Disclosure: The New Faces of House Music Talk About Creating Their 'Settle' Album
The Disclosure brothers discuss the origins of the beyond-their-years sounds of debut album.
A few days before the release of their debut “Settle” – an album which is already being hailed as the EDM generation’s conversion experience to “real” house music, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure are sitting in their Universal label’s Santa Monica office for an obligatory day of promotion. In between answering many questions from a few journalists, their new video for “When A Fire Starts To Burn” releases online, and Guy quickly sends the appropriate tweets announcing its arrival.
The video was commissioned and financed by the Vice media network and directed by Spike Jonze disciple Bo Mirosseni. It took 10 days to conceive, film and release – riding the intense and sudden wave of interest around the brothers. But Disclosure themselves aren’t featured in the clip. They didn’t have time. In fact, Guy, 21 and Howard, 18, have been so busy in the last year that they haven’t had time to move out of their parents’ house yet. But that’s the least of their personal problems.
“We’ve both got girlfriends,” says Guy. “[Though] it’s not going very well at the moment.” “We’re never there,” Howard adds. “They’re pretty pissed off.”
While their songs have pop sensibilities that have rocketed them to the top of the U.K. singles charts (“White Noise,” included on “Settle,” hit No. 2 last year), Disclosure’s production is rooted in the deepest of American house music, giving them a sturdy base of club credibility. The crowd, industry folks and veteran clubbers mingled with kids too young to have ever been inside a nightclub at all (as evidenced in some cases by a lack of dance floor etiquette), at their DJ set last Thursday in L.A. demonstrated this.
Just how these mild-mannered brothers from London are able to bring newly minted house heads into their fold, steering them away from the harsher world of EDM raves, is a bit of a mystery. So is how they figured out the sonic blueprint to do so. Both brothers are too young to have participated in a nightclub culture based around the type of music they’re making, prompting some to ask if they are too good to be true.
But the beauty of Disclosure is that it’s all Disclosure. Sitting in the office that day, surrounded by the unavoidable effects of their own hype, they tell a genuine tale of impassioned musical archaeology, inspired by a lifetime of curiosity about sound.
“It all goes back to when we started actually getting into producing music,” Guy explains of when he was 18 and Howard was 15. “I was going out, listening to dubstep, but it didn’t really interest me at all to make it. I was like, this is fun to go out to at a rave, but then I started going out to more house nights. I showed Howard those things and that’s when we started making music. That’s when it all started.”
The Lawrences cite artists like Joy Orbison, James Blake, Burial and Mount Kimbie as primary influences, describing their own early musical efforts as an attempt to imitate those artists’ sounds.
“Over time we just basically wanted to know how those guys arrived at where they did,” Guy continues. “Like, why is James Blake making that sound and why is this guy making this sound? Where do they get their influences from? That just led us to listening to loads of mixes and DJs, which eventually leads you back to Chicago house and Detroit techno and U.K. garage and two step, that kind of thing. Since then we just bought loads and loads of old records. We just wanted to learn everything about this music, house music.”
Disclosure became the Lawrence’s first foray into songwriting, but it was not the first time they played music. Having grown up in a musical household (“There were just instruments lying around everywhere at home and as a kid we could just pick them up,” says Guy), music was ingrained into their minds from a young age.
“They just played us music all the time,” Howard says of his parents, both professional musicians. “They’d say, ‘Listen to this chord change,’ or whatever, and we’d be like ‘Oh cool!’ We’re music nerds in that sense.”
Guy learned drums and guitar while Howard learned piano and bass. Both became voracious consumers of music, listening to everything from the Beach Boys to Beyoncé.
After uploading some early tracks to MySpace, Disclosure found a manger that soon got them a deal with U.K. indie label PMR Records, which released a series of singles on both sides of the pond beginning in early 2012. By the end of the year, they were headlining a club tour in the U.S. with a live show and getting booked for Coachella. Their remix of their friend Jessie Ware’s “Running” made it on various year-end best-of lists. Major labels soon came calling, with the band landing at Universal, through Cherrytree/Interscope in the U.S.“We did have kind of our reservations about it,” says Guy of signing with a major. “Like maybe they would force us to change what we’re doing and make us write David Guetta songs – commercial dance music, ‘EDM.’ So we had to make sure we had an agreement with the label that we could carry on doing what we’re doing and they could just let us get on with it, and that’s exactly what happened.”
America is sort of a musical home for Disclosure, as many of their inspirations hail from here. But they might have never heard house music in a country where access to clubs is restricted to the 21 and over crowd. This is not to say they don’t have anything musically in common with American Millennials.
“We’re really into American hip-hop,” says Guy. “I grew up all my teen years listening to [A] Tribe [Called Quest] and Q-Tip and Gang Starr.”
Vocals on tracks like “F For You” and early single “Boiling” reflect the diet of ‘70s and ‘80s R&B their parents fed them, but it was hip-hop that led them to create “When A Fire Starts To Burn,” albeit somewhat circuitously.
“I got really annoyed because we wanted to get a rapper on the album and we couldn’t,” Howard explains. “We wanted someone like Kendrick [Lamar] or A$AP [Rocky] and we got really close but schedules just didn’t quite work out. So I Googled ‘motivational speaker from Harlem.’”
The search result showed Eric Thomas, a speaker and self-styled hip-hop preacher who sometimes goes by ET.
“He was just chatting about business strategy for like, an hour,” Howard continues. “I bought it on iTunes and sampled it – just rhythmically cut it up to make it sound like he was rapping. I basically made him rap on the album. We just put a beat to it and Guy mixed it up a little bit and that’s the track.”
If you ask Guy and Howard about any of the other tracks, the process sounds similarly simple.
“With ‘White Noise,’ we had the session booked with Aluna [of AlunaGeorge] and the day came around and we had just come off tour for a month or two,” says Guy. “We had absolutely nothing to show her. I had one little bass riff and she was like ‘I like that.’” Howard and Aluna were tasked with a theme and lyrics, while Guy made the beat. Later that day, they had the completed track.
London-based songwriter and producer James Napier, who goes by the moniker Jimmy Napes, also contributed to that song’s creation as he did with singles “You & Me” and “Latch.”
“They are both naturally gifted musicians who have a great understanding of songwriting and arrangement,” Napes says of Guy and Howard, describing their sessions together as effortless and fun. “The fact that Disclosure have such a strong identity to their sound is what allows all the songs to tie together.”
Napes first met the Lawrence brothers at his studio for what wound up as the session for “Latch.” “I found myself digging out dusty vinyl of old-school garage records,” he says. “Their music caught my attention because it appealed to my love for house and garage while sounding completely refreshing and very much their own.”
Napes, a longtime friend of pop singer Eliza Doolittle, introduced the band to her for “You & Me,” which has been the most pop-oriented song of the duo’s relatively short catalog. As a co-writer and collaborator, Napes is almost a third member of the pair, though both Lawrences affirm that Disclosure is solely their own project.
Together, they all form a solid center in a new London dance music scene, alongside Jessie Ware, Sam Smith (who Napes writes with as well), AlunaGeorge, and London Grammar, all of whom are featured vocalists on “Settle.” Not to mention SBTRKT, with whom Disclosure toured; James Blake, who they repeatedly mention as an influence; and Ed McFarlane of the band Friendly Fires, who also features on the album.
“To us we’re just making music for the same reasons we’ve always made music,” says Guy. “But from everyone else’s perspective, we’re doing, apparently, a house music revival. Which seems a bit mad, because for us, house was always cool, it never went away. It just wasn’t very popular in the U.K. in mainstream clubs. Now if you look at the U.K. top ten you got us, people like Duke Dumont and Rudimental and Chris Malinchak and maybe even less than eight months ago you wouldn’t even see that in the charts.”
As the Lawrences breeze through their DJ set that evening with a selection of mostly their own songs peppered with current house and techno gems by Hot Natured and Breach, the feverish crowd response indicates a bright future for these young producers. The question remains: will Disclosure do for classic house music what the Rolling Stones once did for American blues? Or will they stay the figureheads of a sub-genre like The Klaxons, The Streets, and so many others before them? Maybe it’s a bit of both, but either way, Disclosure is making their mark.
“What makes our songs what they are is the production over the songwriting,” says Guy. “When you go onto YouTube and type in ‘Latch cover’ you get all these people doing all these covers of ‘Latch’ on piano just singing. It is just a song, you can do it acoustically, but it’s the house production that makes it what it is.”