Bastille: the storming of the charts

Dan Smith of Bastille in interview

Bastille: the storming of the charts

Photographer:Michael Cox

Daniel Fahey - 25 March 2013

You have to rewind the spools of time to remember David Bowie elbowing a band from the summit of the album charts. It last happened in 1993. He nudged aside the self-titled debut by Suede, an LP that went on win the Mercury Prize.

Since then, much has changed: records warped and scratched, collections took up too much room, cassettes unwound as collectables. But while CDs stuck, their sales are being sucked up by Spotify, YouTube and the instant gratification of the internet.

20 years on and, perhaps naturally, a surprise return from Bowie puts his latest album at the top of the charts. It’s a traditional sense of success for the most unconventional of pop stars. But in modern music, accomplishment is measured much differently.

That’s why VF went to speak with Dan Smith of Bastille, a band gracious enough to step aside for Bowie’s return.

“Our involvement in the charts is something we never really expected and something we don’t really understand,” muses a softly spoken Smith when we talk about Bastille’s number one album. “Over the last few weeks we have done a lot better than us or anyone really expected.”

Their debut, ‘Bad Blood’, has already gone to be spray-painted silver, framed and hung in the halls of Virgin Records. But add in Accolades 2.0 and they boast the highest first week of digital sales for a number one album, plus over 13 million views on YouTube.

And now that their festival diary is looking thicker than Smith’s straight-out-of-bed barnet, how is he coping with change in lifestyle? “The only way our lives are different now is that we’re busy all the time,” he says, hurriedly adding, “in a totally non-self pitying way.

Before the band took off, Smith was reading English Literature at Leeds University and planning to complete a Master’s Degree in journalism to hopefully go on to become a film critic. But at that time, he says, he mainly kept his music to himself.

I only really started doing this because it was quite fun,” 25-year-old Smith recalls, “it isn’t something I ever really aspired to or sought after. It’s interesting how all this stuff works and I like to think I’m a relatively normal person [laughs].

It’s quite funny having lots of people know - and like - your music. It’s a massive, massive compliment and it’s really, really nice, but there are also people who hate it. It’s quite weird being someone who’s provoking opinions.

Finding divided judgment is probably easier in these days too. There are more forums and outlets to encourage debate, and with the piano-led pop ballads on ‘Bad Blood’ familiar fodder, the LP was always going to be an easy target for snobbery and criticism. However, it’s easy to see why it has taken off so quickly. Many of the songs, including single ‘Pompeii’, have that core ingredient jingle-makers look for: catchiness.

But the ‘sign, shine and sell’ process of today’s music industry usually only offers one chance to nail it. Does that mean there is too much pressure for acts to self-promote through social media these days? “I think it depends. If you want to be mysterious and weird, you can just not [use social media]. Social media is so ingrained in everyone's day to day life anyway, I think it would be weird if it didn’t extend to music.

I’m only on social media because of music. Before that the idea of Facebook and Twitter made me quite uncomfortable and I only used them literally for the band and only really do stuff that’s related to what we’re up to professionally,Smith adds.

Then there is someone like Lady Gaga who does have that big mythos around her and she’s that sort of pop star, but she uses social media and she manages to make it work. A lot of that distant, mythical status [in the past] came from the fact that you could only hear their music if you listened to the radio or if you bought a CD or a vinyl or you could only see photos of them if you bought a magazine and you could only see them if you stand outside a gig or whatever. Now it’s such a change in access.

Touring is obviously part of that access too, and this year Bastille will return to Reading and Leeds Festival, and play shows at T in the Park, Benicassim and just about everywhere else in the UK.

Does that include Glastonbury? “I don’t know if we’re playing this year, I don’t know if it’s announced or anything. If we were to be asked back, we’d be really over the moon about it. I’ve bought a ticket when they went on sale because I love it, and i’ve been the last five years with my mates and it’s just an awesome festival.

One place the tour bus will splutter towards is Ibiza and Mallorca, traditionally dance-leaning territories. How does it feel to take pop out there? “It will be quite interesting to see what it’s like,Smith says, “I guess it wasn’t  something I ever imagined we’d get to do. So we’re pretty excited about doing it and seeing what the response is.

We went last year as a band to play a gig, a little gig on the beach which was really fun. But we only got to go for the night before and the day, and didn’t really get to have a proper night out which we’re obviously quite anxious to do. So hopefully when we go back this time we will get to see all the clubs and stuff and spend a bit more time in Ibiza and Mallorca.

Are you a big clubber then? “I went to Uni in Leeds and used to go to some dub and drum and bass nights, which were quite fun. There was one at the West Indies community centre which was really fun. It had the heaviest bass in the country. One of those that when you walked in, the floor was bouncing up and down and your feet would go so numb because there was so much bass.”

Bastille play Mallorca Rocks on June 25 and Ibiza Rocks on June 26, with support from up-and-coming Bristol mob The Other Tribe. Click here for more information.


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