Interview: Show-Stealers Clean Bandit On Their Diverse Sound & Studio Time With Beyoncé
Dare you to locate a still body in the crowd during a Clean Bandit show. Even if pop or EDM isn't your swag, the U.K.-based electronic dance group has been bringing the noise since their breakout 2014 hit "Rather Be" got America jumpin', jumpin'. Not to humblebrag, either, but Clean Bandit even won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording earlier this year and got to spend some quality time with Beyoncé in the studio (well, at least, bassist and sax player, Jack Patterson). Totally N.B.D. (please note sarcasm).
Before they got the party started at the Ambassador Stage at Life Is Beautiful Fest this past weekend, Patterson and strings player Grace Chatto struck a pose (see above) and detailed the inner-workings of Clean Bandit, being in the stu with Bey and their beautiful lives IRL.—Adelle Platon & Iyana Robertson
VIBE: Clean Bandit has been on the tour circuit for a minute with the success of "Rather Be." Does anything surprise you anymore when you’re performing all across the globe?
Grace Chatto: Well, yeah. I mean it’s different every night. Like every crowd and every different city, state, country, there’s a different atmosphere. And that is always surprising to see. We went to Japan recently for the first time, and it was just completely different kind of reaction there wasn’t it?
Jack Patterson: I mean it’s always just a surprise seeing the amount of crowds that play our music in these far away places. So yeah, it’s cool.
Never get used to that, do you?
GC: We’ve been supporting Duran Duran on tour this past week and that means we’ve been playing in venues much bigger than where we’ve done our own shows. So we played in Red Rocks, which is just an incredible amphitheater and we’re doing Hollywood Bowl next week. So it’s going to be a nice, really new experience playing somewhere so big.
With the music landscape in 2015, a lot of genres are overlapping. How would you guys say having classical influences sort of makes you guys stand out?
JP: I think it’s something that always carries through in a sense of musicality, like if you understand that stuff, you understand the positives and negatives in any genre of music. I suppose that little bit helps.
Give me a little bit of background on the band name and how you guys formed.
GC: Well, the band name is just a stupid thing. We used to live in Russia and our friend there, a Russian lady just kind of described my sister as a clean bandit. When she asked how she was, she was like, ‘How’s that clean bandit?’ She meant like a total, complete bastard. We just found it funny and we took it for the name. We got together about seven years ago when we were at school at Cambridge University and studied all different things. Jack was doing architecture, we were all doing different things, but we all played music since we were really young. Jack and his brothers had been playing in a band together, [playing] drums and bass guitar since they were really young. And Neil [Amin-Smith] and I lived in the same area in London, growing up and we played classical music, writing and cello together from a young age. And then Jack and I met at university and wanted to do something together so we kind of tried to mix our styles.
Does it ever get difficult working together as a group or is it seamless all the time?
JP: Seamless all the time.
Tell me a little bit about your creative process.
JP: It’s kind of been changing a lot recently. It’s like we’ve been doing a lot of writing on the road, trying to keep the touring up, and keep cranking out new music. Because we don’t have a singer in the band, it’s good to keep the pressure up in terms of the success we’ve had with “Rather Be” and trying to use that as a springboard both in terms of live and in the studio. So we’ve been keeping both together. It’s quite difficult to try and do both things at the same time, but it’s kind of fun.
GC: But it’s also really different, the way we’re approaching this album because the first album, New Eyes, which came out last year, we kind of been working on for years without really aiming to make an album. We were just thinking about each song as an individual project. And we made all of our own music videos and this was kind of before we signed up to any record label or anything. So making the videos, it took us about four months to make each video. We’d make one song and then get really into this world with the visuals, and then think about another song after that so it meant styles between each song kind of changed quite differently. Like "Rather Be" is really different to our song "Come Over," which is like a Jamaican feel and other songs which have more like folkie influences, whereas this album, we’re doing it kind of more quickly I think. Brit and Jack have made like thirty songs in the past few months. So the style is more homogenous.
Going back to what you said about not having a lead singer, what are the advantages and what are the disadvantages of that?
JP: The advantages are that you can like constantly shift your sound. We’re not really stuck with one [person] singing. And the disadvantages are that you don’t have that security just having that one person lead. We’ve got good people that we like on the live show, but in terms of making the music, it’s quite stressful. It never used to be, but now we’ve gotten to a certain level [where] there’s a lot of kind of interesting music industry type of bollocks that happens where you have to say certain stuff and do certain stuff to get people to do certain things, and that’s quite interesting as well.
GC: And then the other disadvantage is that for the live concerts, we can’t take all of the original voices from the records and sometimes you just want to hear that original voice.
Do you think you’ll ever get a lead singer? Is that something you guys want to do?
JP: It’s kind of weird because on the live show we do have a lead singer, Elizabeth [Troy], who is amazing. She does a great rendition of all the classics. But I don’t know. I think, no. I think it’s kind of like what the band is.
You’ve also worked with Jess Glynne quite a few times. How’d you initially collaborate with her?
GC: We just heard the voice.
JP: Yeah, we heard the voice on that “My Love” track and Route 94. It wasn’t actually out yet, and we’d been playing “Rather Be” live like about six months. And we knew that it was a big song we wanted—we were looking for the right one.
GC: Yeah, we tried it with a few other people and when we tried it with her, it felt like that was the right one.
You mentioned that Drake and Beyoncé are on your collaborations wish list. Has there been any progress?
JP: We’ve been in the studio with Beyoncé, but not Drake.
What is it like being in the studio with The Queen?
JP: It was insane. Nothing happened in terms of I don’t know if there is going to be anything concrete in terms of music, unfortunately. But yeah, it freaked me out.
GC: Yeah, I wasn’t there, but Jack phoned me afterwards and said, ‘oh, I was jamming away on the piano and she was singing.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, sounds amazing.’
That has to be surreal. What about Drake and Beyoncé do you think meshes well with Clean Bandit's sound?
GC: Drake, the way he uses that Auto-Tune has always been attractive, hasn’t it?
JP: Yeah, his poetic use of it. And the way he doesn’t use it as well, like the kind of balance is really something quite amazing. You know, lyrically. There’s recently been discussion of that, but the music itself, lyrically is very interesting.
And Beyoncé is Beyoncé?
GC: Yeah, Beyoncé is Beyoncé.
JP: Yeah, there’s isn’t much you need to say.
Last question. Keeping in line with the theme of this festival, what makes life beautiful?
GC: Well, for me, life is beautiful at the moment because we’re just getting to travel so much and I love seeing new faces, and this past year, seeing so many new things. And like with people that we love, travelling around together, it’s just fun.
JP: Yeah, it’s like a big holiday. Just being able to fulfill our passions as your day job, I think that’s a very beautiful thing. We’re very privileged to be able to do that.