The Big Read: Bastille

A year on from the release of Bastille’s apocalyptic Doom Days, the record’s themes feel more pertinent than ever, and the foursome have opted for a well-timed touring hiatus to continue experimenting with sound. As a second lockdown loomed, Robyn Walford caught up with the band’s plucky keyboardist Kyle Simmons to talk making music remotely, disrupting expectations, and starting a lockdown film club.

Almost perfectly timed with the disaster of a year that we have faced, adored London indie-rockers Bastille decided 2020 was the year to take a break from touring and focus on making music a little closer to home. After almost seven years on the road, lockdown has been a “weird” but welcome pause for Bastille. Discussing the impact of the lockdown on creatives, the band’s affable keyboardist Kyle Simmons explained how “it’s tough as we have more time to create, but there isn’t much to [be creative] about.” “There is no content unless we want to talk about the lockdown,” he continues pensively, “but I guess everyone is doing that right now.”

When asked about the difficulties posed by the lockdown, Simmons touched on the prolonged period of absence from his bandmates. “A lot of people like to create together and if you’re not allowed to see each other then you are stuck at a computer, just in your own head. Some days it’s a positive, other days it really isn’t… You’ve just got to ride the wave of it all I guess.” Although the band have not been able to meet for face-to-face rehearsals or recordings during these weird times, they’ve been able to keep up with content creation: “We’ve either been dropping into the studio or I’ve been recording stuff in my house that’s made it onto the new album… it’s weird but we’re getting by!”

During the lockdown period, Bastille launched ‘Distraction Tactics’, a virtual film club across their social media platforms to encourage engagement with their fans and ensure that they had something to keep themselves busy with during the unusual period. Over the weeks, members of the band took it in turns to share media and artwork that they love: “Normally we’d be out and about, using social media and connecting with people in that way. As we aren’t doing as much and the things we are doing, like the album, we can’t share much about, Dan came up with a way to distract people from what’s happening in the real world. He continues jovially: “It was a nice reason to have a discussion with people, to share different art and media.”

In a similar vein, last month saw the release of an animated music video, created by critically acclaimed visual director Reza Dolatabadi, for Bastille's new single survivin’. When asked about the creative process, Kyle explained how the band “aren’t a group to put at the front of the videos, instead we wanted to bring others in and tell a story. “With all the restrictions in place it wouldn’t have been possible to film something. We found Reza and his team and realised it was the perfect time to explore the medium of animation,” he chimes. The 3D-style animation work of the video narrates the story of a man trudging through his daily life in the big city, before floating off as he realises there is more to life than work.

“It was time to throw in a wildcard, we wanted our first music back to shock people.”

Whilst their new track may seem like the ideal lockdown anthem, survivin’ was actually written before Covid-19 gripped hold of the nation. It instead centres around the concept of the classic British response of “I’m fine”, even if you are really struggling, when asked “How are you?” Kyle explained how “whilst touring is the best job in the world, it is quite gruelling… and whenever people ask how you are, you have to seem cheerful, even when you’re not doing your best.” In light of current turbulent events, the release was timed perfectly for the group and although the song “doesn’t change in its meaning, people saw the connection with the pandemic.” “More often than not, especially right now, we feel the need to put our heads down and continue on as if everything is the way it has always been,” Simmons adds tenderly, “but as the tune reminds us, it’s okay not to be okay right now.”

For anyone struggling, he urges, “keep in contact with everyone, it’s really easy to forget to message people and withdraw yourself, but remember people are still out there so give them a call. Where it is safe to do so go for a walk, it helps your subconscious mind stay busy!” And this is exactly what Bastille have been doing over the last few months, treating us to not one new track but two. Earlier this summer the magnetic riff-driven WHAT YOU GONNA DO?, featuring Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, was first to see the light of day.

As something quite different to their usual sound, Simmons explained how they “wanted to surprise people as many know us from one or two songs and mostly poppier sounds. We do so much more, we do rocky guitar driven stuff and also do electric and electronic music too. It was time to throw in a wildcard, we wanted our first music back to shock people.” Thanks to the warm, dulcet tones of mic-wielder Dan Smith, the band can get away with morphing their style in this way without sacrificing the support of their fanbase. “Dan's voice is so unique and distinctive,” Simmons chimes, “it acts as an anchor for our sound, whatever we decide to lend the music too, Dan's voice makes it a Bastille song.”

On reflection upon their collaboration with Graham Coxon, the band seem somewhat shocked that they were able to pen such big names to appear alongside them during lockdown. “The joy of this situation was that Graham wasn’t busy and agreed to be on the track. That’s insane he’s a legend,” Kyle explains jovially. The band have had similar success on their ‘Distraction Tactics’ project: “Because everyone was locked in their house and couldn’t do anything, the guests we got were ridiculous. We spoke with Simon Pegg among others, but not only actors but directors, photographers, voiceover actors... It was something really nice to do!” With a cheeky tone, Kyle also noted that he would love to collaborate with Anderson .Paak: “If I just put that out there, maybe it will happen!”

“You just can’t take anything for granted… you have to enjoy things where you can.”

Reflecting on the strange year we’ve had, Simmons notes that the band’s biggest lesson learned had been that “you just can’t take anything for granted… you have to enjoy things where you can.” Over the coming months, we should be seeing a lot more from the enigmatic London foursome: “Although restrictions mean not a lot of touring, we’ve been focusing on making the music and putting together the album which is really exciting.”

Written by: Robyn Walford

Edited by: Alex Duke