Bastille on songwriting, being good allies and “the ‘eh, oh’ song”

Bastille on songwriting, being good allies and “the ‘eh, oh’ song”

by Sally Churchward.

Being in a globally successful band and fame might seem synonymous.  But for the members of Bastille there has always been a distinction, and they’ve worked hard to keep it that way.

We’re chatting backstage at Victorious Festival. Later on they will headline at the Castle Stage, before a huge crowd who will enthusiastically sing along to all their hits and  tracks from their new album. 

The band’s music is such a part of modern culture that it’s been featured on a John Lewis advert and Strictly Come Dancing, not to mention selling more than 11 million records worldwide, the global tours, BRIT award and more.

But despite their huge success, which has seen them enter the top ten album debut global on Spotify this week, with Give Me the Future + Dreams of the Past, they can still live their lives unimpeded by the downside of fame – I spot a couple of members of the band wandering round the festival, unnoticed by fans who will later be cheering them.

All four members of the band – lead vocalist, pianist and songwriter Dan Smith, drummer Chris ‘Woody’ Wood, Kyle Simmons on keyboards  and Will Farquarson on guitar and bass – are emphatic in their agreement that they’ve consciously avoided personal fame.

“That’s been a preoccupation of ours, right from the beginning,” says Dan. 

“We never expected to be a mainstream band. Obviously we wanted people to listen to our music and come to our shows, but we didn’t think we’d ever be in the charts. When Pompeii and the first album blew up, it was such a shock and it didn’t feel that real, and I think it was a preoccupation of ours to sort of separate that from our actual lives. 

“We weren’t on the TV at all, we didn’t do that much press, we weren’t in people’s faces, but a lot of people heard our music. I think ten years down the line, we feel super privileged to have a bunch of songs that a lot of people know, but we can also live pretty normal lives and people have no idea that it’s us.”

“It’s always quite difficult getting that line right between success and fame,” adds Kyle. “Obviously, we want to be successful in what we do. We’re really happy and proud of the things that we release, all things that get made, through the music, the visuals and everything, but obviously to gain that level of success, a certain amount of fame or notoriety comes with it and it isn’t something we’ve ever courted.”

“Ultimately we’d rather the band name was the face,” says Woody, “rather than any of us was the face.”

Sally Churchward interviewing Dan Smith, Woody, Kyle Simmons and Will Farquarson of Bastille backstage at Victorious Festival.
Sally Churchward with Bastille at Victorious.

Although they don’t seek out fame, Bastille have plenty of time for their fans. Before their performance at Victorious, they spend hours at a signing at Pie and Vinyl record shop in Portsmouth, and our interview is the last of several that day. The Victorious date itself is sandwiched between performances at Leeds and Reading Festivals, no doubt featuring similar rounds of  questions from press. They have a reputation for being polite and courteous and that’s certainly their behaviour today. Indeed, despite bursting out of their hot changing room where they’ve had their previous interview looking like they’ve escaped an inferno, they’re quite willing to go back in for our chat – though they appear relieved at the suggestion of conducting the interview in a cool spot outside. And they are as focused, engaged and considered as if it was their first interview following a new release, rather than probably one in the triple figures and a day of promotion before a gig.

They seem to take pleasure in talking about their work, and clearly don’t take themselves too seriously.

On the subject of avoiding fame, or at least too much of it, Dan points to the fact that they don’t feature on their artwork and whilst they are in some of their videos, the videos themselves are often like short films, which they appear in, rather than showcasing the band themselves.

“We try to make little films that are weird and surreal and if they happen to have us in them, they have us in them, but we’ve always in our heads had probably quite pretentious ambitions for the stuff we do, and want to poke fun and ourselves, poke fun at the idea of being in a band,” he says.

The desire to avoid personal attention has previously extended to the band avoiding speaking out on social and political issues, although they say that that has changed for them somewhat over the years.

“I think at the beginning, particularly given that we didn’t want to be famous, we were always quite cautious about being vocal with our opinions, politically, or otherwise,” Dan explains. 

“I think we just didn’t want to be known for that, we wanted to be known for our music. 

“But as the world progressed, particularly leading into our second album, there was Brexit, there was the election of Trump, there were these huge global events that were happening that we totally felt ‘no, no, we do want to write about this in our music, and we do want to talk about it,’ and I think we’ve grown into a position where we feel more confident. 

“Also, in that time, society has just become so much more polarised and it’s difficult to have conversations. We try to talk about them on this new album, like it’s so easy to shout at each other on the internet and ignore what someone who disagrees with you is saying. We’ve kind of got to a point where it’s hard to sit down and have a reasoned conversation with someone and listen to them and try to understand what they’re saying.”

Bastille have involved  themselves musically in a number of good causes, such as Channel Aid, seeing a stunning orchestral performance of their hits, and a fundraising concert for those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy . 

Dan mixes with the Castle Stage crowd at Victorious, by Elliot McRae.

They also consciously strive to be allies to the LGBT+ community.

“Touring with our last album, we intentionally had a big sparkly rainbow drum kit, like a Pride flag, because that’s something that’s getting more polarised,” says Woody. 

“We often get people in the front row with Pride flags. If you have to nail your colours to the mast, these are ours. We want it to be a safe space for everyone.”

On the subject of hatred directed towards transgender people, Dan adds:

“It’s such a tragedy that has become a battleground. There’s room for everyone.

“Obviously we are massively supportive of the trans community and try to be as good as allies as we possibly can.”

He continues: “We exist in an industry that is historically quite dominated by men in positions of power, and obviously we are four blokes, but we have an entirely female management team, most of the people who work at our label are women. I think we try when we tour to have as much equality as possible. 

“We live in a world that feels progressively harsher and less inclusive in some ways,” he muses.

The new album, Give Me the Future + Dreams of the Past has some of that harsher edge to it, with a sci-fi, often dystopian feel.

Plug In, from the album, features lines such as “Guess we learned nothing from history’s mistakes/Billionaires, rocket to Mars/Stuck on Earth drinking in driverless cars/Icecaps’ll fall, Cali’ll burn/Wilful denial until it’s my turn/Bunch of old white men who don’t give a fuck.” While other songs focus on escaping – into dreams, artificial intelligence, or fantasy.

Many of their songs feature a collage of cultural references, snippets from films such as Blade Runner and Weird Science, a line echoing Dylan Thomas’s Poetry, songs entitled Thelma and Louise and Back to the Future, to name a few.

Dan explains how he draws different elements together in his songwriting process.

The process is quite scattergun so often ideas will just pop into my head and I’ll sing them and sometimes it’s quite thought through in terms of what I want to reference, and other times, it will just be, Iike you said, a collage of culture and history and things you’ve seen and listened to, and that just comes out,” he says. 

“With this album in particular, because we very much wanted it to feel like science fiction, it felt like a sort of easy and fun thing to do, to weave a lot of sci fi references throughout the songs, I guess to sort of guide whoever’s listening to that place, to those visuals in their mind and also a nod to things that we love. 

“I think it was a really lovely excuse over lockdowns to re-watch loads and loads of sci fi and re-read, yep we read a lot.”

Bastille at Victorious, by Tony Palmer.

Dan frequently records his ideas as VoiceNotes, whether he’s travelling or out to dinner, and says it can be very frustrating if he’s in a situation where he can’t immediately record an idea.

Kyle agrees: “We’ll be on an aeroplane, and he keeps popping off to the bathroom to sing into his phone, like more ideas coming and coming…”

“It’s almost like, my VoiceNotes are an extension of my thoughts,” adds Dan.

“I get a bit OCD about trying to capture everything. If I think of an idea and I’m in a situation where I can’t sing into my phone, it has to go round and round in my mind until I can get out of that situation and get it down, until I can sort of stop thinking about it.”

While Dan does sometimes write a song at the piano from start to finish, much of his work comes about from these VoiceNotes.

“A lot of the writing process is when I have the time and the space mentally and the opportunity to sit down at a piano, I then listen back through stuff and if I hear an idea that resonates with me, I will go down that path of finishing it.

“Sometimes there are pretty fully formed ideas that have come out of a VoiceNote, and other times, there will be a little bit of a melody, that I’ll be like ‘oh, I want to explore that a bit more,’ so it is quite a patchwork process.”

Dan adds that while many songwriters use their songs as a means to express their own feelings, perhaps as something of a therapeutic process, for him, it’s predominantly about telling a story.

“Writing’s always been about storytelling and so there’s a lot of autobiography woven through the songs but I don’t sit down and be like ‘God I’ve got to get this off my chest’ and do it,” he says. 

“Often I’ll be like ‘oh, I’m interested in this topic. I’ve just seen this in the news and that’s really bothering me at the moment’. 

“Sometimes they also just come to be what they’re about, rather than any real intention but you know, it’s all ultimately filtered through my brain and our experiences so it’s a real mix of both.”

As well as their original songs, Bastille are known for putting their original spin on covers and mashups of songs, including snippets (or more) from the likes of TLC’s No Scrubs, Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved and Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.

Woody explains that initially the covers were born of expediency.

“We were getting booked for half hour slots and we only had six songs, so we needed to pull up a load of songs from somewhere,” he laughs.

“We thought it would be fun to do a cover of What Would You Do by City High,” adds Dan.

“It’s a song that we love but one that you probably wouldn’t expect a band from London to do. I was always really struck by that song by how it’s such an upbeat pop song, but the lyrics are so sad, so we thought we’d do a sad version, to fit with the lyrics. We were playing it at shows and it felt like a bit of an easy win, to play a song that everyone knows, and they don’t even necessarily know who it’s by, but they like singing along, like ‘how do I know this song so well?’.

“That led us down the path of recording it. Often when you sign a record deal it takes quite a lot of time for your album to actually come out, so we were getting a bit impatient, and we thought we’d make some mix tapes that incorporated lots of old songs that we remembered from when we were kids, and current music and film soundtracks and film quotes, and mashed it all together in these mixtapes, thinking it was just a kind of fun exercise in experimenting with production and things like that. We didn’t realise it would be such a big thing.”

Woody adds: “When it came to doing radio sessions and Live Lounges, stuff like that, we’d kind of created a rod for our own backs because the first time we did a mash up and they were like ‘oh that’s great, you should do that again.’ So forevermore we have to do mashups rather than just straight covers. But I think it makes it more interesting anyway.”

While their music is obviously central to Bastille, their presentation goes way beyond that, with everything from virtual reality to live theatrical performances to accompany their releases and give fans a deeper experience. 

“We look for interesting ways that we can release music,” says Kyle. 

“Like we had a kind of immersive theatre show that released our third album. People came to this place in Hackney and there were three different sets. There were actors running around and you could choose which story you were listening to on these headsets.”

“Everyone’s interested in keeping things as creative and different as possible,”adds Dan.

“We try to start with the songs and they often end up with being concept albums and then we’re like ‘right, we’ve made this concept album, what can we do around that now to build the world?’ With Doom Days and with that play, it came from us thinking, ‘right how can we release this into the world in a way that hasn’t been done before,’ and it ended up being a kind of choose your own adventure immersive live theatre piece, which was also a silent disco at the same time. We feel so lucky to have the opportunities to do things like that.

“With this album, Give Me the Future, there have been loads of really tech heavy, bizarre futuristic gigs and digital gigs, stuff like that, and it has allowed us to explore different ways of presenting music. 

“There are a lot of bands out there who are fucking brilliant and they just go to the studio, record some songs, play them live and put themselves on the album cover, but we’ve never really wanted to be that kind of band, not because there’s anything wrong with it, we just wanted to always try to be a bit weird and different,” he laughs.

Creativity clearly drives Bastille, and they seem to have an urge to constantly stretch and challenge themselves, rather than rest on the laurels of their success.

“We’re in a time where pretty much anything you can do in terms of being in a band as four blokes has been done to death, a million times, and we’re so aware of all those cliches and try to avoid them as much as possible, often to get steered right into the eye of that storm!” laughs Dan.

“I guess it’s up to us to try to keep things interesting for our fans, who are really smart and very on it and will always challenge and call us out on anything, and give us their thoughts very freely. 

“We want to keep things interesting for anyone who does listen and wants to delve a bit deeper. We try with every album and single to create a world that’s rich and interesting and hopefully fun and exciting for anyone who cares enough to listen or dig in.”

But while the band strives for newness, they appreciate that for many, they will always be defined by their biggest hits, and they’re OK with that.

As Dan adds:“Obviously this is all with the knowledge that to a lot of people we’ll just be the guys who sing the ‘eh, oh song’.”



  • Give Me the Future + Dreams of the Past is out now. For more information, visit
  • Main image: Dan Smith at Victorious by Tony Palmer.
  • In Common is not for profit. We rely on donations from readers to keep the site running. Could you help to support us for as little as 25p a week? Please help us to carry on offering independent grass roots media. Visit: