ICON: Congratulations on your tour. You found overwhelming fame with ‘Pompeii’ and Bad Blood, and it was considered one of the biggest digital albums of 2013. What was the pressure like to back it up with Wild World and again with Doom Days?
Dan Smith: “Good question. As a band we’ve always written everything ourselves and produced everything ourselves and I think that was very important to us. That first album took us all by surprise, no one was really expecting it.
We were just a little DIY indie band from London. We used to drive up and down the UK in a car that we borrowed from our friend’s mum. Us being anywhere near the charts was a pretty massive life twist that we weren’t expecting.
When it came to our follow up, we just wanted to experiment and have fun with it and try loads of different stuff. We had a lot of fun making these three albums on our own terms and as a band we sit in this really weird place where we make music, to me it’s kind of pop music but it generally talks about funny, weirder stuff.”
In a past interview you said you were “surprised as anybody when we were suddenly successful”. What was the hardest part about adjusting to fame?
DS: “I don’t really feel like we are famous to be honest. When we started out, our music was sort of everywhere and known by a lot of people and that was sort of amazing but quite overwhelming, but we had no desire to be famous so we never, it was quite a conscious decision to not do the things that you need to do to be famous. We didn’t do TV shows, we didn’t do magazines. We felt very lucky that people knew and liked ours songs… We live pretty normal lives. I think the biggest adjustment was just being on tour all the time, it was something we didn’t really talk about. I had no desire to be in a band, I just wanted to be a journalist so to find myself in a band that is lucky enough to tour the world … it was a complete education.”
With a four-man band, what is the process you take for writing music?
DS: “Often, ideas pop into my head and I just record them with my phone. I do my best not to look like a psychotic person wondering off to the corner of the room to sing into my phone. As times have changed I guess that is more normalised. Ideas tend to pop into my head at not the most convenient times.
That’s where everything started for us. We made our first album on a laptop in my bedroom…”
How has Bastille’s music evolved since the beginning?
DS: “We always never set ourselves boundaries. Right from the start we made mixtapes, collaborated with people and that’s made it a very fun environment to work in. In the beginning, we were working in my bedroom. We wanted to grow and develop but we wanted to do it ourselves.”
All three of your albums hold this underlying theme of doom and pessimism, yet it is so easy to dance to.
DS: “I’ve always loved music that seems to balance somewhere between euphoria and despair, and in our songs we always try to write about darker stories and weirder subjects. Even though there’s a fair amount of angst in a bunch of the music, there’s optimism there too. I guess we always thought that sometimes it can be almost funny to offset pretty bleak subjects with music and production that’s uplifting in places.
We’ve always talked about the tension between music being this amazing form of escapism, for people making it and for people listening to it, but how it can and maybe should also be quite engaged. I guess different people want different things from music.”
Your most recent album ‘Doom Days’ seems to be so relevant to what is happening in the world today. Was the album directly inspired by the world’s current affairs?
DS: “Yeah very much so. We wanted the album to feel very much set now in and amongst the problems and changes in the world, and the different ways we see it. The world news can be so dramatic and relentless, and particularly has done over the last few years. We wanted Doom Days to be really personal so we set the story of it over this really compressed time frame – a night out – so we could talk on one level about really small, personal hedonistic events and relationships, but also use it as a metaphor for bigger things.
Having lived through the Brexit psychodrama in the UK over the last four years, it would have been weird to do a break up song without gesturing towards it intentionally or unintentionally.
The same goes for the song ‘Bad Decisions’.
The world can feel bleak when you see it via the news, so we wanted the album to be about trying to engage with it but also trying to completely disengage with it at times, because if you focussed on it all the time I think you’d drive yourself a bit mad. So hopefully that stuff is also going on in the background and it weaves though the lyrics and language of the album, but the people in the album are doing their best to forget it all for the night and lose themselves in the night time and in each other.
And if the album’s about escapism, we wanted the song ‘Doom Days’ to be an eye rolling, self-skewering list of loads of the things you might want to shut off from in 2020. Fake news, phone addiction, porn addiction, loads of that fun happy stuff.
With such an expansive audience, do feel that you have a responsibility to raise awareness on these issues? I noticed you’re donating the profits from your tour merch to Australian bushfire recovery.
DS: “We always try to be honest and speak up about things we think are important. If we can be even remotely helpful, even if that’s just in raising some money, then we’ll try to be. We’ve all been watching the devastation from the bushfires every day on the news and wanted to do something other than donating privately to hopefully raise some money for some of the organisations who are trying to help on the ground.”
Are you working on any new music? What can we expect from Bastille in the near future?
DS: “We’re always working away on stuff whenever we can, and we’ve been writing and recording on tour and in between tours, but we don’t have any plans to put anything new out yet. These gigs in Australia are the last ones that we have booked anywhere in the world for the foreseeable future, so we’re really excited about properly stopping being on the road for the first time in about 7 years, taking a bit of a break and hopefully enjoying the process of working on loads of new music. Whatever it might be for.”
Bastille will tour Australia from January 25 in Brisbane before heading to Sydney, Lithgow, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle. For tickets, visit the band’s website here.