Given the way it feels when watching the news lately, you’d be forgiven for believing the apocalypse was already upon us.
Chart-topping band Bastille have chosen to wade back into the fray with a concept album that taps into these end-of-days feelings.
Doom Days, their third album, is due out a week today, and takes place over the course of an imagined single night, during said apocalypse.
The day after Doom Days’ release they’ll be playing on the main stage at The Isle of Wight Festival, and this December have an already sold-out show at The Pyramids in Southsea, part of an intimate ‘club night’ tour.
The London-based act have been one of this decade’s homegrown success stories. Both their previous albums debuted at number one in the charts, they’ve sold more than 8m records and racked up 6.5bn streams of their songs.
Given their past triumphs, are the band feeling any pressure to follow it up?
‘We always just try to make music we’re proud of,’ bassist and guitarist Will Farquarson tells The Guide. ‘If your goal starts to become chasing chart positions or record sales, then you’re setting yourself up for a bit of a fall, and fans, I think, can smell the insincerity if you’re just chasing a hit
‘It’s so easy for us to try and remain dispassionate about that side of it and just focus on the music, but there are obviously expectations around us. We’re not idiots, we’re signed to a major label and we’ve had considerable success in the past.
‘There are people in our team who are very much expecting us to do similar things, and if we’re honest, we want the work we’ve put our hearts and souls into to do as well as possible and reach as many people as possible. It would be a lie to say we don’t feel any pressure, but we do what we can to minimise it and we certainly don’t let it influence any of our creative decisions.’
Much has been made in the prerelease material about Doom Days’ grand themes of it being a record for turbulent times, ‘finding redemption through human connection in an era when people are increasingly divided and isolated by technology and politics’.
Did they set out to create a concept album?
‘Concept album is a slightly tortured phrase these days – when I hear it, I think of ‘70s indulgence, but unlike our other records it does have a narrative arc to it which was certainly conscious.
‘The theme of the album is imagining a night out during the apocalypse, and the whole thing takes place during the course of a night. On the actual record sleeve, each song is not numbered but designated by the time its representing.
‘The first track Quarter Past Midnight is that point where you’re deciding if you want to carry on, there’s a song called 4am which is about those contemplative moments when you’re with a stranger, and it finishes with a song called Joy which is about waking up on a kitchen floor at 8am and getting a phone-call from a loved one.’
So is it ultimately optimistic?
‘I think so, our music is often upbeat with darker lyrics, but there’s always an element of optimism.
‘It’s moving on from the last one (2016’s Wild World) where we spoke quite explicitly and nakedly about the tumultuous political atmosphere that was so prominent – and still is. On this one we wanted to continue the theme of grappling with these things and these modern anxieties, and part of that is politics and news, and part of that is phone addiction and pornography and all of the anxieties of modern life. But we wanted to make it less explicit and more open to interpretation, so we say it’s an apocalyptic party album, but it’s kind of incument on the listener to decide what “apocalypse” means to them. Is it literally a nuclear holocaust happening and you’re having a party? Or it could be the end of your world – a relationship breaking up or grieving the loss of a loved one.
‘Whereas the last one was talking in literal terms, this one is about more abstract ideas of anxiety and apocalypse.’
On the album’s release day they’re playing two special shows in London where they’ll be playing it in full – a first for the band.
‘I don’t think we’ve ever even learned every song off an album before. Even for our first album we didn’t play the whole thing as one performance.’
‘There’s always one or two songs where you get a sense that you’re not going to play live, particularly once you’ve got a couple of albums under your belts.
‘It’s funny, you go from struggling to find enough material for a half hour support slot and you’ve only got three songs, to the position we’re in now, given we’ve also got four mixtapes of remixes and mash-ups.
‘Now literally every gig is trying to work out which songs to cut.
Although the rise of streaming and downloading has seen a swing away from the album to the consumption of individual songs, the album as an entity is still crucial to Bastille.
‘Technology has taken us back to a place where people are more likely to consume singles as a, well, single entity rather than part of an album.
‘But for us, albums are very important. We grew up in the ’90s and were part of that culture – I remember rushing out to buy the latest album by whichever band you were into, and I remember it being an event.
‘For us it is a body of work which stands alone, and the songs – particularly because of the narrative we’ve written into it – are contextualised by the others around them, so it’s really gratifying to actually get to perform it like that.’
After that, the band has a busy summer of festival appearances lined up. And this part of the world has been good to the band on that front – their first ever festival headline slot was at the late, lamented Blissfields, near Winchester, in 2013.
‘It was great,’ recalls Will. ‘A friend of ours was heavily involved with organising it and it felt like a real family affair – we had a whale of a time when we were there.’
The band also got their first taste of performing in front of a huge crowd at the Isle of Wight that same year.
‘The first time we played there we were on the mainstage, and it was the biggest stage we’d played by a long chalk at that point – it was incredible, and it was the first time we really felt: “Something’s happening here”.
‘When you’re coming up as a band and the venues are getting bigger, it’s great, but then you’re suddenly thrown on the mainstage at the Isle of Wight in front of 20,000 people and it’s like: “Oh…”
‘I once heard Jarvis Cocker describing playing Glastonbury for the first time as stepping into a new world, and there are some moments that have that feeling to them, where you move from doing a gig in a pub to 10 friends and in to a world of actual success.’
The Isle of Wight Festival takes place from June 13-16, with headline slots from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, George Ezra and Biffy Clyro. Weekend tickets £175, Friday £60, Saturday or Sunday, £70. Go to isleofwightfestival.com.