Disclosure's Guy and Howard Lawrence with Jason Bentley.
Disclosure's members have emerged on the dance-music scene with a surprisingly sophisticated vision and talent for their age. London brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are just 19 and 22, respectively, but their affinity for songwriting and live instrumentation has quickly put them in a league with the likes of Basement Jaxx and Groove Armada.
Their album debut, Settle, features a number of compelling vocal collaborations and a steady groove that draws from the spectrum of deeper house music. Disclosure recently stopped by KCRW to talk with Metropolis host Jason Bentley about the new album and setting its sights on America. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of the conversation below.
JASON BENTLEY: I understand you've been busy of late.
HOWARD LAWRENCE: Yes.
GUY LAWRENCE: Yeah, pretty busy. A lot of sleep deprivation, but it's cool. Hanging in there.
BENTLEY: And so it goes. It's interesting because the standard hallmarks of this genre of dance music are singles, a certain anonymity, instrumentals primarily, and then a show which is kind of clunky and sort of lacking with just a DJ. You guys seemed to go straight to a whole other level very early in your career: You're serving up an album. You have a live show which includes instruments. And your album features songs and guest singers. And so, I wonder, how did you grow up so fast?
GUY: I think it had to do with how we grew up. We grew up playing instruments and listening to bands and listening to songs. You know, we didn't grow up listening to instrumental dubs. We didn't grow up DJing or anything like that. A lot of people get into producing dance music through DJing. But we had our first two singles out before we even knew how to DJ, so it's been just a weird order of events for us, because we grew up listening to songs and bands. I think that's probably what it is.
But it's also just down to our management, as well. We had a really clear idea together that we wanted to do something more than just be DJs. And when we got into working with singers, we realized that we were writing songs, not just with build-ups and drops; it was verses and choruses and hooks. When that started happening, I think we realized that we could become more than just a singles act with EPs — we could do an album. A whole album of house music usually would be a little bit boring and relentless — just an hour of 4/4 kick. But on our album, every time you hear a new voice come in, your ears are refreshed and you don't get bored. It's not very static.
BENTLEY: It also automatically puts you in a whole different category with Basement Jaxx or Groove Armada or some of these other lasting artists that have come out of the genre. Also, stylistically, it's more of a classic house sound — a sound that has its roots, I'm guessing, before you guys were even born.
GUY: Yeah, man. From the U.S.A. for sure — in Chicago and Detroit. Yeah, definitely. 100 percent.
BENTLEY: And it's cool, because there's a swing back to that in music today. It feels like it's very much in vogue now to have more of a classic house sound.
GUY: Yeah, I don't know if it's just like an inevitable thing to happen — everything that goes away for so long comes back eventually. But for us, it's happened not because it's becoming cool or because everyone else is doing it. It's because we got into dance music in about 2008 and 2009, and we just basically tried to copy everything that was happening in the U.K. at that exact time. So all of our production sounded very much like James Blake, Mount Kimbie — things that were happening right then. But then, over time, we started wanting to know where they got their influences from; why they sound the way they sound. And that just inevitably leads you back to Chicago, Detroit house techno and U.K. garage as well from the '90s. That's just basically all we listen to now. And when we were making the album, we were just buying hundreds of records of that kind of vibe, so I think that's what shaped the sound.
BENTLEY: It's interesting that your sound is at times slower. The tempos are slower, which is kind of a bold decision. I think it'd be a lot easier to just bang out 128 or bang out 124. But you'll move down to 117 bpm. And I don't mean to get too esoteric, but there aren't a whole lot of records like that, so it stands apart.
HOWARD: I think, again, it probably comes back to the strong structure and writing process. If you're doing a whole build-up into a drop, the ideal tempo for that is probably somewhere around 130 bpm, just because people can bounce to that tempo in the right way. But when you're just writing a song that has a chorus, it can be at any speed. We've written songs at 90 bpm. It has got little to do with the tempo. It's just generally, for this album, we've produced stuff at the speed of garage and house music.
BENTLEY: Once in a while in the scene, a track or a song comes along, and it just feels like it opens a door and everyone wants to go through that door. It's like, "That's the way! Let's do that!" And for me, last year that was "Latch." It was so sophisticated as a song. It has a grittiness to it that feels like it's informed by dubstep, or you used the term U.K. garage — which not everybody over here knows what we're talking about, but it's sort of a two-step beat. Tell us about recording that. Did that come early for you in your work together?
HOWARD: It was quite a long process in a way, because we wrote the instrumental over a year ago, and it originally had samples on it from an a cappella vocal that we just sampled. And then we had this session booked with Sam Smith, who was just a friend of a friend at the time, and we were playing him stuff that we thought he maybe he'd wanna write with us. He heard that and he was like, "All right, I need you to take the samples off of it." So we kind of just deleted the samples and we just wrote over that track. So the track was finished with the samples for ages, like months and months before that, and then as soon as we took them off, we finished writing "Latch" in just a couple days.
BENTLEY: Who else do you feature on this album besides Sam, who I wasn't familiar with beforehand? Is he well-known?
HOWARD: No, not at all. I mean, well...
GUY: That was like the first thing he's stepped out with, yeah. But he's actually No. 1 in the U.K. this week. Not with "Latch," but with another guy called Naughty Boy. So he's doing really well. Also on the album, we've got another newcomer called Sasha Keable who, again, is basically like where Sam was at last year — just about to step out with her own stuff. Then there's some more accomplished people in there, as well, like Jessie Ware. And we've got Jamie Woon and Ed Macfarlane from Friendly Fires.
GUY: AlunaGeorge, obviously. And another new band called London Grammar on the last track. Just the girl Hannah who sings on it. She has an amazing kind of like Bjork-type vibe — that kind of haunting sound.
HOWARD: And then Eliza Doolittle.
GUY: And Eliza, yes. So a really wide variety of styles and singers and genders and everything.
BENTLEY: Do you think you'll always feature vocalists, or will you ever take a turn singing?
GUY: There's two songs now where Howard sings on them, actually. "F for You" is all Howard and a bit of me. And there's a song called "Confess to Me," which is Howard and Jessie Ware doing a duet.
BENTLEY: We should mention that you guys are brothers. How is that in just creatively working together?
HOWARD: I don't think it has much of an impact, really. I think maybe the only thing I could say was that growing up in the same environment has shaped us in a similar way musically. As far as the relationship goes between us, I don't think it has any effect. We're just like friends. If we were bad brothers, then it obviously wouldn't work, but we're not really fighting kind of brothers.
BENTLEY: Sometimes I'll speak with artists, and if there are siblings in the band, the creative tension is a good thing, actually, you know, because there is someone to say, "No, that's rubbish."
GUY: Oh, no, we do a lot of that. We just don't fall out about it.
HOWARD: You can be really honest, definitely.
BENTLEY: Talk about America; what it means to you and how you're approaching our country, because there are a lot of differences between the dance-music scene in Europe and the U.K. and in the States. Are you trying to take special consideration for how it comes across over here?
HOWARD: This is our fourth trip over to the States. The first time, we were playing much smaller venues, but they were still kind of rammed full of people and the shows have only got bigger. We haven't really approached it in different ways in terms of the live show. We've just been playing them a lot, and people have just turned up for every single one. We haven't gone wrong so far, and I think we'll just kind of carry on doing what we're doing.
BENTLEY: Talk a little bit more about the live show for our audience who may not have seen you.
GUY: It's not just DJing. We use some elements of DJing, in that we mix one song into the next live, because we want to create a club atmosphere at our shows. We want people to dance. It's not like a gig where you go there and just watch with your arms folded. Everyone dances and it's like a rave. So there's elements of mixing tracks into tracks, but we play a lot of the main parts live of the tracks. I play a lot of the drums and claps and the snares and things like that, and I've got a massive rack of percussion. I've got loads of synthesizers, as well, on which Howard plays a lot of the bass lines and the chords. He's got a bass guitar, as well. Howard sings on a couple of the songs that he sings on, and occasionally we'll bring out vocalists, like we did at Coachella — we brought out Sam Smith and Jessie Ware. It's busy. If you look at it, there's a lot going on on stage.
Recently, we've made it a lot easier for the crowd to understand what we're doing. Because before — which I think is a big problem in a lot of live shows — it's just a lot of twiddling knobs. A guy could be doing a lot on stage, but you wouldn't know what it was. He could also be doing nothing and you wouldn't know. He could just be faking it. So we've tried to do things that are really visually obvious. Because if you see someone hit a drum and hear a sound, you just connect with that instantly. If you see someone playing a guitar, you know what's happening, so that's what the live show's for. It's to try and make the audience understand how we wrote the parts of the songs and show them what we're doing.
HOWARD: When we first started doing the live show, the music we were making at the time was much more sort of underground-based and very experimental. It was almost designed just for producers. So our live show was great if you were a producer and you knew what all these knobs did. So we've made it a bit more accessible to people who aren't necessarily dance-music producers.
GUY: And we've also just brought on a new lighting guy who does all these amazing lights and visuals, and we can now put cameras on our stuff so people can get really close into what we're doing and we project it behind us. We have our face logo thing that we always use that sings along to "Latch" at the end.
BENTLEY: Is that how you manage the fact that you may not be able to have all the vocalists with you all the time?
GUY: Exactly. When we can't have them there, we have to obviously play it off the backing track. We still do things a bit on Ableton and, yeah, we have this big, big face that sings along instead.
BENTLEY: Perfect. What about sonically? Because there is a difference to the ear between live and a sample that's crisp and locked to a certain syncopation. And it makes me think of the Daft Punk record — they've been touting the fact that it's all live, but I actually prefer the sampled. They had this amazing talent of choosing the greatest sample and looping it.
GUY: Me, too.
BENTLEY: And I don't wanna hear it live. Do you know what I mean?
GUY: Yeah. I think maybe that's why the new Daft Punk record, to me, doesn't really sound like the Daft Punk that I know. They play a pretty important role for all of us. But, yeah, I agree. With our live show, it's the same. It's not like listening to the record. I think the main thing about the live show is there's a chance that it can all go wrong, which is quite exciting — and it does sometimes. But having all that percussion all miked up and having all the guitars buzzing, and all the synths fizzing and hissing, just makes it more alive.
HOWARD: What you were saying about stuff not being locked in time quite as much, it's generally just really hard. And we've had to practice a lot to get to a point where it sounds cohesive to the records.
GUY: Especially for me, because I have to play the kick in the tracks — we've all got a reference point that's always steady — but I'm playing the drums along to that. And playing drums along to a completely locked, shuffled drum beat that's unchangeable — keeping tight with that in anything is really hard. But if you could play perfectly tight, then you might as well not be live — there's not a lot of feel in there.
BENTLEY: Well, the most important thing is that people can feel it.