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Interview: Bastille Is Not a Rock Band

Navigating the genre trenches with 2013's biggest Top 40 crossover
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By Courtney E. Smith

It’s hard to think of an idea that sounds worse than going to see a David Lynch film at age 14 with one of your parents. But that’s exactly where Dan Smith, the singer of Bastille, found his lifelong fandom for Lynch’s work — sitting next to his dad as a lesbian sex scene in Mulholland Drive played out on the big screen.

“I think for our videos, particularly early ones — like ‘Bad Blood,’ it’s got a video that probably most people think makes absolutely no sense,” Smith said. “But what I liked about that was the same thing I liked about when I saw Mullholland Drive with my dad. We walked out of the cinema and looked at each other and were like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ And then I was calling up people who’d seen it that I knew and going on the Internet — I found my way onto forums for the first time.”

Lynch, a forward-thinking type who is particularly attuned to the Internet himself, reached out to Bastille for a remix of the track “Are You Sure” for a limited-edition Record Store Day vinyl release. After teasingly asking if we’d like to hear about the really boring chain of emails between managers and publicists that brought those events together, Smith recounted, “I remember there was a conversation about the fee for awhile. I was like, ‘I literally, I could pay you for me to do this, please.'”

Smith jokes about the remix, characterizing a bit of it as “forcing [Lynch] into a duet with me, probably well against his will” but the endearing embrace of things they love is a huge part of what has made Bastille so successful. Their songs sound like they were written to be played to thousands at outdoor festivals, and the grandiose nature of singles “Pompeii” and “Bad Blood” have made them a hit at rock and pop radio. Interestingly, band members say they don’t think of themselves as a rock band.

“I don’t think we think of ourselves as anything in particular,” Smith says. “We don’t see ourselves as a rock band. We don’t see ourselves as a pop band.”

“It’s quite hard to be a rock band without an electric guitar in most of your songs, I think,” bassist Chris Wood says with a sly smile.

“We’ve got a couple of new ones that have guitar, like some quite heavy guitar and riffs in them,” Smith says.

“But we’re no Metallica. Not yet,” deadpans drummer Will Farquarson.

That looseness of form — not identifying as the fruit of the lineage of any particular musical genre — is likely what gave them the freedom to ask Angel Haze to join them as their opening act on tour across the UK come February and March. And in the course of discussing it, Smith lets slip that the band are working on a hip-hop production side project that Haze is involved in, via some online collaboration. The guys uniformly agree that they’re big fans of her, and her recent antics against her record label which they label as “cool.”

“I think I’m interested to hear what people say because a lot of our fans might not be necessarily thinking that they’ll like it,” Smith says. “But I think they will.”

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