Stage fright no more

Lon­don Gram­mer got­lost on the road dur­ing the end­less tour­ing of their de­but al­bum, but now they are in con­trol of their own des­tiny, singer Han­nah Reid tells TonyClay­ton-Lea

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Lon­don Gram­mar were plucked from the fringes four years ago and po­si­tioned di­rectly un­der the spot­light, only to melt away. What should have been a man­age­able roller­coaster ride – the band’s de­but al­bum, If You Wait, sold more than two mil­lion copies, won an Ivor Novello Award, and was iTunes Al­bum of 2013 – turned into an un­healthy, un­set­tling life­style.

“At the time, you’re not re­ally aware of what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing,” says Han­nah Reid, the English band’s singer and main lyri­cist. Reid speaks so softly you have to strain to hear her.

“We toured too much. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween tour­ing and tour­ing too much – the for­mer is con­trol­lable, the lat­ter isn’t. Yes, it was amaz­ing – we were never chased down the street, or any­thing like that – but the suc­cess part was in­cred­i­ble. In tour­ing too much, how­ever, we learned about cer­tain things the hard way.”

It must be dif­fi­cult to be thrown into the lime­light and to be afraid of re­treat­ing at the risk oflos­ing mo­men­tum.“Tobe com­pletely hon­est, we were so young it wasn’t re­ally our de­ci­sion.” Rei­d­he­si­tates. “Maybe some peo­ple wanted to make the most out of it.” She al­lows the sen­tence to drift. “Em, yeah.”

Pre­sum­ably, Lon­don Gram­mar are now in charge of their tour­ing sched­ule? Reid bright­ens up. “Ab­so­lutely. We’ve made sure that ev­ery­thing is man­age­able so that we can be mu­si­cians.”

Hippest band around

The band mem­bers met in 2009, while they were stu­dents at Not­ting­ham Univer­sity. It was while Dan Roth­man was look­ing at one of Reid’s pro­file im­ages on Face­book that he no­ticed a gui­tar. He asked her if she wrote songs. She said yes. Within two years, play­ing pub gigs in front of friends evolved into a se­quence of show­case gigs in front of record com­pa­nies. The band’s mu­sic tem­plate of The xx meets James Blake meets Por­tishead turned their for­tunes around.

When If You Wait was re­leased, Lon­don Gram­mar were viewed as the hippest band around. “We were quite un­aware of what peo­ple were say­ing,” re­calls Reid, “or what the per­cep­tion was, be­cause we were tour­ing so much, but you have to ac­cept that kind of chat and just let it go. We’re so lucky to have had what we had the first time around, and all you can ul­ti­mately hope for is longevity and to carry on mak­ing mu­sic. If you’re no longer the coolest band around, then it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, does it? . . . It was all such a blur, as I’ve said, but the work rate was re­lent­less. I don’t even re­mem­ber what I felt about things.”

What pulled the band through? Reid says the fans. “They care so much about what you have cre­ated. Real fans will stick with you, no mat­ter what you ex­per­i­ment with, mu­si­cally.”

For a song­writer who trea­sures her pri­vacy, it must be grat­i­fy­ing to know that what she has writ­ten in seclu­sion can mean so much to peo­ple she has never met be­fore.

“That’s the beauty of mu­sic. It’s one of the rea­sons why I’m a mu­si­cian – I grew up lis­ten­ing to songs that meant so much to me. I had no idea what those songs meant to the per­former or singer, or the per­son who wrote them, so to have peo­ple come up to us and say how much the songs mean to them is a won­der­ful thing. To be hon­est, it’s things like that which make it all worth­while.”

Lon­don Gram­mar’s new al­bum, Truth Is a Beau­ti­ful Thing, sees the band shift rto­wards a more com­mer­cial di­rec­tion. While still fus­ing chilled-out trip-hop with in­sid­i­ous melodies, this time around they have made con­nec­tions with heavy­weight, chart-friendly pro­duc­ers such as Paul Ep­worth, Jon Hop­kins and Greg Kurstin. Dif­fer­ent styles, dif­fer­ent work prac­tices – what did the band learn from each?

Learn­ing to per­se­vere

“It re­ally is like be­ing in a room with rock stars,” she says. “From Paul Ep­worth we learned how im­por­tant it is to per­se­vere with songs. He has enough self-con­fi­dence and be­lief in the work you’re do­ing to carry on well into the night, and make sac­ri­fices to get things done. Greg Kurstin was as­ton­ish­ing, mu­si­cally – he can play vir­tu­ally any in­stru­ment and use some­thing in a song that you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily have thought you could do. He is by a mile the nicest man in mu­sic, and from a psy­cho­log­i­cal point of view he’s so re­laxed that he brings out the best in peo­ple.”

Which leaves Jon Hop­kins. Reid’s voice drops ever so slightly. “Well, be­cause he works re­motely we never ac­tu­ally got into a stu­dio with him. He has said that he doesn’t con­sider him­self to be a pro­ducer – he con­sid­ers him­self an artist. That said, the way he works is, he takes sounds that are al­ready in the songs and then ma­nip­u­lates them. With us, he put his own stamp to the mu­sic with­out tak­ing away from the sound we cre­ated.”

And your favourite pro­ducer of the three? Reid isn’t say­ing. Or is she? “We begged Jon to do more, but he said he was too busy.”

Truth is a Beau­ti­ful Thing is rout now. Lon­don Gram­mar play Elec­tric Pic­nic, Strad­bally, on Septem­ber 1st-3rd

We were never chased down the street, or any­thing like that – but the suc­cess part was in­cred­i­ble. In tour­ing too much, how­ever, we learned about cer­tain things the hard way

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