London Grammar | Interview
We sat down with Hannah, Dan and Dot, collectively known as London Grammar, in the back stage dressing room of the Academy, Dublin. “I felt sorry for the last interviewer,” Hannah said, before giving out to Dan for telling too many long-winded stories.
Far from the serious twenty-somethings you might expect, London Grammar are a trio full of laughs and stories to share. They are happy to chat, and Hannah recommends the killer whale documentary she had been watching on her iPad before talking to Goldenplec.
“Oh yeah, we know that one,” Dan says when he hears where we’re from. He may just be pandering, but we can’t resist a charmer. Anyway, he is up to speed with Irish publications and within the first few minutes there are chuckles over the incident in The Ticket involving the misplacement of a photo of The Band Perry above the London Grammar gig promotion.
“Dan, didn’t you tweet the photo to the Band Perry?” Dot asks.
“Yeah, I did. It’s funny cos one has hair like Dot, one has eyes like me and the woman is obviously blonde like Hannah.”
“I don’t know how they got that wrong,” Hannah said. “Maybe it was a joke?”
“Naaah, it was a huge picture. I really want a copy of it. Would there be one left anywhere?” Dan asked, grinning. He later tweets that a fan gave him a copy of the paper.
London Grammar, are one of several acts in 2013 that seemed to emerge from nowhere exploding onto the music scene. Their debut album ‘If You Wait’ stormed the UK charts, peaking at number 2. Critics were intrigued by their mystique and by the intensity of Hannah’s haunting vocals combined with their minimalistic sound.
Comparisons with legendary female vocalists such as Annie Lennox, as well as contemporary musicians have been made as they are regularly described as the lovechild of Florence + the Machine and The xx. It has been a life changing year for the band and the narrative of how they formed has been thoroughly documented. The story goes that Dan spotted a photograph of Hannah with a guitar on Facebook and sent her a message asking would she like to jam.
“Yeah, that’s not exactly what happened. That story always makes me sound so weird,” Dan said, laughing. “Hannah and I knew each other, I actually can’t remember who added who. I think she added me. I didn’t just randomly add her on Facebook, that would be weird. I’d probably be too scared to do that.”
“I think I befriended you?” Hannah said.
“Yeah, so Hannah definitely befriended me first. [laughs] Anyone who wants to add that to Wikipedia can,” Dan chuckles.
After the band formation was finalised, the trio played a few college shows before locking themselves away to focus on writing.
“We basically just shut ourselves away and we were actually terrified because we hadn’t played gigs for so long. There was a lot of pressure on the first few gigs.” Dot said.
Based on the online response to Hey Now, record label executives and A&R guys were keen to sign them. Experienced, older bands often recommend that taking time to negotiate proper contracts is a crucial step for any young band; was this a daunting step for three college students?
“Yeah, we got a manager before we signed anything and he was really experienced,” Hannah said.
“And a lawyer, which is one of the most important things a band could have,” Dan said.
“What would we have done without him?” Hannah said.
“We knew nothing,” Dot said. ”At one of our first gigs an A&R came down and asked ‘Does the band have a lawyer?’. We were all like ‘My god, we’re gonna sign on the day! At the gig!’, which, obviously would never happen because it takes about five months to draw up proper contracts. You have these meetings, and while you’re in them you’re thinking ‘God this is all amazing’ and you come out and you’re like ‘Eh, so, what exactly happened?…No idea.’”
For London Grammar, shares on Soundcloud and other social media sites played a major role in the speed of their rise. Do they ever interact with fans that played a part in this?
“Yeah, we get some mails and tweets and sometimes we do respond to things,” Hannah said.
“Oh yeah, there’s this one legend who always sends us stuff. Once he made this, like, London Grammar robot out of our CD case,” Dan added.
While social media sites can propel a musicians career overnight, the same logic applies to undesirable situations that can snowball at a rapid rate. In September the band appeared on BBC Radio 1 where a member of the Breakfast Show team tweeted from the official account saying ‘We all think that the girl from @londongrammar is fit. Let us know if you agree on 81199 #ladz’.
The message was not received well, provoking men and women to express their distaste about the sexist remark on Twitter. As Hannah describes it, ‘a Twitter war‘ ensued. Fans were outraged by the tweet and the BBC later released an apology stating “Our tweet earlier about Hannah from @londongrammar was meant to be ironic, but we got it wrong. We’re sorry.”
In recent weeks the story has resurfaced as the Twitterati picked up on a quote from Hannah on the incident via the Guardian stating that ‘Putting my looks up for debate was wrong.’
When asked if it was an irritating incident to discuss and was that why she delayed commenting on the incident Hannah had the following to say: “When did I respond? Oh, the Guardian? Well, we actually were not really asked about it that much but yeah, it’s fine being asked about it now.
“To be honest a lot of women said a lot of things for me anyway and it did get to a degree that it was quite full on. I wasn’t going to say anything about it publicly and it was only recently that it was raised in an interview. It’s not a Twitter war anymore like it used to be.”
“Yeah, it’s only really since the Guardian printed that it’s been asked in every interview,” Dot said.
They continue to debate the pros and cons of Twitter and how quickly stories can be misconceived and raise the example of the serious error whereby H from Steps whose real name is Ian Watkins, was wrongly mistaken for Ian Watkins of the Lost Prophets.
“Yeah I just saw Twitter completely explode with the wrong story,” Dan said.
Do they mind doing interviews?
“Dan loves it [laughs] he loves talking about himself,” Hannah said. ”No, we don’t mind it. It kind of depends if we have a nice interviewer, like yourself, but sometimes they can be annoying.”
In the last year the hotly tipped band have had to familiarise themselves with press and touring with little time off. Unusually, their first ever official headline tour was in the US.“Yeah. We started gigging at festivals so our first headline tour was the US one,” Dan said. ”We travelled around just the three of us, our tour manager and one other so it was really intense but an amazing experience. Chicago was good.”
“We got three days off last week,” Hannah said. “That feels like a huge chunk of time.”
“We just arrived today. We’ve gotten to know this room very well,” Dot said.
“We went out to this amazing French restaurant after Longitude, I wish I could remember what it was called,” Dan said.
“Yeah, Dublin is really beautiful. Parts of it remind me of Paris.” Hannah said. “I didn’t even know U2 were Irish. In certain ways I’m so ignorant. I would listen to music but not know anything about the band.”
“You didn’t know U2 were Irish?” Dan said flabbergasted.
“I do enjoy the Bono Southpark episode,” Dot said.
“I guess the big Irish acts this year have been Kodaline and The Strypes,” Dan said.
London Grammar have just completed their European Tour but show no sign of slowing down as after Christmas they will jet off to Australia and tour the states again, playing SXSW and other major dates. Check out their live listings page for future dates.