Since 2017, when they performed a charity show at London’s Union Chapel, one of the many strings to Bastille’s bow has been their ReOrchestrated live series. In it, they and various orchestras rework songs from across the band’s back catalogue, transforming them from pop bangers into classical beauties.
In a new ReOrchestrated documentary, directed by Tom Middleton and Toby L, the genius of the project is explored and its impact on the band, with new, revealing interviews interspersed with footage from the gigs and Bastille’s ascent so far. As frontman Dan Smith puts it, the film documents “a weird little project that literally started on a laptop in a bedroom that’s somehow gone to playing on a stage with 50 musicians in a weird sci-fi futuristic concert hall in Hamburg”, and shows the highs and lows of that journey.
NME caught up with Dan to find out what making the documentary and the ReOrchestrated series itself has taught Bastille.
Listening to each other’s feelings is important
Even if you’re a diehard Bastille fan, ReOrchestrated will be an eye-opening watch for you. In it, the band share their innermost thoughts on their experiences as a band, from imposter syndrome to a stage where they felt like they were going through the motions.
When shooting the interviews for the documentary, each member was filmed separately – presumably to help them be as open as possible with their comments. As a result, though, the rest of the band didn’t know what each other had said until they watched a screening of the first cut of the film together.
“It was fascinating watching it back and seeing Kyle [Simmons, keys] talk about imposter syndrome and seeing Charlie [Barnes, touring member] talk about how he feels so openly,” Dan says. “It’s not like we sit around and say those things to each other ever. It’s nerve-wracking knowing that all that shit that we’ve said will be out there.”
Opening up on film has given them new insight and understanding of each other’s feelings about band life though. “I don’t think about Kyle’s motives and his insecurities – probably because I’m way too wrapped up in my own white knuckle terror,” admits Dan. “If my instinct is ‘Kyle, dude, you need to be less hard on yourself’ then I can’t imagine what he and everyone else have been thinking about me for the last seven years.”
It gave them confidence to take a different path…
Bastille have never been ones to follow the traditional band blueprint for world domination. They’ve used their albums to create whole worlds, like ‘Wild World’’s recreation of our increasingly dystopian news media culture. In between records, they dropped mixtapes – even before that was a more common thing for bands to do. The ‘ReOrchestrated’ project itself is another shining example of Bastille’s refusal to do what’s expected of them.
In piecing together this documentary and looking back at the ‘ReOrchestrated’ shows, Dan says it’s given them the confidence to keep pursuing a different path – even if they’re being warned not to by their team or are forcing their insecurities into the spotlight. “The whole point of having a career and being able to do this is having different moments to do different things,” he explains.
It’s a realisation that will affect the band’s future too. “[Looking back on the documentary has] made me feel a bit calmer about stuff and, looking forward, we’ve made so much music this year,” Dan says. “It’s allowed me to lean into the different sounds we want to make and not worry about trying to do everything at once, and understand that there could be a point where we go in one direction, but that’s not going to be forever. It’s just made me want to be better and want to keep trying to drive things in different directions for us.”
…but made them realise life would have been easier if they’d played by the rules
There’s a brilliant bit in ReOrchestrated where Bastille’s booking agent Alex Hardee shares his initial feelings on the idea of doing a whole tour of ReOrchestrated shows, his frustration palpable. “It would be just too easy to have loads of hits and hits and hits and make my life easier and everyone else’s, wouldn’t it?” he says.
After making the documentary, Dan admits it would have been easier to go down that route. “I’m sure a lot of people who work with us have been frustrated in the past because they’ve seen, with us, the potential for moments that seem to connect with a lot of people, but they’ve also seen how much more passionate we are about doing a fucking ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ 3D audio play to go along with our album,” he smiles. “I’m sure a lot of people at the label were scratching their heads like, ‘Can’t you just do ‘Pompeii’ number two?’”
There was a reason for the band diving into obscure projects though – the pursuit of challenging themselves and evolving as a group instead of following the obvious path to easy success.
Making the doc during COVID put things into perspective
Watching the live scenes in ReOrchestrated feels like watching footage from another time – one without social distancing, face masks or any worries about a deadly virus. With touring off the cards for the foreseeable future, making a documentary based on a series of gigs during a period of forced separation from that very thing put the last few years of touring into perspective for Bastille.
“What makes the band feel real is being able to travel and play shows in front of people who give enough of a fuck about us to want to leave the house and stand in a sweaty room,” Dan explains. “In the context of having stopped and not seeing anyone and almost not being able to imagine being in a room with that many people anymore, it makes looking back at everything we were lucky enough to do before feel madly humbling. Given the context of the scale of the shows and the places we got to go to, it’s mind-blowing.”
It helped them reflect on their journey
When you’re in a band that’s constantly moving – be that physically on tour or figuratively through projects, charts and markers of success – it can be hard to process everything that’s happening around you. As someone who describes himself as a person who doesn’t tend to look back on past achievements, Dan says the footage of Bastille’s early years that’s contained in the documentary forced him to reflect on the band’s story so far.
“One thing that was overwhelming in watching the film back was how many moments felt huge and, by themselves, would have been massively significant but maybe got lost because there were just so many of them happening all the time,” he notes. “Part of being lucky enough to make stuff is thinking about the next thing all the time.”
Watching ReOrchestrated, though, took him out of the “whirlwind cliché” of being a band in demand and made him look back and appreciate everything they’ve done – even if he does liken it to a “Clockwork Orange-esque eyes-peeled-back [situation], watching how some people perceive the last seven years of your life”.
‘ReOrchestrated’ is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video