Conversations with… Dan Smith (Bastille) Part I
By LaToyah Gill
To have an appreciation for music is remarkably cathartic. There was a time when I would only listen to a limited selection of songs or artists, never really taking the time to discover the diverse realms which music has to offer. Living with a roadie who takes pride in his huge record collection and whose life is filled with musical tales has influenced my desire to explore new territories and has inspired my own curiosities.
A while back, I wrote about a band I had discovered called Bastille, who had released a mixtape called ‘Other Peoples Heartache’. Headed by singer songwriter Dan Smith, whose melodious voice enchants in ways rarely associated with pop, the band comprises of four members and is in no doubt on route to great success.
With an aura radiating passion, sincerity and gentleness, I spoke with Dan Smith before he and his band performed to a sold out crowd at London’s Scala…
LG: I am going to ask some questions because I tried to find some information but there isn’t that much going.
LG: So, your name is Dan Smith?
DS: (Leaning forward nervously in a soft, shy tone) Yep.
LG: How old are you?
LG: 25. And names of everyone else in the band?
DS: Woody on drums, Will on bass and Kyle on keyboards
LG: Are they all 25?
DS: Kyle is 24, Woody and Will I think are both 26
LG: How did you guys meet?
DS: I have been making songs for the last few years. I started out doing gigs by myself and then a few with Will and Woody. Then we stopped gigging for a while and I recorded a bunch of songs with a friend of mine called Mark who is a producer, and put them online under the name Bastille – quite anonymously, because I didn’t really know what I wanted it to be. At the same time, Kyle came in and so the four of us started rehearsing the songs. We did our first gig in April last year.
LG: When did you start writing on your own?
LG: Was it something you have always done?
DS: Yeah kind of, since I was a teenager. But it was never something I really wanted to do as a job. It was always something I was really embarrassed about, so I never played. No one, NO ONE knew that I made music, none of my mates.
LG: Why were you embarrassed?
DS: (Whispers) Because it was shit. It was really bad. I don’t know, I guess I didn’t have much confidence in the songs back then. Also none of my friends made music, so it was just something I did for fun by myself. Then when I went to unmet loads of new people. All the guys I was living with were doing music and studying music. That made me want to do it a bit more.
LG: Was it a music course?
DS: No I did English. Literature.
LG: Where was that?
DS: At Leeds.
LG: I used to live in Leeds.
DS: Did you?
LG: Hyde Park.
DS: I lived in Hyde Park.
LG: Are you from Leeds?
DS: No, I’m from London. Kyle, who plays keyboards, went to Leeds as well. I lived on a road called School View.
LG: School View? Is that near the Picture House? I used to run a night at the Hyde Park Picture House
DS: No way!
LG: A short film night called Guerrilla Shorts… my background is in film.
DS: Oh wicked! Yeah, we used to go there quite a lot. They always showed slightly better, more obscure films. I quite like that sort of network of cinemas. Did you study film?
LG: My MA was film-related, but I learnt more about the films I wanted to make after uni.
DS: Yeah, everyone I know that did music courses or degrees or whatever, says the same.
LG: When did you realise you were actually good and start to take your music seriously?
DS: In my last year of university, I was living with some of the guys from To Kill A King (they use to be called KID ID). They had won this competition, which Leeds Council ran called Bright Young Things — this is a really long boring answer, sorry! Anyone could enter; winners were granted a day in the studio and a big gig or something like that. In the third year, one of my few friends that knew I wrote songs and did music encouraged me to enter and I did. I didn’t really tell anyone and I ended up winning it.
LG: Ah, cool. When was that?
DS: A few years ago now. I mean, within the Leeds music community it is known, but it’s not like a big deal. But that was what forced me to go out and play a gig. I had never done so before.
LG: What was it like?
DS: Terrifying. I still get really nervous, but back then I was literally a mess before gigs. I would sit in the toilets by myself, rocking back and forth. It was terrible… I used to have to drink a bottle of wine before I came out.
LG: (Both laugh) And now?
DS: Now I’m fine. Now, I don’t drink at all before gigs. I still get really nervous, but I am not as bad.
LG: What were you writing about back then?
DS: (Pauses) I don’t know. I think I was really determined not to write relationship songs or sort of love songs. I tried not to write about clichéd stuff, I’m sure I did though. When I first started, before Bastille, I was really influenced by Regina Specktor. Quite a lot of my songs were probably really annoying and whimsical in an attempt to be a bit like her. They were quite wordy and looking back at them now, they’re just kind of awful. I am definitely more obscure now.
LG: Where do you get the inspirations for songs?
LG: Yeah, are they about personal stories?
DS: Yeah I guess. I write about a mix of stuff that has happened to me, things that I think, things that have happened to people I know, friends… Weirdly, I think a lot of the album that we’ve just made — I didn’t realise this at the time — has a real sense of fear. Fear of becoming an adult and not realising that you have. You know, those years around your late teens or early 20′s, where maybe you haven’t really been taking things that seriously and then suddenly you are sort of faced with responsibilities. I didn’t really intend for that to be a thing. On the whole it must sound like I am a nervous wreck who is terrified about life (laughs). But then, also, I don’t really like to make stuff that personal, probably it sounds a lot more personal than it really is. I often use characters from popular culture or history or whatever, as a kind of way to deflect from myself a bit.
To be continued…
Check back next week for a more relaxed Part II, Dan discusses the importance of control, his love for David Lynch and the relationship he has with his fans.