‘It’s fittingly us, it’s weird, it’s dark’: An interview with Bastille

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On their most recent UK tour, I got the chance to catch up with Dan Smith and Kyle Simmons from Bastille. Escorted through the grand Portsmouth Guildhall building I felt very far from the first interview I did with the band, outside a caravan at Strummer of Love in summer 2012. Now with sold out tours and a number one album under their belt, Smith and Simmons had loads of exciting things to chat to me about- in particular the new single ‘Of The Night’. Before the interview commenced we watched it being uploaded, thus making The Edge the very first to chat to the band about it. Here is the full – unedited – interview. Check out issue two of The Edge for our exclusive feature on the rise of Bastille.

Has it uploaded yet?

Dan Smith: Yeah, it’s online now!

*All cheer*

Dan: It’s a bit weird that we’re releasing a cover, we’ve got no idea what anyone is going to think. 
Kyle Simmons: I think it was a good choice because we put loads of work into the mixtapes and we’re really proud of them. None of them were just straight covers, it was mash-ups and we basically got the lyrics from two different songs and re-wrote it.
Dan: We’ve always felt ownership over that version obviously because we made it our own thing. We’ve played it live so much. It never really occurred to us to release it, you know, we thought the mixtapes were out there and then there was just so much demand from people to have it. Some of the people we work with suggested it and it seemed like a nice thing to do, selfishly for us, the opportunity arose to release another single from Bad Blood and we didn’t want to re-release any songs we’ve released before, it’s nice to show people a really different side. There’s our fan base who know the breadth of what we do and then there are people that would have only heard ‘Pompeii’ and then people who may have heard ‘Laura Palmer’ and ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ and I think we’re quite keen to show people that there is quite a lot more to what we do and what we want to do than those singles. People who may not have heard the album or never even heard of the mixtapes. At the end of a long summer of playing loads of festivals where ‘Of The Night’ and ‘Pompeii’ have been the two, most fun moments of the set, it’s nice to round that off by releasing it, and also it was a really good opportunity to make a really different video.

I haven’t seen the video yet, can you explain it all for me?

Dan: So we made the video with this director Dave Marr who is wicked, he’s an Australian guy who has worked with Foals for ages and has done loads of their videos which we loved so he put this idea forward. We thought if we were going to do a video with this song that we’ve lived with for ages, but to most people they’re going to be like ‘what have they done?!’ let’s do something really interesting. He put forward this idea that we instantly loved, he’s such an awesome director.
Kyle: It’s offset because the song is quite upbeat and happy, we wanted to flip that in the video.
Dan: It shows it in a very different light basically.
Kyle: The video is the complete opposite of upbeat and happy.
Dan: I think it’s fittingly us, it’s weird, it’s dark, it’s a lot weirder than other stuff that we’ve done. We’re barely in it which is nice as you’ll know from before. The actor who is the main guy is called James Russo. He’s an awesome actor who has been in so many things.
Kyle: Gangs of New York, Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in America, Beverly Hills Cop.

So you managed to get an A-Lister in your video?

Dan: Not necessarily an A-lister but he’s one of those faces, it’s just so mad.
Kyle: He’s got probably the best face in the world, it’s incredible and he was so nice, he was amazing in it. 
Dan: He came to our gigs and became a bit of a fan of the band so there was a mutual love. For us, it was amazing to go to LA. It was at the beginning of our US tour, we weren’t so much part of the video process but we got to go there almost slightly passively for the first time and see the set and visit and try to not get in the way. We’re in it a little bit but not a huge amount, and just watch some actors at work.

An absolutely manic festival season has just passed, do you have a favourite moment? Apart from Glastonbury.

Dan: I think Bestival for us.

I bloody missed it! 

Dan: It was so much fun.
Kyle: We got all dressed up. A load of my mates were there as well and they were dressed as crabs and about an hour before we went on we had the idea to get them onstage for ‘Pompeii’. The song started and all my mates dressed as crabs came out and crab walked across the stage.
tumblr_mu7tmwbmJL1rfq3qso1_500Dan: And they had all been at the festival for two days so mentally they weren’t in the right place. I think over the course of the summer we’ve done quite a lot of big gigs that were way bigger than anything we thought we’d ever think we’d do. We haven’t in any way got used to it, but every time we walk out on stage we’re really overwhelmed and then we get on with the gig. I think it was really nice to get some friends up and almost through their reaction to the situation see how mental it actually is to get up on stage. We played at two o’clock on the Saturday, we thought it was gonna be us in a big empty field, but that’s still wicked because we get the play on the Main Stage, and then we walked and the crowd was so massive.
Kyle: We couldn’t believe it, because everyone dressed up. Bestival is my festival anyway, me and Dan go just as punters, so to be asked to play on the Main Stage to thousands of people is just amazing. 
Dan: And I think because we were dressed up as Team Zissou we were just in such a good mood, cause we never dress up and actually it’s really fun. It was our last proper festival as well, so it was nice to go out on a good note. Maybe that’s why we chose it as our favourite because it’s the last one we remember. How have you been? How has your summer been?

How have I been? I’ve been alright! Busy, but good! Thank you for asking.

Dan: I’m very aware we always just talk about ourselves.

That’s the point!

Dan: I know, I know.

So America! You’ve just got back and you’ve just released Bad Blood over there. How was your time out there? I understand that is a very broad question; could you sum it up?

Kyle: It was incredible. Before we could even register it the tour sold out, which was unreal for our first ever tour.
Dan: With America, I think it’s a generally received notion that it’s massive, to even make a dent you’ve got to start again. Our heads are still in that place, we’re aware that we haven’t even begun, but you know, I think one of the things we were kind of preparing ourselves for was going and doing a big, big tour with lots of travelling and playing quite empty gigs, so for the whole thing to sell out before we went there was insane and I guess it just allowed us to be really excited about it, more than we would be normally.

And then just before we went out our album went to number 11 in their charts, – we watched that happen and we were like ‘how?!’, because before that we played two tiny, tiny gigs and then did a couple of little shows at South By Southwest and literally that was the extent to us in America so we were like, ‘how has this happened?!’ As a band we had one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done because every city, every state you go to is so iconic and there is so much stuff that you’ve seen in films, and TV shows, and heard about, and read in history books. It made the travelling part really fun and the gigs were great as well. Some of the shows were some of the smallest gigs we’ve played in like, a year. In Seattle we played in a pub for 300/400 people, which was amazing. And they have bacon donuts!

I’ve heard about them, I’m a vegetarian so..

Dan: They’re right up your street then!
Kyle: There’s another one that’s like a voodoo doll and you get a little pretzel stick and you poke it in the chest and the raspberry jam blood comes out. So good!
Dan: Also, one more thing, they have some amazing record shops, we did loads of instores and it’s nice to see.
Kyle: The ones that are left here in the UK, like Rough Trade and Banquet are tiny, these are like warehouses, massive.

Do you have a specific anecdote about America that you can tell me?

Dan: Probably loads. Let’s think of a suitable one.
Kyle: Suitable… erm, what happened there?
Dan: In LA at the beginning we were able to go to Capital Studios which is the LA equivalent of Abbey Road and our A&R guy in America, who we’ve never really worked with that much before, he is this amazing super producer and he did this massive strings arrangement for a twenty piece film orchestra.
Kyle: The orchestra that play all the John Williams stuff.
Dan: He did this arrangement of ‘Pompeii’ – you know we did the ‘Flaws’ thing at Abbey Road? He did that but on an American scale. It’s like the most beautiful thing. It was in this studio *shows me the video of the recording*
Kyle: See, he did that! It was amazing. 
Dan: We were all standing in the control room, just like, ‘this is incredible’. And then they were like ‘right, you’ve got to go in and sing with them now!’ We went out afterwards because we didn’t know what to do with ourselves because it was in the evening and we were like ‘what do we do now!?’.

We went to this bar called ‘No Vacancy’ which I will very quickly tell you about. It was so LA! And we’re so English. You go up to this house and you go up these stairs into what feels like an old cowboy corridor, it’s done out like a wench’s bedroom, there was a really beautiful women in a corset on the bed like lying sideways and she gives you this spiel about ‘welcome to the house’ and as it finishes her bed divides into halves and splits off robotically in different directions, and there was this flight of stair that go down, and you cut into this speakeasy with an indoor/outdoor garden thing, we walked in, these four losers from London like ‘what is this?!’ it was so ridiculous. So that was a pretty surreal day.

Sounds like you had an amazing time! Also when you were in America you performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which you’ve probably spoken loads about.

Dan: On the same day as what we just told you about!

Oh my god, that must have been the best day of your lives.

Dan: We went on Jimmy Kimmel to Capital Studios and then out. And we had Mexican food that day as well.

Best day ever!

Dan: I feel like a kid at school, *puts on a kid voice*, ‘my best day ever!’; Jimmy Kimmel was really fun. I think we were quite nervous.
Kyle: We just realised how ridiculous it was and it was so important, we were just like ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this, it’s Jimmy Kimmel!’
Dan: It feels ridiculous to us that we’ve done three trips to America and on the second one we were on the Conan O’Brien show and then Jimmy Kimmel on the third.

They did throw you in at the deep end with American TV. You’re going out to South Africa and those shows have sold out! How does that feel?

Dan: It feels amazing obviously, but completely ridiculous because we’ve never been to South Africa, I think I’ve done one phone interview with someone in South Africa and that’s it. We haven’t done any media or press there and we haven’t done any touring there. Those shows are so much bigger, the 10,000 capacity gig is the equivalent of us playing at Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace], which we’re doing next March. It’s completely incomprehensible. It’s quite nice because my family are South African and it’s probably mostly my family and friends, we’ll get there and they would have scraped together and bought all the tickets: ‘WE SOLD IT OUT FOR YOU DAN!’

You’ve been nominated for some MTV EMAs – did you ever expect that to happen?

Kyle: Not at all.
Dan: I mean, you know what we’re like, most of the stuff that’s happened over the last year literally just never even occurred to us. So the whole MTV nomination thing is obviously great but it’s way beyond where we think we’re at, so it’s kind of nice and surreal for us.

Well good luck!

Dan: Thanks!

So basically I was in aerobics the other day and the Kat Krazy remix of ‘Pompeii’ came on and it felt extremely weird, doing aerobics to ‘Pompeii’.

Dan: Haha, I bet!

Then everytime I go out it’s played in clubs everywhere, like every night out in the UK has that remix on their playlists, I don’t know if you guys were aware of that, but how does that make you feel? Because I don’t know if when you wrote the songs you had clubs in mind?

Dan: Well when we wrote the songs I don’t think we had anything in mind apart from playing to a couple of hundred people – at the time that’s as far as our sights were set. So most of the contexts that we hear ‘Pompeii’ in are so far beyond what we expected.

I get friends sending me videos of them jumping along to ‘Pompeii’ in a club.

Kyle: That’s so weird.
Dan: It’s really bizarre. I mean, I never really expected it to have that kind of reach, I heard ‘Pompeii’ in a pub in London, we were out for my friends birthday and actually it was really embarrassing; I went to the toilet and I came back, and it was on and I basically went back to our group to be like ‘what is this? who requested this?’ Mark our mate – who produced the album – he spread the rumour that I’d gone and requested it.
Kyle: That’s amazing!
Dan: So I went back and everyone was like ‘you requested this did you? Loser!’ That’s the only time I’ve heard it out.

Every time I go out! Honestly. 

Dan: I’m so sorry.

Don’t apologise, everyone loves it, it’s one of those songs that the whole club will go wild to and then they’ll go back to Jason Derulo. So weird in that context.
Speaking of pop, you performed a rendition of ‘We Can’t Stop’ by Miley Cyrus in the Live Lounge. What was your thinking behind that rendition of it? And also, what do you think about the Miley ‘situation’?

Dan: We picked the song a couple of months before we did it because we were told we were doing the Live Lounge and they asked us to keep an eye out, and I heard that track when it first came out and there was something about it that made us really want to do it. So we earmarked it and reserved it before the whole thing happened. And then we watched the twerking and all of that kind of stuff unveil in front of us and we still hadn’t rehearsed it. We only got it together a couple of days before we did it. We watched all this stuff unveil and we thought ‘this is insane, good choice, pat on the back guys!’ We had a few days to rehearse and someone suggested the ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ thing and we just thought it would be really funny.
Kyle: ‘Cause Eminem released the verse.
Dan: And then obviously the Lion King thing. So we just thought let’s have some fun with it. We incorporated the Eminem song, and just had some fun with it. When it comes to the Miley Cyrus situation, I don’t really know if we’re in a position to say anything, but the fact that we’re commenting on something like that, shows the scale of it. Generally we’re not that aware of the media. It’s like Britney Spears when she was shaving her head, it’s those celebrity situations that seem to escalate above the palpet of people who just care about celebrities, it’s those stories, they just become so big, me and my mates at home would never normally be talking about Miley Cyrus.

I wouldn’t either.

Kyle: That’s the thing! It means it’s working.
Dan: The things she’s saying to Sinead O’Connor, it’s all annoying unavoidable because what she wants is attention and what she is getting is so much attention and it’s just spiralling and spiralling. You almost want to tell everyone, ‘guys, just ignore her for a day and it might go away’. Nothing against her at all but it’s interesting, a very, very modern way to get publicity and it’s effective. The one thing I think is more interesting, we were chatting about ‘Blurred Lines’ and that Justin Timberlake video which were using naked women to get hits.
Kyle: Because YouTube hits now account towards the charts.
Dan: In the states a hundred YouTube hits is one chart sale.
Kyle: Hence the reason for all these videos like ‘Blurred Lines’ and the Miley thing, get her naked, get her swinging around on a ball, people are gonna watch it for whatever reason.

I watched it about three times!

Dan: I showed it to everyone! I saw it and was like ‘you have to watch this!’
Kyle: They made that rule, that’s the world we live in, so people are obviously going to try and cash in on it, if we want a number one we can do that to get a number one.

Very clever! Final question, what can you tell me about the new music?

Dan: We’re playing three of them tonight.
Kyle: It’s got guitars in!

Guitars! Woah!

Dan: I know! We’ve just been messing around. We’re releasing All This Bad Blood in November which has a couple of new songs on it and some other stuff. With those two new songs we wanted to stake the boundaries of the two places we could go and hope to go on the next album, and there’s one really electronic song and one quite heavy guitar song. We’ve always felt quite free to do what we want to do, so we just want to be like ‘here’s the two extremes of where we could go’. We’ve been writing loads and we’ve been practicing them. We’re playing one song that will be released quite soon and then two of them are still works in progress that will be on the next album, hopefully, I’ve got no idea when it will be out.

We’re in this weird position, because we’ve never had guitars they feel like a massive novelty to us but to every other band they’re just like ‘mate, it’s just a guitar, get over it!’ I hope we can find a way to incorporate it into what we do and use it to progress our sound, we’re not going to rely on it, it’s not going to be in every song so that when it’s used it’s a feature. There’s other songs that we’ve worked on that we want to play live, that are much more electronic and go off in a different direction. Having played this album a lot, we’re not in any way bored of it, it’s just that bringing in new songs makes the whole thing feel new and exciting for the first time in a while. Not that it hasn’t been exciting, everything we’ve done has been exciting but the music has stayed the same. We’re so lucky that we can go out and play a gig and people know the words to every single song that we do and it’s nice to be able to put a few wild cards into the mix.

Well I’m very excited.

Dan: I hope you like them! Hopefully, despite sonic changes, they still feel very Bastille, because that’s our aim.

Check out the brand new video for latest single ‘Of The Night’ and you can pre-order All This Bad Blood here.

Pick up issue two of The Edge, out 21st October, for an exclusive feature on the rise of Bastille.

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About Author

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I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Heard them playing at cambridge last night. New songs are awesome. They have inspired me to write more material…I hope that I will have as much success as them but it’s so hard out there. I never actually had a favourite group but now I have bastille and also Beirut and to kill a king. They are brilliant to.

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