"On the last day of making Boy King I had a minor breakdown in knowing what part of myself I was revealing. It's a bit ugly, a bit grubby, arrogant," says Hayden Thorpe, reflecting on the recording of Wild Beasts' fifth album, their most naked and direct to date and a marked change from the optimistic aesthetics of 2014's Present Tense. If that album found Thorpe, Tom Fleming, Ben Little and Chris Talbot in reflective mood, absorbing a fascination with online culture and electronic music, Boy King has them, as Fleming puts it, "back to being pissed off". Wild Beasts' ever-present knack for sensual melody via Thorpe and Fleming's duetting vocals, Little's sinuous guitar groove and Talbot's potent rhythm section carries in Boy King an aggressive, snarling and priapic beast that delves into the darker side of masculinity and Thorpe's own psyche. As Hayden himself says, "After five records there had to be an element of 'what the fuck?'". Wild Beasts decided to find their way into the follow-up to Present Tensewith a complete change in how they approached their craft. This moment of realisation that they needed to change how they wrote songs was, says Thorpe, hugely liberating: "The only thing you can do from that point onwards is turn your vehicle into traffic and play chicken with yourself, and do all the things you said you'd never do."
This was the pressure that Wild Beasts put themselves under when they began sessions writing from nine to five in their London studio. Thorpe says that he had a combination of the soulful pop of Justin Timberlake and industrial grit of Nine Inch Nails as touchstones as to where he wanted the record to go, an eclectic ambition that ultimately ended being pushed even further by a friendly rivalry between he and Fleming that developed during writing. "He arrived at the rehearsal room early on with a white Jackson guitar and started shredding", as Thorpe puts it, “over what I’d always intended to be a soul album.”
Far from being problematic, however, this creative friction proved key to unleashing the unique pop sensibility of Boy King - Fleming’s more visceral experimentation unlocking new dimensions in Thorpe’s own writing as the sessions went on. "I began to hear a lot more aggression in what he was bringing - a lot more forward-facing, less pensive stuff," Fleming explains. "Every time I did something ridiculous, everyone responded well, which enabled us all to push everything further and have more fun with it. Everything I thought was guilty came across really well in the rehearsal room".
After spending a whole year finessing this new found impetus in East London, the band emerged with a collection of songs ready to take to Dallas and producer John Congleton. "We wanted to find the most insensitive way of finishing it, the most crude, hack-handed," as Thorpe explains. "It had to be guttural, the absolute opposite of Present Tense - that was the only way of keeping it alive".