By Cam Lindsay
When celebrated UK art-rockers Wild Beasts called it a day in February 2018, it didn’t signal an end to the music, but instead a new beginning.
After 16 years, five acclaimed full-lengths (including 2009’s Mercury Prize-nominated Two Dancers), and a farewell live album, the four members of Wild Beasts parted on good terms and went their separate ways.
“It was about as nice as break-ups get,” admits Tom Fleming, the former bassist/vocalist. “It was still a break-up but inevitably we are still friends. We’ve been through too much together. We came from nowhere and did this thing as a unit. There is far too much water under the bridge for that bond to break.”
This past May, Wild Beasts vocalist Hayden Thorpe released his solo debut album, Diviner, an album that satiated fans eager to hear what came next from the individual members. And now comes One True Pairing, the solo project of Fleming, whose husky baritone complemented Thorpe’s theatrical countertenor.
Fleming is fully aware of how both Wild Beasts vocalists releasing solo albums within months of each other will garner comparisons. While each album recalls their old band, One True Pairing sounds quite different from Diviner. Fleming believes the two records will give fans a glimpse into how different they were as songwriters.
“It’s going to become obvious who did what in the band when you hear the two records side by side,” Fleming says. “Even I was surprised by Hayden’s record. There were things I recognized and things that surprised me. I am aware that we are on the same label, and the albums are out in the same year, so inevitably people will draw conclusions to that.”
Although he briefly considered forming a new band, Fleming grew impatient and decided to do it solo. In addition, he chose not to use his real name, which was his attempt to avoid any singer-songwriter trappings. Instead he christened the project One True Pairing, a term “taken from internet fan fiction, where you write the perfect relationship you always wished existed.”
“I really wanted to resist the ‘this is a solo project from a guy that was in a band,’ sort of feel,” he says. “I wanted it to have a fresh impetus and a reason to exist. I really like titles and names, so I wanted one that I could play with that gives me an opportunity to change things about it. The name is kind of sincere and kind of ironic by turn, depending on what I’m trying to get across.”
Written after the demise of Wild Beasts, Fleming’s self-titled debut album offers his complete vision as the lone songwriter, musician and producer. Aside from working alongside co-producer Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, Blur), Fleming wrote and performed every note of the album himself – a task that became more daunting as he went along.
“It was both liberating and much more of a challenge than working with collaborators,” he admits. “There is some terror that comes from being able to do whatever you want. I guess I can do anything and call it a record, but what do I actually want to write about? It was liberating, but there was a second big learning curve involved.”
One True Pairing is a self-described “neo-heartland rock” album, paying homage to the working-class music of 80s period Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Don Henley. A collection of songs about hope and despair that integrate warm, bubbling synths and charging guitar riffs, Fleming felt a connection to a very specific American kind of music, despite his English roots.
“A lot of British music is a refraction of American music,” he explains. “There is a romanticism to the music. I wanted it to be, in some ways, a love song to that kind of music. Those rich synth sounds and big voices. A lot of the concerns in that music, for example the loss of youth and loss of positivity in ‘Boys of Summer,’ or Springsteen’s singing about shit, small towns, was totally relatable to the British experience. Once you start getting into that you realize that Joy Division and Public Image had something similar to say about [those themes]. You come up with these connections, mostly at arm’s length. You do understand it, but just differently.”
One True Pairing is available now via Domino Recording Co.