We caught up with Bastille‘s very own Dan Smith ahead of his performance at The Great Escape Festival 2012…
We chat about his highlights since playing TGE last year, his recently released mix tape, future plans for Bastille and also how he feels about performing live. Things are looking up for the indie-pop frontman…
Dan Smith: All good thanks.
BE: We first saw Bastille at The Great Escape 2011, a year ago! What have been your favourite highlights since then?
DS: Selling out gigs at the moment which is happening not all the time but sometimes is amazing. We’ve got our biggest headline show in June at Scala in London and it’s sold out which is mental, I can’t believe that many people are going to come and see us.
We’ve also just done a tour and we had a sold out gig in Bath of all places. I got to crowd surf which was not intentional! I just walked into the crowd and got lifted up!
Oh but probably the best highlight was that we had a day at Abbey Road recording the strings for our album, which was amazing.
Mark Wood: I guess it’s like a rite of passage for most musicians.
DS: From just being there, I mean, we would never have been able to afford to record there but because of the label that we signed to, they own Abbey Road so they were like “have a day”. We’ve done the album quite modestly, we haven’t really changed the process of how we wrote or recorded it, so that was the one nice thing we got to do for the album, it was really amazing. It felt so cheesy but we were all there like “WOW, we’re in Abbey Road!” Strings always sound incredible.
BE: Was it a whole large group of string players?
DS: There was about six or seven and we layered them up, it sounds huge. It was a really fun day.
BE: So that’s going to be on the album?
DS: Yeah, we did three songs for the album and then we did an arrangement for the song Flaws; so they were playing it and we were standing opposite trying to conduct it and singing along, it was a lot of fun.
BE: Bastille has been getting increasingly more media coverage as of late, has it just been a matter of patience?
DS: I guess so, but until now we were never really pushing things that hard. The thing with radio and media is if you pick up on it then that’s wicked, if you don’t, you don’t. It’s obviously nice to be branching out a little bit more now. It’s a weird thing that a lot of people that like our music often seem a bit baffled and either expect us to be more well known than we are or are really surprised that we are not that well known. These things take time; we did our first gig this time last year so I think for where we are right now, for me it feels like it’s happened and progressed quite nicely. Having people know our songs I still find totally mental.
Saying this I’m sure our gig tonight will be totally empty (erm… no it hit capacity!), we played at Live at Leeds last weekend, we played at 3pm at the Leeds Met Union and it was like 1,100 capacity. We literally got there, sound checked and we thought this is going to be so empty which was depressing; but we came out on stage and it was weirdly busy & then the stage manager came up to us afterwards and said he had some news for us… “it hit capacity whilst you were playing.” I really just feel like who are these people who come to see us?!
Basically that was a really roundabout way of saying it’s nice that for the first time it feels like some people have heard of us; and to go on tour to some cities that we have never been to before and have complete strangers come and sing our songs back at us is mental.
MW: We saw you released a free mix tape called ‘Other People’s Heartache’ recently, where did the inspiration come from?
DS: The last thing we put out was our EP at the end of last year and I was just getting a bit anxious making the album because the earliest it will be out will be September, so I was just feeling anxious at not having released anything. We had done a cover of City High last year and people seemed to like it plus it was a lot of fun to make. We wanted to maybe push things production wise a little bit more into the arena of things that I like to listen to. Me and Mark, the producer I have started working with, have started exploring sounds that maybe wouldn’t sit on a Bastille song, but, in an ideal world maybe that’s how I would want them to sound. I have also been listening to a lot of the Weekends and Frank Ocean who have famously put their music out for free and made it as accessible as possible. I was chatting to Mark, the guy I work with, and I said I just really want to do something, the idea of doing just an album of covers seemed good. I think the first one I thought of was ‘Haddaway – What is Love’ It’s just such an absurd thing, such an absurd prospect but I thought we could do it. It was a nice way to work with friends of ours as well – a lot of the songs we recorded with people we know. Also I’m really obsessed with films and it was a nice way to bring that in as well. I’ve always thought it was quite cool when albums kind of flow, and I don’t imagine our actual album doing that, it’ll be quite clunky. It was nice to basically try out all the things that we’d love to do but won’t be able to do or things that might be quite embarrassing on an album, to instead put on a mix tape. I think a lot of it was driven by me feeling a bit guilty about not having put anything new out and I knew as well that ‘Overjoyed’ being our first single, was released last year, I just felt really guilty about that. Obviously, we don’t have that many fans but it’s a bit boring always playing out the same things so I really wanted to do something else. That’s why as well, we released ‘Sleep Song’ as a B Side for Overjoyed.
MW: What’s the recording process like for Bastille? Is it just you alone in the studio?
DS: It’s mainly just me, I’m a bit of a control freak and I’ve always written by myself, I don’t like writing with other people. I’ve always written and produced things up to a point just on my laptop, and then I take stuff to my friend Mark who’s my producer; he’ll help me make the production better, we build things from there. The guys have come in and done bits and bobs but primarily it’s just me. The reason I record as I do is because I like the freedom it affords; I think as a band everyone feels that they have to be on every track. Even if it’s a bit weird and I’m being a bit controlling, there’s something nice about having the freedom of just being at a computer and being able to bring in real sounds, and basically being able to do literally whatever you want. So that’s why I layer up my vocals a lot and we effect them, push them up and down, change their pitch – it’s nice; I think it drives us to be a little bit more creative than if we were like “right every song has to have piano, drums, bass etc.”
BE: What have you got planned for Bastille during the summer months?
DS: Yeah we’ve got the Scala gig which we are really excited about, and then a whole bunch of festivals, some have been announced. We’re playing in Paris next week, supporting a band called Keane – which will be ‘interesting’!! We are going to Dublin this weekend. We are playing a few festivals in Scotland, we’re playing RockNess. We’re playing a whole host of smaller festivals which should be a lot of fun. We’re releasing a new single in July called ‘Bad Blood’ which I’m quite excited about; at least it’s something new! We’ll be making the video for that as well and so hopefully we’ll just be really busy! Busy is good!
BE: What can we expect from your gig tonight?
DS: A bunch of the songs that are online already, some new stuff off the album, a couple of songs off the mix tape as well, just a big mix of stuff. Hopefully it will be quite an energetic show!
MW: Are there any other bands you’d like to see while you’re at The Great Escape?
DS: I don’t really know who’s playing (Dan looks fairly guilty at this point). I’d love to hang around but we’re going to Dublin tonight to play a gig tomorrow. We’ll have three hours sleep in Birmingham and then we’re flying at 05:30am tomorrow morning. So yeah it’s really sad, we’ve got this afternoon I guess. My friend is in a band called The Night and they’re really good so I’m going to go and see them. The Night are basically three guys and three girls and they do perfect harmonies, really beautiful.
BE: How did your TV interview with Channel 4 go earlier?
DS: I don’t feel particularly natural when there’s a camera. I guess this is alright now as we are sitting on the floor and the camera is only small, but sitting in a studio with really bright lights, 15 people and 2 big cameras… it’s just so not natural!
MW: How would you feel playing live on TV?
DS: I think we are doing one week, it’s really scary. We’re doing The Album Chart Show thing and it’s terrifying, you’re just so exposed on TV. But I guess it’s a good thing if we are being offered that kind of thing.
I am always terrified in interviews, I always feel really scared, but the more we talk the more relaxed I get I think. It used to be to the point where I couldn’t think of anything else. Before Bastille I used to perform, but I’d always sit behind a piano so it took a lot for me to get up and stand in front with a mic, I felt like such an arsehole. I guess it’s getting easier and also as luckily more and more people get to know our songs it makes it a lot easier; seeing a bunch of friendly faces that are singing along does help. For us, it was a little bit easier as we had some songs online that people had liked for a little while, so before we did any of the gigs there were already three songs that some people knew, so people would come to the gigs and at least know three of the songs. I think it’s the whole thing of going and playing for half an hour and playing music that people have never even heard of; expecting anyone to properly engage with that is a lot to ask.
BE: Right well thanks Dan for speaking to us, and enjoy your gig tonight!
DS: Thank You!