London Grammar have just released their debut album, If You Wait. ALASDAIR DUNCAN gets schooled.
London Grammar’s Dan Rothman and Hannah Reid met when they were undergraduate students at Nottingham University – the story goes that Rothman saw a Facebook picture of Reid with a guitar and sent her a message, interested to see if she wanted to make music together.
The pair began playing music in bars around town, and before long their friend Dot Major joined them, bringing keyboards and percussion – not least of all a collection of African drums – to the group. In those days, they stuck to low-key acoustic covers, a sound very far removed from the lush indie/electronic ballads they now make – but the crucial element, Reid’s haunting voice, was always there.
“A few months after we played our first gig,” explains Rothman, “we were spotted by a record company, and there was a bit of hype that started developing around us. We hadn’t found our sound yet, we were still working on that, but people were all incredibly taken with Hannah’s voice. There was a lot of excitement around that, and that was probably the thing that really started it.”
After fielding various offers, the band eventually found a deal they liked with Ministry Of Sound, and once signed they holed up in garages and studios to tinker with their haunting, sparse sound until they had it just right for their debut album, If You Wait.
“We spent a year-and-a-half making our album, but it was only in the last six months we found a sound we were really happy with,” Rothman says. Throughout the development process, the three worked to find an identity that was uniquely theirs. “I think a lot of bands build up a lot of early excitement,” Rothman continues, “then they rush into making an album and they end up with a sound that’s not necessarily theirs, an outside producer has created it for them. We didn’t want that to happen to us.”
The three members of London Grammar brought different influences to play, but Rothman says that they were all particularly inspired by the likes of Radiohead, The National and the xx. “We were listening to a lot of those three at the time we were making the record. I don’t know that we wanted to emulate them necessarily, but we liked that all those bands had a very consistent sound across each record, and that they had a sound of their own. We’re also big fans of movie soundtracks. Hannah loves Thomas Newman, and we’re all big fans of the Drive soundtrack, by Cliff Martinez. We tried to get a lot of those lush sounds on the album.”
As for the more electronic sound of early singles like Metal & Dust, Rothman says the album does go into this territory a little bit. “There are a few tracks that are more beat-based,” he says, “and one or two that definitely have the influence of that ’90s electronic sound, especially of bands like Massive Attack.”
Earlier this year, London Grammar collaborated with fellow UK upstarts Disclosure on the track, Help Me Lose My Mind. “We went into the studio and it happened really quickly,” Rothman reveals. “Hannah started singing some top line vocals, and the whole thing came together in about two or three days, which is really quick for us. They have an incredible sound and style.”