Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, who make up Disclosure, have arguably brought back UK garage to the mainstream. The singles from their debut album were instant hits, from ‘You & Me’, ‘White Noise’, to the ubiquitous massive banger ‘Latch’ with then-newcomer Sam Smith. Their young age was both a point of awe for many and a trigger of doubt for some as they questioned the brothers’ adept ability to make an entrenched genre such as house into something hugely popular once again, but it doesn’t matter when they piqued the intrigue of an icon like Mary J. Blige who ultimately made The London Sessions upon hearing ‘F For You’. An hour before their closing DJ set at Good Vibes Festival ‘16, JUICE speaks to both brothers about working with the r’n’b queen, being underestimated because of their age, and being truthful when it comes to writing your own songs.
Images Simon Emmett + All is Amazing
Firstly, can you talk about the decision to go for a dystopian theme for Caracal’s music videos?
Howard With the first album Settle, we loved all of our music videos but they’re very disjointed and didn’t really relate to each other. We didn’t like that very much because there wasn’t a flowing theme. So, the best way to do that for this record is to make one short film and chop it into sections and use each section for each single – that was the original idea. We approached Ryan Hope, who’s the writer and director of the videos, and he came up with a few ideas and we just chose the few that we liked and changed that slightly, but all the credit for the videos go to him. We did have some creative input, but vastly it was him.
Over the years, you guys have increased the amount of gears for your live setup, and you guys seem to be doing so much as you’re performing on stage. Does it sometimes distract you from engaging with the audience?
Guy I think it does actually. Yeah, you really have to make an effort to talk to them, but to be honest, playing a lot of instruments on stage is much more engaging than standing there with your hands in the air. The fact that you are making music in front of them is the most engaging thing to them. You don’t have to say, “How are you?” and stand there with my hands like this (gestures both hands upwards) – just because you’re looking at them… I’d rather be looking at my drums and playing to them. That’s the engaging part.
When Mary J. Blige heard ‘F For You’ it was basically the impetus for her album The London Sessions. How does it feel to be the ones sparking the change in her musical direction?
G Incredible. We just felt honoured to be asked. She can work with anyone in the world so for two young guys from Surrey (laughs) to be connected to an r’n’b superstar all the way from America is amazing! The way that it all happened was so natural, so fan-based as well. The labels didn’t get involved, it’s just because she is a fan of our music and obviously we’re a fan of her music. Yeah, it was great. I think it was great of her to come to London and to stay there and spend time with people she wanted to write with rather than people she could write with – she could work with Timbaland, you know? She wanted to work with us and a few other UK-based songwriters and Jimmy Napes, who wrote with us and did pretty much the whole record. It’s a brave and bold thing to see that she’s still making music because she wants to, not because she has to – she’s just doing it for the love.
“… playing a lot of instruments
on stage is much more engaging
than standing there with your
hands in the air.” – Guy
“… people are amazed that we know [those genres of]
music. I don’t know why they can’t believe that, because
anyone can go out and buy records.” – Guy
Is there a difference working with a legend like Mary versus someone who’s lesser known?
G There can be, but not with Mary. There are big, diva superstars, but that’s not Mary. As soon as you get in the studio with her, she kicks everyone out – she just wants it to be musicians, so it’d just be us, Jimmy, and her. It’d just be like working with anyone, she sits with us and jam.
H That’s probably the only reason we’re willing to work with someone of that calibre because they are normally a bit more difficult to work with. Working with young and upcoming people is better because they are quite hungry, they wanna do it. You know, the legends are there because they are just kinda there.
Young kids are being introduced to old sounds and older people are being reminded of their youth, and when younger people listen to your music, they are introduced to all these long established sounds and genres. How do you feel about having the ability to conjure all these feelings with your own take on house music?
H Yeah, it feels great! As you say, we take a lot of our influences from all these older music, like ‘90s garage, house, techno, and disco, even. It definitely feels like a positive thing to 1) remind people in a nostalgic way of that old music, and 2) direct people’s attention who haven’t heard it before.
G It still makes me laugh when people are amazed that we know [those genres of] music. I don’t know why they can’t believe that, because anyone can go out and buy records – we just went out and bought lots of records! Like, if you’re into music and you wanna know when the good shit was made, that’s when it was made!
H It’d be like going around to everyone and asking, “How do you know about Mozart?!” Everyone knows about Mozart!
H Yeah, it still amuses me but some aren’t surprised at all. They’re like, “Of course you do. You can hear it.” But yeah, it still makes me laugh.
Speaking of that, when you guys blew up, it seems there were some artistes who were both astounded and slightly dubious of your calibre, probably due to your age. Did that bother you at all?
G Yeah, there were definitely a small number of people being critical about the fact that we were too young to be making the music, which is just a bunch of bullshit.
Yeah, it doesn’t make sense at all.
H Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense. You can learn it. We just learnt all the different machines [used by] all those guys who made that sound and all of their influences just passed on to us. It’s not like a crazy science experiment, it’s the same way anyone has ever made music.
G Music’s for sharing.
“It was a happy coincidence that dubstep was happening
when I was able to go out clubbing, if it were happening
earlier, then I would’ve missed it.” – Guy
You guys had a hand in the Bond theme ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ with Sam Smith and Jimmy. Did you guys feel pressured to contribute something worthy of the Bond theme canon?
G To be honest, we didn’t do much, it was mainly Jimmy and Sam. They wrote the whole song, we just added production to the end of the song just to make it sound less like a classic orchestra, we added some space-y, synthy sounds on there. So, that’s pretty much what we did, I don’t wanna overrate our input into that – it was pretty much Jimmy and Sam.
We’ve read that the two of you didn’t hang out until you went to clubs together. Did going out and experiencing the UK bass music scene together help in the forming the sound of Disclosure?
G It was kinda like that but we never actually went out together because of our age difference. I started going out when I was 17, 18 with a fake ID, Howard was only 14, 15, he would never had gotten into the clubs, no way. And by the time Howard was 18, we were already playing in clubs. But yeah, we never went out to clubs together. I would go out all the time and discover all these amazing music and then bring it back and show Howard. That’s how we got to share the love of dubstep and everything that followed it. We just decided that we didn’t want to go to the bad ones, just go to the really cool ones where the cool music was. We’ll just write down the names of the songs and get them the next day and show Howard the DJs I liked. Word was just getting around and living so close to London, you couldn’t get away from it. Dubstep was the biggest thing and everything that followed it. If you were into music, that’s what you were listening to at that time. It was a happy coincidence that dubstep was happening when I was able to go out clubbing, if it were happening earlier, then I would’ve missed it.
Howard, you said in The Guardian, “Disclosure isn’t about expressing emotions, it’s about making the best songs.” Can you explain a bit on what you meant with that statement?
H Yeah, that’s slightly out of context but I know what I meant. So, I was saying a lot of the songs we wrote as Disclosure are not personally about our own experiences, so ‘Latch’, for example, isn’t about someone me or Guy or Sam fell in love with. It was just a love song for the sake of writing a good love song. But that’s not always the case, sometimes they are personal. I was just making a point that not everyone writes songs about their personal lives.
“Everyone knows that [some artistes] have
help writing songs but the thing is
that you hide it is the thing that annoys us.” – Howard
You guys have strong opinions on artistes and producers writing their own songs and ‘Jaded’ was even written based on this idea. Why are you guys so passionate or steadfast about this matter?
H It’s not that we’re particularly passionate about it, it’s just that at that time we had only realised that that was the case. We had grown up being quite naïve to the fact that some people didn’t write their own songs and specially naïve that some people pretended that they did when they didn’t.
G Yeah, that’s what it is. Everyone knows that they have help writing songs but the thing is that you hide it is the thing that annoys us. Everyone knows that Elton John doesn’t write his lyrics but his very public about that. Everyone knows Quincy Jones helped shape Micheal Jackson… it’s just when you get ‘X’ DJ up in the booth with his hands in the air going, “This is my new single!” It’s like, you didn’t have anything to do with it, you didn’t really write any of it. It was given to him and he pays for it. I think that’s really weird, as a fan. If I were a fan of that DJ, I would feel cheated. Like, I’ve wasted my money, especially if it’s a love song, he or she made it look like it was written about themselves when it was written by someone else, like, what am I buying into here? It’s so impersonal, I hate that.
H It’s the pretending that we don’t like. Like there’s nothing wrong to be singing someone else’s song, you need to give credit where it’s due.
There’s a lot of puppetry in popular music.
G Oh yeah, always have been (laughs).
Disclosure closed Day 2 of Good Vibes Festival ’16 on Saturday 13 August ’16.
Their latest EP Moog For Love is available via Island Records.