'Storm the Bastille', An Interview with Dan Smith from Bastille
You may not have heard of the London-based band Bastille yet, but I’m pretty sure you will soon. Their music is both catchy and poetic. Their performances are high energy. They’ve played festivals in the UK and made their US television debut on Conan. The quartet – consisting of lead singer Dan Smith, bassist Will Farquarson, drummer Chris “Woody” Wood and keyboardist Kyle Simmons – have opened for Muse and are now about to embark on their own US headlining tour with sold out shows, along with the US release of their Bad Blood album on September 3rd on Virgin Records.
Their debut album was released in the UK and was number one on the charts, with songs such as the title track, “The Things We Lost in the Fire”, “Pompeii” and “Flaws”. To describe their style of music is difficult, as Bastille does not fit into a particular category. They’re pop rock,without the fluff, though one could also say there are elements of both indie rock and hard rock, but frontman and songwriter Dan Smith’s voice is something different altogether.
Recently I had a chance to talk with Dan (and try not to fangirl and embarrass myself) over the phone from London. Not only did I meet a completely down-to-Earth and humble guy, I got to talk to him about hanging with his inspiration David Lynch, the clever name of their fan base (Stormers), and how uncomfortable he is about being considered a sex symbol.
How did Bastille come together as a band?
“I’d been playing gigs under my own name initally, well, by myself, and then with Will who plays bass and Woody who plays drums and I always felt quite awkward about playing under my own name. Especially when other people are involved and at the end of gigs I’d be like “we’ve been Dan Smith” and it always felt quite strange to me. And I felt like an idiot, really. Then I got Kyle involved, he plays keyboard. And we went away for a few months and just rehearsed and that’s how it all came together.”
Your fans call themselves Stormers, as in ‘Storm the Bastille’, which I think is a really clever name for a fan base. What do your fans mean to you?
“I’ve actually never been asked that. It’s hugely important to us. I think we feel kind of constantly surprised and incredibly fortunate to have a fan base at all. Right from the start, we’ve always had people come to our gigs or stumble upon our songs online and I just feel very fortunate for that to have happened. I think most of our fan base has come from word of mouth. Which is really nice cause I feel like a lot of people that engage with our music are quite genuine. We just feel really lucky. Cause it’s nice to see people you’ve never met before and maybe you never will meet, kind of engaging with stuff you just did for fun. I do think the name thing is genius.”
I found out your LA show here on Sept. 18th is sold out, then I found out the entire US Tour is sold out! Are you really excited to play the US?
“Again, we feel so baffled and incredibly lucky to be able to play shows that are sold out before you even leave to go to it. It’s such a reassuring thing. When we started out as a band, we used to borrow our friends’ mums’ car to drive around the country and tour. I remember when we’d first get to the venue and you kind of got the promoter and look and see if he sold any tickets from the look in his eyes. Then 3 or 4 tours we got to do in the UK were completely sold out so we felt lucky to be able to do that. You kind of enjoy knowing every night you get to play to a room full of people who have gone out of their way to buy a ticket and it’s an incredible feeling. So we’re so excited and can’t believe the US. Tour has sold out.”
How do you feel about being considered a sex symbol? There are a lot of girls online talking about how cute and attractive all four of you are. How does that make you feel?
“Um, I don’t know. Awkward, primarily. (laughs) I can only speak for myself, but I definitely don’t see myself as that, I guess it’s quite funny to hear. I always feel like stepping back from what you just said in terms of when we meet people who like our music getting nervous or intimidated. I always feel like saying to them ‘I’m really boring and normal. If only you knew me you’d be so disappointed’.”
I have to ask you about the David Lynch influence. Because of you I started watching Twin Peaks on Netflix. How much has David Lynch influenced you, so much that you even named a song after the character Laura Palmer from the show?
“Mulholland Drive was the first of his films that I saw when I was younger and it captured my imagination. I like how weird his films are. His off-beat humor, the darkness there and his kind of honesty as well. He creates bizarre characters in this strange world. He’s my favorite film director and as a person he’s very interesting. He makes films, music and art and I think he’s kind of an inspirational alternative figure. I guess I wanted to try and re-create that sort of tone, that sort of feeling in some of the songs and the videos as well. I was lucky enough to do a remix of one of the songs off his new album and we got really nice feedback from him. He liked it. When we were in L.A., we ended up going to his studio and hanging out with him for an hour which was one of the weirdest and best hours of my life. He was a really nice, funny guy. It was wicked. I kind of felt more L.A., being this awkward guy from London who goes to this house in the Hollywood Hills and in this screening room and chat up my favorite director. It was a pretty surreal moment.”
On your album, my favorite song is “Laura Palmer” – it’s epic. What is your favorite song on your album, if you have one?
“I guess when we were making it, it was changing over time. I think ‘Bad Blood’ for me was a song I really liked because it sort of came together really quickly and I really had a sense in my mind of what I wanted it to be about and what I wanted it to be like. I played it to the guys and they really liked it. And it’s one of our favorite songs to play live. It’s really physical because each one of us put in so much effort.”
Are your videos related in any way? The videos are very cinematic, like mini-movies. You seem to like to die or be kidnapped in them, like in Laura Palmer, Flaws and Bad Blood. Is there a correlation?
“(laughs) I think I wanted each one to be quite mysterious. I guess it comes from Mulholland Drive. I remember when I first saw it I left the cinema perplexed and all I wanted to do was talk to people about it. Like how excited I felt when I was younger and wanting to go online or speak to friends and be like “what the hell was that about” but on a much more small, less complex level, the Bad Blood video. I wanted it be a strange narrative. I guess in the beginning I didn’t want to be in the video and slightly had my arm twisted by our label. I guess most people watching it are going “That was weird, I don’t understand it, I don’t care, whatever” but if 10% of people who watched it and wondered what happened or pay attention, that’s great for me. I guess Bad Blood and Flaws kind of fit together because in Bad Blood I get trapped in the water and missing at sea and then in Flaws I get washed up and I guess my ghost sort of gets up and wonders off. I feel like ‘The Things We Lost in the Fire’ video was my favorite because it had a Lynch-ian aesthetic. In my mind, I succeeded in that (with that video).”