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November 2018
Features

Reading & Leeds 2017: Bastille: "We’re very fucking weird"

Bastille are readying themselves to play second from top on the Reading & Leeds Main Stage.
Published: 1:14 pm, August 21, 2017
Reading & Leeds 2017: Bastille: "We’re very fucking weird"
Bastille are an odd band. Already this summer they've found themselves sandwiched between Run The Jewels and Frank Ocean at a festival in Denmark, shared a lineup with the likes of Rammstein & System of a Down in Germany and played before Rod Stewart at the Isle Of Wight Festival. They started off as a DIY bedroom indie band but second album ‘Wild World' is a little bit of everything; Tarantino films, genre shuffling mixtapes and real world reflection.

"We just felt quite liberated on this record to do whatever we wanted. That was the point," Dan Smith explains. "Whatever people's perceptions of us are. I feel like, in everything we do, there's very much a sense of we love doing this. We got to do kind of everything that we wanted to do."

They are, in their own words, rubbish at being rock stars but there's a devilish grin to everything. Their last headline run saw the band take their fake news company-slash-government department to the big screen, with a fictional politician overlooking the whole thing "in this sinister Big Brother way."

In the build-up to the general election, it started to look a lot like Theresa May, and that was no accident. More recently, they stripped things down in a church, only to rebuild it with a gospel choir, a string section and some brass.

"[It's something] we're going to do a concert hall tour of later in the year," teases Dan with a smile. "We feel very lucky to be able to go between slightly different worlds and make the most of it. And have fun with it. It's fun to mix stuff up."

Their subheadline slot at Reading & Leeds is also a cocktail of different, outlandish ideas. It's exciting, terrifying, a benchmark of just how far they've come and "so far outside of my frame of ambition, it's very crazy." It stands to bookend an adventure that started at last year's Glastonbury and has run parallel to this wild world getting wilder. Bastille are a pretty odd band but right now, isn't that what we need?

"Yeah we're very fucking weird," starts Dan, all distracted glances and fierce focus. "We definitely get away with a lot of stuff. The nature of having one or two songs that did really well is that to a lot of people, that's all we've done.

"If you scratch beneath the service though, we've got some quite political music on this record, and our tour is visually quite on the nose and knife-twisting. We're in the lucky position where we can do what we want and get away with it because maybe some people care, but a lot of people don't. That's a nice position to be in."

[caption id="attachment_22244" align="aligncenter" width="1500
Photo: Poppy Marriott / Dork[/caption]

"pull" text="We can do what we want and get away with it.


It's not a position that was given to them either. They've earned it, carved out their own space and fought for their right to party as they please.

"We never in our wildest dreams expected to play second from the top at Reading," continues Dan. "I guess we've bumbled our way through the whole thing. Growing up I used to go to Reading. Our first show there was in the very smallest tent, just after our first single ‘Overjoyed' came out and we didn't think anyone was going to come."

But they did come, they sang along and that moment changed things. "That was the first big milestone memory at a festival," explains Kyle Simmons. "It's always nice to go back and see how things have changed."

"I'm a bit of a pessimist," laughs Dan. "Set your expectations incredibly low, then you're almost always pleasantly surprised. We're definitely the wrong two to speak to, about ambition," he continues. "Neither of us really thought we'd be in bands so to make music every day is fucking amazing."

The dreams come from Will and Woody. "Woody was the one saying, ‘Yeah, I want to play Wembley one day.' In our heads, we were thinking ‘Fuck, if we get to play Shepherd's Bush Empire, that'd be insane.' I didn't ever really think that far beyond that. We never had our sights set on playing the Main Stage at Reading, or any of these things."

But that doesn't mean they're afraid of embracing the ridiculous, the crazy or the wild. "[Our music] is more narrative and storytelling but it's filtered through experience," continues Dan. "In writing the songs for this album, I tended to think of them all as stories or scenes. It's as much about what they're saying as how it sounds and the mood it creates. There's a lot of personal stuff in there, but we're not a band who diarizes our experiences or our relationships."

Their debut, 'Bad Blood' used pop culture, myths and history to help articulate things. ‘Wild World' didn't need the help. "It was 2016; you can't not react to how mad the world seems when you turn on the TV. It became more grounded in reality, but then there are songs on the record about gangsters. We'll always have an element of fiction and fantasy in our music. That comes from making it in a tiny underground studio in South London, and in a laptop in a bedroom.

"There's always been an element of wanting, and having, to use your imagination and thinking a little bit bigger than our situation."

Like everything they do, ‘Wild World' is a mix of lots of different things. "We wanted to get this sense of modern anxiety, this sense of helplessness and not really knowing what was happening, but we also wanted to get this sense of friendship and positivity that runs through it across."

There are songs like ‘The Currents', "essentially a massive fuck you to divisive right-wing politicians," that have become more relevant to the band as the past eighteen months have played out.

"Playing it live is so cathartic. Putting one toe in the waters of vaguely political pop music was potentially a risky enterprise. There was a feeling from us that we didn't want to be preachy or didactic because that's not our place, but that song is also about hearing people say stuff that you think is really shocking and abhorrent and wanting to get the fuck away. That could apply to anyone, I think.

"The other songs that touch on it are really just about watching the news and feeling slightly aghast, shocked and saddened and ordinary ways of coping with it all. Going and losing yourself in somebody physically, or hanging out with your friends, or talking about it.

"There's obviously no right way to process, or deal with any of that stuff that's been happening, but it's been interesting having this record out over the past year we've had, against the landscape of politics, terrorism and everything that's happening in the world.

"We only ever wanted to do it from a very, very normalised human perspective because we are four complete idiots, and we just wanted it to be reflective of the times we live in."

"It was about trying to find the contrast between existing in the world and feeling very small and disconnected, but also the importance and potency of one on one human relationships," he continues.

"In our own stupid little way, we just wanted to get across the complexity of being an adult and being freaked out by the world, but also having to get up the next day and go to work." The scale of it has shifted massively, but the soul of Bastille remains the same bloodied and bruised optimist. Persistent, aware and undeterred.

[caption id="attachment_22243" align="aligncenter" width="1500
Photo: Poppy Marriott / Dork[/caption]

"pull" text="We never in our wildest dreams expected to play second from the top at Reading.


There is, as you'd expect, still a lot to discover in ‘Wild World. "It's an odd record to talk about," offers Dan. "There's a song like ‘Two Evils', and what it can mean metaphorically but also what it can mean really literally in a bar scenario, alongside a song like ‘Send Them Off!', which is this ridiculous superhero theme tune slash overly pompous hip-hop record, with me singing about relationship guilt over the top of it.

"We tried to have this developing narrative on the record, and it ends with ‘The Anchor', which is the most positive song we've ever done. It's about how somebody can be that thing you can latch onto, and it seems to make everything okay." Somebody or some band.

Bastille wanted the themes of unity, community, togetherness and all our little similarities to shine. To have that message at the heart of a record, and then to take that record around the world, it's powerful stuff.

"There's a song called ‘Snakes' which is about being a bit confused, overwhelmed and bogged down but then, just going out and having a nice time and knowing it's not really solving anything but knowing that, that's okay.

"Music and culture has a responsibility to reflect the times and to say what you think, but equally, it's a space for escapism." Somehow, Bastille offer both. "It's odd that since releasing it, some of the things we talk about have become more intense and more persistent. I can't speak for anything grand, but for us alone, getting to play them out, it's been really cathartic. So much has changed in two years, it's fucking crazy."

"There's a huge history of politics and music, but it felt like until very recently, nobody in our world was talking about anything. It was quite weird and surreal.

"When we started this campaign a year ago, I was very cautious. I'm really aware, when I think of people in bands who are political, there's an eye-rollingly clichéd thing about it. We didn't want to be those guys, mainly because who the fuck are we to impose our opinions on other people?

"But it's interesting, as time's rolled on, we've relaxed a bit about it. We have these songs saying these things; we may as well not hold back. It's heartening that people now feel that they can say what they think."

Since the release of ‘Wild World', things have been hyper-intense and constantly shifting, but there's also been a sense of relief for Bastille. "It's nice to have got the second record done. We're quite short term-ist. 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."

What that future holds exactly is a potent question. The answer could be any one of limitless weird and wonderful outcomes. "We've just moved into a different studio in South London. It's got a window, some natural light and some air-flow, which is a real luxury," laughs Dan.

"We've been holding off until the studio was done because we wanted to do it there but now we're about to get properly into finishing new Bastille music. The record that we're making, the one I want to make, is more concise. I like the idea, moving forward, of being able to have little phases of what is hopefully a career.

"Our first album was this slightly odd thing and the second one was this mad, sprawling, opinionated mess. I like the idea of looking back to people I admire, who had certain sounds and certain phases and getting to make a concise nine-track album that feels like its own little world. Then being able to draw a line under that and move onto something else.

"I like the idea of being able to release a record every year, year and a half. I think that's way more exciting. I'm saying this now," he laughs. "It probably won't come out for seven years. We've never really had a sound other than maybe my voice and our songwriting style. That makes everything we do sound like Bastille, but if you took my vocals away, it's quite a bizarrely varied body of work.

"With the next thing, we want to set ourselves some rules, but really the only thing that matters are the songs. I feel like I want it to be an apocalyptic rave record. That final frame of Fight Club, where they're holding hands and watching the city collapse, there's something quite nice about that image. It feels relevant to acknowledge that things are still completely mad, but to lean towards the positivity that can happen within your own life, in the context of a bigger, madder mess."

Taken from the August/September Dork Festival Guide - order your copy below. Reading & Leeds takes place from 25th-27th August.




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