When you hear their catchy hits, Pompeii, Good Grief, and Happier, you may expect that the British band Bastille is all about making fun, punchy songs which don’t go far beyond that. If you scratch past the surface though, you’ll find out that there’s much more to these songs than you’d originally have thought. Whoever really listens to the creative lyrics will find that Bastille write about world politics, classic mythology and iconic movies.
Are you going to see Bastille live soon? Prepare yourself with this list – you’ll never listen to Bastille’s music the same way again!
- The band is from London was founded in 2010 by singer/frontman Dan Smith, as a solo project at first. Later on he asked drummer Chris ‘Woody’ Wood, keyboard player Kyle Simmons and bassist/guitarist Will Farguarson to join.
- The name ‘Bastille’ originated from the French national holiday Quatorze Juillet, the day on which the storming of the Bastille was held. Dan’s birthday is also on July 14.
- Early 2013, the band broke through internationally with Pompeii and made hits with songs like Good Grief, Things We Lost in the Fire, Happier (featuring Marshmello) and Grip (featuring Seeb). They sold more than 4 million albums and 11 million singles worldwide.
- Bastille also released 4 mixtapes called Other People’s Heartache (Pt. I-IV). These primarily contained covers and the band collaborated with other artists such as Craig David, Jacob Banks and James
- In the recent years Bastille has been nominated for numerous awards (such as a Grammy for Best New Artist) and took home a Brit Award and two NME Awards, to name a few.
The band’s founder, Dan, writes Bastille’s lyrics and these are, in my opinion, defined as “rich”. They are cleverly layered, containing a wide range of themes. Unlike many of his fellow artists, Bastille’s texts aren’t necessarily autobiographical. Dan said this in a press release:
“There’s a lot that’s really personal in the songs, but I’m not interested in diarising my life — I want to explore stories and ideas that are way more interesting to me.”
He gets inspiration from the news and the world around him, but also from Greek mythology, Shakespeare’s classics and movies such as those from David Lynch. He also describes a personal, inner world in an imaginary way. The messages are often much darker than the upbeat sound indicates.
We will discuss 5 songs that (in my view) are representative for Bastille’s repertoire. Sit back and let yourself be surprised!
5. Pompeii – Bastille (Bad Blood, 2013)
About the theme of debut album Bad Blood, Dan said the following in an interview with MetroLyrics:
“I think a lot of the songs on the album are kind of a big mash of things I’ve been reading or thinking about.”
And that is definitely recognizable in the lyrics. Title track Bad Blood describes a bittersweet ending of a friendship, Laura Palmer is about the tv show Twin Peaks, Icarus and Daniel In The Den are inspired by stories from Greek mythology and the Bible.
For his breakthrough hit Pompeii, Dan delved into the tragic story of the destruction of the Roman city of the same name. He found a picture in a book of people who were engulfed with volcanic ash in the Roman city.
In an interview with Radio X he commented:
“(…) it’s just such a kind of dark powerful image, and it got me thinking about how boring it must have been emotionally after the event. To be sort of stuck in that same position for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
The song also describes an imaginary conversation between two victims:
I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills, bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?
How am I going to be an optimist about this?
Pompeii – Bastille
A beautiful example of how creative and historically developed Bastille’s lyrics can be.
If you want to sing along to Pompeii next time you hear it, know that you will be singing about the human remains of two Romans.
4. Good Grief – Bastille (Wild World, 2016)
In 2016 the second album Wild World was released, in which Dan reflects on the turbulent political situation the world is currently going through.
The Currents is about the danger of the hate spreading and discriminating remarks of politicians such as Donald Trump and Brexit protagonist Nigel Farage. In the track Warmth he describes the feeling you get when you just want to turn to the person you love after being bombarded by confusing and bizarre news.
Dan also lets himself be inspired by stories of others on this album. Send Them Off! is a reference to Shakespeare’s play Othello, people speculate that Lethargy was inspired by David Bowie and Four Walls was written after reading Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood.
In this list I have chosen to discuss Good Grief because it is a beautiful example of the thoughtfulness and stratification of Bastille’s lyrics.
You may not expect this right away, but the cheerful sounding song Good Grief is actually about loss; about moving on after a break-up or picking your life back up after the passing of a loved one. In a press release, Dan said:
“[Good Grief is] about loss, grief and trying to get on with your life. It maps the chaotic process from the denial, through the drinking and dancing at a funeral and to the startling feeling of memories being triggered in everyday life.”
This is recognizable in the following lyrics:
Caught off guard by your favourite song
Oh I’ll be dancing at a funeral
Dancing at a funeral
Sleeping in the clothes you love
It’s such a shame we had to see them burn
Shame we had to see them burn
What’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?
What’s gonna be left of the world, oh
Every minute and every hour
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you more
Every stumble and each misfire
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you more
Good Grief – Bastille
It records the emotional rollercoaster you experience through loss or grief!
3. World Gone Mad – Bastille (2017)
Dan wrote World Gone Mad for the Netflix movie Bright. Not only does refer to this ‘urban fantasy crime movie’, it’s also a look at today’s society. In an interview with Billboard, Dan said:
“We live in a time where the world is as on its head as [in] the film.”
And that looks incredibly dark:
So this is where we are
It’s not where we had wanted to be
If half the world’s gone mad
The other half just don’t care, you see
But don’t underestimate the British:
You don’t want to f*ck with us
British to the very last
He describes the feeling that many must have had after the terrorist attacks:
When it feels like the world’s gone mad
And there’s nothing you can do about it
World Gone Mad – Bastille
A song that is just as heavy as it is about bonding to me.
2. Happier – Marshmello & Bastille (2018)
Currently, one of Bastille’s most successful singles currently is Happier, in cooperation with dj Marshmello. The sound is more electronic compared to the earlier repertoire of the band, but the imagery in the lyrics has not lessened.
To me, the way Marshmello describes the power of the texts is spot on in this Twitter post:
“When Bastille sent me Happier for the first time, I was taken back. The amount of emotion that you could feel in the lyrics was crazy. As I listened to the song more and more, it reminded me of so many things I’ve been through in my life.
Toxic relationships, letting go of things I didn’t want to, and just situations where happiness came with a sacrifice.”
What if you love someone so much, but the relationship isn’t good for you?
Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been thinking
I want you to be happier, I want you to be happier
When the morning comes
When we see what we’ve become
In the cold light of day, we’re a flame in the wind
Not the fire that we’ve begun
Every argument, every word we can’t take back
‘Cause with all that has happened
I think that we both know the way that this story ends
That doesn’t mean that the head and heart are always in agreement..
Then only for a minute
I want to change my mind
‘Cause this just don’t feel right to me
I wanna raise your spirits
I want to see you smile but
Know that means I’ll have to leave
Happier – Marshmello & Bastille
A bittersweet song about a feeling that everyone has experienced and is very aptly worded by Dan.
1. Quarter Past Midnight – Bastille (Doom Days, 2018/2019)
Quarter Past Midnight is the first song of the third album Doom Days, which is expected to be released this year. In an interview with NME, Dan described it as an “apocalyptic party record”.
He compares their earlier album Wild World to taking the blue pill in The Matrix:
“Talking about the world, questioning it, being confused by it. (…) We’ve spent the last year singing songs about how abhorrent we find Donald Trump and Theresa May and people who preach hate and bigotry”
With his new album, they take the red pill. He also adds the following:
“It dawned on me that people look to music and art for escapism too, and I wanted to make sure we find the right balance.”
You can clearly recognize the escapism of reality in the lyrics of Quarter Past Midnight.
It’s a quarter past midnight
And the speakers are blowing
But it’s not about going out uncomplicated as it has a deeper message.
Yeah, yeah, We want the bodies on the billboards
Not the lives underneath them
For a moment, Dan wants to believe in the perfect world visible in commercials. He knows that reality is way different:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and now we’re crawling up the walls again
And it’s a quarter past twelve
And you said we’d leave this place in dust
And fall from heaven straight through hell
We never know what we have
We never knew what we had
And that is emphasized again in the chorus:
We keep on running
Running through a red light
Like we’re trying to burn the night away
Away-way, oh, away-way, oh
Why are we always chasing after something
Like we’re trying to throw our lives away?
Away-way, oh, away-way, oh
Quarter Past Midnight – Bastille
Did you think that this catchy song had such a dark twist?
Wow wow wow!
What do you think of Bastille’s lyrics now that you know what they are about? I am completely blown away by the unique subjects, the depth of the lyrics, and the creative execution.
The band adds an extra layer to their music with their impressive visuals during the live concert. Have a lot of fun, you’re in for a treat!
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