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February 2021

Bastille: "It’s fun to fuck with people's expectations"

With a new tour, a new mixtape, and a new album, Dan Smith and co. are busier than ever.
Published: 11:53 am, February 23, 2018
Bastille: "It’s fun to fuck with people's expectations"
"Pretty soon there's going to be-" starts Dan Smith before the smallest of pauses. "I always say too much," he grins. "We've got all this stuff we've been working on, and I just want it out there. This year we're releasing our third album. We're going to have a new mixtape. We're going to have lots of new music out," he promises.

The thing about Bastille is that there's always a lot going on. Since the release of second album ‘Wild World', all wide-screen possibility and dynamic reflection, the band have swelled and secured their position as one of the most interesting groups around. Smart pop music with a manic grin, the tour took in everything from London's The O2 to Reading & Leeds' Main Stage via arenas across Europe. Bastille finished 2017 as a band who could head in any direction. Any direction, as long as it was up.

The band tried to pause before working on the flurry of next chapters. Honestly, they really did. "I tried to stop, and I lasted about a week," says Dan, but the allure of the new was too much.

"It took three and a bit years for us to put out our second record and I want to move a bit quicker these days. I'm not someone who is going to stop and not be making music in some way. We've been lucky to tour constantly for about five years, so even just being in London, even if I'm doing music all the time, it still feels like a break. And also, I'm so fucking lucky. It's so fucking fun. It's hard work sometimes, like anything you care about would be, but yeah. Why the fuck would I take a break when I love it?"

"pull" text="This year we're releasing our third album.

As if working on two releases at the same time wasn't work enough, Bastille are also going back on the road. Their Reorchestrated Tour will see them strip back, reimagine and reinvent their back catalogue. They've done it once before, a one-off show at Union Chapel for homeless charity Streets Of London, but never ones to simply repeat themselves they're currently "figuring out how to expand on what we did last year," Dan reveals.

"It was just nice to strip all our songs back and reimagine them in a different light," he continues. "I love writing songs. I know it's geeky, but it's one of my favourite things to do. I also get totally lost in the production, and that's a massive part of what we do as well. That show was a nice opportunity to look at both the albums, the mixtapes that we've done and strip everything back to the songwriting.

"I'm also a massive film soundtrack fan, I love certain elements of classical music, and I love how it fits into pop and alternative music. Getting to focus on the gospel choir, the strings and the brass was a fucking dream. All that stuff is there in our songs anyway but because we made our albums in a little cupboard, we always just had to layer it up ourselves. We'd have to make some huge string section out of two people. It was the same with the vocals; it'd be me in my bedroom layering up this big ol' choir of backing vocals. It's fun for us to be able to do those songs with actual people doing it and hearing them how we'd always imagined them."

While the tour is based on that Union Chapel gig, one of Dan's favourite shows, there's still plenty of room for surprises. "We had two days to pull that show together and we worked with our mate Johnny who tours with us playing trumpet and singing but is also an amazing arranger. He pulled all that together while we were off on tour in a matter of days and with no sleep whatsoever. It was a fucking amazing achievement.

"It's nice to go back to it, looking at what we loved about it and what we think we can do better and adding different people in different parts and new songs. It's going to be a supped up version of that show. Getting to do that on a bigger scale at Royal Albert Hall and various other places around the UK and Europe is fucking insane, I'm so excited," Dan beams. "I'm slightly distracted by trying to finish an album, but apart from that..."

"pull" text="Why the fuck would I take a break when I love it?

Bastille have this manic energy. It's there in the music, the live show, in their excitement for more and their ability to create. Usually stripping a song back to its core takes away that fizzing spirit. We've all heard pop bangers fall asleep with an acoustic guitar, but Bastille are looking to shift, not subdue. "You have to hope they stand up to that. Because of the energy, often people don't listen to the lyrics as much, or parts of the arrangement or production go under the radar a little bit; we always try and do so much in everything we do, perhaps sometimes that means things get overlooked.

"It's nice to be able to reframe the songs. Something like ‘Good Grief' which is actually really sad but framed in a slightly uplifting way, to be able to sing that and show it in a different light, or its true light, is fun to do. This tour also allows us to know we're playing to people who are deep fans of stuff we've done. It's nice to bring out tunes we've never played before, tracks from mixtapes and less aired tracks, which is fun for us. Having done arena touring in the UK and the different countries around the world, we wanted to do some kind of touring this year but going in the opposite direction for a minute."

"We're quite short term-ist," Dan admitted to Dork last summer. "At one point we probably didn't think we'd make a second record, but then we got to make a second album, and now I've realised I really want to make a third one. And maybe a fourth one, too. It's easier to think into the future a bit more now." That forward thinking has spread beyond the recorded chapters, and now the band are plotting for the future.

"I want this tour to be a success and allow us to do this as one arm of our touring. We're very lucky that sometimes we're allowed to play in big venues and put on a show that is visual and says something that we think is interesting and important, but we also love playing grimy little gigs in pubs. That's where we first started. I also love when we get the opportunity to do acoustic sessions and play our songs with a string section. It would be really great if this was a success and we were able to go and do bigger, louder tours and then at the same time go off and do these other ones because it plays to a side of music that I love, quieter, more reserved, more intricate.

"In the same way we release our albums and mixtapes, the whole point is to try and kick away this notion that a band is supposed to do one thing, or release music in a certain way. Nowadays, it's less and less relevant. When we started a band doing a mixtape seemed ridiculous but for us, it was the most normal thing in the world because the musicians that we loved were doing that, so of course, we'd do it too.

"We just want to do stuff that excites us and that we think our fans will like and ultimately, what we want to do. At the moment, it's been really nice making a shitload of music. The idea of doing this tour, maybe it looks fucking weird to people, but I don't really care. I'm so proud of the show we did at Union Chapel; I'm interested to see in a bigger room how people react to it. Our fans expect a certain thing, but we've hopefully painted a pretty clear picture of what to expect. And it's a rewarding show as well; it's not self-indulgent. Its fun and uplifting and sad. Hopefully its just a different version of the usual shit we do."

"pull" text="Maybe it looks fucking weird to people, but I don't really care.

Bastille have been working on their third album alongside the fourth instalment of their ‘Other People's Heartache' mixtape series. They'll "probably be released all at once, [but] who knows," grins Dan. "I see them as two slightly separate spaces but it allows us to try things we maybe wouldn't do in our own records. At times, they totally overlap. It's a nice opportunity to collaborate with other people. It's a much easier conversation, ‘We're doing this song with a bunch of people for a mixtape, we'd love to have you on it', than ‘Lets do a single together'.

"The whole point of the mixtape, and I think I'm there in my head with the album too, is to obviously care a lot about it, but not treat it so seriously. And to fuck with people's expectations a little bit; it's fun to do that. It's nice in the studio, if you're stuck on a track for the record, to be able to jump across to a mixtape thing and it forces us to work with other people. We're quite independent in how we work, so it's a nice opportunity to bring other people into our little musical world for a minute. We've always felt like we've got a strong identity and we've always collaborated loads. The first things we put online, it was our songs, our mixtapes and us working with us other people. That's been a part of who we are as a band and what we've been about all this time."

From stripping things down on the Reorchestrated Tour to remixing songs for mixtapes and toying with energies live, a Bastille song never stops growing. They change shape, take on new forms and shift colour. They have a life to them because "they have a life to us," says Dan. "We play them every day when we're on tour and it's nice to keep a record of that. It comes from confidence in the songs, we love them and know they can have different versions of themselves.

"As someone that wants to be a writer and producer, I love doing remixes of other songs and love hearing people interpret ours, it's all part of collaboration and it's all interesting and exciting. The way we create music in the studio, you can never recreate that live. It's always going to be about versions. I think that's what makes the songs different in each of those experiences. It allows them to be them to be unique."

"pull" text="Hopefully it's just a different version of the usual shit we do.

Dan isn't the most tight-lipped when it comes to what Bastille are up to. He's openly been talking about their third album and new mixtape whenever he gets a chance. "Because I understand why it's interesting to mythologise bands. Some people choose to retain an air of separation but as a music fan, I've been that person queuing up at a gig or waiting for a record to come out or trying to find versions of songs online ‘cos you want to hear them and own them.

"I don't have a high enough opinion of myself to think that we should act any differently to how I feel like I should normally be, and that's how I am. If people are excited about music, what's the harm in letting them know what's going on? Maybe tomorrow we'll switch off all our social media and go away for a month," he teases, letting the idea float for a second. "We won't do that. We're working on music and I'm excited by it. I know the one thing people aren't going to hear yet is the music so, yeah. There is this tension between the world we set up in our videos and artwork, it's very much not including of us, and then us as people who are just in a band and making music. That's one thing I've always been really keen to separate."

"I'm a lot more relaxed than I was going into our second album," he adds. "I've said it a million times, but I feel really lucky. I just want to make music that's fun to create and hopefully, people love. That's it really. If we get to keep doing it, that's awesome. That's all I can really hope for. Obviously, the idea of an album is still the most important thing but the idea of wanting to move a bit faster, release more music and put less emphasis on certain things is liberating and exciting."

Alongside that want to speed things up, the band are trying to take themselves more seriously. "Maybe because we're quite self-effacing and self-deprecating, perhaps that feeds into how other people see us, but I don't really care. I could probably do with being a bit more confident with our stuff, that'll come with being a bit more relaxed though."

Dan's telling us "nothing at all" about what we can expect from the new mixtape, wanting to maintain the excitement. "I'm going to keep completely schtum about it, it's still a work in progress and it's more fun if it's a surprise, so let's keep it a surprise, yeah?" As for the third album, "we're basically done," he starts, before realising he's about to say too much. Again. "I should stop talking," he grins.

Taken from the March issue of Dork - order your copy below. Bastille tour the UK from 10th April.

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