For its fifth album, Boy King, British group Wild Beasts decamped to Dallas, Texas, to producer and multi-instrumentalist John Congleton’s Elmwood Recording studio. Recording in the States is a first for Wild Beasts, as is working with Congleton, about whom the group’s Hayden Thorpe says, “He needs you to come match-fit, toned, fighting weight, with a working album. The songs were ready, but we were very aware that we weren’t quite off the ground and that we were looking for something special. We had to make a leap.”
Congleton, in turn, has had his eye on Wild Beasts for some time, with a definite idea of where he wanted to take them. He says, “There’s always been a strange coldness and distance in their records, which I thought was quite cool. I wanted to get dirtier, like a cyborg with a robot skeleton and human skin; for the record to feel performative, but with something artificial, strange and left-of-center about it.”
To achieve this, Congleton had the group play together as they would in a garage, which resulted in an inadvertently more aggressive tone. This lined up with Wild Beasts’ direction on Boy King, whose character reverts back to the members’ teenage years. More importantly, they didn’t want anything they played to sound exactly as it should. For example, a snare drum sound is manipulated through any number of iterations of gear.
“I would find the key of the song and run some of the drums though the synthesizer to the key so it almost became melodic as well as a percussive instrument,” says Congleton. “I did a lot of triggering through the Korg MS-20. It has the lo-fi synthesized sound to it that would make whatever I was running through it atypical.” Guitars are similarly morphed using Congleton’s formidable selection of boutique pedals. “There wasn’t room for overthinking, for self-doubt,” says Hayden. “Congleton is incredibly brave and gung-ho, as much of a motivator as he is a producer.”