London Grammar: TAS In Session
The fast-rising British trio London Grammar understands the resonant scope of simplicity, silence and space. The trio's graceful debut album, If You Wait, was released in September to enthusiastic critical reviews and sales. It debuted at #2 on the UK album charts, nudged along by the buzz generated by London Grammar's earlier EP, Metal and Dust, and a high-profile collaboration with Disclosure on their slinky single "Help Me Lose My Mind."
When London Grammar — Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman — passed through New York earlier this fall, they dropped by The Alternate Side and FUV Live to talk about their friendship and artistic vision. The band is currently on an extensive tour of Europe and the UK, with a planned Australian festival jaunt in late December supporting MGMT, Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear. London Grammar will return Stateside in late winter for SXSW and other dates.
Below, watch videos of London Grammar in session and read interview highlights. The entire session will air this Friday, November 15, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11am EST, also streaming online.
Alisa Ali: Do you guys have proper London Grammar? What is the name about?
Hannah Reid: It’s about the place and what it embodies. We were in Nottingham at the time and we missed home, so we knew we wanted to have London in the name. And Grammar just sounded really good next to it. That’s kind of it. Aesthetically, it rolls off the tongue; that’s what I like about it.
Alisa: You all met at university. Were you all studying music?
Hannah: Not at all.
Dot Major: Hannah and I were both doing English. Hannah was doing history of art as well. Dan was doing economics and philosophy.
Alisa: How does that help you with this band?
Dan Rothman: I’m quite good with the business side.
Dot: It helps him with answering emails.
Dan: I’m potentially the most business-minded.
Hannah: I think you’re the most organized.
Dan: Most organized. We had this debate recently about t-shirts. I just knew what would sell the best [using the song title “Wasting My Young Years”] and I was right.
Hannah: That is true. He’s good at other things as well, in terms of business. Knowing what’s a good thing to do and what’s not. I have no idea. Dot doesn’t. Dan makes those decisions.
Alisa: You’re highly involved in all aspects of this music game. You handpicked your team, your producers and the person who mixed the album.
Hannah: Yes and no. We worked with a number of people before finding the right producers, but we were brought together through our management. In terms of knowing whether something works, we knew that it worked with them. In terms of other people, our label picked us.
Alisa: Were you so surprised at the reaction that you got from your [If You Wait]?
Dot: It has been mad, since the album came out. It’s all gone up a level. It’s gone from being a blog thing to having a wider audience which is what we wanted.
Alisa: When you posted “Hey Now,” it got an immense amount of hits.
Hannah: I haven’t looked in a while, so I wouldn’t know.
Dot: I think between Soundcloud and YouTube it’s something like 2.2 million.
Alisa: Facebook was involved in your band’s start?
Hannah: There are two versions of the story.
Alisa: I feel like what happened is that Dan saw Hannah’s picture and was like, “She is so cute. Let’s be in a band.”
Dan: That is absolutely incorrect (laughs).
Hannah: Aw ….
Dan: No, you’re absolutely cute, but that’s not why I wanted to be in a band with you.
Hannah: If anything, I thought he was cute. He walked into the canteen and me and my friends were like, “We’re going to make friends with him.” We said that the next person who came into the canteen, we were going to make friends with — and it was Dan.
Dan: My girlfriend of five years is Hannah’s best friend. So that would be awkward.
Dot: Sometimes at photo shoots people ask if Dan and Hannah are together.
Dan: Which is incorrect.
Hannah: Why do you keep being so harsh about it? We’re like brother and sister.
Alisa: Actually, Dot and Dan are a couple.
Dan: All the rumors are correct (laughs).
Alisa: Were you guys in bands before you started?
Dot: Dan and I were in standard teenage rock bands and stuff. Nothing anything like this, this serious. Mine was unlistenable prog rock, crazy time signatures, stuff like that. Really self-indulgent. Dan, shall I describe your band?
Dan: Probably jazz-infused indie pop?
Alisa: Hannah, you were not in a band before London Grammar?
Hannah: No. I did write songs. I kind of once in a band — I never told you guys this — but it was me and this girl in my school who played guitar. We didn’t have a name. We just played guitar and wrote songs. We’d play a guitar at lunch, we never did a gig, so I don’t think it counts.
Alisa: Did you have any vocal training?
Hannah: From when I was 13 to 16, for three years, quite critical years. I was, later on, told by another vocal coach who does professional singers, that I was trained really well in those years which helped my voice develop later on. It was just this little Welsh lady who didn’t let me sing anything else other than classic Welsh folk songs.
Alisa: What kind of music did you like?
Hannah: I grew up listening to Motown, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. Really powerful vocalists. I also liked some classical music as well. There are some … I liked Bloc Party. You liked them, Dan.
Alisa: On the record, you’ve got a cover of [Kavinsky's], “Nightcall.”
Hannah: We first heard that song from the film “Drive” — a lot of people first heard it there. We never intended to have it on the record, but we were in the studio, it was really late at night, we had some time to mess around and one of the producers said, why don’t you try to cover it. So we did. It’s one of the few songs where the parts you hear are completed live, whole takes, apart from the beat at the end.
Alisa: Do you do any other covers?
Hannah: There aren’t any other covers on our album, but we do perform “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak.
Alisa: What made you chose “Wicked Game” to add to your repertoire?
Dot: I dunno. It’s one of those songs we all really love. It feels like like an obvious choice to us because its sonically not that dissimilar. There’s a lot of space in the record. The best thing about it is the transition from such a male-voiced song to when Hannah sings it.
Dan: It’s kind of funny that it’s become a part of the set and people know us for doing it now. We just did it for a session we did in England for Zane Lowe [on BBC Radio 1] and we had to do a wild card track. And now it’s our thing.
Dot: We we decided to play it in the set, it was so fun to play. A lot of people shout it out. When Dan plays the first note, someone goes, “That’s 'Wicked Game'!"
Dan: And last night I played the bloody wrong note.
Alisa: I read that the primary goal of your band is to keep space in mind within your music. When you were going into the recording studio, was it difficult to make sure there was enough space? Were you stripping away elements or did you not put in that many to begin with?
Dan: On some songs the space was there and remained there and we didn’t add too much, Like “Hey Now,” we maintained the space from the very beginning. But you do have some records or songs that, for whatever reason and you believe they might be potentially singles, you begin to think — or producers think — you should add more, to make the chorus bigger or create a dynamic. Dot would take the files and we’d sit in a room together and go, “Mute this, mute this, delete, delete, delete” and it got to the point that we were deleting stuff so no one could unmute it. The modern-day equivalent of burning tapes.
Dot: That sounds really emo.
Dan: That does sound a bit emo.
Hannah: You both sound really emo in this interview.
Alisa: Don’t you cringe when you hit delete?
Dot: No, it feels really liberating.
Hannah: I was literally like, thank God, get rid of that. When you’ve written a song and you know it so well, producing it for such a long time, you know every song, every part of that song, every sound that’s in there and what it does. If there’s a sound in there that you hate, it drives you insane.
Dot: What is annoying is if you hit delete and then two months later you listen to the song and go, “How did that sound get back there?”
Alisa: Was there any head-butting? You were on same page?
Hannah: Pretty much at the end we were on the same page?
Dan: It took a while for us to get to that page. Before that we were head-butting a little bit. There was a point where we spent time in the studio with producers and we’d argue and it wouldn’t be very pleasant.
Hannah: There was one producer in particular I feel pretty bad for. We never really argued; it was more stony silence.
Dan: It was incredibly unproductive to be in the studio and for that to be happening. But it’s part of the development of a band and we went through the process of understanding that space was the key thing. You learn that’s what you need, you go and delete everything and that’s how you reach that point … to be on the same page.