Wild Beasts are using their new single to take aim at UK musicians who sing with American accents. When Hayden Thorpe croons, on Wanderlust, “In your mother tongue, what’s the verb ‘to suck’?”, he apparently means it as a question for Yankee-imitating Brits.
“[That] line is … very much to do with British bands singing in American accents,” Thorpe recently told Pitchfork. “As in: ‘Why are you sucking up? What are you sucking to get to this position? How can you sing with sincerity if you’re not singing in your own tongue?’”
Interviewer Ryan Dombal responded by bringing up the Arctic Monkeys, suggesting that they had “Americanised their sound” as “part of their performance [style]“. “I suppose,” Thorpe answered, “but it’s strange to me. If someone grew up in New York and they sang in a London accent, how would that be received? It sounds absolutely impossible, doesn’t it?”
“People are absorbing the mysticism of American artists, and rightfully so,” Thorpe went on. “But we’re interested in the mysticism of our own landscape and trying to reflect that rather than creating one that doesn’t belong to us. That’s where the most interesting, intriguing music comes from. The Smiths were incredibly exotic because they mysticised the landscape they grew up in, and it’s beautiful how there are people who take pilgrimages to the Salford Lads Club. Equally, I’m obsessed and drawn to Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey, but it has nothing to do with my life.”
This isn’t the first time Wild Beasts have positioned themselves in opposition to their fellow northerners the Arctic Monkeys. Wild Beasts get their name from “les Fauves”, a French art movement in the early 20th century; fauvists were an “explosion of colour after the … realism that came before”, guitarist/vocalist Tom Fleming explained in a 2011 interview with FaceCulture. “I think that … to a certain extent that’s what we were trying to do [with our music] … [It was] the era when the Arctic Monkeys shot to No 1 and stuff, and [that] was very … blunt music. It was very macho, very northern, and we were kind of from the same kind of culture as that, but we didn’t think it was the way we wanted to portray things.”
Music like the Arctic Monkeys’ was “making ignorance into a kind of badge of honour”, Fleming said. “Fake ignorance, because a lot of the people making that kind of music are very intelligent people – they’re just dumbing it down.”
Although the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner was originally known for a strong Sheffield accent, he has been accused of singing with more and more of an American affect, especially during last year’s Glastonbury set. “Jo Whiley just said I was channelling my inner Elvis, but … it’s not intentional,” he told NME at the time.
Wild Beasts’ Present Tense will be released by Domino on 24 February.