Interview: B A S T ! O N

Interview: Bastion

B A S T ! O N is an emerging South East London-based project lead by singer, songwriter and musician Byron Biroli.

Alongside Biroli (Vocals, Guitar) the group consist of Ricky Dabire (Bass), Priscilla Andershon (Vocals), Ben Burrell (Keyboards), John Atterbury (Guitar) and George Bird (Drums).

I recently chatted with Biroli via an email exchange where we discussed the band’s unique sound, their upcoming EP, two-timing girls and much more.

According to Biroli, they mix “jazz sensibility with indie/soul immediacy and a tropical pallet, all wrapped in the occasional synth.” Drawing inspiration from very diverse artists and genres. With influences ranging from Little Dragon, Talking Heads, Cinematic Orchestra, Mechelle Ndegeocello among others.

The band is gearing up for the release of their second EP titled “Lunar Blue” and we have the pleasure of unveiling the video for the title track.

Read on below and take a listen to the music – they’re crafting quite a sound.

Q. For those that are new to the band. Tell us about how B A S T ! O N came together?

We met in South East London. I was looking for like-minded musicians who wanted to play with tropical flavas.

I heard about this bass player from Burkino Faso called Ricky. He apparently liked rock but was into roots. I knew before I met him I wanted to work with him. We happen to have been sleeping with the same girl at the same time but thank God music was more important. Ricky was doing music at Goldsmiths with John, a guitarist from South African doing neo-soul who joined the band later.

I met Priscilla under a tree. She had an ethereal quality I loved. She said she had never sung in a band before but felt like she was born to sing. We had a chat about our shared heritage, and I asked her to join the band.

Keyboard and synth were always a fundamental part of the vision, and I was introduced to Ben by Kareem Dayes from United Vibrations. Ben had just finished a jazz degree at Trinity. That summer he had just come off a tour with Earnest Ranglin. He didn’t have a keyboard, didn’t want to play roots (I was writing a lot of reggae at the time) but we liked his playing, and he kept turning up to rehearsals. He eventually introduced us to our drummer and producer, George.

Ricky and I became best friends very quickly. We were basically musical mercenaries who just wanted great players who could be persuaded to make cerebral, tropicana with a hint electronica. 7 years on, we still make music together, we’re still mercenaries, and we’re still waiting to create that batch of songs that makes a mark. We just happen to have life long friendships with some of the most talented musicians in London.

Q.What challenges do you face coming up in the music industry?

To be original. To work on every aspect of the music simultaneously, promotion, getting gigs, new photos/videos, social media, new material!

Q. Best piece of advice (musically) you’ve ever been given?

A song is a lifetime in 3 minutes.

Q. What can you tell us about your approach to songwriting and lyrics? How do they come together?

I’m a pretty typical songwriter, I write about what I feel and try to stick to what I know. The project started with me writing everything, including words for Priscilla. But there was something special that happened when we jammed. I wanted to showcase this vibe and the best way od doing that was to open up the song creation process. A move that had its pros and cons. My songwriting, melodic and lyrical approach have undoubtedly been influenced by the collaborative approach to song creation in Bastion. It can be a bit laborious with so many contributors, but the final result is a sound that is truly bigger than the sum of its parts.

I grew up making music in an a typical, suburban garage band environment. I had always been in bands where, if you had an idea, we jammed it out. I just happened to have a bunch of tunes that got the ball rolling with Bastion.

Apart from me, Ben, our keyboardist is always playing interesting ideas. Between us, we’ve written pretty much all the music. Since John joined the project, we have another musician who naturally comes with ideas.

In terms of lyrics and melody I wanted to leave space for Priscilla to vibe on, so I would often not finish songs and just come with riffs to rehearsals. Like so many great songwriters, when she heard something she liked, it wasn’t long before a tune came. ‘Realign’ from our debut EP came together like that.

We spend a lot of time talking about music and bitching about artists we don’t like. We share similar tastes, even when we pretended we don’t, and it was just a matter of time before a collection of tunes came out that represented our influences and style. Our sound was honed and became clearer with input from everyone.

On this EP. ‘Piece of Mind’ was a jam, Lunar Blue was essentially written by Ben and Priscilla and My Name is Red by Ben and myself. But without the brutal honesty of George, South African riffs from John and the rock steady emotional and musical input from Ricky, we wouldn’t have this sound.

Bastion - Lunar Blue

Q. You have a unique sound. What can you tell us about your influences and do you have any artists who have influenced you and with whom you want to work with?

The bands we talk about most are Haitus Kayote, Little Dragon, Talking Heads, Cinematic Orchestra, Bonobo and Mechelle Ndegeocello although I could get in trouble for mentioning Talking Heads.

There are so many artists who influence us. We’re just trying to represent ourselves. I suppose Bastion is a conversation between the experimental and the immediate. We wanna make new music that makes you think, dance, laugh and cry.

Q. Describe your sound?

We mix a jazz sensibility with indie/soul immediacy and a tropical pallet, all wrapped in the occasional synth.

Q. It would be great if you could both give us a little insight into the story behind Lunar Blue?

A while back, I asked Priscilla what she wanted to say in songs. Like the floating melodies, abstract illustrations and paintings she makes, she told me she wanted to create songs that didn’t have an obvious structure. She liked using natural phenomena as metaphors. She played me this Elbow song where the conjugation of words was not ‘correct’ but as a listener you could take so much meaning from their indirectness. Lunar Blue is an expression of this philosophy manifest.

Q. Do you plan to release an album anytime soon?

Yup. But there’s a caveat to that. Like any good mercenaries the members of this project are in demand! Ricky got asked to join a big band called Blue Beaters from Italy. Ben is Assistant Musical Director for an Olivier award-winning West End show called Memphis, Priscilla is a model and actress, John just finished writing a TV score…I could go on…suffice it to say, I’m recording a whole bunch of songs with whoever is around at the time. George is producing and it should be ready next year.

Q. Outside of music, what are your interests?
Errr…I occasionally work as an arts fundraiser and Priscilla travels the globe looking for that new thing.

Q. Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I went to the same boarding school as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Keats and Yates in Ireland…and I also played rugby for Uganda.

Q. Finally what’s next for B A S T ! O N ?

Let’s see. More music is coming for sure. John, George Ben and myself are recording a new album that will be done soonish…under what project name is yet to be decided. The fun and the pain continues 😉

B A S T ! O N’s Lunar Blue EP is out October 1st, pre-order here

CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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