Waxing lyrical: Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe

For the first in a new series in which songwriters discuss their lyrics, Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe reveals the inspiration behind Two Dancers, which was nominated for this year's Mercury prize

On lyrical themes in Two Dancers: "We made our first album aged 21, and it was a real shock how it was perceived. We thought we were making a pop album, and it was greeted as the strangest thing people had ever heard. So [Two Dancers] was real back-to-basics stuff; we were resigned to the fact that this is who we are, these are our vulnerabilities, and let's not shy away from them. There is envy and jealously, but wrapped up in nicer emotions – lust, love, spells of happiness. It's an acknowledgement that both can sit together. We wanted songs that explore three dimensions – like, 'I hate you right now, but I still lust after you' ... 'Right now, I want to hit you, but I'm going to go to bed with you'. The way human emotions can be almost impossible to unravel."

The first lyric that really spoke to me: "It would have to be the Smiths. There's a line on The Queen Is Dead that really struck me: "Life is very long when you're lonely …" Not only because it's so poetic – all the 'l's – but also that all the songs I'd heard up until that point were very instant: 'I love you right now', 'Let's live in the moment', 'Life is short'. The Queen Is Dead seemed to upturn all that, it seemed to blow away the dust and show the fossil underneath. I became hooked on that open acknowledgement of suffering. Leonard Cohen is uplifting in his honesty; he consoles. The important thing is you need to believe in these characters, or they are just miserable, bitter people. You need to have faith in them. I think I've always assumed that's what people will have to do with us."

On shaping, refining and editing songs: "The initial spark of a song is always instant. It's like hunting down a wild animal, the thrill of the chase. But then you've got to tame that animal. Or take it home and dissect it, pull its guts out and throw away the stuff you don't want and work out how to make it edible. Most songs go through about four or five revisions, and we play them until they feel right. Maybe All the King's Men was put together quite quickly, because it was more reminiscent of our first album – happily slapdash."

A song that feels weird to sing these days: "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants is probably our oldest song that we still play live. It's about trying to capture our youth, arriving in a city together, when we were pretty sporadic and all over the place. It's a song about confusion. Singing it is like rolling back the years a little bit – you sort of have to make a cartoon of yourself."

On inspirations and influences: "I'm obsessed with modern English poets such as Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin. I love the way they romanticised everyday existence, and how unconstructed it was. Quite raw, but put in a way that makes you see what was right under your nose all along.

"On Two Dancers, Rimbaud had the biggest impact. He's so instant and upfront – the sexual language, especially. He finished writing when he was just 19 or 20, but what he left was just full of confusion and lust. The way fighting and fucking is put in modern language doesn't sound how I want it to sound. The closest is gangsta rap, or a homogenised London version, but that isn't representative of me, and I can't pretend I use that language in everyday life. While the language in our songs isn't exactly everyday, it's certainly closer. Most lyrics you hear have quite narrow boundaries, and you don't have to step too far outside for it to feel quite odd."

A song we've covered that hits close to home: "We always swore we'd never do covers, but we recently recorded a version of Infinity by the xx, at their request. It was a strange feeling. Infinity is close in sound and theme to Chris Isaac's Wicked Game, which is one of my favourite songs. I felt like I had to get into character to sing it, and people don't seek out the xx's lyrics much, I don't think, but they're so dark. It struck me quite hard, partly because of external factors, and it took me about a week to pull myself out of it. It was a bit like getting into someone else's skin."

Hayden Thorpe was speaking to Louis Pattison


Louis Pattison

The GuardianTramp

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