Dork’s sitting in a ‘trendy’ pizzeria in Hackney, looking for something other than craft beer to drink, with Dan Smith and Kyle Simmons ‘out of’ Bastille. It’s the first time all day that they’ve been able to put their phones down, after spending even the seconds between photo shoot takes typing up content for their single, ‘Joy’, and new album announcements.
It might seem ironic then, that the title-track from their upcoming third album, ‘Doom Days’, released just a week prior, details phone addiction, with Dan singing: “I think I’m addicted to my phone, my scrolling horror show.” In just over two minutes, the track rattles through topics – fake news, social media, ignorance – and instrumentals, acting as a blurb for the rest of the album.
It’s been three years since Bastille last put out a full-length (2016’s ‘Wild World’), and while writing for ‘Doom Days’ began back at the start of last year, the title-track was written and recorded in three days before their album deadline. The first proper introduction to this new era is a side of Bastille that might have been missed by casual listeners on previous records. Though dealing with serious topics through the magic of pop songwriting is nothing new when it comes to Bastille’s bangers – just look at ‘The Currents’, ‘Warmth’, ‘Snakes’ or basically anything else from ‘Wild World’, if you’re in need of a good example – it hasn’t been nearly as direct as on ‘Doom Days’.
“It’s quite different,” says Dan. “I think perhaps the singles we’ve released before don’t show the breadth of what we do on our albums and mixtapes, so it was exciting for us to be able to put it out. It’s also a song that starts on the acoustic guitar and ends up as a full rave. It sort of shows in one song, it takes you through the sonics of a tune like ‘4AM’ to ‘Million Pieces’ via quite a lot of song topics.”
They’ve always been a band who want to do pop differently. When they scored their first proper hit in 2013, it was about “ashy corpses years and years after the aftermath of a volcano, two dead people frozen in one position saying ‘fuck me I’m bored’.” Their songwriting is offbeat, and it’s something that resonates with their diehard fans, now maybe they hope listeners outside of their tight-knit fan community will take note.
“That’s maybe something that’s been overlooked,” Dan states. “We thought it’d be interesting to be direct and say stuff not a lot of other people are saying. People on the internet talk about it all the time but it’s not necessarily in pop music, and it felt important to us to get to say all that stuff in a song that we love. Structurally it’s really weird, and thematically, it’s pretty odd.”
Releasing ‘Doom Days’ brings us back to the universe Bastille started setting up over a year ago, when they released ‘Quarter Past Midnight’. The first single, and first track of this album came with a music video where Dan shaves his head, obvs a clear indicator that a pop star is about to begin a new era. But a lot happened in that time that set back the release of ‘Doom Days’.
“We always try and make it quick, but it always just ends up being about three years,” notes Kyle. “As much as we try and change it, it just seems that that’s how long it takes to get it all together properly.”
The recording of ‘Doom Days’ was the longest they’d all been in one place in over five years. It was made in One Eyed Jack’s, a studio they’d built in South London that’s also home to Dan’s record label, which lent a hand when they wanted other voices on certain songs too.
“We wanted it to feel like a night out with a cast of characters and to use different sounds and feels and different voices to bring that to life,” Dan says.
“And to bring the same voices in at different points of the album,” Kyle adds, “so on different songs, it’s still kind of ‘oh yeah her from earlier on’, that sort of stuff.”
The album recording began in the first few months of 2018, but it wasn’t long before the boys were on tour with a full orchestra and choir, which changed their perspective on what a third Bastille album would sound like.
“It was amazing and inspiring getting to be on a couple of tour buses with a bunch of musicians who come from a different place, musically, than we do,” says Dan. “It made us want to bring some of that into the record, and having the tour to sort of step back from the album made us reassess things a bit.
“Our intentions initially were to do something quite quick - have a short album that would represent a short period in our lives and move onto the next thing. In the whole process taking a lot longer, we wanted to stop and make sure we said exactly what we wanted with the record. If it was gonna be something that’s taken technically three years, it needed to feel relevant to us now, and that’s why it was important for us to add ‘Doom Days’ onto the album.”
So those choirs made their way onto the record, along with some new songs. Some tracks were taken off, and Dan took time out to write songs for other people, one of those being the global smash ‘Happier’ with producer Marshmello. ‘Doom Days’ also ended up being held behind so it got its own moment to shine, away from worldwide hits (they’ve got it hard these pop stars, you know), off-cycle tours and mixtape releases.
“’Happier’ came along because it was a song for somebody else, that turned into a song for us, and it’s the first time we’ve ever really done that. That was an interesting experience,” says Dan.
“We’re always working on new stuff; you just have to be adaptable and try to enjoy it. It’s harder to release albums these days and have people give a fuck or even notice. We wanted to make sure if we put this much time and effort and love into something, that we’re really excited about and proud of, that it would come out at a time where it wasn’t overshadowed by other stuff that we were doing.”
In taking a little longer with the album process, ‘Doom Days’ has a little more creative meat on its bones. They’ve got a whole host of visual stuff based around the world of the album coming up, and of course, there’s already been the tour.
“The album was supposed to be out last year. That makes sense, right?” Dan mentions. Yep, makes sense. The ‘Still Avoiding Tomorrow’ tour at the start of this year introduced fans to this new universe and the central concept of ‘Doom Days’ – a house party amidst the apocalypse – but also gave room for both the band and the fans to celebrate the mixtapes too.
“We wanted to represent ‘Doom Days’ in spirit and visually, and via dropping a new song, ‘4AM’, and a kind of alternative version of ‘Million Pieces’ and to play a bunch of songs off the mixtape that we’ll probably never play again.”
“It’s also nice to give the mixtape its own space,” Kyle adds, “because they’re normally just for fun and a bit throwaway in the spectrum of things, but it was nice to let it have its space, while also setting up for the new album.”
Dan continues: “I guess as we have been lucky enough to continue doing this, we realised more and more that we wanted to treat each tour as its own separate, self-contained thing - both for people that come to the shows and for us. For it to feel fresh and exciting and for it to feel like its own self-contained, artistic thing.”
Of course, a lot has changed in the world outside of pop since the release of ‘Wild World’ too, and Bastille know that. They’re conscious of it, and it’s the reason ‘Doom Days’ exists.
“’Happier’ is an example of us writing a relationship song very directly,” Dan says. “That was us saying, ‘Let’s write a fucking massive pop song’, and luckily it did well. And I can say this in retrospect, but it was almost like an exercise in writing a big pop song to show to ourselves that we can, and show to other people that we can do that, we’re choosing not to. That’s why it’s important to us to write an album like ‘Doom Days’ that’s quite conceptual and strange in places.”
The way music and politics integrate has changed, especially following the aftermath of events like the Manchester attacks in 2017. It’s something Bastille had their own experience with when they performed at Germany’s Rock AM Ring festival the day after it was evacuated for a bomb threat, during their ‘Wild World’ tour, where the show was built around panic and paranoia – so ‘Doom Days’ takes on a different perspective, pushing for hope and escapism.
“It’s interesting for us. When we released ‘Wild World’, on the eve of Brexit and Trump being elected, the second track on our album was a fuck you to Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. I remember at the time people were saying, ‘Oh no one’s really talking about politics’, and we were there on the side lines like, ummm, we are.
“It’s always complicated with politics and music,” Dan ponders. “Politics is a bit too specific of a term because it’s more just y’know, things outside of your own life. I think when people are trying to make money out of music they don’t wanna offend anybody and that’s always really tricky, but also music itself is a form of escapism. It should be cathartic, so not everyone wants to have a political opinion rammed down their throat. We’re really aware of that.”
“With this album, part of our desire to make something about escapism was, having toured ‘Wild World’ for a few years, we wanted to step away from those serious topics for a minute, but I guess we’ve tripped back into them. It’s been really interesting over the last few years as things have gotten more bizarre and more turbulent to see that people want to talk more openly and clearly about what they think, and hopefully, that’s not isolating for people.
“It’s interesting, with the mainstreaming of grime, which is fucking incredible, it’s a space where people are much more open to being really honest and really direct and a bit more political, and that’s amazing. In pop music, maybe just cos there’s less space for as many lyrics, it’s harder to sing some of those things. That’s why we wanted to treat ‘Doom Days’ as kind of a rap tune with loads of verses that just rolled on so we could say as much as we possibly could.”
Having a concept to convey all of these ideas made it possible for the band to squash this many different themes and styles of music into eleven tracks. The first half of the record deals with escapism and running away from reality, which can also be read as the start of the night out. ‘Doom Days’ signals the turning point, the darkest hours, both metaphorically and literally within the story, and everything after that feels euphoric and hopeful.
“We wanted the album to feel really diverse but incredibly cohesive in terms of what it’s about, and have little inward looking Easter eggs. That really sums it up,” Dan says of the concept. “Initially, we started out wanting to make a completely escapist, euphoric, like almost like retro rave record, and you can hear some of that in some of the breaks in a bunch of the tracks, but inevitably it deviated from that and became a much more wide-reaching record.”
And that story of partying through the apocalypse isn’t limited to a literal apocalypse. It can mean what you want it to mean. Those themes of social crises are grounded by personal stories.
“The intention was to make something that was kind of naïve in its desire to escape reality, but ultimately, like in life, the realities of relationship breakdowns and things happening in the news, they seep in. That desire to be completely naïve and escapist is ultimately borderline impossible, and we wanted to reflect that in the album as well.”
As the record goes on, each song flips between looking outwards and inwards. ‘Divide’ tells the story of stopping someone getting in an Uber because you don’t want them to leave, while, as Dan says, gestures towards his own feelings about Britain leaving the EU. ‘Million Pieces’ is a euphoric anthem that details wanting to stop discussing the news at a party. ‘Those Nights’ is as much about a one-night stand as it about needing human connection in times of crisis. ‘Joy’ is the celebratory closer about receiving a phone call that brings back a little hope. And the party that’s going on throughout the record isn’t the boys out on the town; it’s a grubby British house party that ends on the kitchen floor.
“You wanna feel like the conversations are happening with three people sitting in an empty bathtub at three in the morning,” Dan says. “I’ve been banging on about it being this apocalyptic party record for a while, and I just wanted to make very clear that it’s not a hip-hop, EDM, US, popping bottles kinda party, it’s very much a British house party, rave, 90s, gritty album. Because ultimately, being completely honest, we’re in a band, but that’s not our life. Even when we’re on tour, we’re hanging out with each other.”
The release of ‘Doom Days’ is nowhere near where the story of it ends, though. There are more songs to come after the album (“hopefully”). There are five videos ready to go, with the promise of more visuals.
“Because of the concept of the album and how all of the songs are connected, it’s a lot easier to grasp the sort of imagery for each of the songs,” Kyle explains. “It’s all roughly from the same palette, the same area, so it’s easier to get that unification of them visually and sonically.”
“On ‘Doom Days’,” Dan adds, “it’s the first time I’ve ever sung to camera, which felt really weird. Obviously, that’s not a big deal to anyone apart from us, but that felt quite weird. ‘Those Nights’, we wanted it to feel like a slightly more artistic statement; one of the videos we made was like a violent comedy. We just wanted to fuck around and try new things and push ourselves. And the video for ‘Joy’ is unlike anything we’ve ever done and will hopefully be really funny and effective.”
There’s another tour coming, a club nights tour that’s already sold out, where Bastille will play tiny venues in towns outside of the usual touring circuit, complete with old school rave flyers as the tour posters. There’s an experiential theatre piece that’ll launch the album and culminate with them playing the album live in full.
“We’ve worked with a writer on an experiential launch event for our album, where it’s basically a binaural sound 25-minute play that’s an interpretation of the night out of the album, told from the perspective of three different characters,” Dan explains.
“So you’ll go into a room, there’ll be props and actors and performers and projections, and you’ll be wearing a pair of headphones, and you have three options. It’s kind of like a silent disco, but with a narrative. You can choose whose version of events you want to hear and flick between them or choose one and go with it. We just wanted it to be this collective but individual experience, to sort of riff off the record, and expand on the world of it a bit, and try something new that we’ve never done before.”
They’ve had a lot of fun with this album cycle so far, and as it all unravels, it’s clear how thankful Bastille are to be able to create such immersive albums and experiences that are lapped up by legions of fans.
“We wanted to do something special and unique and a bit weird. We’re so lucky that we get to make albums, but we’re also really lucky that we get to make music videos and we want the worlds of the records we make to be as detailed as possible.
“I guess you’ve got to just assume that most people aren’t ever gonna hear about those things but hopefully our fans will. The 800-1000 people that get to go into those shows will hopefully have an amazing time, and it’ll be a one-off experience that will never be replicated. We just wanna make it as interesting and special as possible. At a time where music is coming in waves every week, it’s important to, for us and our fans, commemorate this album because it could come and go in a flash.”
Taken from the July issue of Dork. Order a physical copy of the magazine below. Bastille’s album ‘Doom Days’ is out now.
Featuring Bastille, Aurora, Pixx, The Rhythm Method, Sea Girls, Bloxx and loads more.