The Wild Beasts: Lady Gaga, a covert fascination with sex and going crazy on tour
Hayden Thorpe is describing how it feels to climb into bed with Lady Gaga. Several months ago his band, Wild Beasts, were approached by Gaga's manager: would they be interested in remixing one of her songs for a new project?
Something queasy rumbled in his belly at the idea of clambering figuratively beneath the sheets with the world's most outrageous pop weirdo. At the same time, Thorpe was seized by the sense this was too good an opportunity to glibly turn down. It would be an understatement to say he was conflicted.
"For us, it posed real questions," he sighs. "Firstly, can we get away with it? Secondly, do we want to get into bed with someone who is in many ways the antithesis of what we stand for. What impact can we have on music so alien to our own?"
When it came to it, Wild Beasts felt they had no option but get their Gaga on. So it is that, alongside woozy, ethereal remixes by The Horrors, Metronomy (and, er, Foster the People) their disembodied take on You And I is a highlight of Ms Germanotta's just-released suite of dancefloor revamps. Thorpe says mucking about in the guts of a Gaga song gave Wild Beasts a deeper appreciation of her musicianship, while not quite convincing them a pop industry dominated by a woman who thinks nothing of turning up at red- carpet events draped in pork chops is good for mankind.
"I find what happens around her as a phenomenon to be more interesting than Gaga herself," he says. "She is a very interesting example of the modern, multi-faceted pop star. The way she enters our psyche all guns blazing, someone who dabbles in the avant-garde and does extremely bubble-gum pop. Remixing her posed a challenge to us. However, I think beautiful and intriguing things are often the things that seem the most unlikely."
Thorpe isn't being dramatic when he says Wild Beasts and Lady Gaga inhabit opposite ends of the pop universe. An art-rock outfit trapped into the bodies of four skinny indie boys from the British provinces, his band create a strange, occasionally exquisite noise; tunes that brim with hooks and melody and bits you can hum, while in the same heartbeat waxing queer and ghostly.
If they held indie discos on the moons of Jupiter, this is what they'd sound like.
Wild Beasts' secret weapon is Thorpe's voice, an Antony Hegarty-esque falsetto that floats high above the music, bobbing and weaving with extraterrestrial beauty and menace. The effect is at once mesmerising and faintly chilling, especially if you pay attention to the lyrics, which, as the singer will reluctantly admit if you prod, speak to a deep fascination with sex.
"Well, to say we are obsessed with sex is really the tabloid-headline version," he says. "On a more real level, we are fascinated with exploring sensuality and male fragility. Those things that are often left unsaid about masculinity and sexuality. The things we can't deal with. That's what the songs are about, unpicking and exploring the cloudy bits of our everyday."
This is a fair reading of the group's music. However, it rather plays down the more explicit moments in their songbook. Consider End Come Too Soon, from their latest album Smother, a Sigur Ros-esque dirge the subject matter of which wouldn't be out of place in a new-age love-making manual.
Or All The King's Men, off their Mercury-nominated second record Two Dancers, which yields the choice couplet "Girls beneath me/ Girls before me/Girls between me/You're birthing machines". The image that springs to mind is an orgy scene directed by Blue Velvet vintage David Lynch. Is this what Wild Beasts get up to on the road?
"The fabric of your reality is stretched in all sorts of ways when you're touring," says Thorpe after a dragged-out moment of contemplation. "It can be hard to keep your feet on the ground. You get carried away. It is an extremely schizophrenic environment. You go from feeling awful to getting on stage and having the best gig and feeling absolutely euphoric. The point is that it's not through any self-generation. It's as if all the people watching you fill you up with adoration and love. When they're gone, it's gone. You're back where you started. It's dangerous, psychologically."
I mention Carl Barat's autobiography in which, writing about life in The Libertines, he speaks frankly about the groupies the band attracted. When starry-eyed young ladies are pounding on the tour-bus door, it must be difficult for even upstanding musicians such as Wild Beasts to say no. Especially night after night.
"We've made mistakes. We've done our excesses," says Thorpe. "You realise that you shouldn't make any big decisions on tour. You don't have the right footing to make that kind of call. You start to believe more in the everyday, the beauty of normality. In the fabric of family. You either go one way or the other -- either you believe in being a family man or you get swallowed up and have a fun but very ageing existence."
He feels The Libertines took the second option and is determined Wild Beasts won't make the same mistake. "They are a very good example of fellows who got swallowed up and chewed up. Now they are not at all known for doing what they did so well in the first place. It really tests your character. You have to confront that, make a call. There isn't a halfway house. You can't go, 'oh, I'll have a little bit of this, and a little bit of that'. When you are away on tour, you can have anything you want. The dangers are enormous."
According to backstage gossip, Wild Beasts were within a whisker of winning last year's Mercury Prize, which ultimately went to The xx. In the week leading up the ceremony, in particular, there was a palpable surge towards the band. If the judges truly wanted to honour all that was great about British music, went the argument, they should give the gong to a group whose experimental pop was in the finest tradition of Talk Talk, Japan, Cocteau Twins, et al. Given the buzz, was Thorpe disappointed to lose out in the end?
"I didn't think we'd win until about five minutes beforehand -- which is when your natural survival instinct kicks in. Then I thought, 'you know what, I really want to win this'. If I'd felt that way for days and weeks it would have been a nightmare. Being realistic, The xx always had the force and momentum to win it. I was quite happy to wake the next day and have my world intact. If we'd have won it, it would have changed our lives. If Tinie Tempah had won, he'd have bought a new pair of trainers. In the longer term, I still believe we have a better chance of winning when we record a better album. That's one of the things that drives us."
Smother is out now. Wild Beasts play The Academy tomorrow for Heineken Green Spheres Weekender, www.heinekenmusic.ie
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