Storming the Bastille: JOE meets Dan Smith, lead singer of Bastille and crooner of worldwide hit Pompeii
JOE recently met Dan Smith, the very friendly and funny lead singer of band-of-the-moment, Bastille. You know the one, the guys that sing Pompeii, this crackin’ earworm right here:
We talked about all the important things like Steven Seagal running, online sex nicknames and why he might be barred from Boots if he hangs about there too much.
Oh, and we also managed to squeeze in some chat about the band, gigs and their Beefeater Alchemy Project.
JOE: Great to chat to you Dan, how are you doing today?
DAN: Nice to chat you dude, all good thanks.
JOE: Where are we chatting to you from today? Have you arrived in Ireland yet for your upcoming Irish gigs?
D: No, not yet. We’re actually playing at a festival in Hertfordshire tonight and another one in Cornwall tomorrow and then playing in Ireland on Sunday. I’m currently sitting outside the studio that we work in though and I’m not being let in because I don’t have a key.
JOE: You’ve been barred haven’t you?
D: Yeah I have!
JOE: Hopefully they’ll keep you locked out for a while so we can have a good chat with you at least. You must be sick and tired of everyone congratulating you at this stage because it’s been such a brilliant and hectic year for the band.
D: Yeah, it’s been busy to say the least and busy is a bit of an understatement really.
JOE: We know you’ve been around for a number of years as a band, but your single Pompeii (see above) really thrust you into the radios of everyone everywhere recently…
D: … yeah, sorry about that…
JOE: No need to apologise. You must still get a buzz though when you’re in Boots or waiting in the dentist and you hear it come on and think “Hey! We wrote that song and now everyone loves it…”
D: Yeah, well we don’t see or hear too much of that because sitting in Boots is what our lives slightly lack at the moment. We’re just away touring the whole time and so the kind of impact and the scale of it all has slightly passed us by, which is probably quite good for our sanity.
We do get to enjoy it via our friends and family when they hear it in a shop or if it’s on the TV and we get really excited messages from them so that’s when we can appreciate it.
JOE: Well the big pity is that you don’t get to go to Boots any more. You obviously have people who go in and pick up your hairspray and Lynx Java for you now, yeah?
D: (Laughs) No, no! I still get into Boots. It’s generally a flying visit when we’re in the airport or sometimes on the rare occasion that I get to go back to my flat where there’s a Boots around the corner. I don’t really linger there too much though…
JOE: You might be barred from Boots AND the recording studio if you linger too much.We saw you on Soccer AM recently and you were getting a bit of stick about your running in the video of Pompeii. JOE actually did a bit of research on the matter though and it turns out that you actually run like Steven Seagal…
D: Well that’s incredible, I now feel loads better about my running. If I have a running twin in Steven Seagal then I feel like I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve in life.
JOE: Well, you’re welcome. You were also in Dublin recently as part of the Beefeater Alchemy Project, can you tell us a little bit about what the project actually is?
D: We’re so lucky to be doing all of the touring that we’re doing and travelling as much as we are, but that means that we don’t really have a huge amount of free time so often we’re just travelling, playing gigs, travelling and playing gigs. Not in any kind of self-pitying, martyr-ish way though. It’s just because of the nature of touring you often don’t get to see or spend any time in the places that you go to.
Being at a festival I’d look at the line-up and think “Oh my God, there’s every band I’ve ever wanted to see in my life.” But you literally have to go there, do the gig, and leave.
The same applies to a lot of the cities that we go to – as soon as you are there you have to leave. Which is obviously loads better than not going there at all but there’s still an element of frustration at not being able to see or do everything you want to.
The Beefeater Alchemy Project offered us a few days to go to different cities that we hadn’t really spent a huge amount of time in, other than doing the gigs there. We were able to meet other creative people, artists, musicians, chefs and restaurant owners and the idea was for us to get out of our bubble a bit to spend some time with some other creative people. The whole thing was awesome and it was really nice to have that opportunity.
JOE: And is the project recorded and documented too? As soon as you get a spare chance you might even be able to sit down and actually watch the thing back…
D: Yeah, we’ll all sit down and watch it like an old family holiday movie! We’ve just met so many really wicked people. We met a guy called Dermot in Dublin who’s a street artist and it was so much fun hanging out with him and getting an appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into that type of work. It’s a window into a world that we know nothing about and is just really, really interesting.
JOE: Recently we’ve been blessed here in Ireland, and yourselves in England, with some brilliant weather which has been perfect for the festival season…
D: … yeah it’s been amazing!
JOE: … but when you’ve been at those festivals, have you actually had a chance to hear any other bands or have you been whisked away immediately? Any particular festival highlights or moments?
D: The one sort of holiday that we’ve given ourselves – other than the Beefeater Alchemy Project which was kind of like a holiday but not really – was that we gave ourselves the weekend of Glastonbury off because I had said, very stubbornly, “I’ve bought my ticket, I’m not going to waste my money so we’re going to stay here.”
So we stayed for all of Glastonbury and saw some amazing gigs there. James Blake was incredible, Vampire Weekend were amazing, the Rolling Stones were obviously wicked and Arctic Monkeys were great. We saw loads and loads of Haim too, they were a real highlight and we saw them at a lot of different festivals. Oh, and Tom Odell was great too.
We watch as much music as we possibly can because ultimately we’re all music fans and music geeks so we see bands as and when we can. There’s been a couple of festivals around Europe where we’ve gone and the line ups are literally unbelievable in terms of massive, massive American acts, European acts and British acts, both old and new. There’s a festival called Pinkpop and another called Rock Werchter and their line ups are just insane.
JOE: Well a few people here at JOE managed to catch you at Bennicassim recently and they were all assuring me that Bastille were one of the festival highlights for them anyway…
D: That’s very nice to hear. I actually completely lost my voice in the middle of that gig, it was a bit of a nightmare to be honest but the crowd were amazing. I’d never been to Bennicassim before and it was just such a fun night because we played at 1.30 in the morning. We we got to watch the Arctic Monkeys and various other people as a distraction before having to play our own gig so it was a pretty surreal evening.
JOE: I don’t think the JOE girls noticed that you had actually lost your voice, they were too busy swooning so I think you got away with that one…
D: (Laughs) That’s good, that’s very nice to hear.
JOE: Something that was completely different in contrast to the summer festivals was that you made an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show, Conan, an episode that had a lineup including Nick Frost and Aaron Paul who are just huge, huge stars now…
D: I know! We could not believe it. We couldn’t believe that we were doing Conan because it was our first trip to America properly and one our first kind of headline shows so it just felt so bizarre going on to his show. And then to hear that Nick Frost was on, because we’re massive Simon Pegg and Nick Frost fans so Kyle (Simmons, bandmate) was proper fan-girling over him and he was just such a nice bloke.
And then all my mates are obsessed with Breaking Bad, so for Aaron Paul to be there as well, you just couldn’t imagine a more interesting lineup… apart from us obviously.
JOE: Ah come on now, I’m sure Aaron Paul and Nick Frost have been raving about how they got to meet ‘that band that sings Pompeii’ too to everyone they talk to…
D: (Laughs) I massively doubt it! It was so much fun and, as a bit of a film geek, they shoot the actual show in the Warner Bros. film lot which I didn’t know until we got there, so just to be able to spend the day wandering around a proper Hollywood film studio was, for me, really fun.
JOE: Yeah, you’ve talked before about how the film director David Lynch has inspired you and the band, or is it that you’re just a fan of freaky dwarves speaking backwards?
D: (Laughs) Yeah, I mean the first thing I saw of his was Mulholland Drive and it blew my little mind in a way that I think no other film really had before. That film made me want to read about it and talk about it to people and find out more about it. Then that led me to all of his other films, his TV shows, Twin Peaks, his art, his paintings and more recently his music. Luckily enough, he’s just recently released an album and we actually did a remix of one of the songs off the album which, for me being quite a big fan, was pretty surreal.
JOE: It seems that you’re getting to fulfill a lot of your fan-boy dreams already – appearing on US TV, meeting Nick Frost, remixing a song that David Lynch has written – things you probably wouldn’t have dreamed of a couple of years ago…
D: I know! Of course not, we never thought like that and even now it’s still so surreal. The most crazy thing to happen was that we did that remix and David Lynch apparently really liked it and so, when we were in LA, we went and met him and hung with him for an hour at his studio. Literally, that was when my entire brain imploded in on itself.
JOE: Would you be interested if the opportunity arose to soundtrack a film, regardless of whether it’s David Lynch or not, but moving into that world of film scoring?
D: Yeah, I’d love to man, love to. That’d be wicked and that kind of thing would be amazing. I think Alt-J recently did a soundtrack and Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails has done some wicked scores. They are very different bands from us but, as a pipe dream that will probably never happen, I’d love to.
JOE: Well, you never know what might happen in the future… We also wanted to ask you about names. Obviously the band name Bastille comes from the French day of celebration but you must be delighted to hear that on Google, you’ve pretty much knocked the French holiday down to page 2…
D: (Laughs) That’s hilarious! That’s very strange isn’t it? Maybe we’re using the band to educate people about the French Revolution! It’s funny that you say that, I didn’t know that but I think that when we first started out as a band it was kind of a problem. I remember our manager saying “I’ve been trying to find you online and all I can find out about is the French Revolution,” so it’s very weird to hear that we’ve potentially, in the Google world at least, usurped a massive historical event.
JOE: Well congratulations on that. And speaking of names, I know one of your fellow band members has a great name, Will Farquarson. I’m not sure though, have you heard of the US politician who’s been in the news recently, Anthony Weiner AKA Carlos Danger? There’s actually a brilliant Carlos Danger Name Generator online so I’ve put your band’s names in so you can all have great names like Will Farquarson…
D: Oh brilliant, that’s amazing! How did we do?
JOE: When I put your name, ‘Dan Smith’ in, your Carlos Danger pseudonym was ‘Osvaldo Hazard.’
D: Oh wow, how do you spell that?
JOE: O-S-V-A-L-D-O. And Chris Wood must be related to you because his name is ‘Emilio Hazard.’
D: Wow, we’re brothers. Brothers from another mother.
JOE: ‘Kyle Simmons’ came up as ‘José Enrique Badass.’
D: That’s absolutely brilliant because that couldn’t really be more appropriate for him. He really suits that name, he really does. I need to write that down.
JOE: Well, it looked like Will lucked out again in the great name stakes because his pseudonym is ‘Narcisso Death.’
D: Narcisso Death!? That is brilliant. That’s the same as Kyle because it couldn’t really be more apt for Will if it tried. Those names are just perfect!
JOE: I know you’ve played so many massive gigs this year, but also some really small ones including the British Museum and one under a flyover? Do you pine for those smaller, more intimate gigs still or have you got a taste for the larger festival gigs now?
D: What was really nice about going to America recently was playing smaller venues again and I love those small shows, especially being able to see the faces of everyone in the crowd. That makes it such a different experience. We started from a rehearsal room and little pubs and built our touring up from the bottom, so we’re kind of much more at home in smaller venues than we are on big stages. Every time we play at a big stadium it’s still kind of a learning curve for us and so, playing in front of a massive sea of people, I don’t know if that will ever feel normal for us.
Those smaller gigs that you’re referring to, we did a tour where we just played acoustically in these really weird places like under a flyover. That was all a bit of a departure for us because we’re not really an acoustic band at all, so it was a challenge and also a bit of fun. I think we’ll always love and miss the smaller venues.
I mean, in Ireland I much prefer playing at The Academy 2 rather than The Academy 1. It’s so much more fun there and people were on the stage, it was sweaty and it was just wicked. Academy 1 is still good but you’re a little bit more detached and it’s much more like a concert than a gig in terms of how everyone acts.
JOE: Here at JOE, we actually had an idea for a new album for the band if you’re interested? And then use the songs at some of those future gigs?
D: OK, let’s hear it…
JOE: Now, because you sing the word “close” so distinctively in your single Pompeii, we were thinking that you should release an album called ‘Now That’s What I Call Songs With The Word ‘Close’ In Them?’
So you could do a cover of ‘Close To You’ by The Carpenters, you’ve got ‘Move Closer’ by Phyllis Nelson as well… and then we sort of ran out of ideas, so the album only really has about two or three songs on it…
D: No, no, that’s good. That idea could definitely take off if we’ve got time to do it too.
When people hear me start to speak they say “Oh! You’re not actually putting on a weird voice in the songs, that’s just how you really speak.” Yep, that’s just my talking voice.
One of my biggest bugbears in the world is English people who sing with an American accent. I understand that our palette of music is fundamentally American, but any time that someone comments or criticises the way that I sing in terms of pronunciation, I would immediately ask them to have a think about most of the people that they might listen, people who sing in the most incredible American accents but who are actually from the Midlands or London. Which is more ridiculous? I don’t know. I mean, Biffy Clyro are wicked because they sing in their Scottish accent and of course you fu*king should because that’s how you speak.
JOE: And The Proclaimers…
JOE: Well Dan, on The Proclaimers I think we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks for all of that, great to chat to you and best of luck with the gigs and the Beefeater Alchemy Project.
D: Nice one mate, wicked. Good to speak to you and thanks very much.