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Bastille: Finding Solace in Chaos

A candid conversation with Bastille's guitarist ahead of their SA tour this week.

3 Oct 2017 / Interview / written by Timothy Kohler / Pics by Wolf James & Gregory Nolan

Bastille’s debut album holds the prestigious title of the UK’s biggest-selling digital album of 2013, with single ‘Pompeii’ being lauded as the region’s most-streamed song of all time and at the time of their first concert in South Africa their performance in Johannesburg was their best-attended.

Prior to rounding up their “Wild, Wild World” tour in a country most of the members consider a second home, I caught up with the band’s guitarist Will Farquarson to talk geopolitics, finding solace in chaos, cultural differences as well as bidding farewell to an era.

Timothy Kohler: How do you feel about returning to South Africa for another tour, especially considering your previous experience here in 2014?

Will Farquarson: We’re super excited. We’ve gone from doing these small, theatre shows to these huge headline shows, so we’ve been wanting to come back for ages. Things conspired against us and we’ve been trying to fit it in, so to finally get to come back this year – we’re so excited.

TK: What can fans expect from your upcoming performances compared to your last time here?

WF: It’s been a few years now, and we have another album out so it’ll obviously be more songs, but we’ve, well we hope, we’ve up’d our game in terms of production. It was a much lower level everywhere else so it’s definitely a step up, in terms of the size of venues we’re playing. It’s really nice to do it this way too because it’s the very end of our “Wild, Wild World” tour so, with our new album out roughly a year now, this will be the last stop of the world tour. It’ll be a nice farewell, because then we’ll be taking a few months off to make a new album and hopefully coming back soon. So, I think it’ll be fun and emotional, because it’s like the end of an era for us.

TK: Absolutely, especially considering Dan’s affiliation with the country.

WF: Well, that’s another thing is that his parents have a house in Cape Town and he’s got family all over the place. We have family all over the world anyway, but when we come to South Africa it’s like ‘concentrated Dan-family’! Last time we were there we went to barbeques at his uncle’s house and there were cousins everywhere and it was amazing. He’s very much English, but his affiliation for South Africa really makes it feel like home. It’s also nice for the rest of us to see where his parents come from because we’re all close to them too.

TK: Are you familiar with any of the local artists – Matthew Mole, Opposite the Other, Tresor and Monark – opening the shows?

WF: Yes and no. We’ve heard their music, but I can’t say we’re overly familiar with a lot of South African music to be honest. We always approve people who have sent through some stuff and we think are really cool. I think it’s good because we could’ve brought someone we know from England or something, but it’s nice to encourage people who’re from the places you’re playing to join you. It gives a bit of a local flavour which we love.

TK: Absolutely. I’m certain the chosen artists are very grateful for the opportunity that’s been presented to them.

WF: Absolutely, that’s the thing. When we first started off, it was always such a fun thing to be able to play with more established bands because it gives you an opportunity not only to play for a bigger crowd but also to play on a different scale of stage and things like that.

TK: Was there a particular experience on your previous trip to SA which you didn’t expect and may have consequently changed your view of the country?

WF: I think my whole trip was probably quite an eye-opener. Other than the shows, the most exciting thing for me was that we got to go on a safari, which was amazing. I’ve never got to do anything like that. Additionally, everyone was so friendly. It was also interesting driving around and seeing the country outside of the main cities. It was one of our first trips away from Europe, and it is very different in Africa compared to Europe, you know just culturally and whatnot. Before, you kind of have no idea what it’s like on different continents, so it was interesting to see. But yea, we had a really wonderful time.

TK: I’ve read a lot of the themes in your latest album “Wild World” pertain to current global affairs, which are those that stand out to you?

WF: I think the album accidently became kind of prophetic! I mean, we wrote it at a time when Trump was in decadency, prior to Brexit and the force of Le Pen and all these other right-wing populists who gained so much popularity in Europe. The album was more just a comment on what we thought the time would be, especially in light of the insanity of the Trump campaign. After all these events happened, we were like ‘Ah no, we really didn’t mean to be like, prophets of doom!’ It comments on the world’s geopolitics, but it was never really meant to be that insightful.

Quite often the message in our songs is against a backdrop of this sort of chaos and tumult and often quite scary instability, and you have to sort of find solace in your day to day life, whether that’s in your family or friends or whatever. We’re interested in the human side of it and how people deal with the noise of the world. I was actually talking to my dad about this the other day, and he started telling me about the Cuban missile crisis. He was like, “Yeah, we sort of just got in with our lives. We very much believed we were going to be incinerated within a few hours, but you just get up and go to work and come home and chat to your friends.” That was the thing that I think interested Dan a lot with his writing. Despite all the chaos of global events, people all over the world are just getting on with it, I guess.

TK: Besides from the lyricism focus, “Wild World” is quite the sonic leap from your previous records. What provoked this change of direction?

WF: Whenever we approach a song, we feel we don’t really have a Bastille sound particularly, besides usually big strings and Dan’s voice. So, I think we feel like we’re not limited in that respect. We sort of work from the studio, and bring it into a live thing. Obviously with modern recording technology, you can make any sound you want in studio. With this album, we were like “How can we progress the sound” and the obvious thing was to start using more guitar, which to us is a huge novelty! It’s like “Hey, let’s put a guitar in this song!” which to most bands is a staple to their music.

But yeah, on the one hand it was a conscious thing to move forward, but it wasn’t necessarily “This must sound absolutely different.” How the songs came together was quite natural. For me, I think this album is a bit more ‘bandy’. The first time, it was very cinematic and perhaps softer and this one has moments where it’s a lot gutsier I guess. Also, for this album, while we were on tour we were also busy making it in backstage rooms and the tour bus, as opposed to the other ones which went from studio to live. We’d sort of demo some songs in soundcheck, and even play some songs live before recording. So, I think it has a slightly more traditional bad sound because it came from a more traditional band process. It was a progression, and it was hopefully a good one.

Be sure to catch Bastille this week in Cape Town on 4 October, Durban on 6 October and Johannesburg on 7 October.