A black eye and a bruised heart: Dan Smith is Bastille’s doom-dwelling front figure.
LEFT (Coat and jumper FENDI)
RIGHT (Coat FENDI. Top right – Denim jacket LEVI’S. Bottom left – Jacket COACH. Bottom right – Jumper VIVIENNE WESTWOOD)
Dan Smith is apologising for the third time in an hour: “I’m so sorry, mate,” he says briefly clasping a hand on my shoulder. His photoshoot is over- running and I tell him not to worry; hanging around studios is part of the journo job detail. And anyway, I’m much more interested in the origins of the angry black and purple shiner he’s currently sporting around his left eye.
“It isn’t real!” He says with a grin. “Don’t worry. I’ve not gone super-method.”
The black eye is part of the aesthetic for today’s shoot, in which Smith brings to life the character Perry Smith who inhabits Bastille’s new song “Four Walls”. “Four Walls” is a claustrophobic, synth-propelled ballad that was inspired by Dan’s reading of Truman Capote’s true crime standard, In Cold Blood, in which the novelist unpicks the murder of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas. Perry Smith was one of two perpetrators of the crime.
“Superficially, he’s portrayed as the most sympathetic character of the men that committed the murder.” The reader’s sympathy is gained primarily through the relentless trauma of Smith’s upbringing; from an alcoholic mother and an abusive father, to Catholic orphanages and serious motorcycle accidents.
“But the twist of the book is that [when it came to the murder] his were the most violent, extreme, actions,” he says through a swig of beer. “I’m just trying to capture that thing where nobody can help who and where they’ve been born into. It’s not about finger pointing; some people carry these things with them for the rest of their lives. So nothing seems like it does on the surface.”
It’s probably not your average subject song matter for a planet- straddling pop band, but then Bastille have always skewed the meaning of the word “pop”. After all, their biggest hit “Pompeii” — which has a shade under 300 million plays on Spotify at time of writing — is about corpses having a conversation in the aftermath of the Vesuvius eruption that froze Pompeii’s inhabitants in ash.
Their new album Wild World is a progression from the debut Bad Blood, and sees the band move towards the hip-hop influenced, chop- and-change dynamics of their Other People’s Heartache mixtapes.
LEFT (Jacket COACH, T-shirt SUNSPEL and jeans FRAME DENIM available from MR. PORTER.)
MIDDLE (Coat by FENDI
RIGHT (Jacket 3.1 PHILLIP LIM and T-shirt CAVEMPT available from MR. PORTER)
“I wanted this album to feel like a mixtape. I like the fact we have these dual lines – the Bastille albums which are just us and is very closed off, then the mixtapes which are other people’s voices, other people’s writing. This album wanted to find a middle ground between the two.”
Subject matter-wise, it’s a step on from which Smith calls the “freaking out about growing up in your early 20s” theme that inhabited Bad Blood. Wild World’s first single “Good Grief” explores the intolerable sadness of losing a loved one, whilst “Warmth” — from which the album’s title is lifted — concerns “Watching the news and feeling completely helpless.
“It can be so overwhelming,” he elaborates. “Firstly, because it seems like there’s so much incredibly fucked up stuff happening right now. But it’s also about how it’s presented: so you’re constantly watching the news and what’s happening is so awful it’s almost too hard to sum up in words. It’s presented in this narrativised, dramatic, way, and there’s a weird feeing of dread that can feel never-ending.”
And how does he deal with it?
“I think my response is entirely human. So I go and lose myself in the person you can lose yourself in. Or maybe you just go and get completely shitfaced for the night, because sometimes distraction is the best method of coping.
“This eventually seemed to be the overall theme [of the album]; of how in the context of everything, and how although the world sometimes seems fucked up and complicated, ultimately a lot of human relationships can be amazing and funny, and they’ll get you through.”
LEFT (Jacket 3.1 PHILLIP LIM and T-shirt CAVEMPT available from MR. PORTER)
RIGHT (Jacket McQ, jeans FRAME DENIM available at MR. PORTER and shoes CONVERSE)
Despite the seemingly endless vagaries of the modern world, he has absolutely no intention in trying to influence public opinions despite having a social media soapbox that’s bigger than most.
“God no. Absolutely no fucking way,” he says with surety. “It just so happened that we started doing promo for the album around Brexit and we [he and the rest of Bastille: Kyle Simmons and Will Farquarson on guitar and bass duties; Chris Wood on drums] thought long and hard about whether to talk about it. We decided against it because: A: There are so many voices out there. Full stop. And B: We’re just four dickheads who play music! Our opinion means absolutely nothing.”
We both laugh when he delivers this final sentence and I wonder whether his legion of fans would feel them same. After all, this is a south London boy whose band are exalted everywhere from Brockley to Bombay. “I just have zero interest in the fame side of stuff,” he says, and he’s never sounded so honest.