OVER SALAMI PIZZA, THE BASTILLE FRONTMAN DISCUSSES THE PERILS OF FESTIVAL SUNBURN AND HIS CONSTANTLY THWARTED PESSIMISM.
According to its website, south London’s Mercato Metropolitano, an urban farmers’ market set in a 45,000 square foot former factory, is both “a vibrant space where everyone shares the same passion for food and social relationships” and “an experience that goes beyond eating.” Alternatively, as Bastille’s Dan Smith puts it when he arrives 10 minutes late for our lunch date: “Anything in London that’s vaguely industrial or can be reclaimed has to be turned into something bespoke and pop-up.” The complex started off with Italian food, he explains, “but then they got cold feet and whacked in a Vietnamese.” Smith seems to know this place pretty well. When was he last here? “Er, last night,” he laughs. “I live just round the corner, which is why it’s totally inexcusable for me to be late. I’m the kid at school who lives next door but always turns up late.” Food-related awkwardness weighs heavily on Smith’s mind. During the course of today’s lunch he admits that he lives in fear of going to dinner at someone’s house and there not being enough food and some years ago he got into the habit of taking his own hot sauce to such soirées. Mainly, he admits, “because I’m an awful person.” Our lunch date represents rare downtime for Bastille, who’ve been making the most of 2017’ s festival season. Five days ago they were in Denmark sandwiched between Run The Jewels and Frank Ocean; two days later they were second on the bill to Rod Stewart at the Isle Of Wight festival. When he talks about his band’s Coachella slot in April, he presents a series of vignettes that underscore this unlikely pop star’s endearing haplessness. For instance, he was looking forward to seeing Beyoncé but she cancelled. He then didn’t go to see subtlety-free producer DJ Snake’s set (“for obvious reasons”) only to miss Lauryn Hill appearing as a surprise guest. In addition to this he “changed colour from pale white to lobster red within five minutes”, mention of which triggers a flashback to what he says is the most embarrassing experience of his entire career. Two years ago Smith was halfway through a huge, globally-livestreamed festival set when a roadie appeared onstage and smothered him with sunscreen, “like a surrogate dad putting sun cream on a child.” So how was Bastille’s Coachella show? “I didn’t think anyone would come,” Smith says, halfway through his salami pizza. “But they did. The lesson here is to stop being such a negative twat, but I can’t help it.” The problem with Smith’s negativity crusade is that good stuff keeps on happening. Last year Bastille’s second LP, Wild World, became their second Number 1, and he’s almost finished writing its successor. After lunch he’s off to record a song for a Hollywood film soundtrack and in two days he’ll find out if another’s been accepted as the theme for a major US TV series. Then there’s the side-project he’s been working on for seven years and which might now finally be coming to fruition: a concept album that draws on post-rock and hip-hop with heavily vocodered vocals and numerous guest artists, which Smith has “no intention of fronting” and is, he says, “pretty ridiculous”. Added to which there’s also Bastille’s own record label, Best Laid Plans. It always felt like something of a well-intentioned hobby so when Smith notes today that “one of the guys on it is doing quite well at the moment” it seems like he means rising star Rationale, who’s just scored a cut on the Katy Perry album. He actually means another BLP artist, Rag’n’Bone Man, who first toured with Bastille four years ago and for whom “doing quite well” means winning a Brit Award and having the fastest-selling debut LP by a male solo artist this decade. “I’m conscious of tarring the artists with associations that might come with Bastille,” Smith begins selfdeprecatingly, “but it’s undeniably exciting that this project we believed in from the very beginning has gone on to be crazily huge. Not to take any credit for it.” At the risk of sounding gauche, has Rag’n’Bone Man’s success made him rich? “Um, no. Er… No.” That’ll be a yes then. As we leave the “experience that goes beyond eating” and walk towards Elephant & Castle roundabout, Smith talks about yet another ongoing project: Bastille’s new studio, situated in a reclaimed vaguely industrial location a few miles away. Its completion has taken longer than expected, he admits. And then he sighs. “Logistics are boring, life is annoying.” Dan Smith’s life may be pretty magnificent at the moment, but as potential epitaphs go, this “negative twat” might have stumbled onto an unlikely winner.
“The lesson here is to stop being such a negative twat, but I can’t help it.”