Music Box session #11: Bastille drop in to perform four tracks and Dan Smith talks crowdsurfing at Coachella

One of the UK's biggest bands dropped into play a stripped-down session for the final episode of our first Music Box series.

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The Independent Culture

A quick glance at Bastille’s social media accounts makes it look as though they’re having a lot of fun in between gigs on their latest US tour. 

There are videos of whitewater rafting and excursions to Mount Rushmore, plus one image of the moment the band stumbled onto a nudist beach. But frontman Dan Smith is currently staring at a slightly less inspiring view.

"I’m on our tour bus…in a giant carpark in Iowa. But after this I’m gonna go for a wander,” he says over the phone. 

"We’ve been making a massive effort to go out and see things - it’s been quite a good, fun tour in that respect. But most of our friends are like: 'Can you f***ing stop posting pictures please..'"

“This tour in particular is good because we’ve had the time to think about going round and seeing stuff, we’ve had the best experience travelling around this massive cross-section of America.

During this tour they stopped off at Coachella, where Smith did his first proper crowdsurf, having avoided any attempts since the time he tried it and, rather than holding him up, the audience “grabbed me, threw me to the ground and jumped on top".

“At Coachella I’d seen a bunch of bands crowdsurfing and thought ‘f*** it, I’m going to do it, the worse thing that can happen is that I look as embarrassing as I always do’,” he says. “So I jumped, and was cruising around for what felt like about 2 hours and was probably actually only five minutes."

Coachella is a very different beast to the festivals music fans are used to in the UK, he says: "There’s no mud, bad weather is a sandstorm … there are fundamental cultural differences. Like not being able to drink a pint when you're watching a gig.

“People go in for the day and leave, so all the borderline-feral stuff that we’re used to at festivals isn’t there.”

Clearly making the most of their time out there, they also filmed a new video for Bastille’s new single “Glory”.

Smith as a rule tries not to let the band's videos depend too much on him (“I’m not much of an actor – I found that out the hard way”) but was persuaded to make an appearance in this one.

“It was quite fun, in Texas and it’s being edited at the moment. We tried to use another day off in between shows to shoot, spent some time in Dallas. I think we want to push as far as we can with the visuals. This song’s a much simpler idea than some of the others, so we wanted to make something that was a little more expansive. 

“Particularly on this album campaign [for Wild World]: the music is saying one thing and the visuals are pushing that further, and there’s been this commentary to everything, and we pushed that really far, particular with our tour. So with this video it was maybe time to do something more positive-leaning.”

Bastille’s early success was driven not so much by press coverage as their brilliant mixtapes of remixes, covers and original songs that saw them collaborate with a number of underground artists. 

Since then Smith has been working with a small team on his record label Best Laid Plans, to which Rag 'N' Bone Man – who appears on some of those mixtapes – is signed, but tends to steer clear of associating himself too much with the label in public. 

“Doing the mixtapes, working with other people, we thought it'd be fun to take that mentality and apply it to something new,” he says.

“It was ages ago now but when we started Bastille I didn’t necessarily want people to know or care if it was a band, and it came from a place really of just much rather having people listen to the songs rather than caring about the people making it. Because it’s personal and looking elsewhere. Regardless of people’s perceptions of Bastille, we’ve always done a lot of different stuff.”

Once they get back to the UK the band are finally treating themselves to a new studio space. For the past five years they’ve squashed themselves into a windowless studio in south west London, where they recorded two No.1 albums but often found themselves explaining to other, "bigger acts" that the space they’d invited them to was the entire studio, not just the entrance hall.

“We decided, we like doing this, and after a few years we probably owe ourselves a window,” Smith says now. "At the moment our ‘kitchen’ for the last five years has been a tiny microwave and a sink. And one of those tiny beer fridges you had at uni. 

"If you want to set up a drum kit, to get into the room you’ve got to climb over the kit, round the corner to get through another door,” he adds. “So yeah, I’m excited about it, it should be nearly ready when we get back from the US tour."

It’s fortunate they’re used to such cramped conditions, though: The band came into perform a special stripped down session for Music Box with The Independent a few days before they left for the next leg of their tour, for the final episode of season one. They performed four tracks: 'Glory', 'Good Grief', 'The Currents' and 'Two Evils'.

It’s quite bizarre to see it if you’ve seen them perform in an arena to 20,000 people, to then go to such a small room where they were crammed in with their gear, two managers and a sound guy, but the session is fantastic -  testament to their talent as musicians that they are able to recreate the sound and feel of their music without an elaborate set-up.

They're doing something similar for a gig at Union Chapel in London where they’ll perform with a string quartet, to help raise money for homelessness charity Streets of London. 

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"I think that’s always been one of the weird challenges with our stuff, because it started on a laptop in a bedroom, and the production is a huge part of it," Smith says. "My dad used to say – because he liked our songs but wasn’t into the more electronic sides of the production – that you can tell it’s a decent song if you take all of that stuff away and it’s still all right. 

“Often with our music there’s quite a lot going on, so people hear melodies that sound up and catchy, and production, and maybe don’t really listen to what the songs are about, so it’s nice to sing a song like ‘The Currents’ and really mean it.

"When we first started out we were challenged to do these versions of the songs, and it’s something that we quite like. It’s a different beast. To go from playing at the O2 with crazy visuals, musicians and a lot going on, it’s kind of nice to go to a piano and just sing a song, as basic as that seems."

Bastille's new single 'Glory' is out now - they play a special, intimate gig at Union Chapel in London on 22 May

Special thanks to: Bastille and their team, Universal, Janet Choudhury, Emily Cooper, The Independent video team

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