Interview Clean Bandit: “We Didn’t Set Out With A Manifesto”

Throwing out the rulebook, Clean Bandit are both embracing their roots and trying something new.






With such a mindset, it’s allowed the four-piece – completed by Jack’s brother, Luke – to embrace a more open approach to the music they’re making. Whilst their initial breakout hit ‘Mozart’s House’ was tied more directly to a specific classical sample, Mozart’s String Quartet No.21, their later tracks bear a more experimental twist. “At the start, we didn’t actually record anything for about two years,” Neil explains.



“We set up basically to do this one gig and then we enjoyed it so much, we did it again a year later. Then maybe we did a couple in the next year, but at the beginning, it was just an entirely live project, all for fun, just because we liked playing together. It was an opportunity to do something quite different, musically, to what we had done before that. It wasn’t until 2010 probably that we really even recorded the tracks, and then we maybe put down one or two a year.



“I guess what we’ve done on the more recent stuff is that we haven’t actually used classical samples, we’ve just had original string parts,” he continues, on just why their mix of sounds seems so appealing to their audience, as well as themselves. “Having the strings so prominent in the mix in the songs, almost like a counter-melody or something, differentiates it from other stuff. Strings are used a lot in pop music but really only as a bedding, or a harmony. It kinda catches your ear.”






There’s also the fact that they don’t work under a traditional band structure: gone is the regimented guitar-bass-drums-vocals formula. They’ve thrown out the rule book: Clean Bandit are a much more free-flowing unit, especially when it comes to writing. “A lot of the time, Jack writes a very short beat which gets picked up and developed. The structure often changes quite late in the process. The strings often come in late - they used to come at the beginning but now we’re writing original strings, they often come towards the end. When the song is started it’s not even clear where the strings will go.”



That’s backed up by their plethora of guest vocalists who, again, continue to change and develop the personality of the music itself. “I guess the biggest thing that’s enabled us to do that is the fact we don’t have a singer in the band. It’s meant that we’ve worked with such different vocal styles. We’ve done a song with Stylo G for the album, who is this Jamaican dance hall vocalist, and the vibe that brings to the song is so totally different to a song we’ve done called ‘Birch’ with a folk singer, Eliza Shaddad. There’s no way that any one singer could’ve brought those different feels to different tracks. That’s been exciting.”



Understandably so, their forthcoming debut album ‘New Eyes’ is a patchwork. Having developed their styles, thrown in more vocalists and grown used to being a band over the last few years, the result is set to be a much more diverse patchwork of tracks, tied together by their core essence. “It was one step at a time. There’s stuff on there, like ‘Mozart’s House’ and ‘Telephone Banking’, songs that we wrote maybe three or four years ago, and then there’s some stuff which didn’t get finished until maybe December or January. It’s been a really long process and actually, there is quite a big difference between the early stuff and stuff now. There wasn’t really a coherent plan.


“The early songs were more written around… like ‘Mozart’s House’ was written around that string sample, from Mozart’s quartet, so I guess that had some sort of overall structure and meaning in a way. But it’s been exciting because while we’ve been working on the second half [of the album], we’ve worked with Jimmy Napes, the lyricist who works with Disclosure, so we’ve done a lot with him. We’ve now got more resources to find different vocalists. They’ve come together in quite different ways.”



With a Number One single in tow, Clean Bandit are now hot property on the touring circuit too. Having completed their first ever headline tour late last year, their forthcoming live dates – which all sold out in just over an hour - are set to be even more ambitious. “We’re trying to gradually make the show bigger and bigger,” he assures.



“Grace and I both play our wooden instruments live just because the sound is so much richer than any kind of electronic, synthy kind of strings. Luke plays most of the beats live, which, for I guess a lot of our more dancey tracks is not so typical, so, that’s quite cool to watch. Then, Jack’s got this electric saxophone, which is a midi-instrument, and it’s got eight different octaves so he can play some of the bass lines on that, but also some of the lead synth lines and improvise.



“Because we can’t take as many singers around with us, we’ve streamlined it down to two main singers who tour with us; one of whom, Elizabeth Troy, is also on the album. Our plan is now to come and have Stylo G [who features on ‘Come Over’] or Sseg [Ssegawa Ssekintu] might come do ‘Mozart’s House’, just to keep that fresh.”



The growing size of stages don’t seem to make for a daunting prospect either. “At university, I guess we were lucky to play a lot of events on massive stages. At the end of year party, they’d have Dizzee Rascal and we’d be on before him. It was kinda a perfect training! I’m just really excited about it. When we did our first headline tour back in December, finishing up at Brixton Electric… We’d never really done a headline tour before and XOYO was the biggest headline show, but that was such a level up. It was amazing.”



With live shows already stretching further and further into the future, and the release of their debut album looming, the hard work is still to come: there’s no denying that the band are excited about what’s happened in the past, but they’re more than welcoming the future.



“I guess, in light of ‘Rather Be’, it’d be cool if…” Neil pauses. “It would be really cool if the people who had come to us through ‘Rather Be’ found things that they like in the maybe less obvious tracks on the album; something like ‘Birch’, which I think is really beautiful. We didn’t set out with a manifesto but it would be nice if people who didn’t necessarily listen to such a wide range of music would be able to because it’s all on one album.”



Clean Bandit’s debut album ‘New Eyes’ will be released on 2nd June via Atlantic Records. Their UK tour kicks off on 30th April in Lancaster.




Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online, download on Android via Google Play, or download on iPad now.

“At the start, we didn’t actually record anything for about two years.”

— Neil Amin-Smith

“I guess what we’ve done on the more recent stuff is that we haven’t actually used classical samples, we’ve just had original string parts,” he continues, on just why their mix of sounds seems so appealing to their audience, as well as themselves. “Having the strings so prominent in the mix in the songs, almost like a counter-melody or something, differentiates it from other stuff. Strings are used a lot in pop music but really only as a bedding, or a harmony. It kinda catches your ear.”

There’s also the fact that they don’t work under a traditional band structure: gone is the regimented guitar-bass-drums-vocals formula. They’ve thrown out the rule book: Clean Bandit are a much more free-flowing unit, especially when it comes to writing. “A lot of the time, Jack writes a very short beat which gets picked up and developed. The structure often changes quite late in the process. The strings often come in late - they used to come at the beginning but now we’re writing original strings, they often come towards the end. When the song is started it’s not even clear where the strings will go.”

That’s backed up by their plethora of guest vocalists who, again, continue to change and develop the personality of the music itself. “I guess the biggest thing that’s enabled us to do that is the fact we don’t have a singer in the band. It’s meant that we’ve worked with such different vocal styles. We’ve done a song with Stylo G for the album, who is this Jamaican dance hall vocalist, and the vibe that brings to the song is so totally different to a song we’ve done called ‘Birch’ with a folk singer, Eliza Shaddad. There’s no way that any one singer could’ve brought those different feels to different tracks. That’s been exciting.”

Understandably so, their forthcoming debut album ‘New Eyes’ is a patchwork. Having developed their styles, thrown in more vocalists and grown used to being a band over the last few years, the result is set to be a much more diverse patchwork of tracks, tied together by their core essence. “It was one step at a time. There’s stuff on there, like ‘Mozart’s House’ and ‘Telephone Banking’, songs that we wrote maybe three or four years ago, and then there’s some stuff which didn’t get finished until maybe December or January. It’s been a really long process and actually, there is quite a big difference between the early stuff and stuff now. There wasn’t really a coherent plan.

“The early songs were more written around… like ‘Mozart’s House’ was written around that string sample, from Mozart’s quartet, so I guess that had some sort of overall structure and meaning in a way. But it’s been exciting because while we’ve been working on the second half [of the album], we’ve worked with Jimmy Napes, the lyricist who works with Disclosure, so we’ve done a lot with him. We’ve now got more resources to find different vocalists. They’ve come together in quite different ways.”

With a Number One single in tow, Clean Bandit are now hot property on the touring circuit too. Having completed their first ever headline tour late last year, their forthcoming live dates – which all sold out in just over an hour - are set to be even more ambitious. “We’re trying to gradually make the show bigger and bigger,” he assures.

“Grace and I both play our wooden instruments live just because the sound is so much richer than any kind of electronic, synthy kind of strings. Luke plays most of the beats live, which, for I guess a lot of our more dancey tracks is not so typical, so, that’s quite cool to watch. Then, Jack’s got this electric saxophone, which is a midi-instrument, and it’s got eight different octaves so he can play some of the bass lines on that, but also some of the lead synth lines and improvise.

“Because we can’t take as many singers around with us, we’ve streamlined it down to two main singers who tour with us; one of whom, Elizabeth Troy, is also on the album. Our plan is now to come and have Stylo G [who features on ‘Come Over’] or Sseg [Ssegawa Ssekintu] might come do ‘Mozart’s House’, just to keep that fresh.”

“There’s no way that any one singer could’ve brought those different feels to different tracks.”

— Neil Amin-Smith

The growing size of stages don’t seem to make for a daunting prospect either. “At university, I guess we were lucky to play a lot of events on massive stages. At the end of year party, they’d have Dizzee Rascal and we’d be on before him. It was kinda a perfect training! I’m just really excited about it. When we did our first headline tour back in December, finishing up at Brixton Electric… We’d never really done a headline tour before and XOYO was the biggest headline show, but that was such a level up. It was amazing.”

With live shows already stretching further and further into the future, and the release of their debut album looming, the hard work is still to come: there’s no denying that the band are excited about what’s happened in the past, but they’re more than welcoming the future.

“I guess, in light of ‘Rather Be’, it’d be cool if…” Neil pauses. “It would be really cool if the people who had come to us through ‘Rather Be’ found things that they like in the maybe less obvious tracks on the album; something like ‘Birch’, which I think is really beautiful. We didn’t set out with a manifesto but it would be nice if people who didn’t necessarily listen to such a wide range of music would be able to because it’s all on one album.”

Clean Bandit’s debut album ‘New Eyes’ will be released on 2nd June via Atlantic Records. Their UK tour kicks off on 30th April in Lancaster.

Tags: Clean Bandit, Features

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