Bastille is one of Britain’s biggest bands, with two No.1 albums (including the band’s newest, Wild World) in Britain, and a string of hits that includes the international synth-pop behemoth Pompeii. The group has done all this while managing to remain practically invisible – rock stars you wouldn’t recognise on the high street, which is how frontman Dan Smith prefers it.
Smith grew up in London, writing songs in his bedroom; in the early 2000s he formed Bastille with friends, in no small part because he was too self-conscious to have a solo career.
In a phone interview, Smith (who is as affable a lead singer as you would ever hope to find) talked about his band’s new album and the unbearable weirdness of rock stardom.
There are guitars on this album, unlike your first where it seems like it was almost a statement not to have them. What made you decide that now was the time to bring them out?
I think it was a bit of a statement on the first record, because it was a bedroom record, and I couldn’t play guitar. It was something that when we came to record the album properly, it was a fun challenge to set ourselves.
Then when we did choose to use them, obviously the guitar is such a huge instrument to everybody else, but to us it was a fun novelty, and we tried to find interesting ways to weave it into our sound without compromising what we do.
Do you think of Bastille as a band, or as your band?
I think we’re very much a band, and it’s wonderful to have the shared experience. I write songs, but the guys play on them, they have opinions on them, and we tour together and spend all our time together. When we started out in Britain, there were songs that we made, we put them on the Internet, and we immediately started touring. We borrowed our friend’s mum’s car, and drove ourselves around for, like, a year playing gigs in pubs and tiny little venues.
In that respect, we’re pretty grassroots as a band. We’ve done all that together. It’s very much our band, and I think all the guys would say that as well.
You’ve spoken about how shy you were, but being the frontman forces you out into the world. How have you changed?
Sometimes it can be a bit weird, having to be one of four people that represents this music, particularly since we made it quite privately and it’s become this public thing. That’s one of the slightly weird thing about being in a band.
I think there’s some people that absolutely love attention, and I’m not necessarily one of those people, but we’re so, so lucky to be able to do this with our lives. There are certain aspects that maybe are not amazing, like having to represent us. I’m doing my best not to let that stuff affect me too much.
There’s a point in your life when you have to claim it, right? To say, this is who I am, and this is what I do?
Yeah. We’re never gonna be those guys that shout from the rooftops, “We’re in a (expletive) band!” We’re British. We’d rather just focus on making the things that we think are cool. I love it so much.
I’m obsessed with being in the studio and making songs and writing songs, and, yeah, so I get a bit nervous sometimes, but who doesn’t? In important parts of (regular) people’s jobs, they feel nervous, and I think it’s important to remember that.
We’re just making music. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important. – Tribune News Service/Allison Stewart