Apr 02, 2015
Clean Bandit

Clean Bandit rose to fame out of nowhere in 2014 with their Grammy-winning “Rather Be,” But don’t be fooled; they’ve been making music for a while now. We sat down with Grace at their tour stop in Charlotte to talk about their Classical roots, how they pick their vocalists, and their wild post-Grammy party adventures.

Clean Bandit - Stronger [Warner]
LessThan3: How did the members of Clean Bandit meet?
Grace: I play the cello, and Neil (the violinist) and I have known each other since we were little kids playing in local orchestras, youth ensembles, and all things Classical music. I started a string quartet when we were in our first year at Cambridge University. That’s where we met Jack who is from a bit more of a jazz background. He plays saxophone and keys, but he was experimenting with electronic music at the time. He came to all of our Classical quartet concerts and started making recordings and playing around on his computer by adding beats to stuff we were playing. The first few songs we made were using Classical pieces that we were performing and then adding beats and basslines. Then more recently we started writing our own string lines. So it’s not really Classical music. It’s just acoustic instruments that we use. Like Rather Be obviously is not a Classical string line, but because of the sound of string instruments it has Classical connotations. That was about eight years ago when we started. It was more like a hobby. And then we started making music videos and it went from there.
LessThan3: Was there a pivotal moment when you realized that it could be more than just a hobby?
Grace: I think it was different for everyone in the band. For me I felt that from the first day really. I was trying to set up loads of gigs for the band. We did loads of live stuff before we recorded anything. When we recorded our first track, Mozart’s House, we made a music video that got like 50,000 views in a couple of weeks and caught the attention of the radio in the UK. Jack had believed in it since the beginning as well. We worked on it a lot even though it was just a hobby.
LessThan3: Do you write your own lyrics?
Grace: Depends on the song. Jack is definitely the principal writer in the group. During most of the time we were making our album New Eyes, Luke and Neil were still in full time education. They weren’t as involved as they will be on the second album. We feature different vocalists on every track. Sometimes that’s because we want to write with a particular person and sometimes it’s because of their voice. Sometimes we write the lyrics for them, and sometimes they write their own. One of our songs Come Over features a UK Jamaican rapper/artist. He obviously wrote his own rap. But then we wrote the female song verses in between that I’m singing. For Rather Be Jack wrote the topline together with a lyricist named Jimmy Napes. He’s worked with Disclosure and Sam Smith. He co-wrote the whole of Sam Smith’s album, so he’s doing pretty well right now. He wrote most of the words for Rather Be, and he an Jack wrote our song Dust Clears together as well. It’s my favorite song on the album. Jess Glynne was one of the vocalists who had no input on the writing. We were just trying out recording loads of singers, and her recording kind of stuck.
LessThan3: How did you hook up with Jess?
Grace: Our record label asked us to work with her because they had just signed her. We were quite against the idea at first because all of the other singers on the album we had gotten to know quite organically ourselves through friends, friends of friends, or people we had met from hearing them at a gig and asking them if they wanted to sing with us and stuff like that. It was more of an industry process I guess. We recorded it with many different singers, and in the end it was a really hard decision but we chose that one.
LessThan3: Do you have some of the vocalists on tour with you?
Grace: We have Elisabeth Troy who we actually started working with for live, because we can’t take all of the singers on tour. She’s incredibly versatile and can sing all of the songs including the raps. It’s really amazing. But then after we started doing some live shows with her we wrote a song with her as well called Heart On Fire. She wrote all of the topline for that–it’s a UK garage-influenced track. Sometimes we perform with Love Ssega who is on our song Telephone Banking as well. He’s a very charismatic performer. And Sharna Bass, who’s on our song Extraordinary that hasn’t been released as a single in the US, but is a single in the UK. She was only 14 when we met her. She’s got this crystal clear, beautiful voice.
LessThan3: Did you expect Rather Be to be the hit it became?
Grace: No, not at all. It went crazy. It was a surreal experience. Everyone wanted to interview us. Going around Europe and doing like 60 interviews a week. It felt very weird, because at the time we weren’t touring. So talking loads about the band but not actually performing, that was a new experience. We decided to release it at that point–we’d been trying it out live for a couple months over the summer at festivals in the UK along with other songs. That one seemed to get a good crowd reaction. People were smiling and singing along to the “no, no, no” part even though they were just hearing it for the first time.
LessThan3: Where were you when you learned you got the Grammy nom?
Grace: I was in bed actually. Jack texted me and I was in that half asleep sort of state. But it was a very nice surprise and a good reason to get up.
LessThan3: How was it to attend the Grammys and what did you do after the win to celebrate?
Grace: The ceremony was amazing. We were earlier in the afternoon, but then all the performances played through and we watched all of them. It was so good and inspiring. Then we went to the Warner afterparty. We played Rather Be in the DJ set and Jess came and sang it. Mark Watson had his own little party in his room so we were in there for a bit, but then the fire brigade came and shut it down for too many people in there. Then Charli XCX had a party in her room and the same thing happened. We eventually left and went to Sam Smith’s party which was a different vibe. It was a really big party in the hills. Ice sculptures everywhere and Diplo and Disclosure were DJing.
LessThan3: Who got to keep the Grammy?
Grace: No one yet. They didn’t give it to us. Sam [Smith] actually said he hasn’t received his yet either. They give them to you for the photo and then whip them back and get them engraved before they send them. They’re taking their time with that. But we’ve asked for four, so we should have one each.
LessThan3: Do you have a favorite remix of one of your songs?
Grace: DJ Mustard did a remix that we didn’t ask him to do; he just did it on the fly. Someone played me that recently and I liked it. And The Magician remix, I like that one.
LessThan3: What artists today inspire you?
Grace: James Blake has been a big inspiration. I love his work so much. Disclosure and Rudimental have been influential since they have a similar kind of format to us in that they don’t have one singer and they are featuring different vocals on every song. I really like both of their albums. Rudimental has an incredible live show that has been really inspirational to us. It has kind of a carnival atmosphere in their performance. We know Rudimental, Gorgon City, and various other producers through this indie label Black Butter that we released our first EP on, so we feel like a part of that family. We’ve done a lot of stuff with Gorgon City and they supported us on tour. We did Intentions together, and they did a remix of our song Nightingale which we perform in our live sets. We start with our version and move into the Gorgon City remix.
LessThan3: Any new music you can tell us about?
Grace: We just put up the video for our new song Stronger which features Alex Newell (Unique from Glee) and Sean Bass, a young London singer who is the twin brother of Sharna Bass who we featured in our song Extraordinary. He’s singing the verses and Alex Newell does the ad libs. I’m trying to get in contact with Alex to see if he’ll perform with us at Coachella. He has an incredible voice and does these crazy ad libs throughout Stronger. Apart from that, we’re working with an Irish rapper called Rejjie Snow who we’ve written quite a few songs with and he’s really amazing.
LessThan3: If the world was ending in LessThan3 minutes and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Grace: Purple Rain by Prince.
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