Q&A with Bastille
Indie pop act Bastille look set to be amongst many tastemakers top tips for next year. Artrocker’s New Blood Editor Nathan Westley recently caught up with Bastille’s singer and songwriter Dan Smith to discuss the bands beginnings, their current plans and what the future may hold.
So how have you been? What have you been up to recently?
I’ve been doing a big mix of things really. We played loads of festivals in the summer and now we’re getting ready for a tour we have coming up, I’ve been in the studio finishing of the album mix and recording some new songs, writing with some other people and producing some of my friends, so it’s been wicked.
So when and how did Bastille come together?
The songs that became the first Bastille songs, I was working on towards the end of 2010. That’s when it all came together and that’s when I got together with the other guys to play live, so around then really. I put a song up on Youtube at the end of 2010 and we did our first official gig in April of last year, so I guess there’s no defining moment to when it started, really.
Your schedule this year took in a lot of festivals, the first time I saw you play was at Guilfest earlier this year and you’ve played other places such as Reading & Leeds, Slottsfjell in Norway and quite a few more...
Guilfest was ridiculous, it was very muddy and it was Birthday... the weird thing about Norway was that we hadn’t realised that Flaws had been playlisted on radio over there for quite a while, so we went over there kind of half-wondering why we had been booked anyway and we walked out onstage and thought “What the hell is going on?”. It’s been really interesting this summer, being able to play bigger stages and places like Reading which was wicked, but also playing some tiny festivals where we were higher up the bill, they’ve been nice. It’s interesting, I’m a massive pessimist, I always expect the worst, so seeing people come and sing along, I’m always very shocked.
You’ve seemed to have connected really deeply with a lot of people, but from the outside it seems a really organic attraction, not one that is forced.
I feel really lucky, in that since the beginning of last year, we’ve never really pushed it down anyone’s throats, haven’t banged down any doors to be listened to and I think we’ve been lucky. Since our first gig last year, very very slowly venues have grown, people have come and gigs have sold out and it’s satisfying and yes, it does feel organic, I feel really lucky.
When I write a song, I simplicity produce it up and then take it to my friend Mark who I made the whole album with, he’s the first port of call and he will tell me if it’s good or bad. I’m really hard on myself, I think; I’m really into strong melodies, so if something doesn’t feel good enough, I just stop. It’s good to know that there are people there to reign you in if you are doing something ridiculous.
I think anyone from a creative field, be it in music, film or art, people need others around them, who are unafraid to tell them if something is actually good or bad.
That’s why people who are really successful go miles and miles up their own arse and totally lose it; because everyone around them is basically an employee and is telling them they are awesome, no one needs to hear that all of the time. With us, we’ve always had to work really hard, people haven’t always, necessarily thrown their arms open wide to the band, so it’s also nice to hear some good things and get some positivity back.
Earlier this year, you released a covers EP called ‘Other People’s Heartache’ ... it’s important for songwriters to get a good grounding about what others have done previously; digest it to try to work out what works and what doesn’t?
I think so, ... I think everyone who plays an instrument has always started by learning someone else’s songs, it’s a sweeping statement that probably isn’t true but in most cases I guess so! It’s a good way to learn the basics about structure and all that kind of stuff. I was always very snobby about covers; was a bit of a dick about artists needing to do their own songs and then just kind of fell into doing them, it’s good and really helpful, I guess it’s the only way you can learn about what works in other peoples work.
Looking backwards, respected acts such as The Stones and The Beatles, starting off by playing and releasing covers.
That’s the thing! My Mum was a folk singer when she was younger and I remember having a conversation with her and my Dad when I was youngster; railing against people who did covers and then realised that in the traditional Folk world there aren’t many well known songs and that everyone does covers. My mum had done loads and that was her job for a while, so I was laying into everything she had done which was awful.
Even now, there are a lot of people who still do covers, if you get invited into Radio one for a session, your asked to cover a popular song ... most of us have a soft spot for the Arctic Monkeys cover of Girls Aloud ‘Love Machine’ it’s a great song and it’s good to hear a different take on it.
It’s nice to hear the songwriting; there is some awful awful pop and there’s some which is brilliant song writing and it sometimes takes you to hear it through a different filter to realise that. We have a song called Flaws, I wrote and recorded it pretty much in my bedroom, didn’t think too much about it and put it online. People started doing covers and I remember the first time I heard someone else doing one of my songs and it seemed the most surreal thing in the world; as it was the least thing I was expecting, I almost fell off my seat.
When you write you own material, I guess it’s just when bits come to you, what pops into your head as you’re walking round the streets, stuff like that?
Yeah, stuff like that happens. Sometimes I’ll have an idea about what I want to write about and try to make that happen, but yeah, I go round singing into my phone and try to not look like a crazy monkey. But yeah I like bringing separate ideas together and actually make it become the song themselves, a lot of people say that, it kind of just happens.
Sometimes people try too hard to nail stuff, sometimes it’s only when you switch off, that things come together and make sense.
Totally, sometimes I’ll have written a song and feel that the chorus isn’t quite there; it’s that point when you are living with it. We have a song called Bad Blood and I remember it being quite late at night, I’d had quite a lot to drink and was in the pub with my mates, the bassline which is quite a big part of the song just out of nowhere just popped into my head, so I was “I’m just going to take myself off to the toilet”, it was very weird but I just don’t know how it happens,
I’m guessing being able to home record and stuff like that has made it a lot easier to get ideas down?
I use Garage band, I’m not technically proficient, but with me for ideas I like to get them down as soon as possible. I used to write on just Piano but now find it’s really nice to put other things in straight away, production ideas often come at the same time as writing ideas, so it’s good to put beat ideas and other parts in. Obviously a lot of people will write acoustically and then will go with their band and produce it up, it’s a tried and tested way of doing it but I like to do it the other way around, for me the production is so important, it’s part of the band.
Bastille’s new single 'Flaws' is out now.