Star's struggle 'I think 2020 is the year that we all stopped pretending everything is fine' - Bastille frontman Dan Smith admits struggling with fame
HE'S a reluctant star in the world of pop, and Bastille's frontman Dan Smith admits that he struggled with life in the spotlight.
Smith reveals that the British group's new single, Survivin', has been inspired by those personal challenges rather than what's happening in the Covid world today.
He began writing Survivin' months before the pandemic, intending it to be a frank account of the highs and lows of Bastille's seven-year career.
"There'd been times when I felt like I'd been in a washing machine and on a conveyor belt at the same time," Dan explains, "but when people asked me how I was doing, the answer was always the British cliché: 'Yep, all good, fine'.
"At the start of lockdown I felt very self-conscious about having written a song that felt relevant when it wasn't intended to be, but then I also think 2020 is the year we all stopped pretending everything's fine."
Bastille's debut album, Bad Blood, was Britain's biggest-selling digital album of 2013.
Their smash hit single, Pompeii, is one of the biggest songs of the decade. It was the most streamed song of all time in the UK at one point, and spent a staggering 92 weeks in America's Billboard Hot 100, a feat only equalled by Pharrell's Happy.
It shone a blinding light on Smith, who originally wanted to be a journalist and write about movies.
"Suddenly, being in this mainstream space that we never imagined we would be in was quite surreal," he says. "I was really guarded and quite unprepared. I was definitely playing myself down and wanting to deflect attention."
He prefers to write songs about things he finds interesting rather than about himself. "Talking about yourself is not that interesting," Dan says.
Smith, whose parents are both lawyers and South African immigrants, wrote and arranged songs on a 12-track recorder during his teenage years in South London.
He didn't play them to anybody until he was studying English literature at Leeds University and was persuaded to enter a talent contest. "I was a very self-conscious kid," he says. "And I was just writing for myself. I never imagined playing for anyone else.
He performed his first show at the age of 19, trying to recreate his bedroom songs with a cheap loop pedal. "I had to drink quite a bit to get up on stage," he admits. "There must have been some weird inner ambition. I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety, but I still did it."
After university, Dan moved to London, met the rest of Bastille - Chris Wood, Will Farquarson and Kyle Simmons - and wrote songs for Bad Blood after work. He supported himself by taking on a variety of odd jobs, including as a runner at an entertainment company. "There was one guy whose wife's sex toy broke and I had to get it fixed," he says.
Bastille soon gained attention for their catchy music and established their fanbase through online releases and steady touring.
It was Smith's voice that helped the group's song, Pompeii, crack the Top 10 in more than a dozen countries.
However, Smith wasn't the epitome of a showman, preparing to hide in the shadows behind his piano at the back of the stage. "It was a great crutch," he says. "I could look down and not have to face the crowd.
"It took a lot for me to sort of want to get on stage. It wasn't very natural for me. I was quite introverted and still am, but making friends with the guys, starting the band and having that shared experience made it way easier and more fun."
Dan admits that Bastille are astonished by their international success. "I guess because we'd never dreamed that big, everything that's happened to us has felt like a happy accident," he adds.