Though the ideas behind Bastille’s fourth album, Give Me the Future, were mostly conceptualized during the pre-pandemic time, it’s hard to deny the album’s parallels to the world as it’s developed over the last couple of years. At the time, the multi-platinum pop-rockers were fresh off the success of 2019’s Doom Days, and Bastille were ready to make an album about escapism — a topic many folks became all too familiar with during two years of various lockdowns and quarantines.
“Initially, it was a slightly different idea,” frontman Dan Smith says, his warm voice sounding like the embrace of an old friend. “It was much more about dreaming more literally — maladaptive daydreaming and lucid dreaming. It was a bit about technology and about escapism via narratives — the narratives that we write about ourselves and about people, and fictional narratives. The limitless possibilities and the imagination to take you somewhere else was the initial concept.”
Those ideas likely would’ve made a perfectly acceptable album, but Give Me the Future (out now) took on a bit of a new life amidst the lockdowns, which allowed the British quartet to narrow down the concept. As it did for a lot of people, the quarantine lifestyle gave Smith and his bandmates a new perspective on their reality and what that concept of “escapism” really meant.
“Spending the best part of two years in intimate spaces with not that many people — living via screens and technology whilst the world, as it has done for the last 50 years, just hurdles forward in terms of technology development and future rising, just completely fed itself,” Smith says. “Working on these songs in such an apocalyptic period with everyone stuck at home, glued to screens, fed into the feeling that what is real and what is not has become pretty difficult to discern sometimes.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that while Smith is answering these questions, he’s in a dressing room in East London’s art deco music venue, Troxy, where Bastille is filming a televised performance in support of a charity. While it might not quite be the pandemic livestreams that carried so many artists through 2020 and 2021 when they couldn’t tour, recording a live concert to be viewed by millions through their televisions, computers, phones and tablets is something that wasn’t quite as common when Give Me The Future was first conceived.
The forthcoming album isn’t necessarily a “pandemic album” though. As one might guess based on the name, it’s loaded with references to sci-fi films and literature. It’s as much Blade Runner as it is COVID-inspired, but Smith admits that the futuristic and alien themes aren’t really a fanatical passion for him. He’s not necessarily obsessed with the genre, but he is certainly fascinated by it.
“It’s such a mad thing that we’ve lived in decades where fiction writers can imagine something, and someone else will come in and be like ‘I’ll just make that real,’” Smith says. “Anyone who’s lived through the last decade has seen how everyone’s relationship with technology has changed so much that it affects how we live our lives on an hour-by-hour basis. It’s affected our relationship with people, how we see ourselves, and where we spend our time. It was really exacerbated by the lockdowns, because these things that we live via — for better or worse — these devices that we hold were just vital. They kept us in touch with people and they kept us sane, but they also drove us insane.”
The band’s fourth record also sees them break away from creative rules followed by their previous three, like monosyllabic alliterative album titles, weaving in snippets from films, and even who was involved. In fact, Give Me The Future sees Bastille open up their inner circle to outsiders for the first time ever. Although primarily produced by Smith and long-term production partner Mark Crew, the band also worked with a handful of collaborators, including respected veteran songwriter Rami Yacoub (Britney Spears, Lady Gaga), OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder (Adele, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift) and award-winning actor, rapper and activist Riz Ahmed.
“I hugely respect how outspoken he is in talking about injustices, but he always does everything with a really interesting artistic angle,” Smith says of Ahmed. “It felt important to me for this album to have other voices that have some presence because a lot of the themes on this album affect everyone. It felt important to me to have at least one point on the record from someone’s brain.”
Throughout their previous albums, Bastille has explored world politics, mythology, movies and modern life. But on Give Me the Future, the band begins theorizing on where we could be going in the coming years and decades. It’s clear that they’re hoping for a more positive future, but still keeping in mind how escapism — no matter the form it takes — has such a crucial impact on one’s sanity.
“I think for everyone, it’s easy to feel so anxious about the state of the world and about the state of the future,” Smith says. “If you go down that rabbit hole mentally, it can be completely all-consuming. It’s important to care. It’s important to try and affect change. But it’s also important to enjoy your life and look after yourself. There’s something about the idea of being able to live inside a video game, film, TV show, book or the music you’re listening to just for a few hours. It’s just wonderful [and] transportive. I think escape is so vital, so it’s an idea I’m fascinated by, not only personally, but also in terms of how we live on the internet and how you can have either an extension of your life or an entire parallel life in that space.”
Of course, Smith understands that though escapism can be both appealing and necessary, it’s important to do so in moderation. It’s painfully easy to get wrapped up in the internet and our cell phones, and that can lead to “difficult and corrupting” situations. Trying to pay attention to the real world while also staring at your phone means you miss a lot going on in both to try to pay attention to both, and then there’s that whole side of online radicalization that has popped up more prevalently in recent years.
“It can be amazing and can bring you into contact with wonderful communities which allows people to feel incredibly seen and represented,” Smith explains. “But, as we all know, you can just stumble into an echo chamber or seek one out and double down on using opinions that go unchallenged, and that can spiral. In the last 5-10 years, we’ve seen it seep from the online space into real-world spaces, and that’s just pretty fascinating.”
These days, Smith finds his escape away from the internet in the form of songwriting, and not just for his own band. He’s worked with artists like Rag’n’Bone Man, Yungblud, Lizzo, and Haim, and it’s a part of his career that he finds both deeply liberating and enjoyable. But in addition to his chart-toppers (he’s the one who launched his band’s career to ridiculous heights with 2013’s “Pompeii,” after all), perhaps Smith’s most surprising songwriting credits come in his true passion: the movie business.
In addition to penning tracks for films like the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced From Devil’s Breath, Smith and the band also take a page from Hollywood when it comes to building elaborate worlds through their visuals and messaging for each album release. For instance, 2016’s Wild World, introduced fictional media company “WWCOMMS” fronted by a “politician” who appeared throughout the band’s videos and even in their live show. This time around, Bastille has created a different dimension for Give Me The Future with “FUTURE INC,” a fictional (but familiar) tech giant that created a product called “Futurescape,” a device that allows users to enter the “innerverse” and mentally escape into the future.
“We’re always looking for a way to represent the records via something that isn’t us,” Smith says. “When Bastille started, I wanted it to be pretty ambiguous as to who we were, and I was much more interested in creating fictional worlds and making videos with imagery that I thought helped augment the music rather than it just being like four blokes who make songs.”
As for how “FUTURE INC” did in the buildup to Give Me the Future? The album’s lead single, “Distorted Light Beam,” was used in the background of the video Mark Zuckerberg made to announce that Facebook was now Meta. For a song about the complexities of technology from an album with a lot of mixed feelings about our digital future, well, we’ve never agreed with Zuck more.