and I think that’s what we did.”
While touring may be an essential part of their chosen career path, Chris admits it is the studio work which is still their greatest source of pride, despite their prowess as live performers.
“I think the record is the thing that is going to stand the test of time, well hopefully, it will still be on the shelves in 20 or 30 years time. Obviously gigs create memories and they kind of ratify your position as a record- ing band so the two aspects go hand in hand but I think any band worth their salt would still say they would rather be in the studio than in the gig venue.”
The critical response to their last album Smother was as positive as you could imagine, although commercially it did not quite hit the heights of previous Mercury-nominated effort Two Dancers. But despite the praise, Chris says as a “pop band” falling sales is still hard to take.
“When you record an album you’re kind of stuck in the moment and you think you’re writing a world-beating pop record, all- conquering, we’ve thought that with pretty much every album we’ve ever released. So it does, it hurts, but looking back on it, in retrospect it’s quite a left turn of a record. I’m not saying we didn’t want to capitalise on the success we had with Two Dancers, we did, and I think in terms of the UK we still made in-roads but I think looking back on it we probably shouldn’t have given ourselves great commercial expectations. You always think that you’re writing some kind of big pop record when actually what you’re doing is quite intricate and perhaps not fit for the masses, but we don’t mind that.”
Masses or not, Wild Beasts are still a band that attract sell-out crowds and know how to entertain them – even if the schedule is intense.
“This [tour] will be quite hard because it’s seven days straight, I don’t think we’ve done seven days on the bounce before. Your drum sticks quickly start tearing the skin off your fingers so that will be a problem after two or three days but Warwick won’t have that problem as it’s the first one.”
Wild Beasts are live at Warwick University, Coventry, on March 11. Tickets are £13 and available here.