Steal This Music

Clean Bandit went from no-budget YouTube videos to a Grammy win

The UK quartet combines classical instruments and electronic music. | Photo by Joshua Schulz.

The UK quartet combines classical instruments and electronic music. | Photo by Joshua Schulz.

U.K. quartet Clean Bandit has come a long way in the past year, from the release of their breakout hit, “Rather Be” featuring Jess Glynne, to winning the Grammy for Best Dance Recording at this year’s ceremony. As a result of their success, Clean Bandit has made the rosters of some of the top festivals this year, including Ultra, Coachella and Governors Ball. Although their April 10 performance at Brooklyn Bowl has been postponed indefinitely, Grace Chatto, the group’s cellist, took a few moments to talk about her bandmates’ collective success and what to expect of the Brits’ invasion of the U.S. this year.

How did Clean Bandit come together as a group?

Neil [Amin-Smith] and I play violin and cello, respectively, and we started playing together when we were really little in a local youth orchestra in London. We started a classical string quartet, and then we met Jack [Patterson] and Luke [Patterson] at university. [Jack and Luke] had a rock background. They played in a lot of rock bands with bass guitar and drums. When Radiohead started making electronic music, Jack started to think it was cool as well, and started experimenting with writing electronic stuff. When we became friends, we wanted to do something together. [Jack] was listening to our classical music a lot and decided to add his own electronic ideas. We put on a club night [to perform] this stuff, and everything kind of started from there.

How did you find Jess Glynne?

This album—our first album—New Eyes, we really tried to work with loads of different voices. We heard Jess Glynne performing on a recording—the only other recording she had made at the time. It was a dance track called “My Love” by Route 94. We just thought that was the perfect voice for our song, “Rather Be,” which we had been performing live for a long time, but hadn’t decided to record it yet.

Is that how you find all of the vocalists you work with?

Most of the singers on the album are just people that we heard [about] randomly from a friend or met in our studio, which is a local community project. We’ve met a lot of young singers who came through that project: Sharna Bass from our song “Extraordinary” was only 14 when we met her there. One singer, Eliza Sheddad, we literally met on the street with her guitar.

How did you feel the moment that you found out that you won the Grammy?

Oh, it was very emotional. It was really so special. It was kind of unexpected when the announcement came, because the ceremony was so long and we had been waiting. We’d been listening to all of the quite random awards, like the “Best Latin Jazz Calypso Single” and all of these categories that we’d never heard about. We had been kind of snoozing off at the time. And then, all of a sudden it was like, “Clean Bandit!” It was really amazing, and then I cried!

What is your recording process like, since you fuse together so many traditional instruments with the electronic vibe?

It’s different for every song. Jack records everything himself, usually, so the rest of us come in one by one with him and record ourselves. Sometimes, with the strings, Neil and I record together. Sometimes we do it in a church to get a good acoustic.

What are your performances like? Are they more like a DJ set or a live set?

It’s very live; it’s not like a DJ set at all. There are many instruments [involved]. All of the drums are played by Luke; there’s a massive electronic kit that has acoustic cymbals. Jack plays many different keyboards. He also plays bass guitar and an electronic saxophone with eight octaves that can play really deep bass lines, and also really high solos. Neil plays the wooden violin, and he also plays some keyboards. I play the cello—electronic cello. And there’s an electric steel pan [drum] and two backing artists, who are also playing extra keyboard parts.

What do you do about vocalists?

On the album, we have 12 different singers. But when we perform live, we have one lead singer, Elisabeth Troy. She can sing everything on the album, including the rap. She’s amazing.

From left: Luke Patterson, Jack Patterson, Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith. | Photo by Justin Sutcliffe.

From left: Luke Patterson, Jack Patterson, Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith. | Photo by Justin Sutcliffe.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

Just that you have to really work very hard and do as much as you can yourself, because no one else is gonna do it for you. And that means not only writing the best music you can write and recording it in the best way you can, but also how you present the music is a big thing. We made the first five of our music videos ourselves with no money. These days it’s possible to make a good video without any money. I think it’s really important now with YouTube to use the visuals and stuff on your side.

What’s the story behind your album art?

Jack designed it. It was initially designed [to reflect] four string instruments; when we started, we were a string quartet. And [Jack] wanted to make electronic instruments for us. They were gonna be in those shapes: a triangle violin and another square violin, a circle for the viola and then the big green diamond for the cello. We haven’t actually made them, yet. But the logo, we just loved how it looked and it just kind of stuck. We use it for everything.

Do you get asked a lot about being the only girl in the group?

Yeah, I do, actually. But that’s the only time I ever think about it is when I get asked. I don’t notice my gender within the group. We have the singers and others who tour with us, as well, so it’s actually quite even in gender on the road.

As the only female in the group, are the expectations different for you than your male counterparts?

I feel like it’s the same, really. I guess when we do red carpets, they often ask me to do a round of photos of my own because I’m a girl. Apart from that, there isn’t really any difference.

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