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 the biggest selling new British act of the last year, 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 March 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's weird because we never discussed any big ambitions," says Smith. "With that tour, when we sold out two nights at Shepherd's Bush Empire we thought, 'Wow! This is brilliant!' I don't think we ever imagined it getting any bigger than that."
But it did. Infectious fourth single, the anthemic 'Pompeii,' charted at number two. It went on to become the second most streamed track of 2013, just behind Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky,' and so far holds the record as the song to spend the most number of weeks at number one on the Official Streaming Chart... not to mention the most successful song to tackle the niche subject of death by volcanic ash inhalation in the annals of pop.
The album, "Bad Blood," followed, smashing in at number one and quickly achieving platinum status in the UK. The most downloaded album of 2013, and the second most-streamed, it's since sold over 2 million copies worldwide. So Bastille shouldn't really have been surprised at last year's Glastonbury Festival when they drew the largest ever recorded crowd in the history of its John Peel Stage. "You can be told all these sales statistics but they're all abstract," says Smith. "It's only when you play live that you feel it, seeing that reaction among our audience. Those are the proper markers of success. Glastonbury was truly incredible."
Ask Smith to pick a highlight from Bastille's whirlwind annus mirabilis 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 was just strange serendipity that the week it opened there happened to be a band in the charts with a song about Pompeii, so they invited us along. We had to sing before the leading archaeological minds, right beside the ancient relics. We were thinking we shouldn't be allowed to do this, but the moment we started singing it just felt really nice. They ended up asking us to sing it twice." 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 very nervous," says Smith, "but he was so nice. He just stuck out his hand said 'Hi, I'm Dave. You must be Dan?' and my head exploded. 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." "We made those while we were recording the album," he explains. "They were huge fun, like big brain splurges of sound, even if our record company were worried because we were ripping off film samples and covers without permission. The point was that pop music is meant to be inclusive so we were reclaiming a lot of songs we remembered fondly from growing up, like Corona, Snap! and things like City High's 'What Would You Do?' We put them up online to be downloaded for free, and thousands of fans have, so it's really gratifying to have been able to share that."
Hurtling into 2014, so far the new year has seen them nominated for four BRIT Awards (British Breakthrough Act, British Group, British Album, Best Single for 'Pompeii'), play to their biggest headline crowd yet to 15,000 in Johannesburg and sell out London's Alexandra Palace. Currently touring America, where "Bad Blood" was the highest charting debut album by a UK act in 2013 and where 'Pompeii' has since broken the million download mark, in January they were invited to play an acoustic performance as special guests of Detroit's Motown Museum. "So 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."
Stranger things have happened. If the past year 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 year we've had, but I think it helps. We tend not to revel in stuff and sit 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 never spoke about it again. Any kind of success we've had, we're mildly in denial about. But when we stop and try and take it all in... I mean, it's brilliant. But it's crazy!"
A divine madness, and one they'd best get used to. As of 2014, the irrepressible storm of Bastille is only just gathering...