Since they emerged in 2013 with their worldwide hit “Pompeii” and their platinum debut album Bad Blood, British pop/rock band Bastille has had a solid impact both artistically and commercially. They’ve now released three albums (including Wild World in 2016 and Doom Days in 2019), and two years ago they had their biggest hit, “Happier,” which was a collaboration with producer/writer/DJ, Marshmello. “Happier” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified multi-platinum in the U.S. and many other countries.
Currently, Bastille has just released their new, 5-track EP called Goosebumps (on Republic Records), that features three new songs plus two additional mixes. The first single from the EP, “Survivin’,” is an excellent, upbeat cut that has reached Top 10 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart and is moving up the Hot Rock Songs chart. The EP also contains the playful, R&B-style single “Goosebumps” featuring producer/writer Kenny Beats. The EP also includes a modern rock track called “What You Gonna Do?” that features guitarist Graham Coxon from the popular U.K. band, Blur.
Originally formed in 2010, Bastille is led by Dan Smith, who is their lead singer, main songwriter and frontman. He has written most of the band’s songs by himself, although he is enjoying co-writing more. The group also includes Kyle Simmons (keyboards), Will Farquarson (bass and guitar) and Chris “Woody” Wood (drums).
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Dan Smith of Bastille. He discusses the latest songs and projects that the band has done during this pandemic year. He also talks about their single “Survivin’” and their EP, Goosebumps. In addition, he tells how he wrote or co-wrote Bastille’s biggest hits, ‘Happier” and “Pompeii.”
Here’s a video of Bastille performing their new single, “Survivin’.”
Before we get started, here is some background information on Bastille and highlights from their discography. The group began as a solo project by Smith, but later expanded to include members Simmons, Farquarson and Wood. The name of the band derives from Bastille Day, a national day in France that is celebrated for being a turning point in the French Revolution. It is also the date of Smith’s birthday.
Initially, Bastille self-released a single and EP before signing with Virgin Records. In 2013, they released their debut album Bad Blood, which has sold six million copies worldwide and included the hit, “Pompeii.” Notably, in 2015 the band received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Then in 2016, they released their second album Wild World, that contained the U.K. hit, “Good Grief.”
It was in 2018 that the band had another major impact, when Smith wrote the song “Happier” with Marshmello and hit writer/producer, Steve Mac. This led to a duet between Bastille and Marshmello, which became a worldwide hit. Impressively, “Happier” remained in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for a remarkable 27 weeks. Following this success, the band released their third album Doom Days, that featured the singles “Joy,” “Those Nights” and “Another Place” (feat. Alessia Cara).
In the early months of 2020, Bastille completed their international concert tour. Then when the lockdown began, Smith and the band focused on writing and recording new material. According to Smith, Bastille has now completed many new songs that they’ll be releasing in the coming year.
Here is our interview with Dan Smith:
DK: Nice to speak with you, Dan. I saw and liked your show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last year (Oct. 2019).
Dan Smith: Brilliant, thanks for coming. It feels like a different universe, the idea of being on tour and playing shows and being close to that many people.
Here’s the video of Bastille’s new song, “Goosebumps”
(feat. Kenny Beats).
It’s been very weird. We did a show in London a week before lockdown (Mar. 2020), with a small orchestra and a gospel choir. We were wrapping upeverything that we had planned to do for our album (Doom Days) and tour. But we didn’t know that it would be right before the whole world was locking down.
DK: Although this year has been rough for everyone, at least it seems your band had a chance to wrap up its tour before the lockdown, and take a planned break.
Smith: Yeah, basically since we began, before our first album, we’ve never really stopped touring. We felt very fortunate to have our first album (Bad Blood) and first single (“Pompeii”) do so well, and it allowed us to tour and release music pretty much everywhere. And since then, we’ve never really hit the ground. We’ve released albums, mixtapes and EPs, and toured and tried to make the most out of the opportunities we’ve had. Because of all that, we looked at the end of our third album as the closing of this trilogy and body of work that we made. So we thought it would be good for us and our fans and everybody else if we just disappeared for a bit (laughs). But little did we know that the entire world would be stopping at the same time.
Because we had planned to take a break, we were sort of prepared for this year. I was excited to work on music and on songwriting. I feel super fortunate, as someone who loves writing songs, that I’ve had the time and headspace to do that.
DK: You and the band have released a new EP called Goosebumps. Can you talk about the making of this EP and the song “Goosebumps” featuring Kenny Beats?
Smith: The EP pulls together music that we made throughout this year and the very end of last year. After our third album, we were looking to shake up our ways of working. With the songwriting, the process has always been quite solitary in our band. I generally come up with the songs, and then we’ll take them to our producer, Mark (Crew), and we’ll take them to the guys (in the band). We’ll work on them and produce them into what will become Bastille songs. That’s how it’s always been for me.
Here’s the video of Bastille & Marshmello’s hit, “Happier.”
Having reached the end of our third album and done it this way the whole time, I wanted to look forward try new things, I thought it would be nice to collaborate, and bring other people into our world and write with other writers and artists. It would be fun and fascinating to speak to other people with different experiences and techniques, and different styles.
Our new song “Survivin’” came out of a very fun, quick day with a couple of friends in the studio. And “What You Gonna Do” came out of me wanting us to have a loud rock song, which I wrote on the tour bus and then worked with our producer, and with Graham Coxon, the legendary guitarist from the band, Blur.
DK: How did you write the song “Goosebumps” from your new EP?
Smith: It started at the end of last year when we were on tour in the U.S.. In New York, we had a day off, and Mark (Crew), myself and our friend Dan (Priddy) booked a small studio, and we started a load of songs including “Goosebumps.” Then I played it for Kenny Beats when he came through London. He came to our studio for the day to make music, and he loved that song and started making the beat for it.
I guess in a previous world, we might have tried to do what Kenny had done by ourselves. So what’s new for us now, is to enjoy the fact that there are many amazing people out there, and have fun pushing our music in different directions. This EP represents that.
DK: You talked a little about your song “Survivin’,” which I really like. How did you write this song?
Smith: “Survivin’” came about through a session with a few friends. It was with Mark (Crew) and Dan (Priddy), who we do a lot of work with. And it was also with Phil Plested, who’s a talented, young British songwriter. On that day, we wrote two or three songs for fun, and “Survivin’” popped out. It felt special to me, because it speaks to that feeling that a lot of people have at different points in their life, when things are a bit overwhelming and when life gets on top of you. You’re working on getting from one thing to the next and from one day to the next. And I like that sentiment, but I wanted it to be laced with some tentative optimism as well.
Here’s the video of Bastille’s hit, “Pompeii.”
Then at the beginning of this year, we came back to the song and I rewrote the lyrics and verses, to try to make it about the experience of coming to the end of this non-stop rollercoaster, with seven years of touring and being in a band. And I wanted to try to distill that down into a couple of verses, and [express] the internal voices and issues that you fight with. So yeah, that’s where the song came from.
DK: I also wanted to ask you about some of your earlier hits. Two years ago, you had the big hit “Happier” with Marshmello. How did you connect with Marshmello and write that song?
Smith: I initially wrote that song with Steve Mac (a top U.K. songwriter), who I hadn’t met before. We were put together for a collaboration by my publisher, who also publishes Steve. They thought it would be a good match, and I’d been wanting to get into writing songs for other people. So I went in with him for a couple days to write and come up with ideas for some other artists.
Before going to the session that morning, I was in the shower and the chorus popped into my mind, and I channeled people like Justin Bieber (laughs) and made myself write in a different style. So we spent the day writing a song, imagining that it was for Justin, and initially it was a piano song, and that’s where it’s life began. Then a couple months later when were on tour, Steve sent me a version. I felt the song felt could really resonate with people, but I didn’t feel completely comfortable singing it as a Bastille song (at the time).
So we lived with the song for awhile, and I was hearing Marshmello’s music all over the radio and on Spotify, and I really liked the spaciousness of his productions. Then our producer, Mark (Crew), said, “You should reach out to Marshmello and see what he thinks.” So we sent him the song and he loved it, and we immediately got on the phone and started working on it. And it was really interesting for him to take that and reinterpret it. Originally, the song had five sections, and he tightened it up and added the drop. It was a really fun process.
I visited Marshmello’s place in L.A. and we worked on the track there, and then we flied it back and forth online a bunch. Marshmello and his team were amazing, and he’s done so many different sounding records and worked with many interesting people. For someone like me who’s pretty old school, who usually just sits in a room and writes a song and starts to produce it, this was a different way of working…first with another songwriter, and then with this massive producer/DJ/songwriter. It was really different for me, and a big learning experience.
Here’s a video of Bastille performing their song “Million Pieces”
with the Chamber Orchestra of London.
DK: “Happier” was such a great collaboration with Marshmello. Have you talked with him about doing another song together?
Smith: That’s a really good idea. I haven’t thought about that (laughs). Yeah, maybe I should send him some songs and see what he thinks (laughs).
DK: With you as a songwriter, what’s your writing process? Since you write most of Bastille’s songs on your own, do you usually write a song and then bring it to the band?
Smith: Yes. I tend to come up with a bunch of different ideas, and sing them into my phone, and then when I’ve got the time, I’ll sit at a piano or I’ll sit at my laptop and assimilate them into song ideas and flesh them out. Sometimes the song will come out entirely in one piece, and sometimes there’ll be a hook or an idea that I get a bit obsessed with, that’s rolling around in the back of my head. It’s almost like a problem that needs to be solved (laughs). And I love it; it can become quite distracting and obsessive sometimes, when you have a bunch of ideas on the go, and you want to get them finished and done. I guess for me, that’s always how I worked.
I find satisfaction in both co-writing and writing songs by myself. This year, I’ve even written songs on Zoom with other writers. The first, good Zoom experience I had was with (hit songwriter) Dan Wilson earlier in the year. I’ve met him before in real life, so it wasn’t so weird writing over Zoom. By the end of our writing session, a song existed, and so I think that unlocked something. It showed that just because you can’t travel and be in rooms with each other, that working remotely can be really fruitful. As it turns out, the song I wrote with him is one of the most organic-sounding and warm songs that we have.
DK: In the early days of Bastille, you got off to a great start with your hit, “Pompeii.” What’s the story behind that song?
Smith: I had finished college and was back in London, where I grew up, and I was working a lot of different jobs. I had started to play music live, so I was doing gigs and pubs every now and then. I was doing these gigs and writing and recording on Garageband.
Here’s the video of Bastille’s hit, “Joy.”
“Pompeii” was one of those first songs that I wrote (for the band). At the time, I was thinking that my life was kind of in stasis, and I wasn’t really going anywhere. I could feel time starting to fall away and drift, and I felt like I wasn’t achieving that much, as a lot of people feel at different points. So I had those thoughts, and I was reading about Pompeii…it’s such a fascinating and sad story.
In the book I was reading, there were photos of the bodies of people in the pose in which they died, and it’s such a haunting image. In the picture I was looking at, there were these two people together, and I thought about [my own life]. In my mind, I made the leap from the feeling of stasis that I had, and the feeling that I wasn’t going anywhere. And seeing that image, I was like…Oh, I got it. They’re just stuck in this pose and this position as time goes by, and they’re not going anywhere or doing anything. So it’s like a ridiculous imagining of the conversation between these two charred, ashy corpses, looking at each other and saying (the lyric), “Oh, many days fell away with nothing to show…does it almost feel like you’ve been here before.” So that’s what the song is about.
I guess it was a bit more tongue-in-cheek than people took it to be, because it’s such a grand and absurd image to borrow. And then it was such a surprise to us when the song did so well…we never expected it to be so mainstream. So it took a minute for us to shift our heads, from being this small DIY indie band from London, to suddenly being on pop radio all over the world (laughs).