Electro-pop heroes London Grammar are back at the top of their game with their second album, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing. But as they tell Peter McGoran, a triumphant return wasn’t always a certainty.
Sitting in their backstage dressing room at the Olympia Theatre, London Grammar are a member short. Guitarist Dan Rothman and percussionist Dot Major are present, but singer Hannah Reid is notably absent. “Hannah’s been having some difficulty with her voice,” Dan explains. It’s understandable enough. Reid has notoriously been plagued with issues around stage fright in the past, so anyone could forgive her for not wanting to take questions, just a few hours before she’s due to play to an audience of 1,000 people.
London Grammar’s story is a strange one. Having released their platinum-selling debut album, If You Wait, back in 2013, they won a string of accolades, and become radio and festival darlings. Then, they appeared to drop suddenly off the face of the earth. Their busy touring schedule petered out, and rumours sprang up that they’d broken up, or packed in music altogether. The truth, however, was a lot less dramatic.
“Making a record, it’s just a difficult thing to do,” Dan reflects. “The second album was just as difficult as the first. And then obviously, there was the pressure that came with having to close ourselves off to the world for the second album. I think that the expectation from the fans was there, and the pressure to follow up what turned out to have been a really successful debut. It took us by surprise, so to follow that up was daunting, because it all seemed impossible the first time.”
“It took as long as it took,” Dot shrugs. “Although we felt pressure, we were never desperate to get it out. We didn’t end up spending any longer on the first one that the second. If anything, it was the same amount, the same routine.”
So the rumours of in-fighting and breaks-up were greatly exaggerated?
“Yeah, we always work together and there’s no hint of that changing,” says Dan definitively. “We all went back to working as normal. I mean, normal for us is like being a house with your brother and sister, and just arguing all the time because of the intensity. But that’s totally natural. You occasionally have days where everyone wants to beat their head against the wall, but that makes the good days more worthwhile.”
Who takes the lead whenever everyone’s beating their heads against the wall?
“Nobody – to our detriment,” laughs Dot. “We’re almost too diplomatic, in the sense that we allow everyone to creatively have their say. It makes us slow and unproductive. But when we have a good producer who can guide us, we respond well to that. We had all our shit all over the place, and it was kind of a mess, then Paul Epworth came in and we finally had someone to sort it all out.”
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, released earlier in 2017, continued in the same vein as its predecessor. It’s an album of haunting, ambient trip-hop which, if anything, has been tailored towards making Hannah Reid’s voice sound even more grandiose. It ultimately attempts to capture the awe that was inspired by songs like ‘Stronger’ and ‘I’m Wasting My Young Years’ four years ago, and on most songs it hits the mark (when I witness the whole thing live a few hours later, it’s breathtaking).
But London Grammar’s return to touring wasn’t always a sure thing. As well the aforementioned stage fright of lead singer Hannah, there was also a time when the band exhausted themselves from the high life of being on the road, and they ended up cancelling a string of tour dates in 2014.
Looking around the room, they appear to have a modest enough rider. There’s a platter of food on the table. There’s a bottle of red wine and a bottle of gin; neither have been opened, though, and there’s no hint of the lads being anything other than clearheaded as they talk to me. Does this mean they’ve changed their ways from their first tour?
“I think that drinking and partying was a problem on the first tour,” acknowledges Dan, “particularly for me and Dot, more so than for Hannah. I think we got swept up in what was happening, because, again, we weren’t expecting to take off like we did. But there were far more fundamental things wrong with how we were running the tour on the road. It’s essentially a moving, busy office. You kind of have to see it like that. It needs to be run correctly, and we didn’t have the experience to do that at the start and the wheels came off. We’ve just learned from experience how to do it right.”
"I think that drinking and partying was a problem on the first tour."
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is out now.