London Grammar returned to their university town to play a set at Bodega as part of Dot-to-Dot festival. The Mic’s Ria Sadrudin and Brad Allen were lucky enough to sit down with them and discuss how the band came together and their plans for the coming year.
Hannah: The boys have always been in bands growing up and I had done a bit of singing when I was younger. It was mainly down to luck because we were all in Ancaster together.
Dot: It was more of an outlet, rather than if we had all been studying. The fact that we were all studying completely different things, in a way, made it easier to jam.
Where you a member of Impact or The Mic?
Dan: I wrote one piece of Impact.
[Hannah interjects:] Did you, did you? I didn’t know that!
Dot: Yeah, I wrote for Impact too. I only started writing for Impact because I wanted to interview the singer from …I did something for Beardy Man as well.
Dan: I wrote a Vampire Weekend review.
What do you think of the new album?
Dan: I must say I’ve been really up and down with it. Initially I really liked it and then I was a bit disappointed. But after having a third listen, I think its good.
What are you guys listening to at the minute the tour bus?
Hannah: We listen to Sweeney’s stories.
Dot: We were listening to the National album yesterday, which is amazing. We’re big fans.
Pretty standard question, but why are you called London Grammar?
Dan: We have a really bad answer for this.
Hannah: Well, we had to think of a name and we knew we wanted London in it. We just thought London Grammar flows really well and it’s more about the way it sounds. The name has moulded to the music, so now we can’t change it.
In a recent article in the Guardian you we called ‘a toned down version of the XX’ by Paul Lester. How do you feel about that?
Hannah: We’ve had comparisons with the XX a lot and I can hear it with songs like Hey Now. They are a really influential band, but we have a more classic side. For example I don’t think Wasting My Young Years sounds anything like the XX.
Dan: He comes to it from a very political point of view, not an in-depth, but a very shallow point of view rather than from a musical perspective, which is not how I see music.
He also said you were an XX that you could take home to your parents…
Dan: But you can take the XX home to your parents.
Dan: There were things related to class in the interview which bothered me, I thought it was a bit unfair. Also, the thing which is so ridiculous about it is, he does a show on Amazing Radio and he played our newest track on his show a couple of weeks ago and I listened to it out of curiosity…because I’m like that.
[Dot interjects:] He listens to every word that is said about us.
Dan: I was expecting him to slag us off but his stance was ‘this band is going to be really big, but if they’re not….’
[Hannah interjects]: No, no. He said ‘I think this band is going to be really big, so if they are you heard it here first. But I’m also ambivalent. So if they’re not big, I told you I was ambivalent’.
He was covering his back then.
Dan: It was a really weird article but I wasn’t surprised when I read it because I’ve read his column before. He completely slagged off Alt J.
Hannah: I think there is a sometimes a lazy journalism nature when they compare us to the XX because its an easy comparison to make. In some respects we are really different from the XX and they must be a bit pissed off… actually I don’t think they even know who we are…but I think they’re a bit pissed off. If you listen to their newest album it is completely different from ours. With my voice I’ve been compared to almost every female singer. I’ve been compared to Lana del Rey, Florence, Marina and the Diamonds, the girl from the Ting Tings, Regina Spektor, Annie Lennox.
Who are your main influences and do you all have a similar taste in music?
Dot: We all love Fleetwood Mac and sometimes we cross over on film soundtracks sometimes like Thomas Newman. There are some bands we all love like Alt J, The National and Radiohead.
Hannah: But fundamentally we’re all different.
You currently have four songs out and these have been a great success, what are your plans for the coming year?
We’re releasing our album in September.
What’s is called?
Hannah: We think it’s going to be called ‘If You Wait’ but we’re not 100% sure. It’s the name of the last track on the album. Then we’re doing festivals over summer and next year I think we’re going to Australia. It just depends on how the album goes.
Where are you recording the album?
Dot: It’s all done. We recorded all of it in London, in various places. Most of it was recorded in a studio called State of the Art, which is really beautiful.
Dan: We’ve listened to it, maybe, in the approximation of 1000 times.
Hannah: I just have no idea anymore. We’re still deciding on the tracks and the order.
Dan: We’re having a debate about what to include. We want it to have quite a consistent mood. We know want it to be quite emotional and sad but we do have some songs that are slightly more up-tempo and it’s a question of whether or not they fit in and where to put them…and also we’re not sure how many tracks to include. We’ve got 15, but I think we’re going to go for 12. I think that’s even that’s pushing it; I think it’s a bit too long.
Does the record label/your producer try and limit you or guide you?
Hannah: They try to assert their opinion quite a lot but that’s natural in the music industry. Sometimes their advice is necessary. One thing we’ve learnt is that you can’t pick your own singles.
Dot: With singles you pick up on the first time you hear it. There are some things you just don’t know about. You know the songs like the back of your hand, so how can you possibly judge what’s hooky enough to make the song stand out as a single?
Hannah: The singles on the album are probably the ones I like the least.
Dot: Hannah really didn’t like ‘Wasting My Young Years.’
Hannah: I was just really worried about it. We’d heard it so many times and I couldn’t decide whether it was whiney or not. I had sleepless nights over it, I cried and I didn’t want it to be released, but now it’s doing very well.
Where did you get the idea for the video with the floating figures in it?
Hannah: We knew we wanted it to be black and white and quite arty and we knew we didn’t want to do a performance video. These two guys came up with that idea and that way of filming and it’s all done on pin-hole cameras.
Dan: There’s actually a really good ‘making of’ video on Vimeo, which shows what when on behind the scenes.
Dot: It was a really long day. The main camera was a circular rig…I’m not going to go into details about how it works, it’s quite long and boring…but they realised that the only way to change the film was to take the whole back off. So they had to have eight people feeding the film into the camera without the back. We had to turn off all the lights off in the whole building so the film didn’t get ruined. We were in the room next door behind a big black curtain and even if your phone went off in your trouser pocket they got really pissed off about the light. They were gaffa taping spots on the wall because it had to be completely pitch black.
How do you go about writing a song?
Hannah: Some earlier songs came from Dan. He would write original and sometimes quite bizarre guitar loops and a song will come from that. I would sing along and write the lyrics and the melody. Then Dot would produce the whole thing. Sometimes they come from all different directions. Dot plays the piano as well and so on occasion he’d write a piano part and we’ll build a song from there.
Dot: We write the songs and if they’re not quite right so we take them to our producers and we’ll produce them with them. Then, they’ll come back to us and we’ll refine them. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that can make the biggest difference.
London Grammar will be touring the UK and the continent from June till October. More details available here.
By Ria Sadrudin and Brad Allen