‘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 know the way to swap off. Within the decade or in order that he has been the inventive coronary heart, and frontman, of the band Bastille, he has considered music consistently. 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 acquired the entire manner by means of the primary movie and three-quarters of the best way by means of the second movie earlier than I had to go away, sing into my cellphone within the hall awkwardly, and then come again in,” he says. “If I’ve a track concept that pops into my head, I’ve to get it down. It can eat away at me if I neglect it, or it’s simply on loop in my head.”

This can be testomony to Smith’s catchy hooks. Because the launch of Bastille’s first album, it has been a decade of No 1s, award nominations and sell-out excursions. Industrial 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 unimaginable not to like. We communicate twice, first over Zoom earlier than Christmas when he’s isolating with Covid at dwelling, then within the unassuming studio constructing, tucked behind a automobile showroom in south London. After greeting me, he’s away, chatting freely about events along with his college mates for New 12 months’s Eve, “hangxiety”, insomnia, diets and how a lot he liked spending Christmas along with his household (particularly his younger nephews), typically 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 suppose 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 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. Along 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 needed to be,” he says. “I see different artists who’re so good at that – and it’s a ability in itself – however it’s simply not one which I’m that focused 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 at present, though he tells me his college mates 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 mother and father and sister. He had a cheerful childhood, he says, however he was a self-conscious little one and by no means dreamed of a musical profession. “Simply the concept 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, mates inspired him to be a 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 quite a bit earlier than going on, which was not conducive with having to hit a loop pedal and hold time with your self. It was a nightmare.”

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 automobiles. The band’s first album, Dangerous 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 file deal he by no means thought they might 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 file label, and to everybody!”

However when Dangerous 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 SimmonsBastille 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 bear 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 unfavourable.” 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 don’t know what he seems to be 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 onerous on the band at the start – and proceed to – as a result of we liked 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 suppose too far sooner or later.”

Smith has a sophisticated relationship along with his look, partly, he thinks, from being chubby as a teen. “I used to be large by means of the top of childhood and by means of quite a bit of college,” he says. “I’m actually conscious of not wanting to suggest that anybody shouldn’t need to be large. However I bear in mind being simply actually self-conscious and wanting to look totally 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 burden fell off. When he returned dwelling he began consuming extra healthily and exercised extra. That summer season, his weight dropped six stone. “Once I misplaced hundreds of weight and all of the sudden simply regarded like a distinct individual, it’s fairly a … I feel for anybody that’s gone by means of fairly an enormous, radical bodily transformation it may be a good factor to get your head round.”

For a very long time I recognized as an even bigger man and nonetheless do to this dayDan Smith

He doesn’t need folks to suppose this was a magical or aspirational transformation. “It didn’t all of the sudden instil me with hundreds of confidence,” he says. “For a very long time, I nonetheless recognized as an even bigger man, and nonetheless do to at the present time.”

Smith says he has by no means felt stress from the music trade to change his weight, however his body dysmorphia meant the fixed publicity to seeing his personal face – in movies, pictures or art work – has been tough to navigate. “It’s a weird line of work during which you’re consistently confronted by your individual picture,” he says. “It’s not enjoyable – and it doesn’t really feel notably wholesome.

“I feel so much of folks undergo from totally different variations of body dysmorphia,” he says. “All of us have the model of ourselves that we see in our personal heads and typically that’s so totally different from the model of who we’re by means 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 evening in entrance of tons of folks, when your intuition is to cover away,” Smith says. “Typically it’s not an issue, generally it’s.”

Dan Smith surrounded by fans at 2017’s Coachella festivalThe 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 a great 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 bear 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 fully pitch deaf and the entire gig for me was then this mad, terrifying rollercoaster of simply attempting to get by means 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 inventive folks. He needs he may get pleasure from it, and is honoured that followers come to see him, however his stage fright is “basically a kind 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 Dangerous Days, exploring themes of resurrecting family members by means of know-how. The track was impressed by Smith’s aunt, who died of most cancers a couple of years in the past.

“She occurred to stay in a state in Australia the place they simply legalised assisted dying and she was one of the primary folks to go down that path,” he says. He was ready 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 liked by means of this extremely troublesome scenario.”

Up to now 10 years, Smith has not often taken day without work. Even throughout lockdown final 12 months he didn’t decelerate, spending his days ending the newest album, working a web-based 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 liked”).

And when he’s not with Bastille, Smith is collaborating with others and having fun with being “a small half on this a lot larger 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 means of Bastille’s file label and studio, One Eyed Jack, which the band arrange to provide a free house for different (typically 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 mates. 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 go away that, I’ve simply stayed concerned in every little thing to the purpose the place it may be consuming. I feel, at factors, I’ve simply taken on manner 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 suppose that manner,” he says. “However I feel I’ve seen some of that negativity crushed 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 ready to hold 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 really 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 de facto 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.

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