‘I’ve been expecting things to fall apart at any moment’: Dan Smith on 10 years of body dysmorphia, burnout and Bastille | Bastille

Dan Smith doesn’t understand how to swap off. Within the decade or in order that he has been the artistic coronary heart, and frontman, of the band Bastille, he has thought of music continuously. There was a two-week interval over Christmas and new 12 months the place he thought he had managed not to. Then he went to a double invoice at the cinema.

“I received the entire means by way of the primary movie and three-quarters of the way in which by way of the second movie earlier than I had to depart, sing into my cellphone within the hall awkwardly, and then come again in,” he says. “If I’ve a music concept that pops into my head, I’ve to get it down. It should eat away at me if I overlook it, or it’s simply on loop in my head.”

This can be testomony to Smith’s catchy hooks. For the reason that launch of Bastille’s first album, it has been a decade of No 1s, award nominations and sell-out excursions. Business success was swift, though important acclaim adopted extra slowly. A fourth album, Give Me the Future, is launched subsequent month.

But, regardless of this goal success, sitting within the management room of Bastille’s studio along with his ankle resting on his knee, Smith says he has a “very low opinion” of himself. “I can’t actually clarify it,” he says. “I feel there’s dissonance in my head between what we’ve achieved and how I’m perceived, and the truth in my head.”


Smith, 35, is not possible not to like. We converse twice, first over Zoom earlier than Christmas when he’s isolating with Covid at house, then within the unassuming studio constructing, tucked behind a automotive showroom in south London. After greeting me, he’s away, chatting freely about events along with his college associates for New 12 months’s Eve, “hangxiety”, insomnia, diets and how a lot he cherished spending Christmas along with his household (particularly his younger nephews), usually interrupting himself with overlapping tangents, his broad hand gestures to emphasise factors. He’s affable, humorous – and touchingly hospitable (“I’m sorry for those who assume I’m attempting to drown you,” he says after providing to get me water for a fourth time).

Dan Smith performing with Bastille at the 2016 V festival
Dan Smith performing with Bastille at the 2016 V pageant. {Photograph}: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Pictures

When he talks concerning the pressures of being in a band – touring, criticism, fame, efficiency anxiousness, onstage panic assaults – he does so with humour and an specific caveat about how privileged he’s to do what he does. Together with his fastidious modesty and painstaking self-awareness, he’s very a lot the millennial frontman.

“I’ve by no means been good at attempting to faux to be like this slick, rock star frontman, as a result of it’s not what I ever wished to be,” he says. “I see different artists who’re so good at that – and it’s a talent in itself – however it’s simply not one which I’m that keen on.”

Smith isn’t eager on interviews or photoshoots (“Simply to warn you, I’ve no management over my face,” he says, deadpan, approaching the photographer). He appears at ease in the present day, though he tells me his college associates nonetheless discover it hilarious that somebody as introverted as him is the lead singer of a mainstream band.

Smith grew up in south London along with his lawyer dad and mom and sister. He had a contented childhood, he says, however he was a self-conscious youngster and by no means dreamed of a musical profession. “Simply the thought of standing up in entrance of folks and doing something, not to mention taking part in music, was so removed from something I may think about wanting to do.”

As a teen, Smith wrote songs on his piano and laptop computer in his bed room, however saved them to himself. Then, at college, associates inspired him to be part of a expertise contest (he was runner up). Pub gigs and open mic nights adopted, however he skilled extreme stage fright. “I used to be so nervous. I used to be such a wreck,” he says. “I used to drink rather a lot earlier than going on, which was not conducive with having to hit a loop pedal and preserve time with your self. It was a nightmare.”

(*10*)Dan Smith in his studio.
Smith in his London studio. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

In 2010, after ending college, Smith shaped Bastille with Chris Wooden, Kyle Simmons and Will Farquarson. The band launched an EP independently and constructed up a loyal following, touring the nation in borrowed vehicles. The band’s first album, Unhealthy Blood, was written in Smith’s bed room and produced with a pal. “It couldn’t actually have been extra DIY if it tried,” he says.

Even once they signed a report deal he by no means thought they’d achieve success. “We had been by no means hyped; we weren’t being advised we had been going to achieve success. So it was information to us. It was information to our report label, and to everybody!”

However when Unhealthy Blood was launched in 2013 it debuted at No 1 within the UK albums chart and turned the biggest-selling digital album of that 12 months. Its anthemic earworm, Pompeii, went platinum within the UK and double platinum within the US. Critics hated it.

“It was rinsed!” Smith says, laughing.

Bastille (left to right) Will Farquarson, Dan Smith, Chris Wood and Kyle Simmons
Bastille at the 2015 Grammy awards … (left to proper) Will Farquarson, Dan Smith, Chris Wooden and Kyle Simmons. {Photograph}: Larry Busacca/Getty Pictures for Naras

“It’s such a cliche, however you possibly can hear 100 good things and you keep in mind the one which’s not. It’s such a human factor. And perhaps it’s an anxious-person factor to fixate on the adverse.” Critics had been kinder to later albums Wild World (one other UK No 1) and Doom Days (which peaked at No 4 within the UK), and in 2015 the band had been nominated for a Grammy.

However this intense, sudden rise to fame “freaked out” the fame-averse Smith, who’s proud of the truth that many individuals have heard Bastille’s music, however do not know what he appears to be like like. “I used to be vastly self-deprecating as a defence mechanism,” he says. “I used to be all the time such an enormous pessimist. All of us labored so laborious on the band at the start – and proceed to – as a result of we cherished it. However I’ve all the time been expecting it to fall apart at any second. I feel that’s why I by no means assume too far sooner or later.”


Smith has an advanced relationship along with his look, partly, he thinks, from being chubby as a teen. “I used to be massive by way of the top of childhood and by way of rather a lot of college,” he says. “I’m actually conscious of not wanting to indicate that anybody shouldn’t need to be massive. However I keep in mind being simply actually self-conscious and wanting to look completely different.”

Earlier than his third 12 months at college, he went travelling in Thailand and caught a virus. He misplaced his urge for food and the load fell off. When he returned house he began consuming extra healthily and exercised extra. That summer time, his weight dropped six stone. “After I misplaced masses of weight and instantly simply regarded like a special individual, it’s fairly a … I feel for anybody that’s gone by way of fairly a giant, radical bodily transformation it may be a good factor to get your head round.”

He doesn’t need folks to assume this was a magical or aspirational transformation. “It didn’t instantly instil me with masses of confidence,” he says. “For a very long time, I nonetheless recognized as an even bigger man, and nonetheless do to today.”

Smith says he has by no means felt strain from the music trade to change his weight, however his body dysmorphia meant the fixed publicity to seeing his personal face – in movies, images or art work – has been difficult to navigate. “It’s a weird line of work wherein you might be continuously confronted by your personal picture,” he says. “It’s not enjoyable – and it doesn’t really feel notably wholesome.

“I feel rather a lot of folks undergo from completely different variations of body dysmorphia,” he says. “All of us have the model of ourselves that we see in our personal heads and usually that’s so completely different from the model of who we’re by way of different folks’s eyes.”

It makes being on stage uncomfortable. “For somebody who has body picture points, it’s sophisticated getting up on stage each night time in entrance of heaps of folks, when your intuition is to disguise away,” Smith says. “Generally it’s not an issue, typically it’s.”

Dan Smith surrounded by fans at 2017’s Coachella festival
The reluctant frontman … Smith surrounded by followers at 2017’s Coachella pageant. {Photograph}: Frazer Harrison/Getty Pictures for Coachella

Smith has by no means wanted to drink earlier than getting on stage to carry out with Bastille, however it’s nonetheless a nerve-racking, isolating expertise even along with his bandmates beside him. “It’s actually up within the air as to whether or not or not I’ll have an excellent present or not as a result of I get actually nervous,” he says. “I’ve this actually unhelpful factor the place I am going pitch deaf on stage – so I can hear noise, however can’t place something – and then I grow to be actually self-conscious about not singing in tune, as a result of you possibly can’t hear what’s going on.

“I keep in mind taking part in at Alexandra Palace [in north London] – which ought to have been such an incredible second – and two songs in I simply misplaced it and went utterly pitch deaf and the entire gig for me was then this mad, terrifying rollercoaster of simply attempting to get by way of it. I hear myself saying this and it’s only a actual disgrace.”

Performing, in different phrases, is what he has to do to fulfil his ardour of writing, recording and working with different artistic folks. He needs he may take pleasure in it, and is honoured that followers come to see him, however his stage fright is “basically a type of a panic assault”.

Bastille’s fourth album leans closely into Smith’s fondness for sci-fi (he talks fervently concerning the movies Brazil, Minority Report and Ghost within the Shell, and the writers Philip Okay Dick and Margaret Atwood). He made his directorial debut for the music video to No Unhealthy Days, exploring themes of resurrecting family members by way of expertise. The music was impressed by Smith’s aunt, who died of most cancers just a few years in the past.

“She occurred to dwell in a state in Australia the place they only legalised assisted dying and she was one of the primary folks to go down that path,” he says. He was in a position to journey to see her earlier than she died. “To me, she’s wonderful for having taken that call and was so amazingly beneficiant at serving to information all of the folks round her that she cherished by way of this extremely troublesome state of affairs.”

Up to now 10 years, Smith has not often taken time without work. Even throughout lockdown final 12 months he didn’t decelerate, spending his days ending the newest album, working an internet movie membership and volunteering at meals banks and vaccination centres. Within the evenings he wrote extra music, like he did as a pupil (“which I cherished”).

And when he’s not with Bastille, Smith is collaborating with others and having fun with being “a small half on this a lot greater factor”. He has written songs for artists (together with Yungblud, Lizzo and Haim); scored movies (his newest is the upcoming From Satan’s Breath, a brief movie produced by Leonardo DiCaprio), and labored with different musicians by way of Bastille’s report label and studio, One Eyed Jack, which the band arrange to supply a free area for different (usually rising) artists to use. He’s additionally co-hosting a BBC Sounds podcast with books fanatic Simon Savidge, Turn Up for the Books, out this week, and is working on a full-blown musical with two of his associates. What does he do to swap off? Marathons, naturally.

Doesn’t he fear about burnout? “Massively!” Smith says. “However I feel as a result of we began in a spot the place I used to be concerned with each single bit, and was decided to not depart that, I’ve simply stayed concerned in the whole lot to the purpose the place it may be consuming. I feel, at factors, I’ve simply taken on means an excessive amount of.”

Smith, photographed earlier this month, founded Bastille in 2010.
Smith, photographed earlier this month, based Bastille in 2010. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

With all of the success that Bastille has skilled, has his “brutal important narrative” quietened down? “I feel there’s a small half of me that’s actually, actually conditioned to assume that means,” he says. “However I feel I’ve seen some of that negativity overwhelmed out of me by the truth that it’s 10 years on, and we’re nonetheless allowed to do that stuff.”

And so long as he’s in a position to preserve doing it, he’s comfortable. “Recording has all the time been the factor I do for enjoyable,” he says. “The studio is the bit I like. Touring and all the opposite things that include being in a band are only a facet level to making songs, writing songs and creating one thing out of nothing. Which, for me and my fundamental little mind, is basically satisfying.”

Give Me the Future is launched on EMI on 4 February. Bastille tour the UK in March and April. The Turn Up for the Books podcast is on BBC Sounds from 12 January.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button