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Bastille back with ‘survivin’’: An Interview with band guitarist, Will

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“We’re coming back with a new kind of sound; we’re coming back with a higgledy-piggledy mess – but cool.”

Lockdown has been strange for us all. How has if affected your work with the band? Are you guys still meeting up?

We’re still meeting, socially distanced. At the beginning of lockdown, it was surreal because we were on tour earlier in the year and finished in Dubai – then, two weeks later, everything was in lockdown.

It’s been a strange adjustment. In terms of recording, we find ways around it. Modern technology allows you to record from home. It’s not ideal but, ten years ago, none of this would have been possible so it speaks volumes about how crazy the technological revolution has been.

Has that affected the upcoming album?

Logistically, it’s been trickier. We’re lucky in that we don’t have a normal way of working. In the past, we work out songs however we feel like, so this will just be a new experience.

Creatively, I would say it hasn’t affected us much. If we were the kind of band to get together, jam out and record that, then it would have been hard but because of the way we’ve always worked – sort of spread out, piecing bits together – it’s not been hugely detrimental to our creative process.

I think. Of course, the album might turn out rubbish so you never know. [Laughs.]

Remaining positive, I see. [Laughs.]

What can I say.

Weirdly enough, your new single ‘survivin’’, which was released just last month, is quite relevant for that lockdown feeling.

It was written before all of this kicked off but we were speaking about this the other day. It’s almost not important what the intentions were when we wrote it because people listen to it and it speaks to them. When you write something and release it, it becomes public property in a way.

A lot of our songs, Dan will write with something specific in mind but then you’ll meet fans who say, this means this to me. And you can’t say no because, to them, that is what it means.

That’s interesting. On my Creative Writing course, they tell us that, as soon as a piece of writing is out there, it belongs to other people to infer as they will.

Exactly. I look at literary criticism (or art or music criticism) and it always strikes me that the process of creativity is something different from the process of criticism.

When Hemingway wrote things, he was sort of anal about the layers of meaning whereas a critic seems to be quite cyclical, focusing on the cognition of ‘what am I trying to say’ rather than ‘what am I trying to make them think’.

Creativity is more about finding something spontaneous from yourself, I imagine, while criticism is less spontaneous and more cognitive. A cognitive consideration of creating stuff.

On the note of creative messages, Dan, Bastille’s frontman, has spoken about writing this from a place before lockdown, using it to explore anxiety, self-doubt and the overwhelmingness of modern life. What does it mean for you?

I suppose the theme of self-doubt is quite universal, especially since COVID happened and anxiety is through the roof.

It’s interesting because I know Dan very well so when I listen to lyrics he’s written, it’s not necessarily personal to my life because it’s him who I hear saying these things. It’s different when the lyrics are written by someone you know personally. For me, a lot of the songs, lyrically, don’t have a personal connection because they’re written by my friend and I know what inspired them.

It’s interesting you talk about that distinction between listening as a friend or a fan because the chorus has been described as a “warm enveloping hug from a gang of friends” – which might be the sweetest lyric analysis I’ve ever heard. Can we see some of your relationship with the others come through in this new track?

Yes, I think. I think it must come through all our songs. One of the fascinating things about being in the band but not being a songwriter is that there’s a different dynamic. There’s something very deep and personal about writing lyrics – language itself is exposing – whereas when I write the guitar parts it isn’t quite the same thing.

Language is an innate window to the soul and I’m always lost to explain my relationship to our lyrics because it’s that complex thing where I know Dan very well but I have no idea what his process is. Often my interpretation of what he’s written is based on what I know of him but you can only know someone so well – I could be completely wrong.

Dan’s said previously about ‘WHAT YOU GONNA DO???’ that you were “completely tearing up your process, being spontaneous and starting again” and that track had a very strong punk vibe. What does that mean for your upcoming album?

I think that was a bit of an outlier. We’ve done a couple of punky songs – especially the second album. It’s always fun to do that and I want to do more.

We all grew up listening to Blur so it was amazing that we actually got Graham Coxon on that track. It was a really cool one to come back with.

I absolutely love the music video to ‘WHAT YOU GONNA DO???’ – it’s so trippy, it’s cracker.

I love it – but they did make me look about 87 years old! Dan looks like Dan and Kyle looks like a smoking hot Kyle then I’m the granddad-looking one in the background. Maybe that’s my vibe?

At the time, we couldn’t really get together so that’s when we came up with the idea for an animated video. They had a whole team in America and they’re absolutely amazing. It’s great to see these young creative people come into the industry.

I was watching that music video when I noticed that the final scene plays a snippet of ‘survivin’’.

Does it? I genuinely hadn’t noticed that. I’m sure it does and that’s very deliberate and very clever. Subliminal. I like that.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I’ll be listening to the old albums and I’ll hear a song I just forgot existed. They’ll play one live and I’ll be hearing it for the first time in years. I don’t listen to Bastille while we’re not on tour.

Is it a bit like how people don’t like listening to the sound of their own voice on recordings?

I do hate when I have to record backing vocals – I can’t listen to that.

Usually, I’m fine with my guitar but there is a bit in ‘Two Evils’ where she’s just broken the guitar and there’s a fluffed note that I played and, at the time, I was like that’s kind of weird. Now, I’m like, oh God, don’t ever let that be played again.

So far, you’ve had Bad Blood, Wild World and Doom Days. (Although, I feel like Doom Days would be better timed for right now.)

[Laughs.] Good point. We were prophetic – by mistake.

Those are some poignant album titles. Do you have the next title in mind yet?

Well, we’ve got a single-syllable alliterated theme going on so we’re kind of limited. We haven’t even started thinking about it yet while we’re still writing. I think the theme comes after the fact.

The last album, Doom Days, we started out with a narrative arc but, even so, it’s only once you finish the writing process that you can take a step back and see all of the individual pieces come together for a title. It’s hard mid-process to have that clear-cut idea.

‘survivin’’ was released along with the announcement that “this showcases a new, groove-led sound for Bastille typical of the band’s new expect-the-unexpected sonic identity.” That is quite a bold message. What does the move towards “groove-led” sound actually mean?

God knows. [Laughs.]

Every time we release anything, we always try to be different, so that’s always the “new sound”.

To be honest, it is quite groovy, the new stuff. We’ve never adhered strictly to the idea of genre so we have songs that are kind of rock and songs that are ballad; you just try and make each song cool and something to be proud of.

Dan’s got that unique voice that ties it all together in the end.

So, I guess our new sound is a higgledy-piggledy mess of all sorts of things.

‘Higgledy-piggledy mess’ – I love that.

Not my most articulate. [Laughs.] But yes. Look forward to higgledy-piggledy messes in our next album.

You can listen to Bastille’s new single, ‘survivin’’, on their Vevo with their new animated music video which premiered October 6th.

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