Dan Smith of the British alt rock outfit Bastille can’t help but think like a moviemaker. That’s why the cover photo for “Wild World” — his band’s sophomore album — features two young men perched precariously atop a skyscraper ledge that appears inaccessible.
The surreal vertigo-inducing image demands cinematic exposition, explains the former film student.
“So it’s entirely up to you, as the listener, to write the story of how they got there, and what happens next,” he says. “For me, it’s a nice, simple visual of two friends, just sitting there and surveying their existence in the context of this mad, wide world that we’ve created.”
The vocalist – who brings Bastille to the Bay Area to Day 2 of Live 105’s annual Not So Silent Night Christmas concert – has always aimed high, ever since the band’s 2013 debut “Bad Blood,” which referenced directors like David Lynch and Susanne Bier, and in its breakthrough smash single “Pompeii,” imagined the volcanic destruction of that fabled Italian community.
“I always have a lot of specific reference points in my head, but I can’t expect everybody else to have the same ones,” Smith says.
Yet the 19-track, new-wave-effervescent “Wild World” has a theme related to its stark frontispiece: “It’s about reacting in a quite human way to everything that’s going on, things that you see on the news every day,” Smith says. “But the album offers no answers. It’s just a series of little stories, ways to try to navigate through the confusion.”
The funereal synth processional “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith),” for instance, taps into Truman Capote’s book “In Cold Blood” (and its sinister Robert Blake-anchored film version) and wonders, in this era of infotainment, what is real, and what is trumped up for massive viewership?
Bastille isn’t all despondence. Even Smith’s darkest thoughts, as on the sing-along opening cut “Good Grief” with the lyric “Watching through my fingers … What’s gonna be left of the world?” — are tempered with humorous contrasts. There’s a Kelly LeBrock dialogue sample from the John Hughes flick “Weird Science,” which LeBrock herself personally signed off on.
Smith says, “Kelly said, ‘I love this song! Cool — let’s do it!” She even agreed to appear with the band onstage, if they needed her.
Being a fanboy is what sets him apart from other artists, Smith says: “I don’t believe in snobbery at all – in music or in film. Of course, art and entertainment are there to challenge. But also, to a lot of people, they’re just pure enjoyment. So I’m all about celebrating films or older songs that weren’t seen as classics.”
IF YOU GO
Live 105’s Not So Silent Night
Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 4 p.m. Dec. 9, 6 p.m. Dec. 10
Tickets: $35 to $150
Note: Friday’s lineup includes Blink-182, Empire of the Sun, Jimmy Eat World, Glass Animals, Capital Cities and The Strumbellas; Saturday’s offers Green Day, Bastille, The Head and the Hearts, Phantogram, Catfish and the Bottlemen and K.Flay. Bad BloodBastilleDan SmithPompeiiWild World