London Grammar is next in a long line of British buzz bands who are primed for a Stateside breakout. The trio of very attractive twenty-somethings, whose impressive debut album If You Wait came out last September, are kicking off their first headlining US tour at next year’s SXSW, and the buzz is crescendoing. The band came together when guitarist Dan Rothman saw a picture on Facebook of fellow Nottingham University student Hannah Reid holding a guitar. He sent her a message, asking if she’d like to collaborate. What Rothman didn’t realize at the time is that Reid had a voice to rival Florence Welch’s. Soon, the duo added producer and drummer Dot Major, and the three of them began making austere, elegant pop songs that borrowed from trip-hop and XX-style minimalism. Listen to “Hey Now” or “Wasting My Young Years” for a good sense of London Grammar does best. We recently got on the phone with Major to get to know his band a little better.
How are you feeling about the reception of your first album, and the upcoming tour?
We’re very happy. It’s a bit of a relief to finally get it out there… and we’ve never actually done a tour yet, the first one is going to be the US tour. We’re all absolutely over the moon that this is really happening.
Your songs possess a real honesty and rawness. Do you all draw on personal experiences when you collaborate in the studio?
We just jam a lot together and the songs sort of eventually come out, like for example with “Hey Now”. Lyrically, Hannah does draw massively from personal experiences and that gives it an immediate honesty I think.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the songwriting process?
Yeah, so it changes up, really. We move around instruments as well. Sometimes I’ll play piano, or Hannah will. Normally, the music will come first, and then Hannah will sing melodies and top lines, and then she’ll write all of the lyrics afterwards. But then there are other songs that are more free form in the arrangements. We don’t write the same way every time, which is good because it brings a kind of freshness to the tracks.
I assume you were all quite young when you first picked up an instrument?
Yes, I’ve played piano since I was four and I started playing drums when I was about eight. I gave piano up for a bit when I was a teenager because I thought it wasn’t cool, but that was really stupid of me. I realized it was cool when I grew up a bit. Hannah started singing from a young age, and Dan played guitar from pretty young, so yeah, we’ve always played.
When you guys got together, did you go through an experimental stage?
Yeah, massively. I think that process of developing it phonically was important. When I first joined, and Hannah and Dan had been playing for a while already, I was just playing a djembe, which is a kind of drum. And then later we all found a more electronic sound and it became much more free-form in the album process. Which is why when you have a song like “Hey Now”, it sounded so good that we went back and reworked some of the older ones, and brought them more back up to date with how “Hey Now” sounded phonically.
Has the internet been critical to your success?
Absolutely. I think it’s been vitally important. I guess there are ways in which the internet has damaged the music industry in terms of record sales going down, but I genuinely believe that technology is a very positive thing for the music industry, because it means that people have more choice in what they want to listen to, and anyone can get their music out there. It’s been really great for us.
I’m interested in your collaboration with Disclosure. How did that come about?
Well, we were friends with their managers, basically. Because early on when we first started, they were really interested in managing us. They just loved Hannah’s voice. We went to the studio for a couple of days and just did the track. I think it was good for Hannah to be able to sing on something else, and she did her first performance with them the other day, which she was so nervous about because she’d never done a gig without Dan and I. And there were about 12, 000 people.
Is there another artist who you’d all like to collaborate with in the future?
I know Hannah would really love to collaborate with The National, she loves them. We all like Jon Hopkins – he has an album out now called Immunity. It’s amazing, really ambient electronica. I think he’d a really cool person to work with.
What’s rotating in your iTunes playlist?
I’ve been listening to Laura Mvula’s album, and another more electronic group, called Moderat.
Can you spill something surprising about London Grammar that no one else knows?
Well, Dan’s weird fact is that he’s the owner of a shotgun license, probably not a weird fact for Americans. In England, that’s quite weird.