London Grammar


“Excuse me, excuse me, ‘scuse, ‘scuse,” are the words heard most prior to London Grammar taking the stage at It’s A School Night, an intimate Monday night affair at Bardot Hollywood, as spectators attempt to find standing room. The British trio is making their first U.S. appearance. With the excitement generated by its Metal & Dust EP, released stateside a mere fortnight prior to this gig, you’re lucky if you have a partial view of either Hannah Reid’s platinum waterfall of hair or Dot Major’s amplified shock or Dan Rothman’s elevated quiff. The sounds the three are making, however, are crystal clear, drawing the packed crowd deeper into the heady atmosphere they are creating. You wouldn’t guess for a second that they are so nervous that Reid is bordering on psychosomatic illness complete with physical symptoms.
This only serves to endear the trio, as one would expect London Grammar to be old hands at performing live. They have already participated in a slew of festivals including Glastonbury, Night + Day (upon the xx’s invitation), The Great Escape, Longtitude, to name just a few, not to mention their own headlining, sold-out shows.
“There can definitely be a lot of pressure and we certainly feel it,” says Rothman of London Grammar’s nerve-racking live experiences. “We are getting more used to it the more we do.”
The combination of Reid’s throaty rumble-cum-falsetto, Rothman’s inquisitive and haunting guitar, and Major’s mad scientist laboratory of gear came together when they were attending university. As they posted their songs online, in contradictory fashion, London Grammar kept their identities as anonymous as possible.
“It seemed the obvious thing to do at first, to keep a sense of mystery,” says Rothman. “We wanted to be judged purely on the music, not because of how we looked or dressed. Imagery and style become important tools in music, but there was no rush to exploit those things.”
This considered approach is characteristic of London Grammar, whose musical backgrounds have put them on this trajectory. Reid has had formal vocal training, singing and writing music since she was young, and Major has had classical training and spent a sting in a heavy rock band playing progressive metal, while Rothman has been playing guitar, also from a young age, cutting his teeth on the Smiths and the Police. Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Radiohead, the National and the xx all have their place in the formation of London Grammar’s particular blend of raw and programmed sounds.
Their lead single, the spare yet spine-chilling “Hey Now,” is brushing close to a million plays on YouTube, and its follow-up, the intimate break-up number “Wasting My Young Years,” is hot on its heels. Both are featured on the Metal & Dust EP, a trustworthy preview of the trio’s debut full-length, If You Wait. Case in point, “Nightcall,” a song so poignant, it is sore throat-inducing, and the folk-encased-in-electronics of “Shyer.” If You Wait could be the album that would either be your savior if you were going through particularly painful heartbreak—or it could be the one that pushes you over the edge.
The comparisons are rampant: Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey, Nina Simone, Beth Orton and the aforementioned the xx. “Some of the comparisons definitely have relevance, and are often very flattering,” says Rothman. “[But] at times they seem a bit confused. I think as people hear more of our music, the comparisons become less obvious and more broad.”
To confuse followers even further, London Grammar is featured on EDM uber-duo Disclosure’s track, “Help Me Lose My Mind,” matching clubby atmospheric rhythms to Reid’s soaring vocals. London Grammar isn’t about one thing: heartbreak ballads, acoustic singer/songwriting, clever electronics backing a distinct voice. Rather, it is about all those, and then some.
In their signature approach, the trio enlisted two producers coming from very different genres: Tim Bran (The Verve, La Roux) and the UK bootleg king, Roy Kerr AKA the Freelance Hellraiser, who is known for his outrageous mash-ups to co-produce If You Wait with them. Furthermore, they brought in Roc Nation’s Kevin “KD” Davies (Outkast, Beyonce) to mix and Tom Coyne (Adele) to master the album.
“It was a long process picking people to work with us, mainly because we are so picky about our sound and style,” says Rothman. “We worked with a few producers and often, it wouldn’t work out. [Bran] and [Kerr] were great because they were good at helping us get what we wanted and kept our eyes on the target. [Davies] is a legendary hip hop mixer who brought a sonic that was crucial to the final sound, particularly from the electronic side of things.
He continues, “Disclosure are lovely guys, who are super-talented and we were fans before, like everyone. It was a very quick process and it’s been great because it has opened us up to a much wider audience.”
Text by Lily Moayeri
Photography by Lindsey Byrnes