Bastille Talks ‘Wild World,’ Boobs & Bonus Tracks: Interview

Mike Wass | September 20, 2016 12:30 pm
Bastille's Surreal "Good Grief" Video
Bastille unveils their surreal, Dali-esque video for new single "Good Grief." Watch.

Bastille caught lightning in a bottle with 2013 single, “Pompeii.” The chant-filled anthem peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold more than three million copies. It propelled their debut LP, Bad Blood, to global chart glory — elevating the band to festival headliners in the process. How did that success influence album number two? “It still feels very much like a Bastille record, but we just wanted to not repeat anything.” Dan Smith mused when I interviewed the hitmakers at the Roosevelt Hotel earlier this month. “We love the sound to be unexpected.”

The quartet, who started making music in a bedroom, certainly achieves that with their sophomore LP. Wild World is an attempt to come to grips with the unsettling state of the world. “There are no answers in this album,” Dan explained. “It’s just about reacting to the world around you, trying to figure out your place in it.” That journey is enriched with references to literature (“Four Walls” pays tribute to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood) and current affairs as well as a surreal visual approach. Find out more about Bastille’s impressive new LP in our Q&A below.

Did the success of “Pompeii” change the way you approached Wild World?
I think we tried to not be influenced by that as much as possible. The truth is, that was an album that was made in a bedroom and in our friend’s little studio. The fact that it had that life of its own — particularly that song — was so unexpected and crazy. We’re so thankful for all that happened and it’s completely changed our lives, but I think it was important to not remotely try and obsess over what we’re creating now.

This album for us, it still feels very much like a Bastille record, but we just wanted to not repeat anything specifically, because we love variety between our songs and we love the sound to be unexpected. I think we almost look at every song like, “what can we do on this one that we’ve not done before? We’ve not done elsewhere?”

I read that Wild World was influenced by true crime and everything that’s going on in the world. However, it doesn’t sound like a morbid album to me.
I think that’s the thing with a lot of our music, is that I feel we like to write about topics that are interesting to us. Even on “Good Grief,” which is ostensibly quite a happy song to listen to superficially, but actually it’s looking at the complication of loss and grief. I think with the album, there’s a contrast sometimes between the subject matter and how it sounds.

It’s really just about us playing with how messy life could be, and how even in the shittest, darkest moments there’s humor and there’s uplifting stuff. It’s just about, I think it would be easy to obsess over the darkness of the world, and go off on a really depressing tangent. We managed to write a song on the first album that’s about the aftermath of a volcano, and we were allowed to play it to tens of thousands of people at festivals, and have all them jump up and down. Smiling and singing along, so that’s just part of our M.O..

It’s something we really enjoy doing, and it allows us to scratch the itches of writing about slightly weird, less talked-about topics, whilst also making songs that we love. Some of the most saddening heartbreak songs are hugely uplifting. There’s something interesting in that tension. There’s a song called “Warmth” and there’s another one called “Snakes.” They’re about watching the news recently, and being knocked sideways by what’s happening and how it’s presented, on a very human level. Trying to get your head around it and being confused, and there are no answers in this album.

It’s not about that, it’s just about reacting to the world around you. Trying to figure out your place in it, and in “Warmth” it’s like, “Fuck. I can’t believe what I’m seeing on the news,” and then going and finding that person that you can lose yourself in. Physically or whatever, it’s a distraction. “Snakes” is about just going and seeing your mates. Having a big, old night out and knowing that it’s not necessarily helping anyone, but it’s quite good to sometimes just distract yourself and ignore it.

There seems to be a shift in the visual aspect. The first album was very David Lynch and noirish, and now it’s quite surreal. Will that theme continue throughout the entire era?
We wanted this album to feel like the same band, same director but different genre, and so that’s the reason that the layout and the formatting of the album covers is the same, but the image is so different. It was about wanting there to be this thread that runs through everything, but equally for them to feel like a different genre of film. This album cover depicts bright daylight, dense packed city but the city is far away and the two people are very much at the forefront.

With the first album cover it’s dark and someone’s running away, but looking behind them and acknowledging what’s coming. This album is about two people existing together as friends or whatever, in this environment and figuring out how to exist in it. I think it was important that there was some kind of aesthetic divide for us. When it comes to the visuals of the album, it’s such a fun part for us and it’s almost a way to keep being creative after we finish the music part. We know the threads that we want to run through everything. It’s a really nice way for us to continue being creative throughout the whole experience.

Were you surprised about the reaction to the brief nudity in your “Good Grief” video?
The nudity in the video was never meant to be provocative. We made it with a Spanish director, for whom non-sexualized nudity is not even a talking point. It wasn’t even a conversation point for him, and I think it’s interesting around the world different places feel differently about it. In some countries it’s nothing and in other countries people react against it. Those people had absolutely no issue with the violence. That’s really, really fascinating and it says a lot.

I’m always really interested to see when it comes to film ratings and censorship. You can have a huge Hollywood blockbuster that’s PG-13 with horrific violence. People getting shot all over the place and blown up, but the second there’s a tiny bit of nudity everyone’s smacking it with an R rating or an NC-17. Underneath our clothes we’re all pretty similar, so it is interesting. We weren’t trying to make a point with that, but I think in retrospect it’s an interesting talking point.

I missed the boobs entirely the first time I saw the video.
It was so subtle. What’s also really interesting to us is that in different genres of music, not even different genres of music. There are music videos out there that are so highly sexualized, and without quite showing a nipple are basically borderline porn. Those are shown on daytime TV. Here’s a video that’s a bit weird and artful, and it has a couple of flashes of nipples in a very specific context. That is the one that gets censored. I don’t know, I guess it says a lot about the mad contradictions and hypocrisies.

It’s like, “Can you just fucking listen to the song? And can you also acknowledge how awesome the rest of the video is?” There’s a man running on fire, there’s me as a decapitated head on the floor. There are way more, not that boobs aren’t interesting because they are, but there’s a lot of other interesting stuff in there. I think that was just a big part of wanting the video to be surreal, and confusing and messy. It was about playing with images that we’re used to and putting them in a slightly odd context. That was just one of them.

After all the collaborations on your VS. mixtape, I was a little surprised there weren’t any on the album.
The initial idea was that the mixtapes would exist in their own lane. The mixtapes were very much a place of experimentation. There’s quite hard hip-hop in some of them and there’s acoustic music. It’s just a lane to experiment and that doesn’t mean they matter any less than the albums, but I think there was a real sense of us wanting to make something that we’re proud of and that felt different, but that we’d done entirely ourselves.

This album was very much about making a Bastille record. In terms of collaboration it’s always really fun to do, but we felt like maybe there’s some sort of sanctity around our albums proper, that should be just us. That’s me changing my mind even talking about it. There’s loads of samples of films and quotes. Kelly LeBrock’s on our album, so in a way it is quite collaborative. I don’t know.

Bad Blood now is years old or something. How long ago did you start working on Wild World?
The oldest song on the album is “Blame” and that came… I think the beginnings of that song were done in 2013. Basically, because making songs is just something that we do all the time because it’s fun. That was why doing the repack was amazing for us, because we were able to put out essentially a whole other album on the back of our album. That’s when our leaning towards guitar music started. We did a song called “The Draw” and “Blame” at the same time. It just so happened that “Blame” really feels like it should be on the next album.

We just didn’t know how far away the next album is going to be. There were moments where we were so busy that it was quite hard to find time to record, but it’s been pretty much the norm since 2013, 2014 that any spare time we have, we duck into the studio and work on things. It’s just been a really nice, ongoing thing that’s been happening alongside the touring.

So you’ll never disappear to the south of France for three months to record an album?
We tried that a little bit on this album. We had sessions in LA when we were on tour here, but everything was mediated by the tour a little bit. We spent a week in the studio in Buenos Aries when we were doing the Lollapalooza festivals in South America, which was really fun but ultimately the main bulk of the album and the work came in London. There’s a studio in Thailand where you can basically go and live there and record, and actually it works out cheaper to go and live there and stay there and record, than it does to get a studio in London. We were like, “Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

We talked about it for a while, but there was no time. There was no extended period of time to go and do that, so I don’t know. The process for us has always been one of, it’s a rolling, ongoing thing and it’s quite nice. I like it like that, but then, in saying that, the first couple of months of this year when we did stop and spend time in London, were very important in terms of pulling it together and clearing our heads.

You tweeted that “Fake It” isn’t the next single. Have you decided on what’s next?
It works differently in different countries. In the US, “Good Grief” is very much still the single and hopefully will be for a little while longer, and so I think here we’re going to just figure out what the next single is. I guess because the album has quite a lot of variety, there’s a lot of different directions we can go. In the UK and elsewhere we’re going with “Send Them Off!” as our second single.

Really excited about that because it’s one of my favorites. It was interesting figuring out how to release this album, because there was a big part of us that wanted to go with “Blame” as the first single, and just be like, “Fuck everybody! We’re a rock band now!” Which obviously we’re not but I think that could have been quite an interesting way to go. It would have been a bit of a lie, but I don’t know.

It’s hard for us to tell because we’re so close to all these songs and they’re all very much us, so it’s hard for us to tell how it looks from the outside. Particularly where “Blame” comes on the album, it’s after “Four Walls” and after that quiet, we wanted that guitar to smack you in the face. Feel like, “Where the fuck did this come from?” We’ll see.

How much say does the label have in what becomes a single?
We don’t make music thinking, “Right, let’s put out a single now. Let’s do an album track now.” We just made a whole load of music. Then you play it to people and it’s always fascinating for us to see what are the tracks that people get really excited by. I think at the beginning of the year we wouldn’t necessarily have pinpointed “Good Grief” as a lead single, but it’s just interesting in playing it to people that we work with. They would get really excited by it and we’re like, “Okay.” And then, “Send Them Off!,” which has been a favorite of ours for ages. The guy that works our label didn’t even want it on the album, so it’s always an interesting process.

This is a nerdy question as well but how do you come up with the tracklist? How do you decide what’s going to be a bonus track or a Target bonus track?
It’s so much work, so much talk went into that process. It was really tough because we wanted this album to show variety and breadth, and for there not to be any repetition. We also wanted to say all the different things that we say on the record. Our way of getting our heads around that was seeing the nineteen track version as the proper album, and then the fourteen track one as for maybe people with a bit less patience.

That’s why on vinyl, for example, we’ve only put out the longer version, because that’s our way of saying this is the complete version of the record. Doing the Target version is just a really nice opportunity to put out more, because it’s an interesting. We want to be creative, be fulfilled but also I don’t think anybody in the world wants to hear a twenty five track album. It’s not like a lot of hip-hop records where tracks are thirty seconds long or a minute and a half snippet.

These are full songs. A lot of thought goes into it and that is both the least and the most satisfying part of the record. Also we wanted to think so much about listening to it for the first time, and all of the different directions it would take. I was changing the track order right up to the print day, and actually changing the songs. It was a bit of a tug of war with getting it out of our hands.

As a fan I get defensive when something is “relegated” to being a bonus track.
I get that as a fan as well. With other bands, something that I already battle with and this is so geeky. I think you can’t not look at the tracks that are on deluxe version… you can’t not see them as slightly lesser than the ones that are on the main album, and I think the one thing we really want to emphasize with this album is that everything we made is as important. There’s a song called “Hangin'” that we put out there that so easily could have been on the record.

The only reason it’s not is because we wanted to have new stuff. It is really tricky and I think you can never escape that, but we want to emphasize as much as possible that that’s why there is a nineteen track version. There’s a song called “Anchor” that closes off the nineteen track version of the album, that is so important to the record. It’s the song that says despite all the bullshit, if there’s that one person that can cut through everything and be a positive influence, stick with them. It’s ending on that moment of complete optimism.

You’re coming back for a mini-tour of North America in a couple of months?
You mean The Born To Be Wild World Pre-Tour Mini-Tour Tour.

I want that on a t-shirt.
Fuck. We should do t-shirts! I’m really excited. Recently we did a show in London a couple of weeks ago. A secret show under a different name in a tiny two hundred capacity sweaty little club, and it was just. I nearly collapsed with having lost six stone in sweating. It was just so much fun. The whole point of doing this tour is that these are the venues that we were lucky enough to start out in, in America. To do the Troubadour.

All these places that are fucking amazing but we’ve also been lucky enough to go on and play much bigger places. I think it was just about reconnecting to those times before, and an opportunity. A lot of those shows we can see everybody’s face, and you’re all jumping up and down together. There’s something really nice about that, so I’m really excited. In the midst of that we’re playing Red Rocks, which couldn’t really be further.

That is something we’ve as a band always wanted to do, so it’ll be good. We would love to be doing a much bigger US tour this year, but the reality is last time round like you said, it was a bit more staggered. We just went anywhere in the world that gave a shit. I guess this time around the reality of releasing an album everywhere at the same time is like you can’t be everywhere at once as much as we’d like to be.

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