One of Britain’s hottest recording acts has landed on U.S. soil. Clean Bandit, the electronic foursome that experiments with mixtures of baroque pop and synth-electro remixes have brought their one-of-a-kind sound to America in hopes of riding their current wave of success to the land of opportunity. Using a brilliant mixture of classical compositions with house music dance beats, Clean Bandit has tapped into a sound that has kids all over Europe moving and grooving to their creations.
The band’s hit single ‘Rather Be (Featuring Jess Glynne)’ has launched them onto the main stage in electronic music. The song has actually reached #1 on Spotify in thirteen countries and has been the first single by a British artist since Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ to hold 4 consecutive weeks atop the British singles chart. If we’re boasting about chart statistics, ‘Rather Be’ has even hit the record books as the longest running number one single in the history of the UK’s official streaming chart, as the song has dug in and made itself at home holding the top spot for eleven straight weeks and counting. Needless to say it’s also been a huge favorite amongst electronic musicians and DJs in the remix circuit. Not bad for a band entering their fifth year together.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with two members of the band- Jack (bass/keys) and Grace (cello) a few hours before their sold out show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg. Although they didn’t look it, the band must’ve been pretty tired as they played their first ever show in America to a sell out crowd at Roxy Theater in LA only two nights earlier. Follow that up with some celebratory parties, they then flew out here to New York for a nice and early appearance/performance on Today Show, to be followed later on by their nighttime gig in Brooklyn.
I was immediately taken back how a band that plays such emotional and intense music for fans who are unleashing all their energy to dance along, could be as polite and soft spoken as Jack and Grace were. Having the number one streaming song in their home country hasn’t stopped them from bringing their courteous and well-mannered English behavior across the pond.
“We don’t usually party like that”, Grace mentioned when I had asked about their after party following their sold out show at the Roxy. “That was a shock staying up all night then getting on a plane.”
While they may not be used to the rock star life based around performance-party-after party-flight-hotel arrival-sleep-party-perform-do it all over again lifestyle that made their British rock star predecessors legends, they’re still just trying to wrap their heads around finding any success.
“All these kind of funny statistics have been really cool and surreal… Since we started playing together we’ve always hoped to be able to make a living from doing this, so it definitely helps having a number one single (laughs). We’re really lucky, we pretty much finished our first album when ‘Rather Be’ came out. Otherwise there would’ve been some other pressure on us to write more material and try to replicate what the single had done.”
Grace also chimed in on why she thought the song has become so popular, as there are thousands of great songs that are written all the time, so why is ‘Rather Be’ making such a strong mark on fans across Europe?
“I think it’s the instrumentation of the main riff then the piano later on in the song. I think there’s just something so catchy about it. It’s funny because Jack wrote it on the subway while traveling somewhere early in the morning I think, and he happened to have his laptop on his knee while typing these notes in.”
“It’s cool” Jack added, “It’s still kind of interesting because I still do that and it puts things in a different perspective of writing now. You know you just keep going, keep experimenting, and keep trying new stuff. That’s what is fun about the whole thing for me just kind of growing as a writer and a musician. I think we learn a lot from that process.”
As far as Jack’s songwriting goes, there doesn’t seem to be a need to change songwriting styles at the moment, however one would think the toughest part about being a band touring internationally is adjusting to playing music in country with an entirely different musical culture. While electronic music has taken the U.S. by storm in the past decade, it’s still evolving here as opposed to the more established electronic scene in Europe.
“The past year or so there’s been so much electronic music going up the charts like Disclosure and other people who have been very influential to us and people we’ve collaborated with in various ways.” Noted Grace. “We’ve supported bands like them doing remixes of their songs, and it’s gone the other way as well. It’s nice to have that (musical) family with people like that.”
Being far from that family and the safety didn’t seem to phase the band one bit; as they’re toe dipping first show seemed to give them an idea of American audience potential. At least that’s how Jack saw it.
“Well we’ve only done one gig in the U.S. so maybe after tonight we’ll have a better idea. The crowd in L.A. was really warm and receptive. They almost seemed more polite than an English crowd. So I hope they actually liked it. I didn’t know what to expect from the crowd, it was a bit scary. I’m even getting a little nervous again now.”
“I think we were a bit more nervous than when we play at home” Grace added. “It’s just so far away and so unknown. I really wasn’t sure if there’d be anyone there, maybe only ten people, but it was sold out so that gives you a much better vibe walking out and seeing all those people.”
Why the band would need to be nervous while having the biggest single in the UK somewhat baffled me, but maybe a little bit of nerves keep your feet on the ground. They don’t allow you to fit into your comfort zone, rather it forces the band to keep clawing away and becoming better and winning every fan over city by city, country by country. Maybe Jack and Graces nerves before each new audience in a new country is the best possible feeling an upcoming act could experience at a time when their career is beginning to launch.
Clean Bandit make themselves stand out by fusing classical riffs and melodies into modern dance beats, but it came as a surprise to what bands Jack and Grace have really been influenced by to get the bands unique sound.
“For me as a musician Steely Dan has been a big influence” Jack pointed out right away. “Their writing and use of melody in production is so smooth and crisp, but I’m not sure exactly why”.
Grace quickly picked up on that thought right where Jack left off, adding, “I think you meant more of a general kind of production and writing style didn’t you? There’s like a cleanliness that’s distinctive to them that I think you’re style is like.”
So where does a band like Clean Bandit go from here? Other than coming back in a few months for more U.S. tour dates to take America by storm the same way the British invasion did fifty years ago. It’s only a matter of time before the bands music really breaks into the U.S. market. With all the electronic festivals that are emerging across America I have no doubt Clean Bandit will be making the bill in short time. Until then I suppose it’s just about creating new sounds to play for new audiences. Grace briefly spoke of how the band always has new remixes going on with their songs and other artists songs that keep them busy and having fun while taking a break from working on their own material.
“Tonight we’re gonna pull out a cover of ‘Show Me Love’ by Robin S. and it sounds really cool playing the main riff to that on the strings.”
Grace said it with a big smile on her face. This band is far from close ending their magical run so far, they’re too busy having way too much fun.
Article by: Tom Shackelford
Photo by: Soren Solkaer