We spoke to Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe about their new Lady Gaga remix, sexuality in music, pop’s DNA, and the London riots.
So, how did your remix of ‘Yoü and I’ come about?
Hayden: “Her people got in touch and said would you do a Lady Gaga remix, and it’s such a bizarre, unlikely thing that I was really drawn to it. That ‘what the fuck?’ element is actually really invigorating in a way. I heard the song, and it’s more Shania Twain or Sheryl Crow-esque than Lady Gaga, so that was even more of a draw. It seemed like a huge challenge, which was really enticing, and I think as a band we’ve always quite thrived off that, thriving on unlikely things.
“Also, why not? I think sometimes it’s important to do things which are out of character, or potentially damaging. You want to take risks sometimes, and it was a risk in that it’s sort of like sleeping with the enemy. At the end of the day, she’s a hugely powerful pop artist on an enormous scale, and I think it’s quite bizarre – there seems to be a lot of evil power in some hands, you know what I mean?! So the fact that it’s filtered down to weirdos like us is quite invigorating. Essentially the reasons for doing it were that it was just so unlikely.”
When you say “potentially damaging”, do you think more territorial fans might dislike you for doing it?
“Yeah, and I can understand, totally. I think it would be wrong for us to feel a sense of responsibility to anyone. I think it’s important to keep confounding what’s expected from us, and in a lot of ways, a major criticism of us is that we’re overly serious, I think, and it’s important just to keep wriggling a bit, keep loose. I think creatively that’s really essential, to me anyway, to not be pinned down is a great way of keeping on moving.”
I find it intriguing that Wild Beasts’ and Gaga’s ideas of sexuality couldn’t be more polarised.
“Absolutely. That was absolutely another reason to do it – it’s like the bohemian going to a porn movie! There’s that element to it. Yeah, in a way, I listened to her lyrics, and I listened to the songs, and there’s this real strange dynamic, where there’s this almost Europop American slang way of expression, but she also has, bubbling underneath, this integrity, I think, and intelligence. It’s there. “You and I, I’d rather die without you and I” – they’re quite poetic lines, in a way. I did find it fun, actually, trying to filter out, and try and dignify things a bit, in a way.”
Why did you choose to isolate those lines that you did?
“I think I wanted to inject a bit of Lady Gaga back in to Lady Gaga in a way, because the song isn’t really in keeping with her usual movements. So I wanted to make it a bit more simple, really. The beauty of pop is its simplicity, and it’s something I really wanted to do, strip it back to its bare bones. I’ve stripped it back down to, “This time, we make love”, and basically that’s what the song’s about, it just takes a long time to get there.”
Ha, yeah, via the dancing on bars and lipstick on faces…
You sounded like you just stopped yourself from saying something but thought better of it.
“It’s a really… to do the remix, we got sent all the basic files and tracks that make up the songs, the stems, and that’s quite fascinating, looking through how a super hit is supposed to be made, technically – how a global single is really put together -and I was fascinated by that, it was a bit of a learning curve in a way. To create a snare sound, I would normally think you would just record a snare, but there were six or seven snares there just to make up one split-second sound! It’s so densely and precisely put together, that was a real learning curve.”
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Are you a fan of Gaga in general? I assume you can still say what you want about her. Is she a good thing for pop music?
“[Sighs] It’s hard to say. She’s a big political issue I think. I think there are real strengths in her as a character, and how she puts herself across – I think she’s quite daring. In terms of her characterization, that’s genius. I don’t think voice as a performer is her most distinctive thing. Her real trademark is her genius character, really. I think she’s a real masterclass in PR. I think a real pop masterclass in making something huge out of not very much, which has really always been the case. Madonna, you know – the girl can’t sing, but nevertheless…”
What were you going for with this remix, and how much of the source material did you keep in?
“The bulk of it is all the stems really. There’s a loop of my vocal put through effects on it that makes up the main sort of riff. I’m a real big sucker for ’90s dance in a way, that sort of Hacienda era stuff. I sort of approached it like that. I just wanted to make something dancey in that way, 90s dance-esque, that sort of euphoric, but nonsensical pop music, I’d say. So most of it is the stems, which were really enticing to use – say the guitar in it, is just really…”
It’s Brian May, isn’t it?
“In real life? Are you serious?!”
Yeah! You just remixed Brian May.
“[Incredulous] Brian May should be put in prison for crimes against guitars, honestly!”
So what did you do with his part? It doesn’t sound like there’s guitar in there.
“No, it’s been put through effects, bits of it. But I was desperate to get it in there because it was so much of a challenge, but it’s in there. Also, I should mention that to finish it off, and to help piece the final thing together, I worked with Jon Hopkins [King Creosote collaborator] and he’s also a big influence, to do something really unlikely like this, it brought us into different worlds.”
It’s intriguing that you talked about 90s dance – that, and 90s R&B have loomed large in music this year, with people citing Aaliyah as an influence, Blood Orange, CANT – they all take that, but put a quite voguish wash on it. You were talking about putting effects on guitar – it’s like a development of that silly witch house thing, but taking the good parts of that.
“Yeah, totally. So you take the good parts of old soul records, or records which are no longer in vogue, and start giving them a new lease of life, reanimating them from death. That’s what’s going on again now, people are breathing new life into defunct music now. Also it’s a generational thing. To me, 90s music was the music that I grew up with, and couldn’t really make sense of, and now from a distance, think it’s great again.”
What was the first single you bought?
“Errm, Jesus To A Child by George Michael.”
This remix is supposed to help raise awareness of the ways in which people can support indie labels that lost stock in the PIAS UK warehouse fire. You must have had talks with Domino about what it means for them and you. Does it have a serious effect?
“I don’t think it’ll have a lasting effect. I think… It’s a really sad thing, you know. But I think the music is still there, you can still download, and I don’t think we have been very badly affected, but that’s from a selfish point of view. It’s a really sad situation, and it’s a strange thing, really, because it seemed as if the riots in the end became an attack on consumerism. The whole protest was about consumerism, and people who want who can’t afford, poverty rubbing up against wealth and the aggravation that causes. It’s a strange thing that these products were damaged in the end.”
It’s interesting to look at music specifically because music has been looted [in a non physical way] for some time. The groundswell of goodwill to PIAS is really heartwarming.
“Absolutely. Hopefully, it’ll be a good PR exercise in that people will discover Ninja Tunes, and Warp, maybe it’ll bring a level of notoriety to people who wouldn’t know they exist. I am hopeful that there will be a silver lining to this.”
Were you in London when the riots were happening?
“I was, yes. I was doing the remix.”
Was your area affected?
“Yeah, I live between Tottenham and Hackney, and when me and Jon were in the studio working on the remix, that was down near Roman Road where there was trouble. Jon wouldn’t turn the music up too much in case people heard, realized there was a studio there and decided to loot it that night. There was a real sense of fear, which I found quite bizarre.”