Bastille Talks with Berklee Students about Going from London Basement to Arenas Worldwide

Kimberly Ashton
March 30, 2017
From left: Jeff Apruzzese of the Berklee Popular Music Institute, Bastille keyboardist Kyle Simmons, Bastille vocalist Dan Smith, documentary director Tom Middleton, Bastille bassist Will Farquarson, and Bastille drummer Chris Wood.
Students packed the David Friend Recital Hall to see Bastille's new documentary and to listen to a moderated discussion with the band.
Berklee's Apruzzese and Bastille's Simmons and Smith.
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green

In town Monday night for its show at the Agganis Arena, the members of the British indie pop band Bastille, perhaps best known for the chart-topping song "Pompeii," stopped by Berklee that afternoon to screen its new documentary before a packed David Friend Recital Hall and take student questions afterward. 

The 45-minute film, called Help Me Chase Those Seconds, covers the making of Bastille's second album, Wild World, and includes scenes from the group's time on the road and in the studio. After the screening, the group (vocalist Dan Smith, keyboardist Kyle Simmons, drummer Chris Wood, and bassist Will Farquarson) and film director Tom Middleton sat down with moderator Jeff Apruzzese, the original bassist for the band Passion Pit and now the media and operations manager for the Berklee Popular Music Institute, for a discussion and student Q&A that touched on everything from Bastille's do-it-yourself approach on its first album to how to overcome stage fright.

Below is an edited and condensed selection of Bastille's answers to questions asked by Apruzzese and students. 

On making a “D.I.Y” record

“We made the first record and only a handful of us worked on it. Particularly "Pompeii" did way better than anybody expected. And I think seeing, particularly in the States, the song sitting alongside tracks by artists that we love, but tracks that were produced by like seven people and tracks that are written by 15, as is the way with a lot of awesome pop music, I think we felt like this is really cool that this a song that was made by a handful of people made in a tiny [crap] basement in London.” —Dan Smith

“I remember when we were driving up and down the country for hours and playing to like five people and it was a real slog, and I remember thinking, ‘If we could just get an agent, if we could just get a support slot.’ But I think it’s one of those things, a bit like maybe playing at SXSW, it’s a bit of a myth, because I think support slots can be amazing but equally they can be soul-destroying.” —Dan Smith

On building a fan base and forging your own path

“On our first record in the U.K., literally nobody in the media—TV, press—nobody cared. Nobody wrote about us ever. It was like tumbleweed. And then our album came out, because we built up this fan base ourselves, like through playing live and through online stuff, and the album went to No. 1 and it sort of stayed there for ages. Immediately the press were like, ‘Who the [heck] are these guys?’ and [the press] were absolutely vile, they were horrible to us. We were like persona non grata in the U.K.

"And that was a really interesting experience. The album just kept on growing and growing and growing. There was negative press and no press. And were like, 'Well, like, does that matter?’ There were people getting amazing reviews and they were getting huge features in the newspapers that I read and I love, and then no one would end up actually ever hearing their music. It’s interesting, the things that felt so important maybe five, 10 years ago. Nowadays it’s like, if you can get an amazing track—and a lot of people can do it themselves with software these days—and can get it out, release it yourself, get it on Spotify, these things can just blow up.” —Dan Smith

On stage anxiety and being in the spotlight

“I don’t love being on stage. I’m not like a massive extrovert. So it’s really nice to throw emphasis on visuals that we like making...The show that we’re doing at the moment, it’s like an hour and 45 minutes and we shot content for the whole thing.

“Woody and Will, when they grew up, they very much wanted to be musicians, and they’re much better musicians than I am. And Kyle and me, I think we never really saw ourselves being in a band. So it’s not something that I kind of dreamt of when I was a kid. And obviously, I’m so lucky and grateful to be able to do it for a job at the moment. But I remember the first open mic night I did, I had to be like pretty much forced on stage by my friends and I was like two bottles of wine down. It was awful. So, yeah, I do get quite nervous. And that’s probably the least rock 'n' roll thing in the world to say.” —Dan Smith

“It just, over time, erodes and slowly fades off and fades off. The only thing you can do is just keep performing and it eventually leaves.” —Kyle Simmons