I chatted to Dan of the wonderful indie-synth-pop quartet, Bastille. Based in the UK, the band have made waves in Britain and the wider world with their fabulous debut album, Bad Blood. If you haven't listened to them before, now's time to check out their music, you certainly won't be disappointed.
So, what are Bastille up to at the moment?
We’re just playing loads of festivals at the moment and I guess, visiting countries we haven’t been to before and playing shows and releasing our album all around Europe and in different countries round the world, which is not something we ever really imagined would ever happen. We’re about to head to the States to play our first proper shows in San Francisco and LA. Also, just trying to write music and trying to record an album at the same time. Just getting on with it, I guess.
How would you describe Bastille’s sound to someone who’s never heard you before?
I’m really bad at describing it, but maybe alternative cinematic pop music, maybe. If you make music it’s always slightly difficult to step back from it and describe it but different people hear a different thing, depending on who they are and what they’re into. Some people think we’re really indie, others think that we’re really pop. But, y’know, who knows?
Obviously, this has been a big year for Bastille. How crazy has the year been for you so far? And how has it affected you, as a band, having such sudden success?
I think the only real, tangible difference is that we’re just a lot busier than we used to be. I guess, we went from being a band in our free time and doing our day jobs during the day to then last year signing a record deal and being able to spend lots of time recording and rehearsing and touring and bits and bobs. Then this year suddenly we’ve probably been home two, three weeks in total all year. I think that’s the main adjustment, just how insanely busy we are. But, y’know, we’re very lucky to be that busy. It’s an interesting change.
Congratulations on Bad Blood, it’s probably one of the best records of the year so far. What was the inspiration behind the record? What the themes run through the album?
Thank you very much, that’s very nice of you to say. The thing about debut albums is they’re almost like a collection of all of the songs you’ve written up until that point, so the album is written over the space of maybe two or three years. And I wasn’t really thinking about things thematically when I was writing it, I wanted all of [the songs] to be slightly self contained narratives or stories. But stepping back from it, I think there’s definitely a sense, throughout the songs, of growing up a bit and maybe accepting adulthood and accepting responsibility and stuff like that, I think those are definitely themes. They weren’t really intended and so, I guess, it was strange, when listening to the whole thing in context, to realise that.
What was your favourite part of making the album? Did you enjoy the lyric writing or is it more the music side of things that you prefer?
I don’t know. I’m always writing songs and I only know how I write so I can’t really compare it to anything else, but I really like the point when you have a few ideas and they all start to come together. Like, I record stuff on my phone and I start to record ideas on my computer so there’s production ideas and song ideas and I love it when the songs come together and I’m like ‘Oh, wow, there is is!’ and then you finish off the lyrics and it’s, this is really cheesy, but it’s that weird eureka moment where everything comes together. But I think my favourite... I love being in the studio. I co-produced the album with our friend, Mark Crew, who’s a wicked producer and me and him worked together all of last year, on and off, on the album. I just love being in the studio, tweaking stuff and bringing other people in to play parts and all that kind of stuff. What I find really satisfying with the whole writing and recording process is the sense of making something tangible and so any part of that, where it feels like something’s coming together, is always very satisfying, I think... That was very long, I’m sorry.
Is there anything now, looking back at Bad Blood, that you would change or are you completely content with the record?
I think now that it’s out and it’s been released there’s almost a sense of detachment from it because we play the songs live every night and the album kinda is what it is. But, I remember when we were making it, I was always really concerned that the lead vocals should kind of be not that fucked with and not that affected and I think, maybe, in hindsight and maybe with the next album I’d like to be more adventurous with the vocals because I think that having a big vocal front and centre of the mix of the song is - this is really boring, I’m sorry - I think that was one point when Mark was definitely pushing to do more vocal production and I was like ‘no, no no! I want that sound to remain’, I wanted it to be kept the same and not really messed around with. I think, for me, the album is interesting because if you took away the vocals, there’s still a huge variety of sounds, like there’s some very electronic stuff and there’s some very almost classical stuff - we’ve got strings and live drums - I think as soon as you stamp my vocals and songwriting on the songs they all hopefully fit together. When it comes to making the next album, I’m keen to push the extremes further either way.
Have you had any thoughts about making the next album any time soon?
Yeah, totally. I mean, I’m well into the next album and if we’d had the time I think we’d have finished it by now. We’re just so busy touring right now so it’s hard to find time to go back to London and get in the studio but I’ve written a fair chunk of it and some of the songs are starting to come together and we’ve started demoing some of them as well, so it’s cool. We’ll just be moving things on, I guess, from Bad Blood. Even though [Bad Blood]’s not even out in the States yet and it’s just coming out in different countries around the world, these are songs that we’ve been playing for a while and we’re quite excited about what’s next.
You supported Muse and Dizzee Rascal pretty recently. How was that show? How was it playing such a massive venue?
It was kind of surreal. I mean, we never imagined we’d play in places of those sizes and playing a stadium was totally ridiculous, but to be asked to do that show we were so humbled, I guess. And Woody is Muse’s biggest fan in the world so he was so excited. It was such an interesting and weird line-up, y'know us, Dizzee and then Muse, we're not similar. It was interesting and we had a lot of fun - since we've started, we haven't done a lot of support slots with other bands, we've mainly just done our own tours. The first ever support tour we've done was with Two Door Cinema Club at the beginning of the year which was really fun and at the time it was massive to us, but I feel that with Two Door Cinema Club, whilst I wouldn't say we're similar, we're definitely in the same world and we had a great time with their fanbase who were so enthusiastic and a lot of their fans knew our songs anyway. So, to go from that to then Muse and Dizzee Rascal in a stadium was quite an interesting leap. I guess the opportunity to play in front of that many people was a challenge, but it was so much fun. I was so, so nervous, but I had a lot of fun.
Do you prefer playing intimate gigs or bigger shows? Do you change a lot about how you perform when you play big shows?
I think we’re still learning when it comes to big shows like that. We have no illusions of being anywhere near that point yet and I think we’ve been quite lucky because since we started out our progression has been quite slow and steady. So, from tour to tour, we’ve been able to go up through the venue sizes at quite a normal pace. Every point, every tour we do, has been a little adjustment which is why I think playing those stadiums felt so ridiculous because it was way bigger than anything we’d ever done. It is really interesting this summer, playing at festivals, we just got to play the main stage at Isle Of Wight Festival and physically it was such a massive stage. At the end of it, it felt so strange having done a gig where we were just so far away from each other. I know it sounds ridiculous but we’re used to playing and being right next to each other and at one bit, I turned around - Woody’s normally right behind me - and he was like miles away. And I was like ‘You alright there, Woody?!’, and it was a bit weird. But, I’m probably more comfortable playing smaller places - it’s nice to be able to see everyone’s face and feel a little more involved because I’ve always been quite nervous and I don’t feel massively at home on stage and I think it’s probably easier to bounce off the crowd and get in amongst the crowd, if it’s smaller.
Did you expect the success? When you were making the record did you think that these were songs that would appeal to such a huge market or is it a complete surprise that Pompeii went to number one? Did you think that this was music that could connect with so many?
It was a massive surprise. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a huge pessimist or what but genuinely it was such a huge surprise. Even our record label, they weren’t expecting things to happen as they did, they genuinely weren’t. There’s some weird statistic that they told us, that doesn’t paint them in a great light, that in the first couple of weeks that our album was released in England, it sold more than they expected it to sell in the entire campaign of it being out so, no one’s expectations were that high. But I know when it comes to writing songs I really like hooks and melodies and stuff like that and I don’t know, maybe that’s what people connect to. A song like Pompeii, I wrote that in my bedroom for fun because, at the time, that was why I was writing songs because it was what I liked doing in my free time. I didn't really think about it. I think at the very early days of a band because you don't really have an audience, you kind of just do it for yourself. At the time that we wrote Pompeii, we were playing to something like a hundred people tops, and [the success] didn't even occur to me at all, not remotely. So that’s why I think this year’s been so interesting to us, it’s been way beyond anything we ever imagined, just the scale of it, the places we’ve been able to go, it’s so weird. I mean, Pompeii has done really well in places like Australia where we’ve never been before in our lives.. Yeah, it’s just very strange.
Do you feel like you’re starting all over again when you’re dealing with the US? How has the reception been to your music? How are you anticipating going to America and trying to break into the market over there?
I think that we’re very aware that with any place that’s not England, that we started in the UK and we’ve built things up from scratch there and it took a lot of gigging and a lot of releases there and a lot of hard work to get to the place where we really didn’t expect to. It’s the same as in European countries, we’ve never visited anywhere else and expected anything to happen. I think with the US, we’re so aware that it;s just massive and there’s all the different states - I’m sorry I’m waffling, and that’s crap - but I have no idea what’s going to happen. I think we’re just keen to play some gigs and see what happens and see if people like it or the don’t. It would be wicked if people in America get into the album, equally, if they’re not, I don’t really know. We’re aware that, rightfully so, it should take a lot of work because it needs to... I’m not making any sense, I’m sorry. We do sort of see it as starting again and that’s exactly as it should be. We’ll see what happens.
Your upcoming appearance on Conan will be quite a boost for the American reception. How did that come about?
I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. We’re kind of really excited about that and we can’t really believe that it’s happening. There’s so much American culture that we get in England and those shows like Conan O’Brien are so famous and so far away from anything we ever imagined we’d be doing. It’s mental that we’re doing that. Let’s hope it goes well!
What other artists inspire Bastille? Who are your favourite bands?
Good question. Loads of stuff. I listen to a lot of new music. I think when we started the band I was listening to a lot of new bands like Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer and Grizzly Bear. Also, a lot of hip-hop production, people like Gorillaz and Kanye West’s production as well, and older hip hop like Fugees and harmonies and big melodies and stuff - a lot of stuff from Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, like a whole load of stuff. Just a big mix of all the different stuff that I like. So, on the album, there’ll be tracks like “Get Home”, which’ll be quite vocal and auto-tuned harmonies and minimal beats and stuff. Then there’ll be other tracks that are quite epic and soundtrack-esque, so it’s a mix. I also think quite visually when I’m doing the songs and that often has a lot to do with how they sound. We’ve got a song called “Laughter Lines”, I wrote it quite a while ago, and I struggled with how to make it work as a recorded song, initially it was quite indie and then we did a version that was way too pop for my liking and then I gave it a rest for a while and then, like pretty much everyone else in the world, I saw Drive and loved the soundtrack to it and ended up thinking about the song again. Then it ended up with this massive string arrangement and these chugging bass synths, so it ended up being retro and futuristic at the same time. I’ve gone so on a tangent here, I don’t even know what the question was anymore.
It’s alright. What did you intend to achieve by 2014?
I want to hopefully finish a second album and I hope that all of our shows go well. We’ve got a little visit to the States now, and then we’ll be going back for a slightly longer tour. In September, we’re going to Australia and Japan for the first time. [We’ll] try and see our friends and family a bit and I really, really love being in the studio and writing so hopefully [we’ll] cram in as much of that as possible and [I’ll] be working on some other projects that are quite fun at the moment. Me and a couple of my mates have a sort of hip-hop production thing that’s quite fun and so I’ll work on that and try to get an album out with that. I’ve got another band with friend Ralph who’s in a band called To Kill A King, we’ve got our own band and we wrote songs together ages ago and didn’t have a chance to record them, hopefully we’ll find some time, but considering how busy we are at the moment, I don’t think that’ll happen.
Last question, have you got any final words? Or any final nuggets of wisdom?
Final words? I don’t have any wisdom whatsoever, sorry, I’m really stupid. Final words? Bye? Does that count? No, that’s terrible. I don’t know.
It is only one word.. Could you stretch it to two?
It is. What about goodbye goodbye? That’s two words.
No, it’s not, it’s terrible. What do people normally say?
They usually say thank you to all of their fans...
Oh! That’s nice. Well, yeah, obviously, we’re massively grateful to anyone who is insane enough to like our music or buy it or whatever. But that’s really cheesy, so don’t say that. Just thank you and goodbye!
Great interview. This is one of those bands I would love to have a fun.-like, "small cult following to mainstream success" breakthrough in the second half of the year stateside. I truly don't think I could get sick of a single like "Pompeii" or "Flaws". And Dan seems so humble for such a talent, so all the better.