Sunday 17 March 2013

Bastille // The Interview. Dan Smith & Kyle Simmons

“Even being number two, or three or four or five is totally unbelievable. We literally can’t believe it, it’s the weirdest thing in the world.” Dan Smith, Bastille

It’s early evening on Sunday 10th March and Bastille’s debut album “Bad Blood”, after fending off the likes of Emeli Sande, has just been announced as scoring the prestigious number one spot in the Official Top 40 Chart. The band’s recent success may have come as a surprise to some, however a huge underground following has made Bastille the UK’s worst kept secret; word of mouth has seen their fan base grow and grow even before the album release, and quite rightly so. 
Est.1987 caught up with Dan and Kyle at their sold out Leeds show…

Celebrating their number 1 success with a sold out show in Leeds - Bastille

Bastille first began life as a solo project by Dan Smith [who was born on the French Bastille Day, hence the name] but the Bastille we see today is a full four-piece live band with the addition of members, Kyle, Will and Woody. Constantly referring to their recent exploits, (namely a number two single, “Pompeii”, and number one album), as “weird” both Dan and Kyle seem both overwhelmed and humbled by the entire experience.

They regale us of how they celebrated their number two single; a lavish party, popping a champagne bottle or two you may think. But no, they ended up celebrating by being the only diners at a Pizza Hut in a retail park in Preston (after previously been ignored for an hour at another restaurant they attempted to go to, may we add). And it is stories such as this that make Bastille so endearing; the music speaks for itself, they don’t need to ostentatiously flaunt their work or success. And, when asked how they will top their Pizza Hut celebration; “Pizza Express?” laughs Dan before Kyle jokingly reigns him in; Ooo, careful Dan; don’t want to go too mental.” 

Bastille's front-man and former Leeds Uni student, Dan Smith

A sell out tour, a number one album; Bastille may have come out of left-field for a few people this week. However, the band has been working hard to get to this point over the past few years and their loyal and rapidly growing fanbase has been there along every step. This isn’t Bastille’s first sold out tour and certainly won’t be their last. We laugh how things have gone up a notch or two since the last time we caught up with Dan, back in April 2012; we were sitting in the car park of “The Harley” in Sheffield, a tiny venue in comparison to tonight’s, (nonetheless another sold out show). Comparing that evening to the current sell out tour Dan tells us;

“Yeah, I mean since Sheffield it seems like it’s been a steady progression. It’s just such a nice feeling going on tour knowing that selling tickets isn’t a worry. Back then, it was so stressful getting to a city and looking at the promoter trying to suss from how smiley they were depending on the amount of tickets sold. So it’s really nice now, and nice that people know more of our songs.”

Dan Smith captivating the sold out crowd at Stylus, Leeds Uni
And more than just sell out a UK tour, Bastille did so long before the album and even “Pompeii” were released. “Genuinely, I think that everyone who has come to see us [on this tour] is a slightly older fan, and they’ve been around a bit longer” admits Dan. They maybe conquering the charts, but Dan remains as thankful as ever to be in the position he and the band are in. He continues; “It’s so nice for us, especially with all the weird stuff going on at the moment, just to be able to play a gig every night to people that like the songs.” But he admits “It’ll be interesting to see if it changes.”

Talking about himself doesn’t come naturally, Dan openly admits. Shying away from the limelight Dan almost appears as an “anti-frontman; however, audiences and fans alike will vehemently disagree. With the addition of three more members, Bastille is a dynamic and unstoppable force. And Dan, the brainchild behind the four-piece, is the upmost musical perfectionist, working persistently to hone Bastille’s unique sound over the course of their musical career. 

Speaking to Dan a year ago he revealed that the album was about 80-90% finished. However, today he is quite open in admitting the band “were naive in thinking how quick and easy it would be to put out an album.” He confesses that taking the extra time plus the vast amount of touring over the past year helped the album become what we hear today. And the unassuming front-man also admits that he was extremely nervous of the critique before its release. Telling Est.1987; “I think I was worried about reviews just because I read all that stuff, and the thought of being knocked down by the people that I like to read made me feel really sick. But I found that I actually don’t care as much as I thought I would.” And quite right too, number one success aside, the debut album has reached much critical acclaim and praise from both fans and musical professionals alike. “Literally everything we’ve ever done is now out, whether it be on the album or EPs or mix-tapes” Dan tells us and reveals that it’s nice that the album finally out for fans to enjoy.

Bastille on stage in Leeds before heading out to Texas to play the renowned SXSW Festival

A self-confessed control-freak, Dan, (not content with merely perfecting Bastille’s musical output) sees beyond the music and is aware of the importance of the band’s aesthetics and making everything they do as wholly engaging and interesting as possible. “I don’t think that it’s anywhere near as important as the music, but it’s nice” he says, “especially because of the cinematic elements and influence. It’s nice to create our own little world”.

Bastille’s “world”, so to speak, has now been opened up to bigger audiences than ever as their Facebook and Twitter followers soar and their YouTube videos hit multiple millions. And of course, the sell out tour makes the Bastille experience more immediate and accessible than ever before. Dan, embracing his role as front-man, excels in the live arena. We remember and laugh about last year at The Harley when he went for a wander around the stage and ended up getting stranded, stuck on a speaker. So, now with much larger stages to play around on we ask if Dan has any new tricks to show the crowd? And, Kyle is quick to answer for him; “Dan is like a kid that needs reigns on to pull him back. In Preston there was a massive truss structure going up and he was up on the monitor and then the speaker and then up on that truss, the highest I’ve seen him be so far.”

Kyle Simmons on stage in Leeds

And having a wander around the venue seems a regular affair after Dan also ventured out into the heart of the crowd the previous night in Birmingham. However, getting out amongst the fans doesn’t come without its hazards, as Dan explains;

“I was about half way back to the stage and the song ended, the gig finished and I was like “oh s**t” [laughing]. The whole crowd just came into the middle [where I was] and I was like, I have no idea how I’m going to get out of here alive. And then this awesome security guy just came and got me, I felt like a child. He put his arm around my back and just dragged me through the crowd. I think venue dependent it’s always nice to have a bit of a wander.”

And when they aren’t dazzling fans night after night on the UK tour, the ambitious quartet are keeping even busier in other ways. Not resting on their laurels they are already looking forward to starting work on the follow up to “Bad Blood”, with Dan already working on some of the new songs. Currently out playing shows (and “eating a lot”) in Texas at SXSW Festival, before coming back to finish the UK leg of the tour and hitting Europe, 2013 is set to be a very busy year indeed. Dan laughs “It so won’t pan out this way, but in my mind over the summer we’ll be playing festivals at the weekends and have weekdays off to write, but I don’t believe it for a minute.” Admitting that up until this point everything was written in a time where they were “getting on with normal life”, they are interested to see if the recent developments change anything. Kyle agrees; “It’ll be interesting because like you say, you’re in such a different headspace now Dan, the new songs, not that it would change dramatically, but I imagine they will have some effect.”

"Bad Blood" the number 1 album
On top of working on the next album, Dan is also involved in a side project with good friend Ralph Pelleymounter from 
"To Kill A King" and wants to bring both bands together to work on the “Annie Oakley Hanging” album this summer.  

And, it doesn’t stop there; the ever creative Dan also has plans to work with some of his filmmaker friends to make a short film/extended video. Admittedly, the band may not get very much sleep this year, but Dan realises that it is important to become involved in things outside of Bastille;

Talking about ourselves, that potentially has the capacity to drive someone totally insane and also I’d hate to be self involved. It’s not something that any of us naturally are, so it would be nice to get our heads somewhere else.”

Bastille live in Leeds

The anti-heroes of the British music industry may very well feel awkward talking about themselves, but their music is doing a pretty good job so far of doing a lot of the talking. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 France symbolised the uprising of modern French society. It would be a hyperbole to say that Bastille (the band) is a parallel to that exact movement. However, their unique, genre defying sound truly has set the musical world alight and similarly, the uprising of this sound has very much set the bar high in modern music. Bastille work hard, are authentic and experimental in their approach and possess that creative control; Here’s to a very  busy and successful year boys! 

To read the live review from the Leeds Uni show & see even more photo's click HERE