Science Fiction And Escapism – An Interview with Dan from Bastille

They are back! Bastille’s new album “Give Me The Future” is out now and includes a very well thought through sci-fi concept, a specifically for that established tech firm called Future Inc. and thirteen thought and dance provoking pop-anthems. Not only will these tunes make you wanna move your body, but you will also start to reflect on some of the bizarre things we take for granted in modern life.

I am so thrilled I got the chance to chat with Dan (over zoom obviously) about all things music, sci-fi, pandemic experience, and escaping reality:

How have you been experiencing the pandemic personally and professionally?

My reaction to the lockdown was just staying really busy. As a band we’ve never really stopped. We’ve always toured, made albums, mixtapes and done writing for films and other people and all these things that I love and feel very lucky to do. So, when the world stopped, we already had plans to take a break for a year in March 2020. In our heads we were kind of prepared for a break but we didn’t think it would be THAT break. We obviously didn’t imagine the world would shut down and that there’d be a pandemic. 

When it all started, we were about a quarter into making a new album, spending a lot of time in the studio. So there was a project that has already been going for me to throw myself into. But I’ve also started a film club, started working at a food bank three days a week. While we couldn’t really see people I did as much as I could to stay distracted, entertained, and be useful locally. That’s how I reacted to it.

I know it’s different for everyone. Some people kind of completely shut down, some people felt that they couldn’t be creative at all. But I think with our music, I’ve always used it as a space to try and be imaginative and write stories and immerse myself in fiction. 

So, how did the album come about? Did you struggle creatively during the pandemic?

We kind of decided on this science fiction theme and when the title “Give Me The Future” hit, we loved the idea of making this big bold future thinking album: It’s like time travelling or meditating on what the future could look like, our relationship to technology, and how it’s affected us as people – how we see ourselves, how we have relationships and so on. I guess spending a year and a half living through screens, even more than we normally do, was also really helpful. 

As someone in a band, I love writing new songs, being in a studio, making albums, and writing for other people. And we’ve done a lot of touring before, and it is amazing. Obviously, we are hugely fortunate to get to do it, but it’s not where I feel most comfortable – on stage. So for me, these two years were a great opportunity to just write loads. You see, we made this album, an EP, worked on MTV unplugged, I’ve written lots for other albums as well, been involved in many projects. I tried to make the most of that. Writing is my favorite thing in the world. I love it. It’s fun, it can be also tricky but the satisfaction I get from it is huge. 

Bastille has been around for about 10 years. What’s the secret to Bastille’s career?

I guess the thing is, we don’t think about or plan the future that much. As a band we’re quite weird. We have these moments where we’re really successful and mainstream and then there’s a lot of the other stuff that we do that no one really sees or hears about. And I love that. It’s not an expectation of ours to be big and mainstream ever.

Sometimes we make an immersive choose your own adventure play to go with an album and sometimes we do some cr tech piece to accompany what we’re doing. The music for us is the main thing but it’s also this platform to collaborate with other creatives and do interesting things. I guess our part as a band is a bit of a weird one. But I’m fine with that. 

When I look back on the past 10 years… actually I never look back. We’re just not people who sit around and talk about things that we’ve done. But you know in conversations like this you’re sort of forced to acknowledge what happened. It’s been insane. I can’t believe the amount of things we’ve been able to do. We’ve traveled the world a couple of times, I mean that’s just unbelievable. I feel so privileged. We’ve got to collaborate with loads of people and have a little window into the creative worlds of other teams and other artists. It’s been a great learning curve, especially because I never thought I’d want to be in a band.

Have you ever had any bad days? 

Well, really stressful days, yes. And long long periods of time away from home. It can be really isolating and complicated. There are things that have been great and that have been really tricky. And loads of disappointments as well. I’m also not someone who’s massively living  their life on social media publicly. So I guess the version of what you put out is often related to our work and music. So, a lot of times people wouldn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes: I’ve had a really hard time with stage fright, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. All of these things sit alongside these amazing moments where we’re allowed to do huge festival gigs and make music videos. These whole last 10 years have been a real jumble of amazing things and opportunities and also being hugely outside of my comfort zone. I’m not somebody that wants to be on stage and the centre of attention all the time. I’d much rather be in a studio making songs, or editing a video. It’s been a mad ten years and I could have never predicted it. We never thought we’d have any kind of mainstream success ever. It’s surreal. 

What was the vision/ inspiration for your new album?

We knew we wanted the album to be sci-fi. And often with our albums when we finish the music we start thinking about how we’re gonna build a world around the music. We thought it would be interesting to launch a fake tech company called Future Inc. that has this technology where you put this headset on and go into your own mind and become anyone and do anything and go anywhere. You have limitless opportunities. I guess it’s a thinly veiled metaphors for VR, the internet, and video games. It was quite fun constructing this world because in the first video we go way into the future where people are so obsessed with this technology and they completely neglect the real world and it just allowed us to play around with sci-fi tropes and make jokes and commentary on the bizarreness of life. 

What fascinates you most about sci-fi?

I think what’s so fascinating about sci-fi  is that so much of it has already become reality. There’s a famous story about the original Star Trek movie that shows sliding doors, which didn’t actually exist back then. They invented it. They had people besides them pulling and pushing them open. And engineers and inventors thought that this was a good idea. So now, every office building or shop you go into has sliding doors. It’s so interesting to me that a fiction writer could think of an idea that then a person clever enough to make it reality would go and imagine it into real life. That’s amazing and that was a really interesting topic for me. 

Let’s talk about „No Bad Days“ for which you’ve co-directed the music video. What was the idea behind it?

The song is about loss and grief – it’s about my aunt, who was amazing but she  was really sick. She chose to opt in for assisted dying, which they just legalised in Australia, where she lived. Because she’s been really sick, she had a lot of her own agency taken away from her and for her being able to make that choice, gave her some power back. I think she’s amazing and incredibly brave. I went to say good bye to her in Australia with my sister. And when I came back we were in the studio working on some stuff, and this song just kind of fell out. It is incredibly personal to me.

So, I guess it’s about the idea of NOT having a future. For the video I was thinking about, when you lose someone – either someone died or at the end of an relationship – in 2022 we have all these digital fragments of hat person, we’ve got all these videos and photos and voice notes and everything they leave behind – the trails that we all leave around everyday in our digital lives. I thought about how that has hugely affected what grief is. These ways of watching them, feeling like they’re still here in a way that’s quite new to the last few decades. And I think that’s fascinating. I don’t know if it’s helpful or unhelpful, if it’s neither or both. It’s not that simple. But my question was, could you use all of those aspects and try and reconstruct someone that you love. And again, It’s also something you’ll find in Sci-fi. That’s what’s so brilliant about it. Sci-fi confronts real human issues and problems in society by imagining where they could go in the future. That was the idea for the video. It was emotional and thought provoking. Very hard and very fun to make, a lot of work.

Is that the first video you’ve directed?

Yes, but I always wanted to direct, but have been hesitant to direct our videos because of business and time. Being able to stop and actually think about it was amazing. It was hard work and weird to turn an idea into reality. Along the way are many obstacles and disappointments and you have to constantly recalibrate what you think it’s gonna look like. But I’m really proud of how it’s turned out and I can’t wait to do more. 

The song “Thelma + Luise” addresses the deep wish of escaping. Where would you like to go on “days like these”?

I think our music has always had a preoccupation with escapism. Maybe it comes from having made music in a basement. And there have been times in my life where I’ve felt a bit static and stuck in what I’m doing. I think it’s a natural human inclination to daydream and think about where else you could be. I love travelling so much, it’s my favourite thing to do when we’re not working. I love going with friends backpacking in different countries and just seeing places that are different to what you’re used to. So there’s always escapism in our music. And I love movies.

Is there a reference to the movie „Thelma and Louise“?

Yeah totally. I watched that film and I think it’s this ultimate, brilliant, feminist escapism. It’s these empowered, interesting, funny, complicated women who have rejected their lives that they’re frustrated with and made the decision to just run away together. And they don’t know where they’re gonna go or what’s going to happen. As an image – having that top down car and the wind in your hair, flying down the highway, doing what you want – that’s such a powerful escapist image that I love. I think the film ist amazing and I wanted to imagine that in the context of the album. You can plug in and go anywhere, do anything, be anyone, and escape the life you’re currently living – be that because you’re frustrated with it, or bored, or stuck in a fucking room because of a pandemic. Where would you wanna go? And why wouldn’t you wanna be Thelma and/ or Louise? 

How do you achieve that escape? Music, virtual reality?

Well I’m not really a gamer. I think VR is fascinating but it isn’t a part of my life. I make music, I watch films, and hang out with my friends. I play games, go for a run, or go to the cinema a lot. I read, I make things – that’s how I like to escape and get out of my mind. 

What else can you tell me about the album? Which songs are you excited about?

I love “Back To The Future“ because It makes me feel really happy and makes me wanna dance. It transports me to somewhere else completely. “Stay Awake” as well. With these songs we tried to write lyrics that felt complex, thought provoking, and reflected the weirdness of the world we live in now and the bizarreness of the potential future that we could live in. But we also wanted a fun pop-record that would make you feel happy and take you somewhere else in your head.

I also love „Promises“ by Riz Ahmed. We sent him the album and he wrote this poem in response to it and he perfectly sums up the intimate humanity and personal relationships in the context of all the technology that we live within. I love his moment in the album.

I also really like “Plug In“ because it’s the last song I wrote and I wrote it by myself. I just wanted to have a bizarre list of things that either are happening or will happen and how odd they are when you reflect them back to one person. It’s these bizarre hypocrisies of the times that we live in and how the future can often feel totally apocalyptic and doomed but there’s this real childish part in all of us that wants me to hug you and tell you that everything is going to be okay. 

And of course, I love „Future Holds“, the final track of the album. I thought it would be funny to finish an album that is completely concerned with the future with a song that has somebody next to you saying „mate, chill the fuck out. Stop worrying about everything so much. And just try and enjoy your life for a minute.“ I thought that would be a funny way to subvert all the themes of the album. I really wanted something wild and unexpected and BIM, who sings on this last track is such an amazing singer. I like the idea of basically handing the microphone over to BIM and me walking away saying „here, you’ve got this – can you finish the album for us please?“ I love that the song changes all the time. It kind of constantly remixes itself. I almost wanted to write a hip hop song to myself saying „stop fucking worrying all the time and live your life“. I needed to be reminded of that.