Bastille’s Dan Smith on celebrating his birthday and disaster storytelling

Bastille, Dan Smith, Bastille Dan

Bastille have seemingly come out of nowhere in 2013, but band leader Dan Smith has been working on his project since 2010. Now the band has two Bay Area shows coming up. Monday, July 22 at Popscene and Sept. 19 at the Great American Music Hall.

Smith named the band Bastille because he was born on the French holiday, on July 14. I spoke to him two days before his birthday, and he was, to be honest, a complete opposite of what the British press have been calling him. On the phone, he was not shy and reserved. Smith was engaging for 15 minutes. Read the complete story. Here are some other interesting bits that did not make it in.

I want to wish you a happy early birthday.
Thank you! Happy early Bastille Day.

How are you going to celebrate?
On my birthday we’ll be at a festival in Scotland called T in the Park. Chances are it’s going to be quite wet on my birthday. We’re going to the festival early tomorrow because Rihanna’s playing, and we’re quite curious to see her play live. It’ll be a strange one.

Are you a history buff? The story in Pompeii is very interesting, and I saw on Twitter that you just visited the city, saw the forum and Vesuvius. Why did you want to write about that?
I’m not really a history buff, but I did like history in school. There were certain stories from history and from the classics that just really resonate. I was reading a book about Pompeii and just looking through pictures of those (preserved) bodies, essentially in their death pose. I think those are really striking images.

I’m looking forward to a follow-up about, say, Atlantis or something. You can add some sci-fi.
People keep asking, “What historical disaster are you going write about next?” but it’s nice to write about things you find interesting, things that you’ve been reading about.

The alternative is to write a 12-song album with 10 love songs in it that all have the same messages.
Which doesn’t even remotely interest me at all.

I hear you’re a film fan and Terrence Malick fan. His films can be a very acquired taste. That means you’re into a lot of the visual stuff, not just the storytelling. How do you incorporate that into your songwriting process? Do you at all?
I see songs quite visually and will imagine the situation or a scene or a conversation between two people in a context. I always want the songs to feel like a show with the lyrics, and I also want to use the production to try and create a mood and an atmosphere.

I heard at one point you wanted to be a journalist or a movie critic. What changed your mind?
There was a point where I got in a master’s course to do journalism, and I was writing, like I was going to write for papers and also writing music and doing gigs and also holding down a day job to pay the rent. It was a bit too much. I feel like with journalism and music, there’s an interesting parallel in that for quite a long time you just have to do a lot of work for not making that much money, and how hard you work doesn’t necessarily correlate to what comes out of it. I got more satisfaction from doing music, and it was more fun, and the band started to do all right, so I sort of let go of journalistic aspirations.

Will this be your first time in San Francisco?
I went to San Francisco with my parents when I was a kid. I remember the really obvious things like going on the tram down a really steep hill and Telegraph (Hill). This will be our first trip as a band.

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