Bastille’s ‘Wild’ Influences: From Shakespeare to B.B. King to Truman Capote

Also: 'The Godfather,' 'The Exorcist' and 'Badlands.'

By Brian Ives

Bastille took the world by storm with their 2013 debut Bad Blood; the deceptively upbeat “Pompeii” led the way. On their new album, Wild World (due out Friday 9/9) they once again lead with an upbeat song, “Good Grief.” The album is deep and diverse, with some unexpected musical influences (including B.B. King and ’70s rock band Camel) and references to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Shakespeare’s “Othello” the 1977 Italian sci-fi flick War of the Planets (surely, you’ve seen it).

Radio.com sat down with the group’s frontman and founder, Dan Smith, and his somewhat quieter bandmates – Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson and Chris Wood – to discuss the album.

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“Good Grief” was the first single from your new album, Wild World, and like “Pompeii,” it’s deceptively upbeat.

Dan Smith: I suppose it’s something we’ve always played with within our songs. Like “Pompeii,” which is the biggest song on our first record: it is basically about two fictional, ashy corpses after a volcano’s exploded, talking about the vices of their city and boredom and stasis and all that kind of stuff and nostalgia. And that’s a song that we were lucky it had a life of its own and went on to quite big things. We’ll be at a festival playing that song to tens of thousands of people, and everyone’s joking around and having an awesome time singing the lament of these two corpses.

On “Send Them Off!” you have a sampled quote, “It was a slight on my honor, so he deserved it…”

Dan Smith: So, originally the quote is from this Italian sci-fi film from the ’70s. It was a slightly different quote, and we wanted it to basically open up with a bit of slightly bragging, like call to arms, then it leads into this kind of really over-the-top like brass riff, almost like a swaggery hip hop tune. But then basically, we couldn’t find, we couldn’t track down the rights to this quote. We tried really hard. Some of our workers at our label in Italy drove down to the old film company, this closed down film company, and ended up rewriting it slightly and re-recording it. But yeah, I think it nicely sets the dramatic tone.

What was the movie?

Dan Smith: It’s called War of the Planets [from 1977]. It’s got a good 2.7 out of 10 on IMDB. But it’s brilliant, it’s just filled with these fantastic quotes, and we couldn’t quite tell… we saw it dubbed into English, and we couldn’t tell if it was a little bit tongue-in-cheek ahead of its time, but I’m not quite sure if it was or wasn’t. I think it harks back to an interesting, interesting time. But yeah, a couple of the quotes, that one and the one in the bridge of the song just felt very fitting.

Related: Bastille Reveal ‘Good Grief’ is a Modern Day Trojan Horse

Sometimes you can have the best time watching the worst movies.

Dan Smith: Totally. But for us using these quotes on the album, it’s kind of about trying to help you as the listener go to that other place and sort of transports you to this mad, weird, parallel universe in which our kind of music exists. And yeah, the videos and the quotes and the production is all kind of part of that.

But yeah, you’re right, and that’s something that from our first couple of mix tapes was very fun to explore, taking film quotes out of context and putting music behind them, and you can turn them into something completely different, or you can just totally change the tone of something, so it could be very serious and you suddenly make it lighthearted or vice versa.

And that’s something we’ve played with forever; like the last song we did a music video was for one of our songs called “Flaws.” We didn’t have any money, so I took Terrence Malick’s [1973 classic] Badlands and recut it into like a happy, optimistic thing, and it was obviously not, if you’ve seen the film. While it’s being respectful, I think it’s quite fun to slightly shift people’s perceptions of pop culture and mess around with that a little bit.

In “Send Them Off!” you reference Desdemona. Is that the character from Othello?

Dan Smith:“Send Them Off!” I guess is a kind of, it’s a song of irrational relationship jealousy told very dramatically by the language of Desdemona in Othello, which is such a famous, classic jealousy narrative, but using some of the imagery from The Exorcist. So I guess it’s kind of quite symbolic of how we write, and how our music comes out as sort of moments that are like little scenes in themselves but via all these references that we have and nods towards things that we like and enjoy and just try to tell things in a slightly different way.

Did any of you guys all go to film school?

Chris Wood: I did media studies in school, if that counts.
Dan Smith: I did English literature at University and did quite a lot of film stuff as well, but I was always too lazy to actually make films.

Tell me about the song “Fake It.”

Chris Wood: “Fake It” is I guess collectively our favorite I think off of the album. It keeps changing, but that’s one we’ve been really, really been looking forward to getting out there. We got to go and visit the studio where it was mixed by a guy called Manny Marroquin. He’s a super nice dude, and what everyone says, we’re pretty fortunate to have him. Yeah, I asked him to crank up the bass as loud as he could and—
Dan Smith:He did.
Chris Wood: It’s intense. That’s a song that we’re really proud of as well.

What’s the sample in that? Where the woman says, “And I don’t think that’s a selfish want, I really don’t…”

Dan Smith: It’s from the old documentary about relationships, and it’s about a couple in therapy working through those issues. It sounds like such an old clip; I love that as well. I guess the song sort of looks at how people fuck up all the time, but sometimes it’s easier to keep something going because more of it makes you happy and more of it’s fun than the stuff that’s bad. So yeah, it’s just sort of an exploration of that.

Talk about “Four Walls,” I’m guessing that that’s a Truman Capote reference.

Dan Smith: Yes. So I was really taken aback by In Cold Blood when I read it a few years ago, and I guess the song just sort of came out of that.

It’s one of the older tunes on the record. Actually, the guitar solo at the end Will recorded on a tour bus in Germany maybe two years ago or more. Since then, Serial happened, and Making of a Murderer and there’s this fresh advent of true crime in culture being like a massive deal, and I found that really interesting.

So we then put in, got a friend to put in a little quote at the end that says, “This is a collect call from the prison” just as a kind of nod to that, because I did think it was interesting that we had this song which is about the first wave of true crime fiction. I guess the song’s another super-happy Bastille song that looks at dark subjects. It very loosely looks at kind of capital punishment and how weird it is, and two wrongs don’t make a right and all that kind of stuff.

I think that’s the thing that’s so interesting with In Cold Blood, it’s so beautifully written, and it’s such an engagingly constructed kind of narrative, but then you constantly remember that this actually happened. There’s something about watching fiction or reading fiction and knowing that it’s fiction where it’s maybe not as disturbing as it should be. But then knowing these things [in In Cold Blood] are real, there’s something so eerie and creepy about that. And I remember constantly having that realization with that book when I was reading it.

And then the same with that O.J. show, or Making a Murder or Serial, I think also the idea of it being told in a book or a live podcast where you’re not seeing anything, so the image you have in your head is entirely your own, I think is really interesting. You can both have read this book and have the same experience and also a really different experience in terms of how you picture it in your head.

Musically, that song has a bluesy, B.B. King-esque guitar solo, which isn’t what people probably expect from a Bastille song.

Will Farquarson: I listen to the least amount of modern music of everyone in the band. I grew up listening to Hendrix and B.B. King and all these old guys like that. So the minute I was given free range to express myself, I was like, “Ah, yeah, cheesy blues!” I think it’s quite nicely juxtaposed against the track itself, which is very electronic and not bluesy at all. To me it sounds like… do you know the band Camel? They had an album out I was obsessed with—I can’t even remember the name—when I was about 15, so I just ripped that off.

Dan Smith: That’s good to know. It’s good to find out for the first time.

Will Farquarson: B.B. [King]’s one of my favorites, he’s amazing. My favorite album is—I can’t remember which live album. Live in Cook County Jail I think it is?

“Blame” reminds me a bit of when Depeche Mode turned up their guitars on “Personal Jesus.” Were Depeche Mode an influence on you guys?

Dan Smith: It’s weird, people quite often bring them up, and they’re not an influence at all. It’s an interesting comparison, and actually, it makes me feel like I should definitely go and listen to more Depeche Mode, because people keep making that comparison.

The lyrics to blame has some really violent imagery.

Dan Smith: “Blame” is like a super simple snapshot of two gang members, one of whom is pissing the other one off, and it’s like that moment before pulling the trigger, and it’s the snapshot of that, and it was using imagery from like The Godfather and from American History X to just create this brooding, mean snapshot into these two people’s really extreme emotions in this little fictional narrative. So yeah, it totally leans on the familiar within those situations to try and take you as a listener to that place immediately. I think as well just the feel of the song, it’s got that mean, dramatic lean to it.

We talk quite a lot about our music having kind of darker subject matter with these kind of optimistic-sounding, hopeful tracks, and I think this is almost like the flipside of that, where it’s a quite dark and brooding song. But actually, it’s about a kind of Good Samaritan narrative in the context of everything that’s happening at the moment in the world and being in a sea where everyone keeps their heads down, so in their life, just one small act of kindness can completely transform a day, or a situation, or a week, and can follow you all the time and that you can feel kind of worthy or unworthy of that.

 

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