Bastille on Following Up Hit Debut, Writing Secretly Depressing Pop

Singer Dan Smith talks film influences, recording on the road, mining "tension between euphoria and despair"

Bastille's Dan Smith discusses what it was like to write their new LP on the road, how film influences his songs and more. Credit: Wolf James

U.K. indie pop-rockers Bastille scored a hit with their 2013 debut, thanks largely to the smash single "Pompeii." The anthem was inescapable, from the Billboard Top 10 to a performance on SNL. Since then, the quartet has been touring the world, playing festivals and – in the back of tour buses and cramped hotel rooms – working on their new second album, Wild World. "I have such specific memories of where each song came from," singer Dan Smith told Rolling Stone. "When I hear the album it's almost like a trigger for all the experiences that we've had."

Lead single "Good Grief" is a complicated song about loss accompanied by the infectious dance beats that Bastille is known for. "The music that we love plays with that tension between euphoria and despair," Smith says. "Loss is messy and we were trying to find moments of hope and use the music to be uplifting."

The singer spoke with RS about the mixed emotions of Wild World, the influences behind a variety of new sounds and what's next for Bastille – including a massive worldwide tour.

What did you hope to accomplish when you set out to make Wild World?
We didn't want to repeat Bad Blood. We wanted to try new things, incorporate instruments and sounds and production that we haven't used before. Within our little world of Bastille, we had to push things further and make a mad, weird soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist.

What was it like to make a record while you were on tour?
We were on the road so much that the writing process, it meant that – whereas the first album was written in my bedroom – this one was written in hotel rooms and on the tour bus and backstage at shows. I have such specific memories of where each song came from. For example, I wrote " Two Evils" in a half an hour in a backstage room in Berlin. There's a guitar solo at the end of "Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)" that we recorded on the back of a tour bus in a funny little parking lot in a German town on a rainy day. It's the same recording that's on the album. I remember writing "Good Grief" when we were on tour in the U.S. in December last year. I wanted to do some more writing so I knuckled down and didn't go out or party at all on that tour. I would just come back to the hotel or the bus and work on all these songs on my laptop. That period in December of last year was probably the closest to the original process in the whole making of the album.

Was traveling the hardest part of the process?
It was an adjustment initially. It's just a different environment, making a second record. But I always write. Writing songs is what I do all the time. I love it, so I've always got a whole bunch of songs in the back of my mind. The difference is that we were lucky with Bad Blood to be so busy with it because sometimes it's quite hard to find the time to actually stop and just put all of our focus on the record. We had a lot of time to experiment and try a lot of different stuff.

How did visiting different parts of the world influence this album?
It's been an interesting few years in terms of getting to see more of life and getting to see outside of our lives and different places and cultures all over the world. Our music is also a reflection of the films and music that we like. So anything by David Lynch and Terrence Malick, Tarantino, Dario Argento. Musically, I like the complexity of Frank Ocean and the broad vision of Simon and Garfunkel. I like Kanye West in terms of the variety of production and sounds, and I love Gorillaz. I love artists and albums and films that feel like there's depth and complication to them, and a lot to unpack.

"There's enough people writing big bangers about partying and dancing and all that kind of stuff."

A lot of the songs on the new record are upbeat but the lyrics seem more serious. Why are you drawn to that contrast?
That's something that we've always done and it comes from wanting to write about subject matter that interests us and looks at things as they are, which is kind of complicated and messy but not wanting to make music that's completely devoid of hope. There's something cathartic about singing something that feels uplifting but it's exploring slightly darker topics. There's enough people writing big bangers about partying and dancing and all that kind of stuff. When these songs come from such a specific place and then you suddenly hear from the fans on the other side of the world who are interpreting it completely differently and that the song still means something to them in their own version of it, there's something really cool in that.

Speaking of your fans, what do you hope they get out of Wild World?
It was important for me with this album for people that are fans of our band and even not fans of our band to push play on a bunch of these songs and be surprised by what they hear. I want the whole album to be a bit disorientating and for the common thread that runs through it to be my voice and us and our songwriting. That was something that I really wanted. All the songs mean something to me. It was really important to us to move on from what we did before and develop and grow. Even though some of the songs topically can seem quite dark, we're not, like, super-serious guys. It's about making music that we're excited to play and we're excited for people to hear.

What are you most excited about in terms of your big upcoming tour?
We have a huge tour in the U.K. and Europe and then we're doing a tiny mini tour in the U.S., which I'm really excited about. We're doing a couple nights at the Troubadour and some nights in New York and the 9:30 Club and a few other places. We wanted to go back to some of the first venues that we ever played in the U.S. We're really excited to play a bunch of small, sweaty shows in the clubs. It's like a starting-again tour. But then in the midst of it, there's Red Rocks, which is pretty fucking nuts that we get to do that. So you know, I guess that kind of slightly ruins the theme.