Bastille, at the Tractor this weekend, grew from London singer-songwriter Dan Smith’s solo project to an intriguing band peddling big hooks and a sound easily capable of filling arenas. “Bad Blood,” released in March, hit No. 1 on the U.K. albums chart and also did well stateside, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard Top 200.
Comparisons have been made between Bastille and fellow Brits Mumford and Sons, and they’re pretty apt. Smith sings with the same keening emotion as Marcus Mumford, and both bands employ a thick, layered and often nearly too busy sound. The other similarity? Both bands are fairly irresistible despite their flaws. Hit the jump for a Q & A.
Q & A
ORS: I know you started off as a solo project and it evolved into a full band. Can you talk about the decision to expand into a full band?
Dan Smith: It started off as a solo project in the sense that I had been making songs on my laptop and doing things by myself. I met both Will (Farquarson), who plays bass in the band and Woody (Chris Wood), who plays drums, through music and playing together. It always felt a bit weird playing music under my own name, especially with other people on stage. The sound changed a bit and it felt like the sound of a band. We got Kyle (Simmons) involved and we started rehearsing and I guess I’m incredibly lucky to gig and tour in a band with my friends. I couldn’t imagine doing it solo. It’s a lot more fun being in a band.
ORS: Can you talk a little bit about how that music evolved when you switched to a full band?
Smith: Me making music started when I was a teenager and I always used to make songs. I had a little 12-track recorder and I used to make songs in my free time. I never really told anyone that I did it and it didn’t really occur to me to make it a public thing. The sound, when I was doing it more on my own on the 12-track, I used to layer my voice a lot and I’d use a loop pedal when I would play gigs. It was much more sort of loop based.
It never really occurred to me to play music with other people. Playing with other people has been quite liberating and has allowed me to write differently. A big transition happened when I started recording with my friend Mark (Crew), who produced our album. I became a little bit more open to using electronic instruments and programmed beats. It kind of opened a lot of doors as to what we could do. The amazing thing about using a laptop to make music is that you can pretty much get whatever sound you want in the world and that’s a lot of fun (messing) around with that.
ORS: I’m curious about the song “Laura Palmer,” which has a “Twin Peaks” inspiration. Is David Lynch a big influence?
Smith: When I was younger I was really obsessed with films and tried to seek out obscure foreign films. I stumbled upon “Mulholland Drive” and the story was completely mind-blowing. It was the first Lynch film I’d ever seen. After that, I wanted to see everything he’d ever done. I discovered “Twin Peaks” and it’s definitely one of the more accessible things he’s ever made. The characters are so fascinating. It’s really quirky and weird but it’s also really fun and engaging.
I thought it’d be fun to make a quite obvious nod toward David Lynch and that show since I loved it so much. It’s funny, a lot of people haven’t heard of (the show). They ask if Laura Palmer is an ex-girlfriend or something. I have to say, “No, it’s a TV character.” I wish everyone could know about the awesomeness of David Lynch. It’s not going to be for everyone but I kind of love that aspect.
ORS: The album “Bad Blood” has had tremendous success and is doing really well for you. How has it been having that kind of success right now?
Smith: The four of us have been incredibly excited about it and just really surprised. Being in a band, I think it’s hard to think that far ahead. You never really know what’s going to happen. I’m a relatively cynical person and I was constantly joking about us getting dropped before the album even got out. For us to release the album and people to really engage with it and have any kind of chart success was not something we ever anticipated or even really allowed ourselves to think about. It’s been very surreal. Hopefully it’s the beginning for us. Already our heads are very much in making the next album.
ORS: What can people expect from a Bastille show having probably never seen you guys before in a live setting?
Smith: Good question. Songs! It’s a big mix of our album, EPs we’ve released and mixtapes we’ve done. Our live shows are a bit tougher and rougher than the albums we’ve done. They feel a bit more like a band, I guess. We enjoy ourselves. I jump around and am always a bit awkward onstage but hopefully people enjoy it.
9 p.m., Saturday at the Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave N.W., Seattle; $16-$18 (www.tractortavern.com or 206-789-3599)
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails