The word Bastille brings to mind revolution, change and the storming of the old by the spirit of the new. When London-based singer/songwriter Dan Smith called his band Bastille, he was merely thinking of his birthday, July 14, France's Bastille Day. But for one of the biggest British acts in the world right now, with hindsight Smith's choice seems an ominously apt metaphor for their dramatic impact.
The omens that Bastille would make an indelibly huge mark were there long before their 2013 debut album 'Bad Blood' entered the UK charts at number one. Formed by Smith after recruiting keyboard player Kyle Simmons, bassist Will Farquarson and drummer Chris 'Woody' Wood, while they only pressed 300 copies of their 2011 independent debut single "Flaws," its accompanying video, edited by Smith using clips from Terrence Malick's 1973 cult classic 'Badlands,' scored half a million hits on YouTube. Signed by Virgin Records and tipped by a vociferous network of discerning bloggers, after three singles they were selling-out their first headline UK tour before their album was even released. "It was totally unexpected because we'd never discussed any big ambitions," says Smith. "With that tour, when we sold out two nights at Shepherd's Bush Empire we thought, 'Whoa, this is ridiculous!' I don't think we ever imagined it getting any bigger than that."
But it did. Infectious fourth single, "Pompeii," has become one of the alternative anthems of the last few years, selling more than ten million singles worldwide, and being the no.1 rock song on American radio in 2014.
The album, 'Bad Blood,' followed, smashing in at number one in the UK charts and staying in the top twenty for 2 years. It achieved double platinum status in the UK, and gold in the US. It was the most downloaded album of 2013, and the second most-streamed, it's since sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide.
Ask Smith to pick a highlight from Bastille's whirlwind career and he's spoilt for choice. Possibly the honour of being the first band ever to play The British Museum when invited to perform 'Pompeii' at the opening of their Life & Death Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition. "It felt like strange serendipity that the week they opened this incredible exhibit there happened to be some band in the charts with a song about Pompeii, so they invited us along. We were asked to sing our tune for some leading archaeological minds, surrounded by ancient relics. It wasn't something we ever imagined and we were pretty embarrassed but once we started playing it felt awesome. The acoustics were incredible and they asked us to play it again." Or his meeting with his all-time hero, David Lynch, whose 1990 TV series "Twin Peaks" inspired Bastille's "Laura Palmer" and who asked the band to remix the track 'Are You Sure' from his 2013 album 'The Big Dream.' "I was pretty nervous," says Smith, "but he was a very warm and funny guy to hang out with. He just stuck out his hand and said 'Hi Dan, I'm Dave' and my head basically exploded on the spot. David Lynch is the biggest rock star in my world." Or their performance at Bestival when they played in fancy dress as Team Zissou after Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic." Or possibly the moment when a fan queued up to meet them backstage with the intention of proposing to his girlfriend in front of Bastille. "Luckily, she said 'yes'," smiles Smith. "Although it was a bit weird when afterwards he hugged me first before he hugged her!"
Their triumphant 2013 ended with another number two UK hit single, "Of The Night," an engagingly modern twist on two 90s Eurodance classics, Corona's "Rhythm Of The Night" and Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer," a mash-up first included on the band's "highly illegal" (says Smith) downloadable mixtapes 'Other People's Heartache, Vols I & II.' They released (the highly legal) 'Vs. (Other People's Heartache vol 3)' last December, which featured collaborations with chart-straddling artists like Haim, and up-and-coming talent such as MNEK. The three mixtapes delivered tracks that have topped the Hype Machine chart 12 times.
Their achievements have been recognised by awards judges as well, with nominations for four BRIT Awards (they walked away with the coveted British Breakthrough Act gong), a Grammy nomination, two nominations from the American Music Association awards, and a Teen Choice Award in the US for Best Rock Song.
Live they have moved on from Shepherd's Bush to play 15,000 in Johannesburg, sell out London's Alexandra Palace and tour America, where 'Bad Blood' was the highest charting debut album by a UK act in 2013 and where "Pompeii" has had over 3.5 million downloads and counting. This frankly staggering achievement has been recognised, with the band appearing on the iconic American comedy show "Saturday Night Live" and getting slots at the annual Coachella festival.
While in the states they were invited to play an acoustic performance as special guests of Detroit's Motown Museum. "So maybe we're setting a precedent for 'Museum Pop,'" laughs Smith. "I don't know what's next. Maybe we'll be the first band to play between the ribcage of a brontosaurus in The National History Museum."
One thing that's already a tradition is Dan's relationship with the legendary Glastonbury festival. Having came of age in the mud of Worthy farm as a teenager, his dream of finally playing the festival came true in 2013, where the band gave an incredible performance to a rapturous crowd.
If all this has taught Bastille anything it's that they never know what's around the corner. "As a band, our expectations have never been high," Smith confesses. "That might sound weird after the couple of years we've had, but I think it helps. We tend not to revel in stuff or rest on our laurels. Like, when we were told our album had gone to number one we went 'that's nuts!,' then we got drunk and the next day we didn't really speak about it again. Any kind of success we've had, we're mildly in denial about."
2015 has seen Bastille scale new heights, they have just completed a summer festival tour which included Benicassim, Lollapalooza Berlin, a secret Glastonbury show on the William's Green stage and drawing the largest crowd on the Friday at Reading Festival.
They are currently in the studio working with producer Mark Crew on their hotly anticipated second album, which will be released in Spring 2016.