Clean Bandit On “Rockabye,” Life After Neil & That Unreleased Marina “Disconnect” Song: Interview
In early 2014, Clean Bandit were introduced to the public at large by way of their hit single “Rather Be,” a four-minute blend of house, pop and classical music that catapulted the British outfit (and featured vocalist Jess Glynne) to the upper reaches of the pop charts around the globe. The insanely catchy tune — Idolator’s own pick for best single of 2014 — even earned the band a Grammy Award.
Over two years and a handful of further UK Top 10 tunes later, violinist Neil Amin-Smith departed Clean Bandit following the release of their single “Tears” this past spring, leaving Grace Chatto, Jack Patterson and Luke Patterson to forge on as a trio. But while the loss of a founding member might spell career doom for many flash-in-the-pan acts, that’s not been the case for these three. In fact, their latest single, “Rockabye,” just spent a fourth week atop the UK chart (thus matching the streak at #1 of their breakout hit, “Rather Be”). How very Destiny’s Child of them!
During their recent stop in New York for a concert at Irving Plaza, Grace and Jack talked to Idolator about the new music they’ve been recording for their eventual sophomore album, plus what the post-Neil adjustment has been like for the band. And, oh, yes — we also got them to chat about what exactly is happening with that yet-to-be-released Marina And The Diamonds pair-up, “Disconnect.”
“Rockabye” is shaping up to be as big a hit worldwide as “Rather Be” was over two years ago. How did the collaboration with Sean Paul and Annie-Marie come about? GRACE: Well, Sean Paul we’ve always wanted to work with. Growing up, “Temperature” and “Breathe” were such massive soundtracks to my teenage years, and we actually met him about three years ago — before we even wrote the beat. We went to his concert in London and gave him an EP on a CD…
JACK: A fucking CD.
GRACE: A fucking CD, right? We’ve been waiting since then, and finally this year, we got in the studio and Jack wrote a few songs with him for his own album. They’re kind of unfinished at the moment, but we played him “Rockabye” and he came up with this amazing rap. I really like hearing him rap on this subject matter.
How did Anne-Marie wind up on “Rockabye”? GRACE: She’s been touring with Rudimental for the last couple of years. We actually met her through them because we’ve been doing loads of the same festivals with them, and we’re quite friendly with them. We hung out with her at a party and seeing her, she’s just the most incredible live singer. We actually recorded a different song first with her that we love as well, and we hope we can do something with that. This one came second and just worked.
Can talk about other collaborations you have up your sleeve? JACK: What can we talk about? We like to keep them secret.
The one that everyone’s curious about is the Marina And The Diamonds song, “Disconnect,” which you performed live at Coachella with her in 2015. JACK: It was almost two years ago now.
GRACE: All the fans are so annoyed. They’re like, “We’ve waited so long for this.”
JACK: Any sort of tweet that we do or any social media thing, it’s always like — [looking through Twitter on his phone] — trying to find a good example I saw earlier. They’re always incredibly offensive, like “Fucking sluts, where’s ‘Disconnect’? Fuck you!”
Let’s put the fans at ease: Is “Disconnect” a song that’s possibly going to end up on your second album? G: Yeah, yeah. That is a really special song for us.
JACK: [Still reading tweets] Like, “You dusty-ass possum! Please ‘Disconnect’.” What does that even mean?
GRACE: I don’t know.
JACK: We put that photo [online] of Luke nominated for this award, and that’s a comment on there.
GRACE: That song with Marina And The Diamonds is a really special song for us, but since we performed it live at Coachella we’ve been trying out different directions for the production. Now we’re kind of thinking we might go back to the original, so there was no need for anyone to wait two years!
JACK: It’s like maybe 30 different versions of it on my laptop. I think we’ve finished one, actually — I was working on it on the way [to New York] on the plane, so I think we’re going to have a nice surprise for them soon.
R: How long have you been recording songs now for this upcoming album? GRACE: I think that was one of the first, “Disconnect,” wasn’t it?
JACK: It was.
GRACE: Maybe about two years, but very sporadically because we’ve been touring the whole time as well. So we go through periods of weeks or months where we are working intensely on the album but then everything else takes over and we kind of put it to one side. And for the past almost six months we’ve been working on “Rockabye” only, so it’s surreal.
JACK: It took that long?
GRACE: Pretty much, yeah. And then six months before that, “Tears.” It’s been a really amazing kind of privilege in a way to have such a lot of time to work on like one three-minute piece.
JACK: There’s been — I don’t know, you’re probably aware of it — a big shift in the way that music is digested. It seems like that’s put a new pressure on the people that we have to answer to, and their focus is much more on singles and just a single piece of music as opposed to a body of work. So it’s difficult for us; we have to keep the album story at the back of our minds, but it’s easy to kind of forget that and just really dig in because it just seems like, in the UK at least, it’s really hard for things to penetrate into the charts. Like the charts just don’t move anymore. It also is all American music.
GRACE: This way of working on individual songs in isolation from other songs is actually how we’ve always kind of done it. We make our own music videos, and before we signed a record label or anything, we didn’t have any money for the videos and we made them, just the two of us, and got any help we could from friends or whatever. It would take months to make one video, and we wouldn’t move on to making another song until we finished making a video, so each song and visual project would take a nice half a year.
J: It’s kind of annoying because after our first album, which was, as Grace said — that was the process of it, even though it wasn’t being dictated to us to do it like that — that’s how we were working. We were kind of doing it video by video, as opposed to making a song, an album. And we wanted to do our second album much more like an album. We had this body of work come together, like a collection of songs that does feel like an album, but then we’ve kind of pulled it apart again and now it’s like, making little individual fairy cakes.
G: But when we do put it together, I think it will feel like a much more coherent album than New Eyes, our first album, because all of the songs were actually written within quite a short space of time.
How many songs overall would you say you’ve recorded over the past two years? GRACE: I think about 30 or 40 maybe.
JACK: There’s probably about 200 projects in my album folder. I’d say about ten percent of that is any good. About 20 or 30 solid. They’re all good, but…
GRACE: No, they’re all good but some of them are very short.
JACK: Some of them are entirely inappropriate.
Do you get asked a lot to collaborate with other artists or produce for other artists? GRACE: I’ve never been asked to sing. I wouldn’t call myself a singer. It is not really a talent people are looking for. But yeah, writing and producing with other people is something we’re really interested in doing, because of the nature of our own band — it’s so collaborative anyway. Often we make songs with people for us and one for them. We hope to do more stuff with Louisa Johnson, who we did “Tears” with. And then Jack’s been on a couple of writing camps for major stars.
How has the band dynamic changed, now that Neil has left Clean Bandit? Have you had to adjust the live show much? GRACE: Yeah. Neil is such an amazing, charismatic performer and I have so much fun just dancing with him on stage. That is something that’s really missed, for me, but also for the audience I think. We’ve always been more of a collective than a band. There are so many people involved. Lots of my other friends have been playing violin on the record because usually we like to make a big, thick string sound, so we have a more than just me and Neil. I guess they’ll be doing more now, and live we’ve got two amazing violinists who have just come on board. It’s all very new, but I’m actually very excited about having that thicker sound of two instruments rather than one. We’ve also got new live singers, because obviously we have millions of different singers on the album and we try to find front singers for the live show who can cover everything. It all feels quite new and refreshed. In a way it’s really sad to say goodbye to the people who were so involved. But also there’s a kind of fresh atmosphere. We’re just seeing how it’s going to go.
JACK: It’s funny, because obviously [Neil was] one of the founding members, so it seems like a major turning point in the road. But actually what’s been happening since the inception of the band is it’s been constantly evolving and constantly changing. When we just started, we had Love Ssega, who’s a singer. He was the frontman. He’s doing a PhD in mechanical engineering, and we had to start working with other singers at that point. That’s when it started shifting. We never found someone who we thought could be the one, so we kept working with more and more people.
GRACE: We became a four-piece band when really, it’s never really been that. It’s been more of a collective.
JACK: In terms of [Neil leaving], obviously it’s really sad and it was a shock. It was a big shock to receive the news that he was going to leave. But in terms of the workings of the band, I think we’re more used to that kind of thing than other groups would be.
GRACE: And when it happens, it does feel like the end of the world. Then you realize you can never replace someone. Like Love Ssega, when he left — we could never replace him, so you work out different ways of dealing with the situation.