Fresh off another flight, Guy and Howard Lawrence of UK electronic duo Disclosure are picking at lunch or maybe dinner, possibly breakfast. “We are so jetlagged,” Guy yawns. With 39 festivals booked for this year and their debut studio album, Settle, out this week, the brothers are going to have to get used to a little sleep deprivation.
Hailing from Surrey, Disclosure is one of the biggest and most popular acts to come out of the UK in years. Drawing from garage and ‘90’s house, their music is the meeting point of club bangers and pop ballads. It’s a potent combination that’s launched singles like “Latch” and “White Noise” to the top of the UK charts. While Guy and Howard may be young (22 and 19 respectively) and reference music that’s older than they are, their confident, mature mixing has earned them fans all over the world and is bringing them to the farthest flung clubs.
CMJ recently caught up with the globetrotting Lawrences about their new album, critics, and the busy year ahead.
What’s the best part of being a brother duo?
Guy Lawrence: Honesty. You can be totally honest about the music or what you’re feeling or if you hate the other person or if you’re cool with the other person.
What’s the worst part?
Howard Lawrence: Attention. People always want to talk about the fact that we’re brothers, but to us it’s not really that cool. Like, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference.
GL: I totally get why people want to talk about it, but we’re not that brotherly. We don’t fight or argue or anything. We’re more like mates.
How did you guys get into making music?
GL: We’ve played instruments our whole lives. I’ve played drums since I was about 3 and guitar as well when I was about 7 or 8. Howard plays bass and guitar as well as piano. Our household was very musical, full of instruments. Both of our parents are musicians. I think that’s what got us in initially, but then writing and producing songs was kind of our own thing. When I turned 18 and a bit before, I was going out to clubs in London and Brighton and hearing DJs. I took some of that—James Blake, Joy Orbison, Floating Points, and Burial—home to Howard. Over time, I think Howard just started messing around on his laptop. We made a few tracks that we thought were good enough to put on MySpace and the rest is history.
Did you guys listen to similar things growing up?
HL: When we were really young, we just listened to what our parents listened to, but when we started getting personalities a bit more, Guy started listening to hip hop and I moved into more singer-songwriters, love songs, stuff like that. We have really dissimilar interests. We didn’t have much to talk about in music. It was only once James Blake and Burial came about that we both liked something at the same time.
Were you guys both club kids?
GL: I am definitely. I started going out to clubs when I was about 17. I had a really good fake ID that always worked. It was my entry point into electronic music.
HL: I’m not at all. Not at all. I think it’s because of this, because we’ve been playing in clubs since we were fifteen. I don’t drink either or do drugs or anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing in clubs and I love the music, but I don’t think I would go out with my friends there.
Is your age a problem when you’re performing?
HL: I used to always get refused entry into the club even though I was playing at it. I still get that here [in the US] sometimes because it’s 21 here. They tell me I have to go sit in the dressing room and not move and then when it’s time to play, I go straight to the DJ booth, play and then leave.
Some people have criticized you for sampling music—garage, ’90s techno—that you weren’t around for. Do you have anything to say to that?
GL: Yeah, it’s quite ridiculous how sentimental people are about their music. In terms of like “You’re not allowed to sample this era of music because you weren’t around for it.”
HL: And it’s not like there wasn’t sampling before.
GL: We’re quite good friends now with people like Todd Edwards and Zed Bias and these guys all love our music. DJ EZ plays our music. If DJ EZ plays your music, everyone else can fuck off.
How would you describe your sound?
HL: Well, with the album, it’s basically a mixture between instrumental club music and pop-structured songs, but all written in the style of house music and 2-step garage from the ‘90’s. We just wanted to write an updated version of all the songs that we love from back then.
What does the term “crossover” mean to you?
GL: I think for us it means “a happy accident.” If you take all the vocals off of “White Noise,” you’re just left with a Chicago-house-influenced track, but because Aluna [George] is on it, it just connects with a lot more people and I think it’s that element of connection that’s the crossover. A wider variety of people—more than just the underground scene or the club scene—can get a hold of it because it’s talking about something they understand.
HL: I kind of think it’s a misinterpretation though. We’re not a crossover act in the sense that we weren’t just making underground house music and it’s now in the charts. We are writing pop songs in the style of that underground house music.
What do you guys think of the article in Vice UK about your music killing the house revival?
GL: I can’t really remember what the points were that he raised specifically… I know that he just dissed us. I think he wrote that before he listened to the album, so I’d like to hear his opinion after he’s heard the album because there are like 4 or 5 songs on there that are not crossover, that were made just for the club.
HL: I feel like [Clive Martin] came off as a bit misinformed in it. He made off like he was really annoyed that the underground scene had gotten popular, but some of the other stuff he mentioned made it seem like he didn’t really know or care about the underground scene.
GL: I like talking about that article. It’s good fun. It’s just interesting to hear what everyone has to say about it because it’s basically the only big chunk of bad shit we’ve ever had written on us. We didn’t reply or anything. I would literally just be like, “Vice, if you want to work with us, be nicer and listen to the album.”
How did you guys hook up with Aluna?
GL: She supported us on one of our shows in London and we just got talking.
HL: She’s got this weird, high-pitched voice. On a lot of old garage and house the vocals on them were a remix, so they were often sped up and sound a bit highpitched. She sounds like that naturally. So, maybe that’s why it fits.
What was the writing process like for this record?
GL: We wrote all the tracks with the vocalists there. The only track we wrote previous to the session was “Latch” with Sam [Smith]. Other than that, we wrote every song from the ground up with the vocalist in the room.
HL: There’s a lot of weird stuff in the music industry where people send their beat out and someone else writes their song over it and they send it back and someone else produces it and someone else mixes it. It’s like, “What did you really do?”
GL: We’ve tried to do like three remote collaborations before and it just doesn’t work.
How do your songs start? Do you work alone and then come together?
GL: It starts quite individually. This isn’t strictly true, but I’ll start by making a beat or a hook and Howard will write most of the chords and melodies and lyrics. Then, I’ll do all the mixing and production and make it sound the way it sounds.
Were any tracks particularly easy or difficult to compose?
HL: Ones like “White Noise”—I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it happened very quickly. We wrote it in a day and then recorded it the next day and it was done. Other songs like “Confess to Me” were more challenging. I wrote that two years ago and it was just me singing on it. I didn’t know who I wanted to re-sing it. Eventually we got Jessie [Ware] to sing the verses and I sing the chorus, but it took a lot of thinking about it.
Do you prefer performing or composing?
HL: I prefer composing.
GL: I think I like both equally, but it depends on the day you ask me.
What’s on tap for the rest of this year?
GL: It’s 39 festivals. That’s not including DJ sets.