Hayden Thorpe on “Diviner” Off the Flesh | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Hayden Thorpe on “Diviner”

Off the Flesh

Jul 19, 2019 Hayden Thorpe
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As the singer, songwriter and guitarist in Wild Beasts for 15 years, Hayden Thorpe was responsible for some of the most unique, captivating and ultimately timeless music created this century. After the band split-up in the early part of last year, Thorpe has been the first of its four members to re-emerge with new music. Now writing, recording, and performing as a solo artist, his first album came out in May. Entitled Diviner and released on Domino, it consists of 10 songs all written during the latter stages of Wild Beasts existence.

Diviner is essentially a break-up album of sorts, the difference here being the album documents Thorpe’s break-up with the band rather than a traditional relationship. Still in his embryonic stage as a solo performer having played a handful of shows in Paris, London, and Berlin alongside a batch of record shop in-stores. Under the Radar caught up with Thorpe prior to his show at New York’s Rough Trade shop and found him in quite a buoyant if relieved state that his debut is finally out there.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): Were any of the songs on ‘Diviner’ written while you were still in Wild Beasts?

Hayden Thorpe: They were pretty much all written before the last show. They were written between the period of the decision being made and the announcement, which was around nine months, so they all came from this inwardly, contorted gestation space of knowing you were going to have a rebirth at some point. It was just a quirk of the calendar that meant it became nine months.

Which of the 10 songs came first?

The title track “Diviner.”

Was it always your intention to make a solo record?

If I was going to do anything after Wild Beasts it would be me on my own. That was the only appropriate response I had after spending that length of time with some of the finest people I’ve ever met. People who I will probably never spend as much time with in my life. If you join a band at 15, then emerge from it in your early 30s; you certainly won’t have spent much time on your own. So the way to rebalance the scales of my psyche in that sense was to do something on my own. It was a murky place to me, that alone space. So that became quite enticing in itself. What did it really feel like to be on my own?

Were there any other songs written over the same period that didn’t make it onto Diviner but might get released in the future?

I don’t know whether they’ll get released but there are certainly songs from that period of time which are probably too true to life. I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to this record so far. People have been taken aback with how brazenly emotional it is. I’m finding it really interesting again as a male to encounter the tabooness of that level of emotionality, as if it should somehow be prepared for the table. It’s like people who want to eat meat but don’t want to see the bones. This is the carcass. This is the skeleton, and I will not apologize for being brazenly emotional. Songs are an essential resource of brazen emotionality in a world that is desperately trying to control and refine our emotions for the uses of work and other activities. So for fuck’s sake, I’m gonna tell you quite bluntly where I’m at with this. Having said that, I did lean towards songs that I felt had an openness, a future, and a forward facing gaze. There were songs, which were just too cluttered and tangled in the existential crisis of the male white singer.

Could Diviner have happened without your experiences with Wild Beasts?

I’m certainly very fortunate in that I feel I was given the opportunity from the age of 21 of just caring about songs, my job description being a maker of songs and a singer. So I don’t think the craftsmanship of the songs or the way I write them could have been achieved without that life experience and collaboration. That creative force which we were. None of these songs would have existed had I not been in a band first because I wouldn’t have written them. That’s for sure. There are aspects of myself, which will forever be in that Wild Beasts cupboard. We are within ourselves multiple people, so although I’m the same person I’m also a different person.

Does it feel like a fresh start, almost in a way that you have to go out and prove yourself as an artist all over again?

The terror feels new! In that I went into this knowing there was no sense of entitlement. That I would inherit no listeners. I have no birthright to any throne. At the moment I feel myself navigating a quite life affirming but challenging line of having to be both earnest but also show a degree of humility to grow again and build again. Also, anything inherited within that and rightly so is a level of performance and craftsmanship, which should exist with the time I’ve been given to develop it. So it’s been quite a beautiful experience. For the in-stores I did I was travelling alone with just my keyboard, then loading into the record shops and singing 10 minutes later. Singing and playing my heart out, hopefully in a beautiful manner. The bandwidth of job descriptions just amazes me in an incredible way.

Do you prepare yourself differently for playing live as a solo artist to how you did previously as part of a band? Is it quite daunting?

It was daunting for about the sum total of a minute during my first show in Paris then I realized that whatever was required of me was within me, and if its not then I’m not going to find it elsewhere, so I’d better look for it. The difference playing with a band is the songs are summoned through coming together and the transplanting of each other’s spirits into one another. One your own, the intention of the song is vital so I have to take a minute on my own to know what I want to do with it. Because I can’t do it by half measures. Every song requires a kind of full-hearted, method acting for it to really be able to come off. Especially songs that are this off the flesh and gutsy. I have to inhabit that space.

The album’s out on Domino as were all of your recordings with Wild Beasts. Have the label got any expectations or set any specific targets for Diviner?

Again, I feel myself at this point in time to have been totally enabled as an artist. People didn’t hear the record until it was made. I was left to make a record with that gift. We all want the same thing. We all want to make something beautiful. The border line between the internal artistic world and external market forces are always going to be in negotiation, and I’m so happy to be on those borders with people who understand the give and take on that negotiation. Because frankly, how is it not a clusterfuck? Bringing your inner workings out into a world and trying to make it a capital venture. It’s absurd in its practical sense, yet it’s so important to people that it becomes dysfunctional. Making music should be chaos as opposed to just making a product. It shouldn’t be easy because songs are a resource of things that aren’t easy.

Was there ever a point where you’d considered turning your back on music altogether?

Yes, absolutely. Weekly I’m reduced to simply the compulsion to do it as reason enough but I couldn’t rely on compulsion. It’s just over time I’ve come to realize that as a practice it was pretty fundamental to my well-being. It’s a different currency to what most of the world functions by. But what you get back is your whole being, and I’ve had the fortune of being a professional musician my whole adult life. So I’m in that 1%, but I will tell you that I wouldn’t say I’ve put out my first record because of talent. I’ve put it out because of resilience and robustness. This strange quirk of the psyche being able to withstand the exposure of self, and to somehow try and hold true to something you feel is important whilst suffering for it. What it asks of you, and what it should ask of you really.

You played your first show in Paris followed by another in Berlin and tonight you’re playing in New York. Is it your intention for this project to become more international based?

Well I’m very mobile if it’s just me. If there’s a piano in the room I can play my album in full, and that’s something that feels really fun right now. I’m loving being able to get on the Eurostar with my rucksack and travel to a gig then performing. It really feels so special. I feel so enchanted with the power of a song. I know that might sound too “name in lights” stuff but actually a song is enough, and if it isn’t enough then nothing else will be enough. I really do believe at this moment in time that I can take it as far as I can using my two hands, two legs and a train ticket.

I guess that has to be far more satisfying than spending six hours on the M1 [motorway].

I can do that as well! I did that last week touring the record shops. I must have driven a thousand miles around the UK. It’s not as if the Greggs pasties aren’t being eaten! Something I came to realize is that if I had a business card it would say singer on it, so really my main weapon of choice is this fragile sinew in my throat. Which makes me pretty light of foot in that sense.

Will there be a tour later in the year?

There’s nothing planned yet but I’m developing it as I go along. I’d like to think there’ll be something later in the year. I want to develop something special, a gig that I’d really want to go to.

Will you be incorporating any Wild Beasts material within your live set?

No. Those songs exist if people want them. They don’t decay, they don’t erode. They don’t go off. They’re there for you and if that’s what you want, you are welcome to the full platter. If you’re hungry for them I’m grateful for that hunger but they’re not songs that would serve me in my current capacity.

As someone with nearly two decades worth of experience in the music industry, what advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Stay healthy. Stay working. The joy is in the making. There is no more than that. The joy is in the doing. It’s one of those fields where the words or phrase, “the trappings of success” couldn’t be truer. “Trappings” being the operative word. So stay free of the traps. You might make work that people find meaningful or that people find abhorrent. That is the yin/yang of living that kind of life.


Also read our Self-Portrait feature with Hayden Thorpe.

Plus read our 2018 interview with Hayden Thorpe about the breakup of Wild Beasts and the band’s legacy.

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