My Firsts: Hayden Thorpe | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023  

My Firsts: Hayden Thorpe

Sour Milk and Fish Glue

Oct 15, 2021 Photography by Jack Johnstone Web Exclusive
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Hayden Thorpe.

Thorpe is formerly the singer for British art-rockers Wild Beasts. In 2017 Wild Beasts announced their breakup in a typed up statement, signed by the band and posted to Instagram and the following year they released a final EP, Punk Drunk and Trembling, and a final album, the live in the studio release Last Night All My Dreams Came True (which featured new interpretations of songs from across their catalogue), as well as performing three farewell concerts. Thorpe released his debut solo album, Diviner, in May 2019 via Domino. Today he releases his sophomore solo album, Moondust For My Diamond, also via Domino. He worked on the album with producer Nathan Jenkins (aka Bullion) as we as long-time collaborator Richard Formby. Heba Kadry mastered it.

In a press release announcing the album, Thorpe said with Moondust For My Diamond he was interested in “the meeting point between science and religion, the grand struggle for reality that shapes so much of our time.”

He adds: “What about nature? What about the cosmos? What about all these things that break through the tyranny of the self? Our sense organs bring the world inside of us after all, I just had to sing it back out. I was enchanted again with the mystery of science and how I might speak from the heart in an age where metric is gospel.”

Several of the album’s promotional videos were filmed in the Lake District (which is Britain’s largest national park), including one for the recent single “Golden Ratio”—the song’s charming video features a message attached to a red heart-shaped balloon that travels around the English countryside. In a press release for the single, Thorpe said he sees “Golden Ratio” as a “simple devotional song to science.”

He added: “I see music very much as a replication of nature, the shapes and patterns that we perceive in music are found in all kinds of things like flowers and shells. Science and mathematics have allowed us to decipher this hidden order. Writing songs therefore becomes less about summoning from within and more about noticing what’s already there.”

Read on as Thorpe talks about a first job that challenged his allergies, the wonders and dangers of social media, and how bands are like cults.

First job you had?

I worked at Booths supermarket, a kind of up-market grocery store. I was the milk guy, keeping the milk stocked on the shelves on a busy Saturday. It was fine but I really dislike milk, I’m allergic to it and the smell of sour milk on the skin is revolting to me. So I stoically kept on stacking that milk, stinking and nauseous. People drink such a lot of that stuff I learned, even though it’s really supposed to feed a growing 1000lbs animal.

First car you owed?

I inherited my mum’s Peugeot 206, a little silver thing. God those cars were a suburban classic to my mind. I remember being in rapture at the advert featuring Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away.” I did my first gigs in that car, back seats down, amps stacked in the back, driving hundreds of miles. In the end my brother took it and it got impounded for not being taxed. We never saw that car again.

First social media account?

I didn’t have social media until I was 30. Of course my band did but others ran it. So when I came to enter this other society I was confused, excited, and addicted. The abiding legend of our civilization has become one of our own inner quest. We tell the story of ourselves to the world and expect to be heard. It’s an absurd and beautiful idea but also a very dangerous one. Anything that traps and consumes the senses is an obsession and obsession precludes madness.

First book you read outside of one assigned for school?

I remember we read Simon Armitage’s poems at school, and I kept reading beyond the works allocated until I had all the books and kept on reading. His voice was one of a Northern England I knew well. There’s an ache and a burden to language up here. A mournful humor runs through much of his work that I’ve taken a lot from. Simon is Poet Laureate now and I have the good fortune of calling him a friend, he still inspires me.

First major disappointment?

I had been dating my first proper girlfriend, she was a little older, I couldn’t quite hold my own and it ended. At that same time I had high school exams, which went pretty badly, mostly because in my forlorn state I couldn’t summon the will to study. I came to realize there’s a story to life behind the one we tell of ourselves and songs are there to tell it. I decided from then on that songs are a more important job than any exams could get me.

First instrument?

We have a family piano that’s been in the living room for as long as I can remember, it was built in Leeds in 1905 I think. I went to classical piano lessons as kid, which is fortunate, though I was far from a prodigy and didn’t think much of the discipline. I do remember the realization that time spent rehearsing equated directly to improvement, which is a valuable but sometimes cruel truth. I was most happy doing these little do do do dah dah dah tunes I’d make up for myself. I still use the piano, it’s been a potent song machine over the years. More do dah do dah. Recently I had to rescue it from being a moth megacity, once they get in, all that felt can keep them fed for years, it’s terrifying.

First band you were in?

Wild Beasts. It’s a funny thing when your kid band becomes your adult life. I’ve always felt lucky to get to transition into adulthood through the band, maybe you shield yourself from growing up too much, but in other ways you grow up very quickly. Bands are such an extraordinary way to organize human beings, now I’m not in one I recognize how fascinating they are. They’re essentially a cult in which your whole humanity is called upon to create something from the harmony and dissonance of your relationships. It’s a family, a marriage, a business, a religion. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but everyone should try it.

First recording device?

My mum would interview people for her work and was pretty early in on the whole Minidisk phase that came and went so quickly. After she abandoned the Minidisk player I took it to my bedroom. I had a rudimentary microphone and would record my songs, just voice and guitar. I’d make albums, singled, and B-sides, I’d write the title and track listing on the Minidisk. I still have them all but I’m too coward to listen right now. Maybe one day. It takes years to get over the shock of first hearing yourself back, maybe you never do.

First professional recording session?

With Richard Formby in Hall Place studios, Leeds, September 2006. I’d been working in a book repair shop all summer, fixing up disheveled books with fish glue. It was a smelly and monotonous process. Then the opportunity to record with Richard came up and I immediately quit and I lost my summer bonus. We recorded straight to tape, I still try to record as if it’s to tape. You can’t keep compiling work with tape as there’s a finite amount of space on the reel, you have to make it count. Richard has just co-produced my new album Moondust For My Diamond, it’s a beautiful journey we’re still on together.

First time you performed in public?

At a bar called Dickie Doodles in Kendal, a small dark room with some fuzzy speakers. It was an open mic night. I remember being very intimidated before hand but totally buzzed afterward. Right away I loved singing to people, I can never sing on my own how I sing to people, I learned that immediately. There’s a chemical response that happens when you sing in public, I can sense it in the blood. It’s a heightened state that helps you overcome fear and you sing in such a pure, open hearted way. It’s still terrifying and still the buzz of a lifetime.

Read our interview with Hayden Thorpe on Diviner.

Read our Self-Portrait feature with Hayden Thorpe.

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