Back in 2013, most dilemmas could be summed up with the lyric “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”
At the time, the line both carved out a space for indie rock in the mainstream and provided inspiration for an extraordinarily versatile meme. And it was all courtesy of Bastille’s “Pompeii,” the breakout hit from the English alternative outfit on 2013 LP Bad Blood.
Four years later, somehow, the lyric still applies. Amidst Brexit, the Trump administration, and an otherwise tumultuous political climate, there’s a lot more existential dread kicking around than now there were in the simpler times of 2013. Enter Bastille’s sophomore album, Wild World, a 19-song opus bursting with the same positivity of Bad Blood, plus some extra resilience and resistance. “To me, it seems sadly ironic that when [the album] was written, it was a protest against things we never thought would come to pass,” says Bastille bassist Will Farquarson.
But in the shitstorm that was 2016, most of those “things” surprised everyone and did indeed follow through, causing morale to take a nosedive, to say the least. As a result, Wild World fits nicely into this new era, although that’s never really what the London foursome anticipated.
Vanyaland phoned Farquarson before the band’s Boston show at Agganis Area tonight (Monday, March 27) to talk about the roots of the band’s (unusually long) second album and keeping morale up in the face of turmoil. Because, quite frankly, it’s always going to be hard to be an optimist about anything.
Victoria Wasylak: Your new album has 19 songs on it, which is way more than most artists put on a record nowadays. You almost put out two albums’ worth of material.
Will Farquarson: I guess as a creative person, when you make music or any kind of art, it’s all precious to you. We might have a big hit, but that doesn’t mean that that song means any more to us than the b-sides that we wrote. It’s just incredibly hard to choose. We boiled it down and [had] our label imploring us to be sensible, but in the end, we just dug our feet in a bit and eventually we were like “Okay, we’re doing it.” When I was growing up, a lot of albums were 15 to 20 tracks long. It’s quite a new thing to do a short album. Maybe next time we’ll do it a bit shorter.
Suddenly we’ve gone from having one album’s worth of material and wondering how we’re going to fill up hour and a half set — now we’ve got far too many songs and it’s a massive debate over which ones to bring out. It’s a nice problem to have.
Do you find yourselves switching up what you play every night because you have a much bigger catalogue now?
That was the plan, but it’s one of those things where you kind of slip into a routine a little bit, so we try and alternate a lot of songs in and out of the set. Again, it’s quite tough because there are a number of staples that we feel we can’t really not play. There’s four or five [songs] on constant rotation each night. It is a bit of a headache. Also, some people may not like those songs. It’s an internal struggle sometimes, deciding which ones to play.
I read in an older interview that hip-hop production was an influence on the new album, which I don’t think anyone would have expected. Can you talk a little bit about that?
[Laughs] We all listen to lots of different kinds of music — quite diverse tastes between the four of us. I think Dan and Kyle are more into hip-hop and electronic music. I think the primary difference is, I guess on our first album, those influences were there, but they were sort of disguised, whereas we felt with this album we’d be a bit more open. If we felt we could make a hip-hop track, rather than watering it down at all, we just came out put a big hip-hop beat on the record. But none of us will rap.
When you went into the studio to record Wild World, were you ever worried about the “sophomore slump?”
Not really. There’s a bit more pressure, obviously, because when you make your first album, there’s no pressure at all because there’s no expectation. I think if you have some success — which we were lucky enough to have had — there’s an expectation, particularly from record labels and management, things like that. I think we just tried to make music we liked, and we used the same studio and the same producer, so the pressure didn’t really change much. So for us, the initial pressure of hoping it would do well [put an] external expectation on us, but I don’t think at any point any of us thought… it was never a conscious thing, but maybe in the back of our minds.
What song from the album sums it up best as a whole?
Thematically, a song called “Warmth,” which is a reflection on the tumultuous nature of the world, politically and culturally at the moment, and the fact that we’re going through an era of change, particularly in Europe and America. We always try to sort of maintain, not a neutral stance, but I mean — it’s obvious where we stand on the issues. We didn’t want to be preachy or lecturing people, we just wanted to express it and maybe inspire people to think about facing themselves without ever saying “this is what you should think.” It would have been impossible to have made an album at the moment without commenting on what’s happening across Europe and over here. It’s an interesting time, shall we say.
Bastille is a very politically charged word — obviously it has to do with the French Revolution. How much politics do you include in your music, if any?
We didn’t originally. Again, we tried to be, not politically neutral [but] we’re not a protest band. We’re not like Rage Against the Machine — their political agenda is central reason for being. However, we as individuals have political opinions and I think we’re politically charged at the moment. I think now even people who have no interest in politics have an opinion on the politics of the moment. So it’s not like, central to our music, but on this album it’s definitely a recurring theme. The other thing I think we sometimes forget to mention is that we talk about the world, and the nature of the world we live in; essentially the album is about friendship and human interaction, and that’s the backdrop. Even in the darkest times of human history, people still have had to get on with their lives. Look at any kind of despot regime and the people will have some semblance of normal human relationships. So it’s about looking at that and looking at friendship and love — it’s not all doom and gloom.
What does the title of the album mean to you, personally?
It’s actually the lyrics in “Warmth.” In the song, it’s referencing, like I said, all the political movements of the moment. But the ambiguity of the expression — “wild” isn’t necessarily pejorative, so “wild world” isn’t by nature a negative thing. I think there’s some hope in that. Even if the forces of evil across the world were defeated, there’s still the excitement of the world just being chaotic and messy. People in the world and societies are very messy. It’s just a comment on the human condition, I guess? It speaks to the fact that we are all struggling along in this world and just trying to find our own way.
Is there any one event that made the band want to focus in on that theme, or was it just a collaborative idea that you guys worked on?
The album was actually written before Brexit and before Trump and all those things. When you look back, some of the songs are obviously directed at those characters. To me, it seems sadly ironic that when it was written, it [the album] was a protest against things we never thought would come to pass, it was a “fuck you” to that type of thinking. I think when Brexit happened in particular, it was a real shock, globally I think, across Europe and particularly England, just to see that this type of nationalistic thinking was so predominant in society. It gave us a bit of a surprise. But it wasn’t like that was the moment we decided to write it, we had already written the album, or had already written the songs commenting on these things. It’s something that’s been brewing for a long time and we were commenting on it, and then sadly, it came to pass. So it almost seems more relevant and more pertinent now, in light of what’s happened in the last six months to a year.
Not to get corny, but when you’re talking about the themes of the album, and coping/moving on, what for you personally is the best way to get through hard times?
I guess the answer, in keeping with the album, is friendship, human relationships and love, etc, but also alcohol is usually effective. I’ve not suffered a huge amount, I’ve had quite a privileged life. I think you just make sure you have people around you that care about you and that you can confide in when things go bad. And things always get better in the end, don’t they?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.