Creativity in a crisis – Woody from Bastille on songwriting in lockdown, gen Z and all that’s in-between

Image courtesy of Chuff Media

Lockdown has been a source of inspiration for many musicians who have had time to reflect and even re-brand their music style. Innovative and constantly on the search for a new twist, English pop-rock band Bastille has recently released two new songs: ‘Survivin’ followed by a collaboration with Graham Coxon titled ‘WHAT YOU GONNA DO???’.  

We sat down for a chat with Woody, the band’s famous percussionist, who warmly and honestly discussed some of our burning questions related to all things lockdown, the important message behind their two latest singles, Gen Z-ers, social media, the future of Bastille and a personal message to young musicians.  

Leora: Lockdown has been a massive turning point for many musicians. How has the pandemic affected your song writing/inspiration?   

Woody: With any sort of creative thing, whether it is conscious or subconscious, anything will affect you in some way. We definitely didn’t anticipate an album coming out where the main theme would be all things lockdown related, we’re trying to avoid that. But the pandemic has definitely influenced the process to an extent. We couldn’t do things that we would ordinarily do, for example, spending long days at the studio with an orchestra to record the instrumentals or go to certain places as a group because of the isolation rules. Fortunately, I have a drum studio at home where I can record to a pretty decent standard. In theory, if we had to, we could do it all remotely. For the recording of our first album we recorded our sounds in a tiny box sized room – we were basically trying to create these big sounds with the help of a lot of imagination. Maybe this will happen again, who knows! In terms of imagining better times or simply recording songs about that ‘locked down feeling’.  

Leora: I read that your new music is completely different and in a sense revolutionary, a new era or chapter perhaps?  

Woody: I hope so! We definitely try and mix it up in every album for sure. Our first album intentionally didn’t have any guitar sounds, which, for an indie band, was perceived as quite ‘odd’ at the time. Second album I guess was a bit more political, and the third album was different again. We spent two and a half years playing ‘doom and gloom’ songs  when we were forgetting that people actually come to gigs for escapism and fun; not to be reminded of the state of the world! This time around, our music is still more leaning towards this escapist view point, but to be honest even just one song in a collection of other songs can influence the overall feel/perception of an album, and the album is not finished yet, so it’s hard to say when it isn’t done yet.  

Leora: One of your latest singles, ‘Survivin’, has sparked particular interest amongst your fans as this song is very honest and the lyrics are very relatable. From a listener’s point of view, there’s some pain there but it also conveys a sense of togetherness/hope. What message or feeling did you as a group originally want to convey?  

Woody: We always try and not explicitly state what the song is really about, as people often find different meanings to different songs which is quite funny – one person’s interpretation might be completely different from someone else’s. We definitely wanted the song to be optimistic as well as realistic.  

I hate it when people on social media say things like:  ‘If you don’t come out of lockdown with 4 books written and 3 new businesses then you have failed’. In my opinion, coming out of lockdown semi-sane is already great!  

Leora: I guess a lot of people hide their true selves and create this falsely enhanced life on social media which does not compare to reality.  

Woody: Instagram vs Reality! That whole thing is just f***ing ludicrous man. Everyone has good days, everyone has bad days and not everyone is always looking glamorous 24/7. Life needs to be light and shade, it can’t all be sunshine and rainbows the whole time. That’s just not true.  

Leora: I guess it’s also about embracing the bad days too. I actually bought a flip phone myself to go on a digital detox, but unfortunately that didn’t last very long!  

Woody: I recently had a chat about the new Netflix movie ‘Social Dilemma’, you need to watch it! You will go out and buy a flip phone straight away.  

Leora: Regarding the song ‘WYGD’, in the lyrics you are basically exposing all of us by stating the obvious – we are hiding behind technology and we are lying through our fake smiles on social media. Truth hurts. But your song hurts in a good way. I gather that it’s a wake-up call for our generation Z, how did you get to writing it? What are you guys hoping for?  

Woody: Haha yes! Before we start to chastise or educate anyone, I am one of the worst (as is Dan) for spending way too much time on our phones since they are addictive – that’s what they are designed to do, to keep you on there and keep you engaged. We’re not trying to tell anyone off! But we just want to sensitize people to this pile-on nature of social media – If one person gets jumped on then it’s them against the world, completely torn apart for quite often almost nothing, which is quite terrifying. I have two small children, and I kind of despair already when I drop them off at school and see all the kids on their phones the whole time, just not interacting with each other. And I’m just thinking, ‘God, what does the future hold?!’  

I’ll tell you what, I do wonder how the world is going to look like in 10 to 15 years’ time because now it seems that a lot of the cool kids have calmed down whereas when I was growing up, all the cool kids were constantly off their heads on drinks and drugs. Every generation is different. So perhaps in a couple years’ time the next generation will have abandoned the social media craze and hopped on to something else.  

Leora: Totally. I definitely think that trends are always evolving, and we can already observe that young people are way more eco-conscious & outspoken which wasn’t so much the case a couple of years ago. Pushing young people in the right direction is already a big step and art is a great tool for that. 

Woody: Yes I think so too! The new ‘working from home’ revolution is great and I hope this continues as it is in my opinion healthier, because people won’t waste countless hours a week commuting to their offices and will reduce their carbon footprint in terms of the environmental impact of cars and public transport. People might then get themselves out of the house to a café or a park to speak to people face-to-face and make better use of their time.  

Leora: The new changes implemented since the beginning of this pandemic haven’t all been negative. But I guess it’s subjective to everyone?  

Woody: Obviously, this situation isn’t perfect because on the flip side, if you’re new to an industry, you generally benefit so much more from being mentored by someone and working alongside them to understand what’s what. Which can be quite tricky over Zoom! 

Leora: Speaking of which, now that you’ve had time away from the stage and more time in the studio, does it feel weird not to be performing live? Could you see your band becoming a stream-only performer now?  

Woody: Oh god, I f***ing hope not! I love playing live. This is the longest I have gone without doing a gig, probably since I was 15 or 16.  

Leora: I can see how some artists truly love performing, have you always been very comfortable on stage or do you experience stage fright?  

Woody: Early days, I definitely got quite nervous, and if we do big gigs I still get the butterfly feeling. However, I will just say to anyone, especially when they are starting out (obviously this can’t be done at the minute) but in ordinary times, just go and play as many gigs with as many people as possible because it’s basically like muscle memory. The more you do it, the stronger you get. For instance, I have played ‘Pompeii’ so many times that it’s like muscle memory, and I’m not thinking about the technicalities, rather, I can entirely focus on my performance and the way that I transmit the song to the crowd. The art of performing is not a God-given talent, everyone gets nervous – but people do it for the adrenaline, the fear and the rush that you get after a performance, and then you want to do it again! 

Leora: One burning question that I’ve always wanted to ask musicians. Once you have put a song out there, and played it on tour a couple hundred times, how do you avoid getting sick of playing your song repeatedly?  

Woody: I think you’ve got to be incredibly f***ing jaded to not enjoy it still. Once you release a song, and people like it, it’s not entirely your song anymore because you have ended up sound tracking a part of someone’s life (as in a wedding, a breakup, a holiday etc.). Especially when they are singing the lyrics back at you, there’s no feeling like it! That never gets boring and it’s a privilege.  

Leora: Finally, what would you say to students who want to better their song writing skills and come up with lyrics that truly matter to them? 

Woody: Dan has the best tip for that; he says that you can always write a better song. So just keep going, you can always better it and improve your stuff. You might want to write a verse in 3 different verse melodies for one song (as in option A – B – C), and then proceed to eliminate these down to your favourite one. You might want to keep option A for the first eight bars and then switch to option C for the last four bars to mix it up and keep it interesting.  

In terms of set structure in pop music, there should always be some element of interest throughout the song. I’m not a fan of adding an instrument just for filler or because it’s fun to play if it doesn’t have a real purpose.  

I’d also say to any musicians to practice what you are bad at, because people are tempted to just focus on what they are good at in order to feel good when it should be the order way round.  

Latest from Lifestyle