Following the release of his stellar solo debut Diviner, Hayden Thorpe talks Jack Bray through the mysticism and artistry behind some of his favourite songs and artists.
After Wild Beasts disbanded in February 2018, it was unclear as to when or where any of the Cumbrian art rockers would resurface, and if indeed they would at all. Enter Diviner, a resplendent solo debut, where in spite of the artistic turbulence he was subject to, Hayden Thorpe gracefully sculpted an album of rare tranquillity and heart.
It’s rare that an artist gets to embody the phoenix, rising from the ashes of a beloved ensemble to construct a solo career that’s equally as sharp. Evidently there’s more to grapple with - both conceptually as well as harmonically - in a venture of this kind, yet Thorpe managed it with striking speed, which is in due in great part to the raw honesty he’s been freed up to express. “This just being me, it’s about a personal intimacy and more of a personal crusade. Whenever there’s an open passage between your inner self and the outer world there’s going to be a bit of a skirmish, but it’s especially raw if it’s in your own name.”
It seems fitting then that the songs Thorpe is inspired by run the gambit of some of the most broadly appreciated solo artists of all time. Whether it’s Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” or the instantly recognisable “No More I Love You’s’ by Annie Lennox, it’s clear the songwriter is attracted to a certain fragility of composition.
This fragility is familiar; it’s the same rawness present across every note of Diviner. It’s an exciting prospect to see Thorpe similarly bearing all, whilst simultaneously approaching the project with a wide-eyed enthusiasm and optimism. Many artists would mark their success as a musician through their financial or cultural impact but Thorpe at one point charismatically tells me, “I get to sing. For me, my own victory has happened.”
It’s an infectious attitude, one which gives his solo work that same fragile charm that Wild Beasts projected during their tenure as art and indie rock darlings, and it’s a charm that could be likened to Thorpe’s choices. Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” work not only as personal influences, but also exude that same charm that he deftly and consistently matches.
Diviner however serves not only as a reaction to the rawness of Thorpe’s newly realised musical freedom, or as a means to channel his ability to craft art pop ballads, it also explores the broader social circumstances and values which surround it. As he puts it, “It’s a strange time in civilisation. We’re all on a mission, all on a crusade to become ourselves and to become all the things you can be, and it’s expected that we can become all these things if we just summon it. I think being a solo artist is definitely a line in tethering myself to that kind of voyage.”
Unsurprisingly, Thorpe’s song choices map an eclectic taste, comprised of his self-confessed influences. They’re songs that defined his young life, those that he simply can’t forget or inspire him. They’re songs that explore charm, fragility and civilisation in intriguing ways, that are totally reflective of the musician Thorpe has become - confident, mystical and distinct.
“I love the way the song has a social context but it’s still so fucking sexy. It isn’t drowned by it at all, and that balance is a hard thing to achieve. To sing about workers rights and the economy and to do it in such a sexy way; how do those two spirits somehow find a place together? I just don’t know.
“On top of that, the playing is amazing; the bass line from James Jamerson is incredible and I love how Marvin sings it. I read up a lot on how the vocals worked in the song and that it was a complete accident. The story goes that Marvin did two separate takes, the tracks were overlaid by accident and in this double vocal approach you actually get several versions of Marvin, a sort of prism of Marvin Gaye that creates this real 3D-ness. The interesting thing though, is that you’ll only ever really hear it as one vocal.
“I think that this is how singing sounds in heaven; that this is how the angels greet you at the pearly gates.”
“This feels like a very obvious choice to me in many ways, but it’s a kind of pillar song.
“I saw this played live at one of the first shows Kate did for this tour. I remember she opened with “Running Up That Hill” and then she went into “Hounds of Love” and I was immediately in bits weeping, openly weeping. Seeing your favourite song played for the first time ever, to be breathing in the atoms of that song and for those frequencies to be resonating within you, it was overwhelming.
“It’s a beautiful piece of architecture that song, it’s so finite. It just does what it came to do, it doesn’t do any more than that and doesn’t aim to be anything more than that. Also, it’s got a bizarre, surreal, mystical quality to it, I love the mysticism within it.
“I cite Kate as one of my main musical influences, more and more so as time goes on, as I hear and come to appreciate the nuances that are consistent throughout her work. It’s special, as it’s a lifelong thing trying to come to grips with her and even just this song. At the moment I feel like it’s quite a mystical, psychedelic work but that could always change.”
“Again, this is probably an obvious one from my point of view, but if we’re going to talk about favourites then I’ll talk about favourites!
“I think “I Believe In You” is a very compassionate song, and I do think songs in our society are one of the few easily tangible factors, or at least easily tangible ways, of feeling self compassion and that feeling of compassion for others. I know that’s quite a big statement but “I Believe in You” makes me feel a lot like that. I think it feels like such a compassionate song because it’s just so beautiful - how can you not be extolled with a sense of awe and belonging?
“As well as that, it’s the frequency with which it resonates that’s different. It exists in the world in such a way that it lures you into a gentle vastness, it makes no real linear sense, but it still holds together as such a killer tune. It’s also a very ‘80s, or at least feels very much like an ‘80s tune to me in one of those cosy ways, where the trees are bowing and your body aches but there’s something sensory and otherworldly about it.
“Like the rest of the list, this is quite mystical in that it toes a fine line between organised and unorganised. It’s suspended constantly in this other realm.”
“For me, Leonard Cohen is the archetype. The sorcerer who manages to pull the heartiest laugh out of the darkest line, and again it’s a lifelong journey to unpeel that orange.
“At the moment with Leonard I’m at a frontier, where I’m beginning to understand that he was hugely into acid and that actually in terms of his thinking he was really out there. In his own spiritual quest there were no realms that he didn’t try to subvert and no areas that he didn’t manage or try to reach. I think a lot of his stuff was written in Hydra when he was tripping very, very hard!
“It’s a funny one, as I’d also noted these songs as being very organic and existing in a very clear eyed, almost classical place, but they were all written in the confusion of this modernist approach to creation. That this idea exists behind the idea - which exists behind the idea - of trying to find the essence of that emotion, that elixir of sadness, and that’s his expertise.
“This is a song that I can play to myself again and again and the way the words roll in the mouth is so soothing. You know how the ancient language of Sanskrit was written in such a way, that phonetically it resonated within your own mouth and body to create certain effect? Leonard Cohen’s lines are like that. It’s almost medicinal.”
“I opted for this version of “Song to the Siren” over the version by This Mortal Coil as I think the blueprint of the song lies within Tim Buckley’s version. It’s so ornately generous and such an efficient song, and I think that’s what I love about it.
“I’m learning it at the moment and it’s actually surprisingly quite basic; I love function in a song and there’s no fat to this. It’s also very emotional, almost overly emotional, but somehow it carries itself without collapsing under that weight. As well as that, its an incredibly sad song, but in such a delicious way.
“I think a song is really a portal, they’re just little tears in the universe and reality which you get to peer through. I think that’s why sometimes you need to feel the sadness of something like “Song to the Siren”, just to connect with those feelings and that side of yourself.”
“Again, I think this is a piece of mysticism, “Emily” is a mystical piece of work. I guess it feels quite existentialist; she’s talking about meteors and she’s talking about time as well, which really lends it a sense of scale and vastness, both due to the song being twelve minutes long, but as well as the fact that she’s so detailed.
“Joanna tethers you to these tiny insights into the everyday and then uses it as a comment on the phone system for example, she’s really a visionary in that area. I know that the song is beautifully arranged by Van Dyke Parks, so it has that sense of luxury to it, but I think for me it’s the song that best gives you a sense of what she’s capable of as a creator. That kind of song isn’t really a song, it’s like a poem and it’s spiritual.
“Emily” has scenes in it and that’s what I love about it. It has these trapdoors which you fall through and then you’re in another room, another space, another sensibility and then it’ll fall in again and all of a sudden you’re back in the same room. It’s kind of a fun house in that respect.
“It’s a mysterious piece of work. I think for any song that’s twelve minutes long, it’s going to take you the best part of a lifetime to really get the gist of the full sense of it."
“The album Infinite Chants is an ecstatic work. Basically, there were two microphones set up in an ashram - this meditative space to chant and do yoga in during the ‘70s - and in my own mind, from what I can hear there’s a CS-80 and there’s a choir, and it’s just totally extraordinary in terms of the sounds you’re hearing.
“I don’t know what the term ‘Om Rama’ means, but it taps into a fascination of mine of what I think future folk religions will create. I guess it’s the music of a future folk religion; a music of a coming together in the history of mankind that couldn’t have been foreseen. It’s a music that brings an eastern sensibility and philosophy and finds a capitalist America and the cultural resonance in there - in Jazz, African-American music and expression in America, with some quite extraordinary Japanese synthesiser technology. And all of a sudden, in effect you have this future folk religion.
“I think in general it’s religious that people have an experience of spirituality, where the idea of connectivity, togetherness and a concept of ‘the beyond’ exist. It’s through songs that those things become embodied and are manifested physically within us. If someone speaks a line it goes into yourself differently than if someone were to sing you that same line. If its sung it comes into your heart, it becomes more about the physicality of it. That’s how I feel when listening to this track.
“Om Rama” is quasi-spiritual, eastern jazz. It flips between moments of wild bombast and then moves into more meditative tones. It’s very, very visceral and colourful music. It sounds like love and there’s such a joy and humanity to it.”
“I love this song. This is probably the first song that I can remember being crazy about, being crazy about the sense of ‘How was this made? Why were these production decisions made? What was the aesthetic of this? What do these words mean?’ It was the first time that I thought ‘This is so beautifully written and realised in so many different angles that I need to know everything about it.’
“I think I was about nine and I remember thinking it was one of those songs that shouldn’t be, but it went to number one. It’s actually not her song, it’s a cover, but I love a lot of the decisions that were made for this version. For instance, to have that odd middle eighth, where Annie Lennox is kind of cackling whilst doing a sort of kids voice. There’s a lot of really quite creepy stuff going on and then at the same time its just so lush and her voice acts a beacon.
“That line “No More I Love You’s, the language is leaving me”; do you think that anything now could get to number one with the chorus “The language is leaving me in silence?"
“I’ve spoken to Jon about this song, because I sort of became quite obsessed with everything about it. He said it came about very spontaneously one morning, when he came into the studio and it just emerged and fell out of him.
“It’s one of those songs that seems to be in line with my parasympathetic nervous system. Every time I hear it there’s just an easing and I relax. It’s stark in its simplicity, really touching and it’s melodically really beautiful.
"I’ve come to realise recently that I operate in the business of hooks, and what is a hook? And how basically the demands of a capitalist society mean that our senses always need hijacking in some respect, be that by taste, be that by salt, by sweet, by fat, by sugar or our ears or a nose.
“These things that our sensory being is hooked by makes for good business. The hook is the main driving force of the pop industry, its the thing that hijacks your consciousness. I think in a strange way "Small Memory" has such a hook, but it seems to be a hook for good. It’s there to satiate something more gentle, rather than just to whip you up into a frenzy.”