The New Face Of Classical: An Interview With Clean Bandit

Originally starting off as a high school string quartet, Clean Bandit — now comprising brothers Jack and Luke Patterson and their pal Grace Chatto — have continued to mesh classical and contemporary, marrying orchestral elements with dancefloor-ready beats. Released in 2014, their debut studio album ‘New Eyes’, which features the Grammy Award-winning and 4 X ARIA platinum cut “Rather Be”, positioned the Cambridge trio as both melodic masters and premier songwriters, propelling them into the international spotlight.

Their forthcoming sophomore record has already seen immense success with the first three singles collectively racking up over two billion views online. We chatted to Jack, ahead of the band’s debut Australian headline tour this Aussie Day long weekend, to discuss the new release, writing with a stadium mindset, and nearly getting arrested while filming a music video.

Best Before: Hey, Jack. How are you going?

Jack Patterson: Hey, Mina. I’m good, thanks! How are you?

Good, thanks! You’ve had a pretty crazy year so far. You were in India for New Years, and now you’re about to kick off your Japan tour. How are you finding audiences are responding to the new material?

Do you know what — it’s been really good, especially that India show. For a long time, “Rather Be” was one song that everyone knew, but it felt like out of all the stuff they did, they didn’t really know that one. So, it’s really nice to see that there’s a new audience that know our new music more than some of our older stuff.

You performed at the BRIT Awards Nominations Show just the other day. How was that experience?

It was mad – our production designer had built these instruments for us. They were floating, like what buskers do in Trafalgar Square in London, where you float on a pole. It’s hard to explain — but it was a lot of fun.

Image source: Youtube

That’s awesome. Meanwhile, “I Miss You” has cracked 46 million views online. You worked with Julia Michaels (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ed Sheeran), who is a world class songwriter, on the single. What did you learn from her artistic process?

It’s amazing to see how, if you’ve got a story in your head, how quickly you can actually finish a song. Sometimes, being spontaneous and fresh and trying to do something quickly is actually the best way to go about it. Often, I spend so long over-analysing songs and trying to rebuild stuff that isn’t working. I think, sometimes if it comes out quickly, in one whole process, that can be better than trying to build something up over a long period of time.

You guys have talked about spending around six months on a single project, overseeing both the sonic the visual aspects of a release. For “Symphony”, the visuals are stunning. Grace has said she felt quite emotional, watching the completed version back. Was it the same for you?

Yeah — I think that one, in particular, because it was a big video for us. It was a lot of work, and an emotional story, and we put a lot into making that video. We almost got arrested at one point…

How did that happen?!

In the intro scene, we made a fake car crash sequence, with the van and the bike. We couldn’t get insurance or permissions to make that scene on time, so we actually just had to fake it. We bought police tape and we just parked the Clean Bandit transit van at a crossroads. We put police tape around, smashed the bike up on the floor, and put a load of broken plastic around. Then we opened up the bonnet of the van, took the headlights off and did the shot. But halfway through doing it, the local guys came and told us that the police had been called, because we were getting too close to the houses with the drone. We could hear sirens as we were packing away the stuff, and we just legged it as fast as we could. It was very dodgy.

Well, it was well worth it. Writing the new album, did your approach to songwriting change at all, imagining the bigger audiences you’d be playing to?

Yeah — that definitely has an effect. When you’re playing to a big audience on a big festival stage, you feel certain songs working better than others, and that definitely influences how we build songs in the studio now. It’s a difficult one. What works on the radio doesn’t necessarily work in a festival environment, so sometimes we kind of remake stuff for our live show, and give it a bit more energy. Sometimes the radio mixes can be a bit subtler — you get more detail in there. Whereas, with a live show, you need to kick through and be more bold, using primary colours. But yeah, it definitely does affect how we write.

The songs that we’ve heard so far feel a lot more pared-back than ‘New Eyes’. Was that a conscious decision during your writing sessions?

With “I Miss You”, compared to something like “Rather Be”, there’s fewer layers. It’s a bit more chilled out. We are trying to simplify production and just have minimal elements now. That’s something we’re definitely trying to do.

You’re always collaborating with new artists. Do you write songs with certain vocalists in mind? How does that process usually all come together?

It kind of depends who we’re working with. With Julia, it was a writing session to begin with, but deep down I’d hoped that she’d want to stay on it and want to perform whatever it was that we did that day. So I was really glad that it worked out, and that she wanted to stay on the record. But, sometimes I’m writing with other songwriters who won’t want to stay on a record themselves because they’re not strictly recording artists and they just want to write. In that case, we think about artists who could sing it, but that tends to be the last thing. The main thing is just writing a good song, and you can think about the voice later. With this track that we’re working on now at the moment, it’s quite tricky, because the guys that wrote it would sound really good on it, and we don’t want to find someone else, but I don’t think they want to stay on it. We shall see.

“With a live show, you need to kick through and be more bold, using primary colours.”

On the new record, Sir Elton John is set to feature, which is super unexpected and exciting, but you also worked with Gallant. How did the collab with Gallant come about? Will we hear his voice on the album?

He’s amazing — he’s got one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. His lyrical style is so unusual, as well. I’ve got a lot of time for him, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear what we’ve been working on because it sounds amazing. I don’t know how we met. It was ages ago. He’s part of a label out in LA, and it was a friend of a friend who hooked us up. But yeah, we are really excited for that song.

For this album, you’ve pulled from both material you started working on years ago, and songs you’ve begun more recently. Is there an overarching theme? You’ve said before you wanted it to be cohesive — how are you doing that?

It’s really tricky, that, because we’ve been working on this for so long, and we were trying to do it all as one cohesive piece — as one cohesive album. But it’s kind of falling apart, ha! It’s kind of funny, but I think we’re just going to have to put the songs all in chronological order and hope for the best. They’re all fairly romantic, I guess; there’s definitely a love lost theme.

We’re so excited to have you back in Sydney – our friends Glades are actually supporting you guys on tour.

So cool! That’ll be fun. We’re looking forward to that!

Listen to “I Miss You” here:

And here’s where you can catch Clean Bandit live:


With special guests Glades

Thurdsay 25 January – Eatons Hill Hotel – Brisbane
Friday 26 January – Metro Theatre – Sydney
Saturday 27 January – Trak Lounge Bar – Melbourne