‘Doom Days’: Bastille’s Dan Smith On The Beauty, Horror & Hypocrisies Of Modern Life

Self-described as an ‘apocalyptic party album’, London locals Bastille‘s third record takes place over the course of a night out during the end of the world.

Over 11 tracks, you’re dragged on a journey of distraction from the surrounding apocalypse, whether that involves screaming along to the radio in the back of an Uber on ‘Quarter Past Midnight’, having your last one-night stand on ‘Another Place’ or being cornered into tough conversations that you’d rather avoid on ‘Million Pieces’.

Although it’s set in a not-so-distant dystopian future, the record holds a mirror up to modern day society and our relationships with technology, politics and the environment. ‘Doom Days’ confronts our contemporary anxieties around phone addiction, fake news and climate change denial. “Think I’m addicted to my phone, my scrolling horror show. I’m live-streaming the final days of Rome,” Dan Smith croons on the title track.

The soundtrack underpinning this tumultuous tale is a cocktail of Bastille’s classic melodic rock with splashes of house, gospel and UK garage beats. Pairing this puzzle of genres with a clear concept makes Doom Days a captivating, confronting and multi-layered listen.

To celebrate the new record, the quartet has also announced that they’ll be returning down under for a string of shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth across January and February 2020.

Ahead of the release of Doom Days, we caught up with front-man Smith to chat the new concept album, the beauty, horror and hypocrisies of modern life as well as their return to Australia.

Music Feeds: Can you talk us through the concept behind Doom Days and how it came about?

Dan Smith: I guess in reaction to our last album, we wanted to write something that was short and concise and about escapism and trying to forget your problems and the anxieties of the current time for a night. So you just throw yourself headlong into a night with friends and strangers. Inevitably, when you’re looking for escape it’s never quite that simple. We basically wanted to make an album about a big night out during the apocalypse. (Laughs)

On one level it’s quite a personal story, but it takes in the events amongst an assortment of people from break ups to one-night stands to stupid conversations. It speaks to some bigger things as well, but we wanted to ground it in reality and have fun with the idea of making a concept album.

MF: The concept is consistent through the record, but the record encapsulates a few different genres. What were your major sonic influences?   

DS: Musically it allows us to be a bit adventurous, nodding towards the 90s and 90s dance music. In part, some of the more introspective sides are inspired by Bon Iver (who we love), The xx and the Jamie xx’s production. So it’s been a load of fun to make. We made it in London and it was the first time we ever really stopped to make an album, so we just wanted to enjoy the process and the fact that we’re somehow still allowed to make music. (Laughs)

MF: The record speaks of needing to switch off and escape the surrounding apocalypse on a big night out. Are you hoping this record will be a form of escape for your fans?   

DS: I hope there is some escapism in it. That’s definitely what we were thinking. On our last album and tour, it was about trying to get your head around the changes of the world. Particularly with the tour that we did, which was quite unsubtle with it’s 1984, ‘fake news’ kinda Trump-ian vibe and very critical of that stuff, it was quite an overblown production. We definitely stood by it and it felt cathartic and in some ways sort of funny, despite the fact that none of it is funny.

I think this album was a reaction against that. Like fuck, people come to festivals to have a good time and to not think about those things. So I guess we checked ourselves for a second and had a think about what the role of music is. I think it means so many things to so many different people, but on level it’s about escapism and distraction.

MF: But the album is still very much a commentary on some of things we’re probably trying to avoid, right?

DS: Yeah! Equally, I think music and all forms of art should be holding a mirror up to what’s going on. We wanted this album to feel of its time. If there’s a breakup happening in the story of the album, how could it not draw parallels to this ginormous international breakup that Britain’s putting itself through at the moment. I wanted to talk about our relationships with our phones and with the truth and how complicated that is. We have this thing in our hands that’s a portal to all of the information in the world and somehow it’s seemed to have gone to the sourest, darkest form of itself while also being this amazing thing.

I guess we wanted to throw all of that out there and acknowledge our hypocrisies. We can all acknowledge that we’re a bit addicted to our phones but I think we’re all a bit guilty of it. I just wanted to jumble all of that into an album that is kinda fun to listen to. We wanted to write it in a way that hopefully, you don’t feel like you’re being hit over the head with these things, but I do think it’s important, if you’re making pop music, for it to aspire to say something; or at least provoke some sort of thought or conversation.

MF: I think the great thing about the album is that it’s not preachy in its delivery. ‘Million Pieces’ tells the relatable tale of being cornered into conversations about the world’s problems when you’re not in the right headspace to talk about it.

DS: Yeah, I think that’s why we wanted to set it in the strange hours between midnight and 8am, where you kind of check your responsibilities at the door. It allows for these conversations to happen that wouldn’t happen in the day time and people are slightly on another planet. It’s an interesting setting, because people can be a bit more honest and maybe say thing’s they wouldn’t usually.

For us it’s this story and this concept that runs through it, but you can’t listen to it and hopefully it’s just a bunch of songs as well. With ‘Million Pieces’, I wanted it to feel kind of euphoric, but also have that frustration. You know that feeling that hits your stomach when someone starts talking about stuff where you know that it’s important, but you just don’t have the mental capacity to think about or talk about at that point? Particularly on a night out when you’re looking for distraction and escapism.

MF: Yeah, there’s nothing worse than someone trying to spark a political debate at a house party and you’re just like ‘Fuck, please just let me chill for one second.’

DS: That’s the weird tension where you’re like, “I’m not saying that what you’re saying is unimportant, but please fucking park it for now please.” (Laughs)

MF: The title track is ‘Doom Days’ describes an apocalypse, but it’s very much a commentary on how we interact with social media, smartphones and other issues like climate change in 2019. Can you talk us through that?

DS: Everything in life changes around you so quickly. You blink and the way that you consume music or the way we talk to each other it changes so quickly. You can blink and open your eyes and suddenly the world has shifted, but that’s just reality. I think it’s always interesting that older generations will be like, “Oh, it was better in my day!”. It’s so easy to say that, but every fucking generation seems to do it. (Laughs) We’re all living in these slightly weird times together and I guess we’ve just got to deal with it.

I said it before but with something like Facebook, when it first started it was a network of students sharing drunk photos of each other. (Laughs) Who would’ve thought it would’ve gone on to become what it has and have this influence that it has on everyone’s lives. But it’s just the world we live in and it’s swaying these elections, but has had this huge impact on people’s lives all over the world. So however fucked up it may or may not be, it’s the reality that we’ve all stumbled into. I think it’s also important not to be polarised about anything because nothing’s black and white.

That’s something we wanted to gesture towards on the album, human contact and being in a room with people. There’s still something so important in that. Having a conversation, even if it’s with someone that you don’t necessarily fundamentally agree with, rather than just standing at opposite sides of the room shouting at each other.

MF: The most recent single ‘Joy’ is the closing track on the album, which is intended as a glimmer of hope at the end of the record. How important was it to bookend the record with that hint of optimism?

DS: It felt essential to the album. I liked the idea of it blurring out into this haze but ‘Joy’ was always going to come immediately after the next day. We stood back and looked at the album and thought, “If this is this little snapshot of where our heads are at, there needs to be some hope, even though there isn’t sometimes.” Even if that hope comes from a phone call from someone you love when you’re mortally hungover. I’m not always the most optimistic of people, but I think it is important to voice some of this hope, so you don’t go completely nuts. (Laughs)

That’s one of the reasons I really love that song and wanted to put it out (as a single) to show that the album has shape and it’s not all just us crying,“The world is fucked!” Me and the band have moments of optimism and moments of pessimism and moments of nihilism on the album but like with anything, it changes its mind all of the time.

MF: You’ve released ‘Quarter Past Midnight’, ‘Doom Days’ and ‘Joy’ ahead of the release. How have fans reacted to the concept so far?

DS: I guess it’s always tricky when you’ve made an album that is a journey that covers a lot of ground musically and sonically, it’s kind of hard to pick the moments that you present. So I guess we looked at it like ‘Quarter Past Midnight’ is the opening track that sets the scene, ‘Joy’ is the close and ‘Doom Days’ is the middle as you put down your phone and just choose to be with the people around you. I hope that gives some sense of the breadth but it’s kind of hard to. In an ideal world, we want people to hear this album from start to finish, but that’s obviously harder and harder in 2019 when people are way more focused on a track. We loved the idea of making an album that says something and holds together and each track shows the next one in a different light. That’s why we can’t wait for the album to be out.

MF: You’re returning to Australia for a tour in early 2020, what are you looking forward to the most about that tour?

DS: We’re so excited to head back. We had such a good time in January when we played a few dates there and we recorded some of the vocals for ‘Doom Days’ in Melbourne. We had two hours between the sound check and the gig and I wrote heaps of extra lyrics and was up all night for three days trying to finish that song. So having made the whole thing in our little studio in London, it’s funny to have the only place we recorded it be in Melbourne.

We’ve been lucky enough to head to Oz quite a few times and we didn’t on our second album, so we’re just so excited to have the opportunity to be back and hope to bring a really fun and interesting show.

‘Doom Days’ is out via EMI on Friday, June 14. Pre-order here. Armed with the new record, Bastille will return to australia to tour nationally in January and February 2020. Dates below.

Bastille ‘Doom Days, Part 2’ Australian Tour

Pre-sale tickets on sale from Thursday, 13th June

General tickets on sale from Monday, 17th June

Thursday, 25th January

TBA, Gold Coast

Monday, 27th January

Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

Tickets: Ticketek

Thursday, 30th January

Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne

Tickets: Ticketmaster

Sunday, 2nd February

AEC Theatre, Adelaide

Tickets: Ticketek

Tuesday, 4th February

HBF Stadium, Perth

Tickets: Ticketmaster

Must Read