2013 has been an incredible year for Bastille. The band’s debut album ‘Bad Blood’ was released in the UK in March and went straight to the top of the album charts. To date the album has clocked up nearly a quarter of a million sales in the UK alone, becoming the biggest selling debut album of the year so far and still remains in the UK top 10. Single ‘Pompeii’ has become one of the stand out tracks of the year with over half a million sales to date and their recently announced UK tour sold out as quickly as it went on sale, all 44,000 tickets gone in a day. It’s true to say that Bastille are the biggest new band in Britain.
How did it happen? A lot of talent and a few killer releases; the makeshift D.I.Y video Dan created for his Young & Lost Club debut single Flaws/Icarus, for example – a three-minute edit of classic movie Badlands, re-imagined without the murder, his Laura Palmer EP, a series of captivating singles released on Virgin Records; ‘Overjoyed’, ‘Bad Blood’ and the re-release of ‘Flaws’, the number 2 charting ‘Pompeii’ and ‘Laura Palmer There’s also the ‘mixtapes’, 2012’s Other People’s Heartache and sequel Other People’s Heartache Part 2, both of which have delivered tracks that have topped the Hype Machine chart.
Much of Dan’s childhood was spent dreaming of being a film editor, a writer or a journalist, any profession in which he could tell a story – and pull the strings from the shadows.
Film was an early obsession of Smith’s; a precocious love of horror movies led to an appreciation of Dario Argento and esoteric European cinema. Later, he would be swept into Mulholland Drive and the work of David Lynch, all of which have influenced his music. His song Laura Palmer uses the story of Twin Peaks’ mysterious murder victim, and for a while he even wore his hair in an Eraserhead cut as a nod to Lynch.
Although Smith is the driving force behind Bastille with all of the songs being written and initially recorded by him in his bedroom, his music is ultimately collaborative. The rest of the band; Bassist Will Farquarson, keyboard player Kyle Simmons and drummer Chris ‘Woody’ Wood, appear on the album in varying capacities, and Bastille’s music is always the product of Smith and the band’s ‘fifth member’, producer Mark Crew. Smith and Crew’s relationship goes back to the beginning of Bastille and though the music they record together sounds lush and expensive, the album was recorded in a tiny room on limited equipment – plus a day recording strings in the legendary Abbey Road. “We basically made the album in a studio the size of a cupboard, so it was one extreme to the other. Producing the record, I wanted to off-set epic sounding instrumentation with lyrics that combine intimate stories or conversation. The contrast was something that appealed to me.” says Smith,
The aim of the resulting Bastille album proper, says Smith, was to, “Approach each song differently. I wanted each to be its own story with its own atmosphere which brings in different sounds and elements of production, incorporating aspects of the different genres and styles that I love; Hip hop, indie, pop and folk. Film soundtracks can be broad and varied but tied together by the film itself – and I hope the album will be something like that, but held together by my voice and my songwriting, each song a scene or part of a bigger picture.”
And in a weird way, thanks toBastille, Smith is doing exactly what he always intended: not only is he now making films for his songs (and reluctantly appearing in them too; the video for Pompeii being a vision of “the novel ‘I am Legend’ if it were shot by the director of ‘Drive’”), most of all he’s telling stories. Some use historical and mythological characters as a starting point, others touch on the changing dynamics of relationships and friendships, whilst some explore the weight of responsibility that comes with growing up and ways of dealing with it; hedonism and escapism. These are themes that weren’t consciously intended but became apparent once the record was finished, ‘Some of the album is about stepping back and looking at what kind of person you’ve become. It’s that dawning realisation that everything has piled up on top of you and it’s up to you, as an adult, to sort yourself out’.
Opening track and single Pompeii is one such epic in miniature, a conversation between two charred bodies, frozen in time, caught in the ash that engulfed the Roman city of sin, “It’s a moment of reflection and introspection, but they’re trapped in time so it’s a moment that’ll go on for ever”. ‘Bad Blood’ is a story of losing old friendships through a falling out inspired by the idea of “growing apart from people you grew up with, and how bizarre it is that these people probably helped form the person you’ve become, and even though you don’t see them any more you are kind of intrinsically linked by your past.”
Weight of Living Pt II is that realisation that life has run away with you and that you’ve lost control “It’s a terrifying thing to feel, but I wanted to make light of it by framing it in a really upbeat track, I didn’t want it to take itself too seriously.” Things We Lost in Fire, inspired by a friend who’s family’s house burned down, tells of a couple who watch the metaphor of their relationship burn down and pick through the ashes. Oblivion captures an intimate moment in which someone tells their passed out friend that “however hard they try, they can never manage to follow them to whatever level of oblivion they manage to get to”. Finally, Get Home, partly inspired by Brett Easton Ellis’ stories of young people lost in hedonism, tries to capture the feeling of being directionless and at a point of uncertainty, “using the narrative of a hazy, out-of-it wander home after a night out”.
“I just somehow landed in a really lucky position where I’m able to bring together all these things that interest me,” says Smith, modestly. This, after all, is the man whos band fills theatres on the back of some songs he made in his bedroom. “To play to thousands of people on our recent UK tour was undeniably completely nuts,” he says. “It’s been an amazing experience for us but the goalposts always seem to change and widen. There’s always the next thing to think about…”
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