I did not expect to find out that the guys behind “Pompeii,” the chart-topping hit with a foot-tapping beat that builds up to a catchy chorus and explosive lead vocals and chants, are really a group of easy-going lads with a soft-spoken frontman. However, I would not have observed this if I had only seen them in concert, where they are known to have fist-pumping, dance inducing sets.
I had the chance to see English rock band Bastille at their soundcheck before their sold out show at the Warfield last Thursday. Even though it was a soundcheck, the band was animated in performing some songs for the few people present in the nearly empty venue that would later be filled by thousands of fans, including the crowd that was standing outside hours before doors opened.
Bastille is comprised of lead vocalist Dan Smith, drummer Chris “Woody” Wood, guitarist William Farquarson, and keyboardist Kyle Simmons. On and offstage these guys are entertaining in more ways than one. Simmons is obviously the jokester of the group, and everyone else bounces off his playfulness. When asked if they could see themselves doing something besides being musicians, Farquarson admitted with a chuckle that he does not have anything else planned, to which Simmons quickly responded with “He’s equipped to do nothing else.” Simmons even made a lighthearted jab at Woody when he clumsily dropped his water bottle and wittingly said, “And he’s the drummer.” Then there’s Smith, smiling and quietly laughing at the small digs his bandmates are making at each other.
When it came to serious questions, the bandmates responded thoughtfully, showing their professionalism and dedication to their craft, as a band worthy of their recent 2014 Brit Award for Breakthrough Act.
“Be patient” and “be prepared to work for free for a long time,” Smith and Simmons said to a few college students present at the soundcheck, hoping to break into the industry as musicians. When meeting with the band, I joined these students who are members of Grammy U, an organization that the Recording Academy created for college students interested in the music industry.
Former USF graduate student, Joshua Redden, the San Francisco Rep for Grammy U, said “The Recording Academy wanted to educate college students properly who are trying to get into the industry, or if they don’t even know yet what industry they are trying to get into. We really want to instill professional development, [and provide] networking and work opportunities.” Members get to attend events like concerts, the Grammys, and workshops, where they meet and get mentorship from other professionals working in the industry, from producers to audio engineers, to musicians and more.
USF freshman advertising major and Grammy U San Francisco chapter member, Sarah Lanning, was drawn to Grammy U because it’s a resource in helping her learn more about the music and entertainment industry, which is where she hopes to work after graduation.
“What was really cool about Bastille’s soundcheck was that not only was I able to meet the band, but also their tour manager, and a few representatives from their record label, Virgin Records,” said Lanning. “One of the label reps was actually a former Grammy U member of the same chapter, so it was great to see that Grammy U really can help you get your foot in the music industry.”
In the Q&A with me and Grammy U members, Bastille answered more technical questions regarding the industry and gave advice, contrary to the usual questions the band would have to answer in interviews with journalists.
On the importance of making a good song, Simmons (the same guy who was picking on his bandmates earlier) said, “The song is the first brick of the house of music. You have to make it good. You can have a shitty brick and the house will fall apart. ”
I even got some tips from the band on interviewing, and what they like to be asked in an interview.
Lead singer Smith said, “Do your research. Don’t ask the obvious questions, like ‘why are you called Bastille?’ ‘why is the album called bad blood?’” Smith acknowledged that sometimes interviewers have to ask the necessary general questions for context for their readers, but he also notes to not ask questions that you can find on Google.
In case you were wondering anyways, much like their song “Pompeii,” which is about the ancient Roman town buried in volcanic ash, the band’s name also has a historical reference. They were named after Bastille Day, the French national holiday that marked the revolution, which also falls on Smith’s birthday (July 14).
As for questions the band does like to be asked, Furquarson chimed in, “Throw in a funny one.”
In closing their soundcheck session, the band’s last parting words with us came from a brief interaction they had with Meat Loaf (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) in the studio, in which he said “Work hard.”
For more information on becoming a Grammy U member, visit: