Discovery: BASTILLE

Published April 9, 2013

ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) CHRIS WOOD, DAN SMITH, AND KYLE SIMMONS. PHOTO COURTESY OF GREG NOLAN

Dan Smith will only talk about the future of his band in the conditional—”if we make another album.” The lead singer of British pop outfit BASTILLE, Smith is being modest. As he sheepishly admits, Bad Blood, BASTILLE’s debut album, is currently number one in the UK. “It’s the music industry,” he explains, “you never know what’s going to happen. I feel like we definitely will make another album, but if it gets released or not is another issue altogether.”

BASTILLE’s ascent began with a free, two-volume mixtape, Other People’s Heartache. To call it a mixtape of covers doesn’t quite do it justice; Smith and his three band mates transform classics from the ’90s and 2000s (and one Fleetwood Mac song) by mixing them with film quotes and their own original singles. “No Angels,” BASTILLE’s take on TLC’s “No Scrubs,” begins with Norman Bates’ infamous line from Psycho, “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ About You” is introduced by a clip from Donnie Darko. A song called “Forever Ever” features British poet Kate Tempest rapping over the beat from The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and drifting into a chorus that would become “Bad Blood,” one of the lead singles from BASTILLE’s album.  Smith sings every song sincerely in an accent that is oh-so-English. Sometimes this makes the track seem more poignant, but often it does the opposite and reminds us how far removed BASTILLE is from the subjects of these songs.

A bit cheesy, very catchy, and utterly enjoyable, Other People’s Heartache is a perfect introduction to the quartet’s hook-filled pop. When Bad Blood comes out in the US (it’s currently only available at an inflated “import” price on Amazon and entirely absent from iTunes), we predict BASTILLE will take off like their American counterparts, fun. Before that happens, we took the time to talk to Smith about Elton John, City High, and being invited to the British Museum to perform their single “Pompeii.”

HOMETOWN: London, UK

BAND MEMBERS: Dan Smith, Chris Wood, Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson

FIRST PUBLIC PERFORMANCE: I played at a school concert when I was a kid. I just remember being really nervous. I always get really scared. It was an Elton John song called “Song for Guy,” which is an instrumental song—really weird ’80s weirdness. I remember going in, and I hadn’t learned anything—I hadn’t learned the proper classical pieces well enough. I just went and sat there and played from memory, this weird, instrumental Elton John song. [laughs] I think I made loads and loads of mistakes and completely messed it up. I think everyone thought I was a bit odd. Technically, I wasn’t that good and I wasn’t very good at reading music, so I just kind of ended up doing that. That song was on an Elton John greatest hits CD that I was listening to in the car. When we’d go on long journeys, my mum and dad would put it on.

I don’t listen to that much Elton John anymore. It’s a bit like the songs from mixtapes, there’s a certain amount of songs that you listen to because you want to and there’s a certain amount of music that you just hear. I have a lot of respect for his music, but he’s not a person that I listen to a lot at the moment.

ENCORE: The first year we started doing gigs, we only had six songs. If we ever got asked to play an encore, which was a rarity, we would run out of songs, so we’d play “What Would You Do?” [by City High]. We’re four guys from London, we couldn’t really be further away from where the song’s written and what it’s about. We love the song; we remember it really fondly from hearing it on the radio when we were kids. People weren’t expecting it—they wouldn’t know what it was, and by the chorus, everyone in the room sort of looking at each other and singing all the words—”How do we know this? Who’s it by?” We did a recording of it and put it online. When we did the recording, we listened to the lyrics and, obviously, they’re quite dark; it’s quite a serious song. In the original, it’s dressed up in this quite poppy R&B song, so we thought we’d try to do it as serious as possible. With the rest of the songs, it’s a big mix of stuff—recent songs that I love, old songs that I love. Songs from the ’90s and the 2000s that I remember hearing on the radio and are ingrained in the back of my mind, the way that pop radio just hammers its way into your consciousness.

COVER FOR COVER: With all the covers that we do, I just make up what I think they’re saying. [laughs] I get the words wrong all the time. Particularly in “What Would You Do?,” the chorus is just completely wrong. I’ve completely misheard it and it’s a terrible, terrible attempt. We thought with the covers, it would just be fun to treat them as if they were our own songs, and almost not listen to the originals. To try and do covers from memory. That’s why there are huge mistakes in loads of the songs. Loads them I miss out half the song or the bits I can’t remember just aren’t there. Do people get angry about it? I don’t know. I hope not. No one’s said anything. I don’t think anyone that would care that much has heard.

MIXING FRANK OCEAN AND DONNIE DARKO: I wanted to use samples from films that I love. A lot of it is happy accidents and things that seem to fit really well. I had this big bunch of film samples that I wanted to use, film soundtracks and film quotes. The way that song by Frank Ocean [“Thinkin’ About You”] makes me feel is quite similar to what I think I’m watching Donnie Darko. With the mixtapes, it’s kind of about maybe taking things together that in their own context are really separate and really different, but in my mind they’re things I like and things that make me feel a certain way.

SUPPORTING THE ARTS: The [Pompeii] exhibition opened this week [at the British Museum]. They emailed us and asked us if we would come and visit. I’d quite wanted to go to exhibition anyway, but they invited us down and gave us a private tour. Then they asked us to sing “Pompeii” in the British Museum and we were the first band to ever play the British Museum, which was quite cool. They said it was too much of a coincidence to ignore, that we had a song in the charts called “Pompeii” and they had an exhibition called “Pompeii.” It was actually really funny.

A BOY’S BEST FRIEND IS HIS MOTHER: Does Norman Bates qualifies as more than just a scrub? [laughs] I think he probably does. He’s slightly more than just a scrub, but that’s one thing you could call him.

YOU CAN STREAM OTHER PEOPLE’S HEARTACHE ON BASTILLE’S SOUNDCLOUD.