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Clean Bandit Creates A Fresh New Sound
Thursday, August 07, 2014

Not many people think Beethoven and Deadmau5 have much in common. The Cambridge, England, quartet of Clean Bandit, however, have discovered the similarities between classical and electronic music, and have been combining the two genres for years.

Made up of brothers Jack (bass, keyboards), and Luke Patterson (drums), as well as Grace Chatto (cello), and Neil Amin-Smith (violin), Clean Bandit formed in 2009 with an idea that classical and electronic music could be fused together to create a musical amalgamation that would have the ability to reach multiple audiences.

With the release of the band’s debut album, New Eyes, earlier this year, and their latest single, “Rather Be” (featuring Jess Glynne), about to crack the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, it’s safe to say their musical experiment has been a resounding success.

Clean Bandit will be in the US in September for a short tour, and I caught up with the band’s violinist, Neil Amin-Smith, to find out more about their music, and some memorable moments from their time coming up. Amin-Smith also discussed the prevalence of animals in their videos, and where he was the first time he heard “Rather Be” on the radio.

Adam Bernard: Very few artists have mixed classical and electronic music. When the four of you decided you were going to go down this path, how many misfires did you have before you landed on what is now the Clean Bandit sound?

Neil Amin-Smith: We did actually start off with the classical stuff being quite a lot more prominent, because we sampled a lot of classical music and we built the rest of the tracks around classical music. The sound was (also) a lot more hip-hop in that phase.

Adam Bernard: At any point did getting a lead singer interest you?

Neil Amin-Smith: We did actually start off with a lead singer, Love Ssega, who’s on two tracks on our album, one of which is “Mozart’s House,” but he was really busy. He was doing a PhD in laser technology at Cambridge, (so) we just kind of fell into making songs with other people.

Before it was really even a formal arrangement we made songs with other people for fun, then that just kind of became how it was working, as Ssega wasn’t able to tour, or do anything like that. So yeah, we just kind of happened naturally.

Adam Bernard: A PhD in laser technology! You don’t get a lot of artists who have PhDs in laser technology. The guitarist from Queen has a PhD.

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah, in something amazing. (Note: It’s in Astrophysics)

Adam Bernard: In what ways do you feel working with a different singer for each song affects the emotional flow of your debut album, New Eyes?

Neil Amin-Smith: I think, even working with different singers, the instrumentals have a certain personality that is recognizable throughout. On the other hand (the singers) do bring totally different feelings to every song, and perhaps because we wrote the album over about four years it’s kind of more a collection of tracks that we made than a coherent record.

Adam Bernard: Four years, that’s a long time. When you look back on it, what was going on in your lives that was inspiring the content of the music?

Neil Amin-Smith: It just changed so much throughout. The oldest track on there, “Mozart’s House,” kind of, in a way, shows how the band came about. It has Love Ssega on it, and it features a classical song, so that was where we kind of came from, and we wanted to put that on there because it feels quite illustrative of what we were, and how we came out, but obviously everything changed so much over four years.

When we made all the tracks we weren’t trying necessarily to make an album, we were just going song by song, and we were making a video for each single as we finished it, so it’s kind of hard to point to a thing that’s behind the album as a whole.

Adam Bernard: I think the next obvious question is, with so many different singers, how on earth do you tour?

Neil Amin-Smith: {laughs} When we first started touring we took about four or five singers with us. That quickly became not very practical. Now we have two really amazing live vocalists who can cover most of the album. In fact one of them, Elisabeth Troy, she’s on the album, she sings on a track called “Heart On Fire.” We also try to get as many guest vocalists to come down (as possible), people like Rae Morris who sings on “Up Again,” obviously Jess (Glynne) who sings “Rather Be,” Stylo G, who sings “Come Over,” we try and get them down when possible because it feels like more of a kind of a party, carnival, atmosphere on stage when we bring the guests on throughout the set.

Adam Bernard: What’s been the wildest, or most interesting, thing you’ve seen, or experienced, at one of your shows?

Neil Amin-Smith: We did a show recently at a festival in the UK, and it was perfect weather. The sun was setting as we played, and during “Rather Be” we all noticed this girl, maybe about twenty rows back, get on someone’s shoulders, and she just took her top off, and it was like she was in this complete ecstasy. She was completely naked from the waist up. There was nothing pervy about it, it was just kind of amazing. She was so happy, and so bold. It was kind of a great moment, but also quite funny.

Adam Bernard: You’re getting pretty big. That kind of thing may become the norm for you. How will you react if you end up with a Bieber-like heartthrob status amongst young women?

Neil Amin-Smith: I feel fairly confident that I’m not headed for that kind of famous anytime soon.

Adam Bernard: Why would you say that?

Neil Amin-Smith: I think, just kind of by nature of the band we are, “Rather Be” has been a massive hit in the UK, and it hasn’t, and I think probably for the best, translated to any recognition of any of us. We can all still walk down the street completely un-harassed, or unnoticed.

Adam Bernard: Do you think part of that is because you guys aren’t in the video very much? Even in “Extraordinary” you’re almost in the background a lot of the time. Is there a reason you don’t take starring roles in your own videos?

Neil Amin-Smith: Actually, our latest video, “Come Over,” which is a song on which Grace sings part of the vocals, she kind of stars in the video, so it’s a bit more. The thing is, none of us are natural screen characters in the way that some of the vocalists we’ve worked with are, like Sharna Bass on “Extraordinary,” or Love Ssega on “Mozart’s House,” who both have a kind of charisma. I guess we enjoy making the videos a lot, but none of us have ever felt like we wanted to be the face of them.

Adam Bernard: I do notice that in one video you have cat, and in another you have a baby pig. Do you guys have a cute animal obsession you’d like to talk about?

Neil Amin-Smith: {laughs} I think maybe you’d have to ask Grace about the cute animal obsession. We were filming in Norway recently for “Come Over,” and we already had a (video) treatment, and we knew what we were supposed to be doing, and it was all in place, but Grace just became obsessed with this incredibly fluffy white dog. It was the makeup artist’s dog, so it had nothing to do with the shoot, but she insisted on getting a shot with it, so we did end up using it in it.

Adam Bernard: You know, cute animal videos always do well on YouTube.

Neil Amin-Smith: They do. I think about checking those boxes – cute animals, little children...

Adam Bernard: And fish market.

Neil Amin-Smith: And fish market, that traditional area of YouTube does awfully well.

Adam Bernard: So you’re not even giving credit to your schooling, your music, or the group, it’s really all about the cute animals.

Neil Amin-Smith: It’s really all about the cute animals, and I wouldn't go as far to say that was a deliberate strategy, but it’s working for us.

Adam Bernard: Eventually is this going to turn into a Noah’s Ark thing?

Neil Amin-Smith: We’ll gradually fade into the background, so it’s only animals.

Adam Bernard: Just watch out for the big ones, they can still eat people.

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah, we were a bit scared in Norway. We had to have someone with us at all times with a gun in case of a polar bear attack. Luckily it didn’t materialize.

Adam Bernard: Wow! Moving away from bears, and back to music, “Rather Be” is making a huge impact. Do you remember the first time you heard it on the radio?

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah, I do actually. I was in a taxi on my way to a radio station to do an interview, and it came on. I was so excited, but I was the only one in the taxi, so I tried to tell the taxi driver what was happening, but he was totally disinterested, and I don’t think he believed me. He thought I was a bit of a drunk.

Adam Bernard: So you were trying to tell the taxi driver how excited you were and he was just like WHATEVER!

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah, he was like, “Yeah, right, sure, how’s this?” I was like, “Honestly, this is my song,” but he didn’t believe me.

He was taking me to a radio station where I was going to talk about the song. That might, you think, kind of convince him. I was like, “You’re taking me to KISS FM,” but he wasn’t having any of it.

Adam Bernard: That’s pretty rough. Speaking of things that are rough, do you have any “payin dues” moments from coming up in the ranks?

Neil Amin-Smith: Our first ever UK festival gig, I think we definitely paid our dues. This must have been in 2009, Grace managed to get us a gig playing the festival Secret Garden Party. It’s quite cool. It’s a smaller festival, but they still have really good people playing. We got there, and we checked in with the promoter to see when we were on, and it turned out that all they wanted us for was to play the theme for this game show that they were going to do at the festival, and they weren’t interested in us playing any of our own music. That was a bit of a blow.

Adam Bernard: Did you do the theme anyway?

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah. We gave it our best shot. I don’t think it really won us any fans, but we had a nice weekend. We got into the festival for free. It could have been worse.

Adam Bernard: Have they come back to you, and been like, “Hey, you guys are really huge now, do you want to come back and play our festival?”

Neil Amin-Smith: Yeah, it’s actually the festival we have played at the most, probably. We had a bit of a nightmare there last year because two minutes before we were supposed to walk on the whole sound on our stage got pulled because Regina Spektor, who was on the main stage, had demanded no other acts play while she did. So last year we didn’t get to play, but we actually had probably our best gig of the whole summer there two days ago. It was really nice. It was a lovely atmosphere, and it really felt like we’d kind of come back to the place where it all started. It was really lovely.

Adam Bernard: Was that the show where you saw the nice topless girl?

Neil Amin-Smith: Oh no, that was a few weeks ago. Although I suspect there probably was some of that going on.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 1:41 PM  
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