2013 has been a fantastic year for Londoners, Bastille. The launch of their album,’Bad Blood’, in March has propelled the foursome from indie darlings to full on pop stars. With that comes a calendar chock-a-block with touring and promotion engagements. However, they’ve recently taken some time out to get involved with The Beefeater Alchemy Project. Vanessa Monaghan caught up with singer Dan Smith to find out what it was all about.
For the past while, Bastille have been involved in the project, which has seen them visit a number of European cities and get to see some cultural and artistic happenings in each. A full length documentary of their escapades, including their trip to Dublin, will be released shortly but already teasers from Barcelona, Naples and Dublin have been released online. During their trip to Dublin, Dan Smith, Chris ‘Woody’ Wood, Kyle Simmons and Will Farquarson met street artist DMC and got their photograph taken, wet plate style, and sampled the cuisine in well know local eateries. But why would an already busy band want to get involved in a project like this? Dan Smith explains.
“We are in the lucky position to be travelling all the time and obviously, it’s generally awesome. But one of the things that is sometimes quite frustrating is visiting loads of places that we’ve always wanted to visit, but literally getting there, playing a gig and having to leave straight away.” As someone who you likes to travel, Smith explains that it’s actually a release from the everyday grind. “This is a nice opportunity to take some time out of heavy touring and spend a few days in different cities around Europe and get out of our gigging bubble; see some cities and meet other artists and producers, chefs – just creative people. We spent some time with them, people who’ve a completely different background to us, just to kind of get out of touring for a little bit and try to get inspired to write some new stuff. It’s been wicked, it’s been really fun, we’re quite lucky.”
Among all the art projects the band have experienced, some of the new culinary aspects the band have tried includes cooking octopus, Woody trying to make cocktails, Tom Cruise style, which Dan refers to as “not a natural skill of his” and keyboardist Kyle claiming to drink coffee for the first time. Really? “Yeah, genuinely Kyle has the taste of a seven-year old girl. He’s obsessed with Disney films and there’s a lot of foods he doesn’t eat and he had never drunk coffee. That was genuinely the first time in his life he drank coffee and he was buzzing the whole day, bouncing off the walls, it was hilarious!”
With a full documentary on the way, Smith explains how the band are involved in the production, saying as Bastille have “started our second album and the idea was to try and put some music together for the film so we can properly contribute to it and either put a song to it or properly soundtrack it.” However, the also want to involve the artists they met on the journey including, “Dermot (McConaghy aka DMC), the graffiti artist we met, we’re really keen for him to do some artwork for the film. We met this producer in Barcelona who’s been working on a remix of one of our songs, so we’re working on that at the moment. Hopefully it will all tie together in the next month or so, I don’t think it’s going to be too long. It will be a nice kind of, it’s rare that you get to do things like that and have some sort of film as well.”
Long time fans will be delighted to hear that the quartet are working on new material. Things We Lost In The Fire, released later this month, will be the sixth single from the album. Speaking to Smith, he refers to how lucky the band have been for the past year and to be still releasing singles is something many musical artists don’t achieve from one album. But, success for the band didn’t happen over night. “A lot of the songs are older for us than they are for a lot of people,” says Smith, “the album came out in March but we’ve worked on these songs for years so naturally we’re just keeping on writing and keep on recording and just trying to keep as varied as possible.”
Smith refers to making new music as “a lot of fun” and “quite enjoyable”. “I think we’ve got quite a bit of freedom with it. I think as long as the songs are good, which sonically I think they will be, we can do whatever we want. It’s been quite fun messing around with guitars and some electronic stuff, and getting some more strings in, and kind of mix it up a bit.”
The majority of bands would be thrilled if their debut album went to number one, but does that bring expectations for a second release? “I guess there probably is an element of expectation that comes with it, but to be honest what our first album has done has way exceeded anything we imagined, and I think anything our label imagined as well.” Smith seems like a relaxed and level-headed character saying, “there’s no point in worrying about it too much.” However, he does say “Let’s speak the week before our second album’s coming out and we’ll see if it’s bothering me or not.”
Bastille are a very visual band and their videos are quirky. The video for the new single was filmed in Lithuania, directed by Noar Aloni and features a dream sequence narrative. “Things We Lost In The Fire is probably the video that I’m happiest with of everything that we’ve done,” says Smith. “The day that we do a performance video of us in a white room, is probably the day we stop caring. I love the idea of making weird videos and narrative videos and it’s one of the really fun things we get to concentrate on. I hope that they get progressively stranger and stranger.”
In the early days of Bastille, Smith himself would edit together sequences from films to give a visual element to the fledgling band. With this experience, is Smith directing a video something he’d like to do? Goldenplec gets a very enthusiastic reply. “Yeah, I’d love to. I would absolutely love to one day, maybe on the next album. I think it requires a lot of time and a lot of work. A lot of the videos that we’ve done recently with directors, the amount of time and effort that they have to put in is huge. Knowing our life at the moment and what it’s like touring, we barely have time to write and record songs at all so doing that at the moment, it’s not a possibility.” Despite the reality of timescales meaning he can’t right now, it doesn’t dampen Smith’s enthusiasm; you can hear it in his voice. “Further down the line, maybe when we have a bit of a break at the end of this album cycle, I could start thinking about it. I don’t know if I’d be good at it but I’d love to have a crack! Another opportunity to boss people around, it would be awesome!”
When Bastille played Camden Crawl Dublin in 2012, it was their first time travelling together as a band on a plane, going to a gig. That was fifteen months ago. With success, comes fandom and while musical acts obviously want to keep their fans engaged through social media, they also have to take time out to take stock of their own lives and to keep their sanity. “We’re lucky – us, as a band and our touring crew – everyone is very normal and stuff and we get on really well, and I think we’re really lucky with that as we keep each others head’s screwed on.” Despite having a number one album, Smith still says that “we’re just really grateful that anyone would like our music to begin with” but does admit that the band do “get quite weird messages but we don’t take them seriously. Obviously that’s not to undermine people who send heartfelt (messages). I think there’s definitely a level, if you were to take everything on board, you’d probably go mental and you’d probably fly up your own arse. We have an appreciation but a healthy distance from it, if that makes sense.”
During July, Bastille spent some time in the U.S. and even appeared on Conan. The night before they appeared, fellow British upstarts, The 1975, were musical guests. Are Bastille leading a new British Invasion? “I have got no idea about what happens in America but it’s awesome that we can go over there and do things like Conan and it’s exciting for The 1975 as well. I think they have a real shot of doing things in the States, people are really excited about them. It’s great. America has always had a fascination with British bands.” Dan explains that every time Bastille go Stateside they “feel like proper cheesy tourists and just try to have fun.” He adds, “We’ve got a few more trips planned, I guess we’ll see what happens. If American music fans take to the band, wicked! If not, we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to go there.”
Bastille have had the opportunity to play some great shows this year. They had their first festival headline at Sea Sessions, they played with Muse and they played at the British Museum. But it’s the gigs which took place at Shepherd’s Bush Empire which were really special to them. “They were a really big deal for us just because London’s our hometown and I never ever imagined we’d play somewhere like Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The gigs themselves were really fun, the crowds were wicked. It was a really good couple of days for us.” Smith then recalls some other performances. “You know Glastonbury was a massive highlight. We’re really lucky to have so many gigs and opportunities this year. For me, the thing in the British Museum, I was really hesitant to sing ‘Pompeii’ there as it felt like potentially, a very cheesy thing.” However once the band got started Smith says that “the acoustics in the room were so amazing” and the exhibition staff were “so keen for us to do it, that it was actually a really nice thing to do, I think. It’s hard to pick a favourite, we’re very lucky to have had a lot of favourites this year.”
As our chat time is drawing to a close, GP squeezes in some readers questions, the first coming from a fellow musician who asked about how the Gregorian chant refrain for Pompeii was born. Dan explains “I think it was something that just started like a bit of a riff in my head and I demoed it just by myself, just one or two voices singing it and then just sort of grew and grew and grew. When it came to recording it for the album, we got the guys from To Kill A King to come in and beef it out and it became this big killer chant thing. It sort of evolved, I don’t really know where it came from. It might have even started life as a piano line I think.”
Smith has previously collaborated with To Kill a King’s Ralph Pelleymounter and has also remixed tracks for the band. Have the pair any more collaboration plans? The answer is positive. “Yeah there are! Ralph and myself wrote a whole load of songs together for a band we wanted to do but, I guess fortunately and unfortunately were both a bit too busy to be doing it but at some point in the future when we get a break, we have an album worth of stuff that we’re really excited to record.”
As we’re being told are time is up, there’s one last quick question for Smith. He seems to like wearing t-shirts with images of wolves on them. He wore one in the video for Laura Palmer and a different one for the wet plate photography photoshoot in Dublin as part of The Beefeater Alchemy Project. Why wolves? Smith has a story behind them. “Someone gave me an animal t-shirt and I started wearing it”, he says. “Kyle and myself started a bit of a one-upmanship of who could wear the most ridiculous t-shirt on stage. Last year we were lucky enough to go play a festival in Hong Kong. Wandering around the streets of Hong Kong we stumbled across this market stall that only sold ridiculous animal t-shirts and that wolf face that I particularly like to wear was staring at me from a market stall. Then when I found out that it glows in the dark, it was a bit of a no-brainer, then I bought it and now I wear it all the time.”