With a new album and their rise to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, Bastille are set to storm the 2019 Festival season, as Judith Hawkins explores.
How do you reflect the turbulent times in which you are making music, while still producing a fun record?
With their grippingly confident third album ‘Doom Days’, out on 14 June, Bastille seem to have found a way.
Band members Dan Smith, Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson and Chris ‘Woody’ Wood have teamed up with their regular producer Mark Crew, to create an album bustling with energy and ideas, that starts in the middle of an Uber ride through the city streets and finishes the morning after a party to end all parties.
As Kyle told WhatsOn: “Doom Days is an apocalyptic party album. It is set across the course of a night beginning at quarter past midnight and ending the next morning waking on the kitchen floor. A house party with your friends and closing the curtains while an apocalypse is going on outside, the album deals mainly with escapism and elements of hedonism.” Their own experiences meant that the band were keen to both allude to current issues, and to provide an escape for fans through their music.
Dan remembers performing at Germany’s Rock am Ring festival in June 2017, the day after it was evacuated by a bomb threat. “Everything behind us on the screen was paranoid news media and Trumpian politics,” he says. “Although we were really proud of the show we’d put together, we couldn’t help wondering whether it was our responsibility to hold up a mirror to those things or if our live shows should be a chance to escape them. It’s complicated.”
So how do they feel about ‘Doom Days’, with its evocative title, being described as their most political album yet? Kyle adds: “This album, instead of tackling the looming issue, deals more with trying to forget about it for a night. The apocalypse can refer to a lot of things; the environment, social, cultural and political issues. But also much more personal issues like, for instance, a breakup.”
Relationships and human connections, particularly in an era when people are increasingly divided and isolated by technology and politics, are at the heart of the record. ‘Doom Days’ pivots on the title track, which confronts those crushing issues head-on. “I was thinking about our phone addiction,” Dan says. “How mad it is to always be holding this thing that’s a rolling, scrolling window into the wonders and horrors of the world. It keeps us in constant contact with total strangers and the people we love, which is both super intimate and totally isolating at the same time. “It can be confusing and overwhelming but also brilliant.”
This same description could perhaps be used to describe the four-piece’s feelings after their single ‘Pompeii’ quickly became a record-breaking, multi-platinum global hit in 2013. This exalting anthem from their debut album ‘Bad Blood’, was soon being chanted back by crowds at festivals. Then in 2016 came their critically acclaimed second album ‘Wild World’ and their first performance at Glastonbury on the Other Stage. This summer they are returning to Worthy Farm, but this time on the biggest stage of them all.
Kyle adds: “We are all huge fans of Glastonbury and have been for years. Dan buys a ticket every year just to make sure he goes. To be asked back to play is incredible. And to be asked to play the Pyramid Stage is unbelievable. We can’t wait to get back and showcase our album with our new show. We have some hopefully exciting surprises lined up.”
While the Grammy-nominated, Brit-winning band are making the most of playing to the biggest crowds, they are also taking the time to play a series of more intimate gigs during their live promotion of ‘Doom Days’.
“We always love playing the smaller club shows. We’re very lucky to be in the position we’re in in our career, travelling the world and playing big venues to huge crowds. It’s nice to bring it back to more intimate and personal shows. These shows will be more like a house party vibe with DJs but with us playing the new album, start to finish, in between,” explains Kyle.
All in all ‘Doom Days’ is a fitting follow-up to ‘Wild World’, which also wrestled with the emotional consequences of a period of intense political upheaval, as Bastille embraced a series of new opportunities. They shook up their live set with an orchestra and gospel choir on their audacious ReOrchestrated Tour and released the fourth instalment in their freewheeling mixtape series, ‘Other People’s Heartache’. Best Laid Plans, Dan’s record label with Mark Crew, struck gold with Rag’n’Bone Man. Anyone who watched this year’s Brit Awards will remember when P!nk invited Dan to perform a duet with her during her Lifetime Achievement set.
Never a band to limit themselves to one genre, ‘Doom Days’ continues and builds upon Bastille’s diverse sound, taking in gospel, house music, R&B and folk. It is a record which “messes with people’s expectations of what Bastille are and what we want to be,” says Dan.
The album’s 24-hour structure moves from the electric anticipation of ‘Quarter Past Midnight’ to the dawn chorus of ‘Joy’. It’s not quite a narrative concept album but the tight thematic arc (each track is time-stamped on the album artwork) enabled Dan to explore ideas of experience and escape on both a micro and macro scale. “The compressed timeframe is an interesting setting to explore wider themes” he says. “We love to offset a big statement with more immediate, urgent thoughts and events.”
‘Quarter Past Midnight’ captures that point in the night when the sensible people have gone home and those who remain are looking for something (or someone), or perhaps running away from something (or someone).
The first half of the album is therefore about escapism, and the things people are trying to escape. The euphoric ‘Million Pieces’, which makes anxiety sound like euphoria, stems from an incident at a party when Dan was trying to enjoy himself while someone insisted on buttonholing him about politics. “It’s incredibly important but please can we leave it till tomorrow?” he remembers thinking. “Every time I think about it, it crushes me.”
The album becomes less manic and more celebratory of the personal connections that make life bearable, whether it’s close friends (‘4AM’) or a casual hook-up (‘Another Place’). The infectious, galloping breakbeat of ‘Nocturnal Creatures’, like the kinetic ‘Million Pieces’, is Bastille’s tribute to the 1990s, a less troubled decade that Dan is young enough to mythologise. “It’s a dance record but on our terms,” he says. “I’ve called it an apocalyptic party record but a party for us is all-nighters with your mates, not popping bottles in the club. It’s very British: rough around the edges.”
The sampled voice at the end of ‘Nocturnal Creatures’, talking poignantly about freedom and excess, is Igor Grigoriev, one of the pioneers of Russia’s 1990s rave scene. Dan has become a prolific collaborator. He and Mark co-wrote and produced Tears for Fears’ comeback single, ‘I Love You but I’m Lost, while I Know You’, his Top 5 single with Craig David, led to unexpected appearances on Christmas ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Another experiment in pop songwriting (“an interesting learning curve”) resulted in the colossal Marshmello collaboration ‘Happier’, which they performed in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Then there was ‘World Gone Mad’, the song Bastille contributed to the Netflix movie ‘Bright’, which found the band filming a video in Los Angeles, surrounded by explosions, horses, overturned cars and Will Smith. “As a band who have always written and produced everything ourselves” says Dan, “we’ve had a lot of fun venturing into these totally different spaces.” This chain of surreal and surprising developments has helped Bastille to relax and enjoy themselves.
Dan concludes: “We never knew where we’d end up but we’re really happy with where we are.”
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