Disclosure On Subverting Dance Music Stereotypes And Writing With Sam Smith Guy and Howard Lawrence are one of the premier acts in electronic music, but they grew up playing traditional instruments — and they still do.

Disclosure On Subverting Dance Music Stereotypes And Writing With Sam Smith

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/442549830/442907156" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And it's time for some Disclosure.


MCEVERS: In other words, the music of Guy and Howard Lawrence.

GUY LAWRENCE: Hey. This is Guy.

HOWARD LAWRENCE: And this is Howard. And we are Disclosure.

MCEVERS: Their songs are a mix of pop and house music, and the songs are played in dance clubs around the world.


LION BABE: (Singing) Eyes on the hourglass as we wink into the sand. Times up. There's nothing we can do about it. It's fine, Love 'cause I know I'm going to live without it.

MCEVERS: This song, "Hourglass," is on Disclosure's new album. It's called "Caracal." Guy and Howard Lawrence are often labeled as DJs, but they told me that's not the full story.

H. LAWRENCE: We didn't start DJing first. We grew up learning to play instruments that our parents kind of brought us into, playing music that we were listening to, which was funk and soul and jazz. So yeah, we were instrumentalists long before we started even making music.

G. LAWRENCE: Yeah. I think it's important to note that, like, yeah, we do DJ, but it's not our main thing. Like - this is Guy, by the way - it's - I play drums since I was about 3. Howard's played bass since he was about 7. And both of our parents are musical. Dad's played guitar and sings. Mom plays piano and sings. So there was always guitars and pianos lying around. And so we kind of stepped into those as well. And it was just something that we did for fun, and, well, it still is. And just now it's our fulltime job as well, which is great. But yeah, you know, we were always going to be musical, I think.

MCEVERS: There is another song on the album that you do with Gregory Porter. It's called "Holding On." - think we can hear some of that.


GREGORY PORTER: (Singing) Weight of love on my shoulders. I thought that it would be easier than this. I thought my heart had grown colder, but the warmth of your kiss I can't dismiss.

MCEVERS: So this sounds like something we know - you know, take a gospel song and put it to, you know, some really good beats and make it into a dance track. But you didn't do that here. This isn't an old gospel song, right? What - how did you do this one?

H. LAWRENCE: So yeah. It was an interesting one. This is Howard, by the way. A lot of those old sort of house and garage songs that were very successful were just remixes of old songs. And they've all kind of been used now - all of the ones that...

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

G. LAWRENCE: All the samples.

H. LAWRENCE: Yeah. All the samples have been done. And so we had this idea that we would just write this song with Gregory that is a ballad. It's really, really slow, and it's just a piano and a vocal. And we just wrote the whole song, which was in a completely different key, different speed but with all the same melodies and lyrics. And so we recorded that, and then me and Guy then took the vocal recording away and almost, well, basically remixed our own song.


PORTER: (Singing) Shake it. Shake, shake it. Shake it. Shake, shake it. Shake it.

H. LAWRENCE: I think that's an advantage that we have against maybe some other DJs and - is that they come through it from a DJ background, you know? They start - they get into this music from DJing, whereas we got in it from, you know, playing the piano and instruments and writing songs.


MCEVERS: Disclosure's also writing songs with Grammy-award-winning singer Sam Smith. It was actually a song they wrote together that helped launch Smith's career back in 2012. That song, of course, is "Latch."


SAM SMITH: (Singing) You lift my heart up when the rest of me is down. You, you enchant me even when you're not around.

H. LAWRENCE: The day that we met Sam was the day that we wrote "Latch."

MCEVERS: Really? Tell me about that. How did that go?

H. LAWRENCE: It was good, yeah. He turned up, and we kind of, you know, had a chat and got to know him a little bit, and then we started playing him some beats and ideas that we had. And we had this fully kind of finished club track, and we played him that. And he was like, I really like that. Can we write to that today? And we were like, well, no; it's kind of done. You know, it's like an instrumental track 'cause it had all these vocal samples on it. And he was like, can you just take the vocal samples off, and we'll just write to this today? And we were like, well, yeah, OK. And so we took them off all except for that one that's like (singing) na-na.



H. LAWRENCE: And then we started writing to it, and we wrote it all in, I think, about a day. And then we recorded it the next day.


SMITH: (Singing) Now I've got you in my space. I won't let go of you. Got you shackled in my embrace. I'm latching on to you.

MCEVERS: It sounds like you were, like, dubious for a minute. You were like, wait; no, no, no, no, no; we're fine; we've got this. He's like, no. He, like, pushed you a little bit.

H. LAWRENCE: Well, yeah. He just really wanted to write to those chords and that beat in particular. And, you know, we just hadn't thought of it, but...

G. LAWRENCE: The only time we've ever done that, we always start from scratch, usually, like, with a singer. Like, we've obviously - we've got another song with Sam on our forthcoming album. And you know, we started that one from scratch on the day, and that's what we'd usually do. So yeah. It was a rare one, yeah. We don't usually show people what we've been up to.

MCEVERS: We're going to play a little of that song. It's called "Omen."


SMITH: (Singing) I'm feeling something, something different. When you left, my picture changed. I was blinded. I'd not envisioned the same face in a different frame. It's an omen.

MCEVERS: You work with all these people. I mean, you collaborate with a lot of these big names. But when you go on tour, it's you guys. You get up there with instruments, and you play your songs. People aren't coming to see the name on the track. They're coming to see you. Is that - mean music is different now?

G. LAWRENCE: I don't know if that's what it means, but, yeah, to us, it is very important that - you know, we wanted to get our brand out there and show people that - you know, who Disclosure is. And we wanted to make it really clear that it's just me and Howard. We do bring out guests now and again, like, really big and special shows. You know, Sam's come out and done "Latch" loads of times. And it does happen, but, like, yeah - we like to keep the majority of the show just us two.

MCEVERS: Right. So when people think of electronic music, we don't think of live shows. So describe to me, if you're getting up and playing "Latch," like, what instruments are you playing? What does it look like?

H. LAWRENCE: That's the thing, isn't it? You know, when you make dance music, people just assume that you will then DJ. But there's a finite number of groups that try and recreate it. And for that reason, because there's not many people doing it, it is quite difficult to create a show. And for us, that was the hardest part, was kind of working out what we were actually going to do up there, what instruments we wanted to play. So the general rule that we use is that I usually play the chords or the base like and Guy normally plays the drums. But you know, we switch around a lot during the show. Like, some songs, I'll be singing and playing chords, and Guy will be drumming. Other songs, Guy will be playing the guitar, and I'll be on bass. It changes a lot.

G. LAWRENCE: And it's, like, basically the two of us with two separate workstations all around us - like, studios, basically, wrapped around us - loads of equipments. But we try and pick the parts to play that are, like, the most relatable to the crowd. So, like, say, you know, you've got a guy at the back of a 10,000-strong crowd. If you see a guy up on stage, you know, twisting some knobs and pressing a button, he's probably doing something. But that guy at the back's not really going to be able to relate to that, you know? I mean, he's not going to know what's going on. But if you saw - see a guy, like, playing the bass or hitting the drum, for me, like, if I was in the crowd, that just makes so much more sense to me and would give me so much more satisfaction.

We look really busy up there. Like, there's so much going on. And we have cameras mounted on, like, loads of different points of it, you know? And we have these big video screens behind us so you can really see up-close what's going and who's playing what and where the sound's being made.


DISCLOSURE: (Singing) So get up. So get up, and save it 'cause enough is enough. You're jaded.

MCEVERS: That's Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure. Their new album, "Caracle," is out this week. Thank you so much.

H. LAWRENCE: Thank you. Cheers.

G. LAWRENCE: Thanks, Kelly. Have a nice one.


DISCLOSURE: (Singing) You cannot replace them. Face it, or you'll waste them. You cannot replace. Face it, or you'll waste them.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.