It's hard to believe anyone could have lived through the year 2014 without hearing "Rather Be," the smash breakout hit from England's classically flavored electronic group Clean Bandit. The song, which has nearly 250 million plays on Youtube, recently earned the group a Grammy for Best Dance Recording. EPIC's Alexandra Blair caught up with Clean Bandit's Milan Neil Amin-Smith to discuss the bands origins and their ever - changing sound.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Congratulations on your Grammy win for “Rather Be!” How does that feel?
Thank you. It was quite unexpected. We really had no inkling that would happen. That Duke Dumont song was huge.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Have things changed?
You know everyone keeps asking us that, but nothing’s really changed.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: I’ve heard your music described in so many ways—as electro-chamber, classical house, even electro pop. I don’t necessarily find these sorts of labels to be very productive, but it does seem like you draw from a wide pool of influences. For example, “Rather Be” was said to have been influenced by Rosie Gaines’ “Closer Than Close.” Can you talk a little bit about your influences as a band?
Well Jack is really into Jazz. Grace and I have a classical background. That’s our main interaction with music. We brought the dance elements as well as we used to run a club night and would DJ that. I would say that we really don’t have any direct influences, and not in the sense that the music is particularly innovative, but we just don’t start with any specific genres or influences in mind.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: I know that you all met in college and I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the process of your first release Mozart’s House. How did that come about and manifest as a release through Black Butter Records?
Black Butter got in touch and they were putting out great stuff and their attitude was so fresh. We really liked the stuff they were putting out and we ended up putting out an EP with them. We think that’s a great label.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Tell me about your first performance.
It’s kind of funny because our first performance was sort of the reason we formed a band. It was just an excuse to put on a club night at university. We thought, ‘What can we do to make people come to our club night?’ and we just decided to put a few songs together in this format. For those two years before our first release we only existed as a live band.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What was the moment that you actually thought to yourself “I can do this full time.”
Well, I actually finished my masters [in Economics] in 2013. We’d signed our record deal a year before and for a while, I was just managing both. We were touring, supporting Disclosure and in down time I was going back to finish the masters. I can say that now this is definitely a full time job.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Your sound seems to have metamorphosed somewhat from those early days. Why do you think that is?
When playing live we enjoy the house-ier, dance-ier tracks. It’s a vibe we wanted to go to for a while. I don’t want to say it was easier, but we certainly had much more fun performing the dance tracks. We played a lot in clubs in the earlier days. I don’t know if we’ll necessarily stick to what we have now either.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: So your sound has been influenced by the changing aspects of your live performance?
It’s definitely influenced by the live environment. We like to make changes for the live show and often those choices end up changing the records themselves. “Up Again,” for example, didn’t have a drum and bass feel to begin with. We added the drum and bass-ier aspects for the live show, but enjoyed them and they ended up being added to the record.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Can you tell me a little bit about the Clean Bandit orchestra piece you did for Zane Lowe’s Radio 1? That was an exceptionally beautiful and moving piece and I’d love to hear about your process for creating it and your feelings towards it.
It’s something BBC has done before and they proposed it to us. The plan from beginning was to recreate synth sounds using orchestral instruments. A lot of our fans aren’t aware of what an orchestra can do and the sounds it can make. It was quite an interesting challenge to replicate the album with the orchestra and have it still make sense. We worked with talented people who helped with notation and scoring to develop our ideas and did workshops with the orchestra to see what was and wasn’t working.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Tell me about your process for creating new music. I know you’ve said before in interview that it usually starts with Jack on keys, but can you walk me through it from there?
I think it is different for all the songs. A big part of it is the vocalist you work with. We often have a whole song written and then start looking for a vocalist like “Rather Be.” With Heart on Fire, for example (just finished?) we sent her the instrumental and she sent us back the vocal lines. Sometimes, we write it all together collectively.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What is the story behind your logo, the four symbols?
Jack actually drew those. His plans were to have four stringed instruments in those colors and shapes. We never got around to making them, but we became attached to them and to that configuration and it sort of became our logo.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: You’ve said in the past that your music is, in most cases, directly linked to the visuals it becomes married to. In one interview Grace even said you sometimes wont finish a song until you have the video idea. Tell me about that process and some of the crazier ideas you haven’t been able to execute.
In the past, we would sort of execute the song and the video concurrently. They would influence each other. Of course it becomes harder to do that now that our music has become more popular. For the most part most of our videos are now reactive, but are still a very important part of the process. Grace never thinks anything is undoable. If anyone finds anything to be impossible, she finds a way to do it. Pretty much everything we have an idea for we do.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: I first discovered your music through Klingande’s mix for Thomas Jack’s tropical house mixtape series where “Extraordinary” with Sharna Bass makes a cameo. I was listening to your minimix for Annie Mac and was pleasantly surprised to hear Nguzunguzu on there. I love mixes because of the cross-pollination that can occur and I like to know what my favorite DJs are listening to. How do you discover new music?
That track, the minimix was stuff I was listening to a lot in 2009-10 -2011 at that stage I was really plugged into dance music and that’s what I was about. listen to a lot of mixes and follow releases. I guess through being in a pop band, I’ve kind of lost track of it. I discover a lot through word of mouth and people in the industry mentioning things to you. I guess I don’t really listen to so much dance music anymore.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Who are some of your favorite bands, composers, or DJs?
Hot Chip is my favorite band, probably of all time. From the very first album... the sound, lyrically, the subject matter. It’s just perfect. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Years & Years.
Check out our photos from Clean Bandit's show in Dallas on March 17th and Chicago on April 1st.
[nggallery id=63] [nggallery id=64]