Unless you LITERALLY live under a rock, there is no way you’ve not had at least one Clean Bandit song pass through your ears; “Rather Be” is one of the most infectious tracks OF ALL TIME, as evidenced by 1. its overwhelmingly positive reception on an international scale, and also 2. the fact that I’ve probably listened to it on repeat for a total of like, five hundred hours at LEAST. If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket, you’ll be able to hear that one (along with the rest of Clean Bandit’s tunes) LIVE when they roll through NYC tonight (at Webster Hall) and DC (at 9:30 Club) on Thursday the 18th, both SOLD OUT affairs. I had a chance to catch up with Neil about a month ago to talk Robin Williams, growing up playing the violin, the differences between US and UK audiences and SO MUCH MORE! Read up on all that below, and be sure to grab a copy of New Eyes for some background sounds. Here we go:
So you’ve got a show in Budapest tomorrow, right?
Yes, we do!
And so where does that put you at the moment?
I’m actually just on my way home from the BBC studios; we just recorded a live session for BBC Radio 1, and I’m actually not headed to Budapest until lunchtime tomorrow, so I’m going to go home and wash my clothes now.
Good! A little bit of extra time for you. Now, do you guys have to change your rider when you go to foreign countries? I know it can get tricky to have the same brands available all the time when you’ve crossed borders, so (for instance) will you be asking for a nice goulash in Hungary? [Laughs]
[Laughs] I think we always kind of keep our rider the same, but they give us their own interpretation of that. They’ve sometimes got funny brands, though.
WELL, you’ll be in DC for National Cheeseburger Day (because that is obviously a thing that Americans celebrate), so you should just probably add like eight hundred Shake Shack cheeseburgers to your 9:30 Club rider. (That’s what I would do, anyway.)
No way, can’t wait!
ME EITHER. Okay, now I don’t know how big a fan you are / were, but I’m sure you must have heard the news by now about Robin Williams’ death yesterday.
Yeah, really sad.
Well, even though this interview won’t be out until next month, I’m still going to venture to ask the following: if you could resoundtrack any Robin Williams movie, what would it be (if anything)?
I think maybe Good Will Hunting (not that it needs revamping), just because I love that movie so much, and he’s so good in it. The script is so amazing, too; I love it. It’s one of my favorite films of all time.
Amazing choice! And now that we’re sort of on a BIT of a nostalgic note, you’re obviously all incredibly talented musicians now, so is it safe to assume you’ve all been working at this since you were kids?
I have, yes, since I was a very young child.
See, I played clarinet and violin as a kid, and I really got to hate the rigidity of it in terms of the scales and all that, so I quit eventually. Clearly you’re still at it, but did you ever go through any similar resentment towards music when you were younger?
I always just really loved doing it, but I think it was probably quite a torment for my parents and my neighbors and my siblings when I was younger. (The violin sounds quite horrible when you’re first starting out.) But I always had a GREAT time! [Laughs]
Yeah, I definitely remember playing jazzed up versions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and I’m sure that was a nightmare for everyone involved. [Laughs] Now, sort of getting back to this tour you’ll be embarking upon in the US, I wanted to ask you how your first US gig went, which was…what, a couple of months ago?
Yeah, it was amazing, actually! It’s actually quite different playing in the US to how it is playing in Europe or the UK…the crowds we played to in LA and New York were just more…sort of warmer and kind of reactive and receptive from the very beginning than we’re used to, so it was a lovely experience. I just love being there, because everyone’s so friendly from the get-go and it puts you at ease; in the UK it’s very kind of cool and cold at the beginning. But I’m so looking forward to coming!
And are there any cities you’re especially excited to visit? (I don’t know how extensive your experience has been here in the past, you know, whether or not you’ve done any non-musical and/or differently musical US traveling in your lifetime, and/or how much time you’ll even have to explore, but…)
Well I am actually really excited to visit Washington because I’ve always been completely obsessed with The West Wing. I’m hoping I’ll have a couple of hours to tour the city a bit.
Amazing! (You guys should totally do the Spy Museum; that’s always a fun one.) Now, getting back to your music, it seems like a lot of people are just shocked at the fact that you mix classical bits with electronic bits, and that (to me) is not even remotely strange; I like both those genres, so it’s actually NICE when they come together as beautifully as they do in your songs. But I do know that you’d been experimenting with reggae a bit as well before you sort of settled on more of an electronic lens, so was there any specific moment where you decided to make that sonic shift?
It’s been kind of a gradual progression for us, because at no point have we made any kind of definitive decisions; it’s just all sort of evolved and been quite incremental. I guess we wrote the track “Mozart’s House” (which is a quite house-y track), and that was probably the first one that got kind of wider attention, so I guess we’ve been guided by the response we’ve gotten to tracks, but in reality we kind of just made the music we wanted to make, and that has become what it has.
That’s great! Now, another thing that seems to take people by surprise is the band’s semi-unconventional dynamic in terms of relationships and how you all know each other. So not to harp on that any more than it has already been, but do you find there’s any sort of “secret” to working together and stay civil? I’m sure you have fights here and there about whatever just like anyone else, but is there any peace-keeping tactic that you’ve found to be helpful, or are you all just so close-knit it’s kind of subconscious?
I don’t know, really…obviously we do have arguments, but I think it helps that Jack and Luke are brothers and Jack and Grace are in a relationship and Grace and I have known each other a long time, because there are always external ties and bonds that you can fall back on during arguments.
That’s good. And in terms of how that works out creatively, does everyone have set roles during the writing process?
Not really, actually; it always kind of differs from song to song. But the main thing is that it always starts off with Jack writing a beat and a bit of an instrumental, and that’s always the starting point for what we do.
And do you have any sort of preference for whether you’re creating the music behind the scenes or performing it live?
The bit I enjoy the most is playing live; it’s not like slaving away and recording something all day, it’s just fifty minutes on stage in front of however many people, and it’s exhilarating on a whole other level from anything else you do.
Right. And what kinds of measures do you take to translate the tracks for a live audience as opposed to what they sound like if you’re just sitting at home and listening to them through headphones? Are there visual elements that come into play, or…?
Well, the live interpretation of the album is more like a band’s interpretation, and we’ve kind of tried to make the songs segue into one another so as not to upset the rhythm and the energy of the audience.
And what else have you got coming up in the foreseeable future apart from touring around the US and Europe?
Well, we’re doing a really exciting thing with the BBC Philharmonic just before we come to the US, which is that we’re doing a forty minute long symphony made up of Clean Bandit material in collaboration with a composer that we’ve arranged for an orchestra and us. So that should be massive. And beyond that we’re touring Europe, the UK…just touring, really!
And we are SO EXCITED. Remember to do WHATEVER YOU CAN to catch those sold out Clean Bandit shows at Webster Hall tonight and in DC at 9:30 Club on Thursday the 18th. In the meantime, follow the band on Facebook and Twitter, and grab a copy of New Eyes for your ears.