Electronic music fans have likely had English quartet Clean Bandit on their radar for some time. Everyone else followed suit last year, when “Rather Be,” a collaboration with Jess Glynne, reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording last February.
Celloist-vocalist Grace Chatto, violinist-pianist Neil Amin-Smith, bassist Jack Patterson and percussionist Luke Patterson have made waves by combining electronic music with classical. The band’s first taste of success came in 2010, when they combined Mozart with dance rhythm on “Mozart’s House.”
Chatto and Amin-Smith played together as part of a classical string quartet at University of Cambridge. At one point, Amin-Smith had a job offer from Her Majesty’s secret service, while Patterson came close to becoming a curator for the St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum of Fine Arts.
“Rather Be” – with about 400 million streams on Spotify – opened many doors for the four. Band members recently recorded with Alicia Keys, while Clean Bandit is currently on tour opening for Duran Duran. Before the band makes a stop on Friday at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, we spoke with Chatto while the group was in Portland last week.
The Bay Bridged: You are classically trained musicians, and two of you met while playing in a classical quartet. Can you tell me a little bit about what pulled you in the direction of classical music in the beginning, when you were younger?
Chatto: (I and Neil) both heard it when we were really young. My dad played cello as well, and he actually makes violins and cellos and always had violins and cellos in the house. When I was little I heard him playing a lot and heard a lot of classical music in the house, and fell in love with loads of stuff at quite a young age. Similarly, Neal heard some violin music where he lived…in London, and liked it. He started playing violin when he was two. That’s quite a young age, and we met playing in an orchestra when he was about 6, I think, and I was 10.
When did you decide to combined classical music with electronic music? What prompted that?
Chatto: It was meeting Jack, really. He had the background in playing jazz music, but he was expanding to electronic when we met. He was listening to all of our concerts that we were doing in a string quartet, became interested in some bits, and recorded them. Then (he) wrote his own beats and bass lines around these snippets. We liked it and decided to do it live. We all plugged the whole string quartet into his computer, and he was manipulating the sounds, and putting effects on the strings while adding beats and a drum machine. It was quite a rudimentary setup. After that, he was, like, “Oh my, I gotta play the drums.” He…started building a big electronic kit to play all the beats live. Then we started working with friends who wrote lyrics and sang.
You have a pretty strong relationship with Jess Glynne. You’ve recorded two songs together (“Rather Be” and “Real Love”). How did you become friends? How did the partnership come about?
Chatto: She recorded one thing before we met her, which is a song called “My Love,” by (English DJ) Route 94. We’d recorded our song with another singer at the time, but when we heard her voice, it was really perfect for our song, “Rather Be,” and asked her if she’d be interested in learning it and recording it. She did, and after that everyone felt that was the best version of the song. Then we became friends from there.
“Rather Be” had a different singer at first?
Chatto: Yeah, we tried it with quite a few different singers actually. We probably finished the song about a year before we met (Glynne). None of the recordings were quite right before that.
What came of your collaboration with Alicia Keys? You wrote and recorded together. What was that experience like, and are you a big fan of her work?
Chatto: Jack (Patterson) wrote the music with her for about a week. It was really amazing. They wrote some really great stuff. He was very inspired….It was mainly for her album, I think, that they were writing. She’s still going with writing more music for it. I think it’s going to be a while; maybe next year sometime.
Is there anybody else you would like to work with; whether it’s classical, pop, hip hop, or any other genre?
Chatto: I’d really like to write with Lana Del Rey. I find her voice and her songs very moving. Also, there’s a countertenor called Iestyn Davies.
I heard that you were already working on your second album (a follow-up to 2014’s New Eyes). Do you have a particular strategy on this next album? Are you trying to replicate the magic of the first, or are you trying to mix things up?
Chatto: We got a lot of new songs. We’re writing it slightly differently because we started from the computer a lot last time, and started writing beats and things on the computer. This time we started more at the piano, and just writing everything on the piano at first, then doing production afterwards. We wanted to try it like this because you can connect to the music in a different way. If you know something sounds good with just the piano and the voice, then you can add everything else after it. Sometimes if you write it with the electronics and everything, it can kind of cloud your view of the actual song.
Before you guys struck it big with the band, Neal had a job offer from the England secret service. What was everyone else going to do before the band became such a huge success?
Chatto: I studied languages at Cambridge. Jacks studied architecture and I was studying Russian and Italian language, literature, and history. Neal studied history. I think me and Jack, as soon as we started the band, we knew we wanted to do it seriously. We got into making music videos. We made all of our own music videos, and I think that if the music hadn’t taken off, we would have just gone into that. Making films. Making music videos for other people. Making fiction films together.
Duran Duran, Chic, Clean Bandit
October 2, 2015
7pm, Sold Out