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Bastille – interview

In just over a year, Bastille have advanced from a collection of several catchy tracks two acclaimed mix-tapes and a number one charting album. Humble frontman Dan Smith is more taken aback than anybody else, emerging from his tour bus with toothbrush in mouth and a slightly limper quiff than usual. Scattered pockets of loyal fans have quickly grown into sold out tour venues and impending international debuts. Their success is completely justified to their fans; they’re a band who have managed to find a place amongst masses without ever sacrificing their integrity.

Bastille - DSPhoto via bastillebastille.com

Waiting with drummer Woody, who was first to rise, any potential for being starstruck was mellowed by a chat about Wayne’s World, and the realisation that the band are twice as grounded than anyone I know. When Dan was ready to see me he invited me into a dressing room in a comical doctor-patient gag, politely apologising for their bus driver’s slightly less harmonious rendition of Flaws in a shower in the next room.

Addressing how it felt to be in the charts, he explained how it was never anything that they ever sought after or expected. He noted the defining moment in the transition from a small band which played solely small gigs to where they are now as Reading Festival last year: “We’d expected to come out to a crowd of ten waiting to pelt piss-filled bottles at the stage but instead we performed to a crazy audience of over three-thousand who all knew the words. It was a real eye opener.”

Reminiscing about the roots of my fandom – on hearing their epic cover of City High’s What Would You Do – Dan talked about the process of constructing the band’s cover tracks and mix-tapes as “lots of happy accidents.” He adds: “We tried not to listen to the originals too much so a lot of our covers aren’t that faithful. We treat them like they’re our own songs, trying out things that were influenced by things we were listening to at the time. It was a fun opportunity to collaborate. Making the album wasn’t the most inclusive process. It was quite insulated”. So doing the mix-tapes was a nice opportunity to do things we probably wouldn’t do on our albums. Yet.”

A tap in the corner of the room spontaneously turned on right then and we both jumped a bit and it was nice. Speaking of his collaborations he touched on the astounding voice behind No Angels, Ella Eyre, who’s touring with Rudimental: “It was really fun to work with new people with such amazing voices, it helped to stretch the album to different ends of the genre spectrum which is something we all really enjoy. I’d quite like to try out some hip-hop stuff in a non-cheesy way.”

On the subject of their genre-hopping we talked about the band’s musical influences. “Bands like Simon and Garfunkel and The Fugees is where his love for harmonies came from. Otherwise, Indie bands like Yeasayer, bands that try to do something a bit differently. I love Anthony and the Johnsons and the kind of music that doesn’t sound like anyone else. I massively look up to people like David Albarn, Jack White and Kanye West who have lots of projects on the go and don’t feel the need to restrict themselves to one genre or band. It’s nice to be doing as much different stuff as possible, and I guess the one thing we looked for when we released the album is that it didn’t sound too much like one thing. We tried different kinds of production, some is electronic and some quite stripped back, and some of it is really dense and epic. It’s an album which I think, if you heard it without the vocals you’d be quite surprised by the differences throughout.”

He adds: “I’ve started recording some new songs. The two things I really want to do is reflect the mix tape a bit more, trying to write in order so that it will flow but at the same time, I don’t want to be self indulgent. I’m really interested to see if we can find a way to have the feel and flow of the mix-tapes. The other thing is I’d like to push it more in either direction. I’d like there to be stuff that feels a lot more live and indie, and other stuff that flows a lot further into electronic areas.”

In respect to their diverging musical directions, the band have seen venues from KOKO to the underside of obscure Norwich bridges. “There’s been a lot of variety in terms of sizes. I don’t think I really have a preference. To be honest having people there who know the lyrics, who have come out specifically for us is amazing, if it’s two-thousand people or thirty. To have people there who are engaged with the songs is mental and so nice. I really like the level we’re playing at the moment because I can still run into the crowd. I don’t really like the potential level of detachment there can be on a big stage. We supported Two Door Cinema Club last year and it was fun but you couldn’t really see anyone’s face and I like being able to see the crowd. You can play big venues where that’s possible but I don’t see us ever playing somewhere like Brixton Academy.

On conquering the British venue spectrum, Dan proceeded to excitedly tell me about the band’s impending trip to Texas, where they’ll be playing Southwest Southwest and filming a new video for their next single. He was fairly adamant he wouldn’t be running as much in this one. “We’re going to Europe in April. It’ll only be small because we’re new there and starting from scratch, we really don’t expect anywhere else to know about us and we’ll be playing small gigs of two to three-hundred.” He made a note of how he still found it really bizarre when he receives tweets from people in other continents, his modesty is astounding.

When asked what the craziest thing he’d heard from a fan was he responded: “It’s all very Twitter based. I think I’ve learned to not take any of it too seriously. A lot of it is a bit full on; I’ve had a fair amount of “I want to have your babies” and the like.” With this I laughed and brushed aside the fact that a good dozen of those were me. “It’s coming from a nice place. Someone yesterday gave me a packet of “fruit bastilles” and it was amazing, (he showed me a picture, it was). Generally we’re quite lucky, we hang around after our gigs and chat to people and everyone seems very down to earth. Saying that, In Manchester we had four people faint and they had to be lifted to the front of the crowd. People come to see us for a good time and we sometimes get mosh pits and it can get a bit mental. Before, when I went to gigs, I don’t remember jumping up and down. I’m quite lazy, I kind of just stand there singing along and nodding my head. For someone who’s not particularly comfortable on stage it makes it much easier not being the only dickhead in the room, pogoing around.”

Following the band’s first EP I’ve quite brazenly asserted that Bastille will one day dominate the British music scene, to extents of those as big as Coldplay. Not necessarily willingly, but following their consistent one-upmanship of their prior releases I couldn’t really conceive that they wouldn’t make it big. Dan approached this subject with caution. “I am not even remotely ambitious and I don’t know how well that sits being signed to a major label. I can’t wait to get back to just hanging out in the studio with my friends, that’s what I like most about it all. What I really like at the moment is that it feels like that’s paying off and people like the album and are buying it, which is completely incomprehensible.”

Imaginably many of their fans might prefer that Bastille steer clear of the arena-tour status which their sound lends so much possibility to. Dan mentions: “I can’t imagine anything that big but I also couldn’t imagine being number one in the charts so who knows. I don’t want to get too carried away with bigger venues but I know we’ll have to.” It’s hard to imagine that the band will compromise the epic sound that they’ve accomplished this year. They’re going on to great things, and it seems clear that they have a distinct direction in mind.

19/03/2013

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