Hayden Thorpe: ‘It’s a record about belief, at a time where what we believe in is so crucial’

Ensconsed once again in Kendal, where he grew up, singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe is looking back over the changes in his life in recent years.

Hayden Thorpe. Picture: Jack Johnstone

Since the dissolution of his old band Wild Beasts, a critically adored four-piece who found their feet as students in Leeds, Thorpe has making a name for himself as a solo artist. His second album, Moondust For My Diamond, is out this week.

Warmer and more outward-looking than the stark, piano-dominated interior landscapes of its predecessor Diviner, it is, he feels, a step forward both musically and personally.

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“Some circumstances are too good to waste, and Diviner was definitely made in the aftermath of quite shocking change at times,” he says. “A band is nothing short of a cult and to leave a cult means untethering yourself from all kinds of strings that were both keeping you in place and keeping you in certain states. I have to say there’s a certain energy that comes from that release, and I captured that within Diviner.

“Then, as often happens in the fringes of your life, if it isn’t one thing then it’s everything. So relationship, band and home all kind of move in one movement and you find yourself in an entirely different landscape.

“I actually find it really life-affirming that there are so many lives to be led – there’s all the unlived life to capture and more, the leads you didn’t take. But for Moondust For My Diamond, having got to the other side, and realising that there is no escape from those earthly pains, no ultimate destination away from that longing and loss and change, (I began to understand) that is the diamond, and in knowing that is an acceptance and a beauty.”

During the pandemic he left the urban sprawl of London and moved back to Cumbria. Despite initial qualms – “I had the idea that I was cursed to be returning,” he says – he soon found that once he was back in the Lake District he appreciated being “so close again to the natural world”.

“Having the world that I grew up in was actually a real privilege and a really rich vein as a creative because actually you come back with all the craft and all the skill that you’ve spent a decade and a half developing and you’re back into the imagination that you had for the place growing up as a child,” he says. “It seems to be a meeting point between the kind of dream I had of what an adult does and coming back is all part of that dream, in some sense.

Hayden Thorpe. Picture: Jack Johnstone

“Certainly as a solo artist I find it a lot easier to be within this landscape. There’s so much expectation to draw from within, as if I should find myself so compelling and interesting so often. The truth is I find myself far more interesting in these landscapes than I do in other atmospheres because of the effect being in this space has on me. And also it’s a lifetime’s work just to honour a small patch of woodland or a certain mountain, really you can never quite grasp it, it’s different every time you return to it, and that’s constantly inspiring.”

If Diviner was a record that puzzled over “what next”, Thorpe, now 35, feels Moondust For My Diamond “kind of answers” the questions its predecessor posed. “It’s a record about belief, at a time where what we believe in is so crucial,” he says. “I guess I started out making spirituals about science, I very much think we live in the data age, and metrics and numbers, the great cult of Western order, that’s what we are supposed to insert our life energy into. The idea of accumulation that’s the ultimate within our society, but when you work with songs you realise that they’re an intangible thing. One piece of music that is worthless to some people would be essential to a fulfilled life for others.

“I wanted to make spirituals about this age where we’re really so obsessed with everything having a number, having a value according to zero, and more generally the great crisis of our time which is whether to believe the story of science or the story of our inner journey, as it were. Capitalism requires us to be such unique individuals, we all have our own TV channels with social media reach, and have a level of self-importance to function within society now, but science is telling us that very thing is our own undoing. Somehow we lead this very internal life while the land is burning and the seas are rising, and yet we’re so safe and warm within ourselves.”

Thorpe has been experimenting with “breath guru” Richie Bostock “who takes people through a breathing process where they saturate their system with oxygen”. “It gives you quite high, it stretches your consciousness,” he says, adding that performing to an audience that was lying down was like nothing else he has ever experienced. “You instantly have people in a different state, they’re very open, they’re vulnerable, they’re not looking at you and they’re just listening. The whole order and nature of performance changes.

“I’ve played several of these shows,” he says, “one in London, one in LA, and people would be weeping or shouting or writing around as they went through the process and I was in real time improvising. Some of the language that emerged, some of the energy that came out of that definitely fed straight into the songs. For instance in Parallel Kingdom, the chorus ‘We live now for the wonder of this’, that was a line straight out of that time.”

This album also reunites Thorpe with the Leeds-based producer Richard Formby, who he first worked with during his time in Wild Beasts. “For me he’s got an unparalleled purity,” he says. “I know his musical opinion remains entirely undisturbed because he’s a true craftsman. He’s always been led by the method, the practice of making music on a daily basis. Now in this phase of his career, when we met I was inspired by the decade he had spent developing his modular synthesiser. There was something about moving from the piano, where your fingers are moving the hammers, to a modular synthesiser, where your fingers are actually moving the electrical currents, which felt like a natural step and the expression felt strangely similar.

“And I always have a wonderful time with him, it’s always a time of peace and exploration. He was the first guy I ever set foot in a studio with recording me to tape when I was 19 years old. There is something incredibly valuable there that gets just richer and deeper over time.”

Moondust For My Diamond is out on Friday October 15. www.haydenthorpe.com