"How am I going to be an optimist about this?" The words sung seven years ago by Bastille's frontman Dan Smith may ring truer to us now than ever before, as we find ourselves wading through the turbulent days of a global pandemic.
Bastille have been a British music staple since they blasted onto the scene in 2013 with pop-sensation 'Pompeii'. The track, which is now becoming a hit trend on TikTok (always a strong mark of success), will undoubtedly go down in history as a timeless feel-good tune from the early 2010s.
Their newest single, 'Survivin'' is destined to follow a similar path. An honest, yet up-beat reflection on the band's journey over the past few years in the spotlight, it showcases the way in which us Britons have an over-polite tendency to shrug off any struggles, claiming we're 'fine' or simply, 'surviving'.
Once again, the band step away from their 'typical' sound, whatever that might be, and create a track that contrasts electronic synths and hard auto-tuning with flutes and a glorious saxophone, making something truly distinct.
I was lucky enough to chat to Bastille member, Kyle Simmons, to discuss the effect of the pandemic on the music industry, frontman Dan Smith's psychic abilities, and the band's 'genre hopping' sound.
It's a Tuesday morning. I sit staring at my phone, waiting for the ringtone to break through the sound of my heavy, anxious breaths. As a hardcore Bastille fan, this moment can be described as nothing short of surreal. Yet there I was, sat in my university bedroom and hearing none other than Kyle Simmons' voice muffled through my speakers. He's enthusiastic as I reveal my fan status to him, before we settle into the professional rhythm of the interview, where we reflect on the impact of lockdown on the band.
“We planned to take a year off of touring,” Simmons tells me, “which was really lucky because we weren’t hit as hard as a lot of bands were on the touring front because we didn’t really have much in. Our focus is always going to be on making music - making a new album. That’s been tough because we’ve had to record parts at each of our homes and send them in, which has been really weird - just having things on these new tracks that I recorded in my house is crazy… It’s been okay, we’ve made do.”
'Making do' has been the attitude for many of us throughout the pandemic. Unable to stop the world from turning completely, working from home has been a mental and physical shift like no other. It's bizarre to think of musicians also having to work from home. It's a career that feels like it exists distinctly outside in the 'real world', so the fact that they're having to adapt to the consequences of this pandemic, just like the rest of us, has perhaps humbled the music industry to an extent. Making music at home must remind artists of their roots, and as a result allows them to create things outside their usual realm; we have seen this with some genre shifts from Miley Cyrus and her single 'Midnight Sky', as well as Taylor Swift's Folklore.
Bastille, however, have never had any trouble with experimentation. Their new singles 'Survivin'' and 'WHAT YOU GONNA DO???' (WYGD) are not only distinct from their past albums, but also from each other. Considering this, I asked Simmons if each member of the band brought different influences into the studio.
"As long as [Dan's] singing, you’ve kind of got free range to do whatever you want with the music and the sonics, because his voice acts as that anchor."
“We always have had very differing musical influences across the board,” Simmons explains. “Especially at the beginning with Bastille’s stuff, although we were never afraid to genre hop, our influences were a bit more bedded into the music. Whereas as we’ve got older, we were a bit more obvious with our influences and I think one of the great things that allows us to do that is Dan’s very distinct voice. As long as he’s singing, you’ve kind of got free range to do whatever you want with the music and the sonics, because his voice acts as that anchor. People can hear it and go, ‘Yeah that’s Bastille’ or ‘That’s Dan’, and then we can do something really twee and electronic, or we can go full guitar-driven ‘What You Gonna Do’ kinda stuff.
“It’s just about hopefully surprising and shocking some people, especially people who might not have heard a lot of our stuff, or maybe heard a handful of things and think they have a good idea of what we’re about and the kind of music we make. Then actually hearing something else and going, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t expect Bastille to make that kind of stuff’.”
It's not just sonically that Bastille have experimented, but also lyrically, as the topics of their music differ hugely from one album to the next. Harking back to their debut, Bad Blood (2013), the record was reflecting on life through historical ('Pompeii'), mythical ('Icarus'), biblical ('Daniel in the Den') and cultural ('Laura Palmer') references. Whilst Wild World (2016) took a more political route, and Doom Days (2019) was very humane - exploring our relationships to one another. Despite these themes, the wonderful thing about music is that the meaning of lyrics can change to resonate with our current circumstances - you are able to take from it what you need in a particular moment.
"Once we do a song and we put that song out, then the song isn't ours anymore: it's everyone's in their own specific way."
Simmons agrees with this, "Different songs can take on different meanings for different people. I think that's why music's great because once we do a song and we put that song out, then the song isn't ours anymore: it's everyone's in their own specific way.
"'Survivin'' was written before the whole pandemic, that isn’t originally what it was about. It was about us having toured constantly for like seven or eight years, and when people ask us, ‘Oh how you doing?’, and in that very classic over-polite British way being like, ‘Yeah I’m fine, I’m surviving’, when in actual fact you might be struggling physically, emotionally or mentally. That’s what it was about, and then the pandemic happened and it seemed to connect with that. It’s really strange, I think Dan is somewhat able to read the future, I don’t know how, it’s very weird.”
It's Smith's bizarre psychic ability that caused the singer to feel uneasy about releasing their most recent single. He shared on Twitter that the band “started recording it before lockdown and as the year’s gone on I felt weird about releasing something that might sound like it was so directly about this year's weirdness. But I’ve gotten over that and now here it is.”
It seems that both of Bastille's new singles have been received in ways not originally envisioned by the band. 'WYGD' was created with the intention of being played live and suddenly that is no longer an option. When I asked Simmons about the state of the live music industry, he was very rational in his response, emphasising the prioritisation of safety as being a necessity, but there was still a strong sense of longing for its return in his voice.
"For a lot of people live music is so important for their mental health - I know it is for me."
“You need people to be safe, but for a lot of people live music is so important for their mental health - I know it is for me. It’s a fundamental part of life, going to watch live music and interacting with that stuff. It’s so difficult to keep everyone happy.
“Obviously I would love more than anything for live music to somehow become a normal part of life again, because it was before. It’s just finding that balance and getting it right for everyone. I think a lot of the time when rules are put in place for people’s safety there’s always the handful of people who ignore it and end up ruining it for everyone. In the community of music lovers, I don’t think that’ll be the case. I think we can be trusted to abide by the rules and hopefully work towards this plan of being able to support these live events again, but who knows?”
Indeed, none of us know what the next week is going to look like in regards to this pandemic, let alone the next few months. Whilst some venues have been attempting to adapt to the changing times by creating socially distanced spaces, it is still very early days before the industry will be able to see anything close to normality.
"An album is being put together as we speak.”
As we reach the end of the interview, I ask Simmons about the future for Bastille: “there is certainly a new album on the way,” he reveals, to which I respond with a small squeal. “As of yet it keeps evolving and changing and switching, that’s just how it works. There’s definitely new music on the way, and an album is being put together as we speak.”
It's safe to say that this band will continue to make flawless tracks, no matter the state of the world - allowing us Bastille fans, if we close our eyes, to almost feel like nothing's changed at all.
'Survivin'' and 'WHAT YOU GONNA DO???' are available on all streaming services now.