Interview: London Grammar
Introspective pop trio London Grammar, aka Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman, make the kind of quality late-night tunes that comfortably straddle the divide between popular and leftfield.
Hitting the sweet spot between The xx, Florence Welch and Jessie Ware, they first caught the charts off-guard last autumn with their now platinum debut album If You Wait.
It became the week’s second highest new entry, going in at number two and propelling the shy Londoners from their Hendon garage studio to television primetime.
It was then that the industry accolades began pouring in. They’ve since received a BRIT Award nomination, while the monster single Strong has just today been nominated for the prestigious Best Song Musically and Lyrically Award at The Ivors.
Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, Dan, Dot and Hannah actually met back in 2009 while at university in Nottingham where they began playing acoustic covers of the songs they loved from the likes of The Doors and Florence + the Machine.
Over the last three years they’ve been busy formulating their own brand of dark electronic pop away from the clamour of the capital’s music industry.
We caught up with them at a press conference in honour of The Ivors nominations launch to learn more about their rise to fame, their marked absence from Spotify and the pressures of producing a follow-up album…
How do you feel about today’s news?
H: We feel amazing. It’s a really prestigious award based on songwriting, so it’s lovely.
This has all come relatively quickly for you…
DR: It’s come ridiculously quickly, it’s crazy.
DM: This year there’s John Newman and Palma Violets too. To be honest, in terms of it being a songwriting award, we wrote most of these songs about three years ago so we spent a couple of years in the studio before we even came out into the public.
How did your nominated song Strong develop?
H: I don’t know why, but I remember this one really well. We were in Dan’s garage – where we wrote most of the music – and we had written a little guitar riff that was really catchy. I started to write the melody and Dot started to play the piano along with it. It just evolved. I was written really quickly but the production took a year to get right, and drove us all crazy.
How did the craziness manifest itself?
DR: In lots of different ways! Lots of arguments!
H: Lots of tension and getting annoyed – but not at each other.
DM: To be honest, this song more than any other song, brought us together – all of that tension when we were making the album… when it finally came round to us taking control of it and producing it all ourselves – that song in particular drove us together.
I remember reading somewhere that you were frightened before the record came out about how it would be perceived. Why was that and how do you feel about it now?
H: I don’t think the other two were so scared, but I didn’t want Strong on the album.
DR: Hannah didn’t want this song or Wasting My Young Years on the record, but they’ve turned out to be two of our biggest songs on there.
H: Wasting My Young Years is another song I loved when I wrote it, but when something is changed so much, or there are so many different opinions involved in what you do, you start to lose that initial feeling you have when you first wrote it. So I lost all faith.
DM: We never really wrote singles, but all those songs you mention are basically singles once management or a record label finds something in them. We never wrote singles as a band, we just wrote a collection of songs. Suddenly they want to change those songs into something else because they have to sound like they should be singles.
You haven’t put your music on Spotify – is that because you think songwriters and artists should be rewarded for their work and that’s not a fair way of doing it?
H: It’s hard with things like this, because Spotify do so much good as well. And actually, with us, we’ve been away for about a year, and we didn’t even find out about not being on Spotify until quite recently. We’re not sure how we feel about it. Spotify do amazing things and then you hear great artists receive cheques in the post for three pence!
DM: It’s good that it’s become part of the conversation.
So for you it was less of a conscious decision and more to do with your label (Ministry of Sound) being in dispute with Spotify?
DR: Yep that was it, but that dispute has been resolved now, as it happens. But there is a massive argument to say we wouldn’t have sold as many records in this country had we been on Spotify. But then again, in France our record sold very well and we were on Deezer and Spotify, so it’s very difficult to say. It’s a fascinating argument. It’s going to change everything now that Spotify plays are added to the charts.
What do you think about the songs you are up against at The Ivors?
DR: We all love the John Newman record. As soon as you heard it, you immediately knew it was going to be a massive hit. Although it was bigger than anyone expected – I remember he was a bit overwhelmed by it at the time. I’ve never come across Palma Violets before, but that’s another great track. It’s good to see variety and more independent music as well.
Have you been asked to write for other people? Or are there other people you’d like to write for?
H: Yeh, there are loads of people I’d like to write with – the list is so long. Leanne La Havas, Adele! Laura Mvula! I feel silly saying this. Basically, all the ladies who I love! It would be amazing to write something you weren’t going to sing yourself. I’d have a completely different experience if that was the case.
How’s work going on the second album? Do nominations such as this give you confidence or pile on the pressure to live up to the first album?
DM: There’s definitely a lot more pressure associated with the second album. When we made the first album, it was very much just the three of us as friends shut away in DR’s garage. Hannah never thought that she’d be singing these words to thousands of people. So there’s definitely pressure but of course it has given us some confidence and we can’t wail to get back into the studio.
How do you feel about all the comparisons thrown your way?
DR: It seems to happen less and less as time goes on. It’s funny to notice that we get compared to older artists now, from past decades. We used to get The xx all the time and now we get Massive Attack all the time. We’ve never been upset by it.
H: I love it. I’m always so flattered.
Did you set out with an aesthetic for the album or did you just do what came naturally?
DM: As a band, our influences were so different and I think that’s why the music ended up as it did. We never sat down together with a mutual appreciation of one band and thought we wanted to sound like that. But comparisons are inevitable and you have to release a record to earn the right to have your own sound.
Did you think David Cameron might ruin your career when he said you were his favourite band?
H: Again, that was another thing that happened when we were away touring so we didn’t hear about it until our manager gave a nice quote! If you think of him as just another person, it’s nice that we have another fan.
You’ve got Festival Number 6 coming up. How does it feel to be headlining your first festival?
Does it feel strange to be headlining after just one album?
DR: Yes! I did see some comments underneath the announcement from people confused we were headlining… But, to be honest, they have so many heritage acts headlining festivals these days and I don’t really see why new bands shouldn’t do it too.
What new music are you listening to at the moment?
DR: In America I listened to the new War On Drugs album almost on repeat it was so good.
H: And a guy called Nick Mulvey, who’s supporting us at our London gig – he’s so great.
DM: We had a band called High As A Kite supporting us on the first half of our American tour and their music was really good.
When are you going back into the studio to write your second album?
DM: Over the next few weeks or so, whenever we can, we’re going to make a start. We’ve been writing down a few ideas but I don’t know when we’ll get a big block of studio time.