For a group of former students, Cambridge, England’s Clean Bandit went from 0 to 100 real quick. The four-piece (plus-two live) stopped in San Francisco for about twelve hours yesterday in the midst of their debut US tour — a tour they are headlining after the phenomenal chart trajectory of international hit single “Rather Be” and album New Eyes (2014).
They were certainly well-received by the crowd at The Fillmore on Saturday, September 27. Joined by their two touring vocalists, Elisabeth Troy and Florence Rawlings, the quartet didn’t have to do much to have the floorboards bouncing noticeably in the venue. We spoke with violinist Neil Amin-Smith before soundcheck, who believes crowd reception has been much warmer on this side of the pond.
“[It’s] really slightly surprising, but pronounced. Just before we came I spoke to Dan from Bastille about it and he said it’s totally different. The crowds are a hundred times friendlier. UK audiences think you’re looking at them so intently, they kind of just stand there and try to be cool; it’s a bit more difficult for it to take off, whereas here there is less of that. [People let loose and dance.]”
The band has had little time between back-to-back showdates, most of which have been sold out. Amin-Smith sighs: “[San Francisco] feels like such a prime city for seeing it. None of us have been here before, but we got here like two hours ago and we leave right after. [In] Portland, I was falling asleep. I went on [stage] and I couldn’t stop yawning, I had to take my shoes off because it felt like they were weighing my legs down.”
Nevertheless, Clean Bandit have been enjoying themselves at their shows, evidenced by their dance-happy frontline: Amin-Smith, cellist Grace Chatto, and vocalists Troy and Rawlings. Meanwhile, Luke and Jack Patterson were responsible for much of the live performance from their platforms upstage, pounding out percussive frameworks and synth beats, respectively, that kept the dance floor alive.
They pull their weight in the studio as well: according to Amin-Smith, Jack Patterson is the primary songwriter and remixer, who first “chopped up [Amin-Smith and Chatto’s classical recordings] and made them into [Clean Bandit].”
The lyrics always come last in the band’s writing process, save for title track, “New Eyes.” Amin-Smith points to Clean Bandit starting out solely as a live band focused on dance and “the show element.” We asked how it was to work with a different vocalist on each track.
“We did actually start off as a band with Ssegawa [Kiwanuka] and then he was doing a PhD in lasers, or something,” says Amin-Smith. “He just didn’t have the time to commit to it fully. Without any idea of what it would be now we started to make songs with other people. I think now it would be difficult. It’s hard to imagine any one person or voice that would be interesting enough to work with full time. Now that we’ve got used to working with whoever we like.”
He agrees that the band’s work with Jess Glynne, whom they met through Black Butler Recordings and whom they recorded their upcoming single “Stronger” with (written with Years & Years, this new tune is about to be a dance hit, if the live rendition is any indicator), has been working its magic, despite being one of their least interactive collaborations.
They also particularly enjoyed working with Eliza Shidad on “Birch” (a track that seems to resonate strongly with the band) and Rae Morris, “because she’s so talented and delightful. [Morris is] the most lovely person I’ve met in the music industry by a long way.”
The entire show was spot on, but when the band played “Birch” that evening, the shift in dynamic was near-overwhelming. Amin-Smith had pushed for “Birch” being the album title; they were so attached to the track. But “New Eyes it was; it was the last track that was finished and I guess in a way it was the one with the least interference from anyone else. It felt more personal to the band the rest of the album.”
The album itself carries thirteen “classical crossover” hits; Clean Bandit consider it the second full record they’ve written since their beginnings in 2009. None of their songs from that era of touring made it on to New Eyes, however and ““Mozart’s House” is the oldest track on the album and that was in between the two.”
This tour, Chatto has been forced to give up her acoustic cello, instead playing an electric “stick.” We were perhaps surprised by the amount of string parts on the album relative to other instrumentation, a quantity which became much more prominent in the live show — there are fewer than we thought, and the longest section is the interlude on “Mozart’s House,” whereas the beats played on throughout the night. But Amin-Smith and Chatto didn’t stand around; he danced wildly and she sang, softly but sweetly, the two of them working the crowd alongside Troy and Rawlings.
Earlier in the month, the band had been invited to play with the BBC Philharmonic, which Amin-Smith described as “nerve-wracking.”
“Grace and I used to play quite a lot of classical music before Clean Bandit; it’s much more about the technical side and it’s not actually so hard, so exposed. Being back in that environment where the audience just sits there in silence and watches, everything’s really audible.” But awesome, nonetheless. Here’s the clip from that performance:
From its confident start (“A+E”) to its blinding finish (“Rather Be”), Saturday night’s set didn’t disappoint. Clean Bandit have added a few more dates to their already packed tour and are prepared to fly out to Florida once they’ve wrapped up their West Coast dates in LA this Tuesday. And after?
“We’ve got one day off [at home] before we go to Dubai for a festival. Then we’re straight in to our UK tour. [We’ve been touring New Eyes] pretty relentlessly, yeah. I think we’ve got four days off between now and Christmas. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Finally, we asked Amin-Smith who the cleanest bandit was. He thinks it’s himself: “The others have a much more bohemian approach than I do.”
Article by Joanna Jiang
Photos by Luke Sheard