Disclosure on Songwriting & More: 'We Thought 'Latch' Was Too Weird for the Radio' (Cover Story)

Disclosure's Howard and Guy Lawrence
Austin Hargrave

Disclosure's Howard and Guy Lawrence photographed by Austin Hargrave on June 17th at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.

Not long ago, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence were home in England, mixing demos of original songs filled with love and longing. Then came their top 20 hit, "Latch," with Sam Smith, and a different EDM sound.

It has been a couple of years since Disclosure's Howard and Guy Lawrence stashed their records and clothes at their parents' house in the London suburb of Surrey, went off on their first U.S. tour and, at some indeterminate snare kick along the way, established themselves as the global faces of a house music revival.

In addition to selling out every American show, the brothers have collaborated with Mary J. Blige ("F for You") and emerged as Madonna's favorite new EDM act. Best of all, their Sam Smith-buoyed single — "Latch," No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 — has become a song-of-summer phenomenon, almost 20 months after its original release in the United Kingdom in October 2012.

"We thought 'Latch' was too weird for the radio and not clubby enough for the clubs," admits Guy, 23, the duo's drummer, mixer and elder sibling by three years. "It's in 6/8 time — not even 4/4, which is house's tempo."

Clean-shaven, with restless sea-gray eyes and tawny hair that crests from right to left, he smiles while being shuttled in a black SUV through Los Angeles traffic, part of Disclosure's migration from one top 40 radio station interview to the next. "'Latch,'" he decides, "is just a strange song that people like."

In fact, it's more like a generational anthem. "Latch" is the most Shazamed song everywhere, from Tijuana, Mexico, to Huntsville, Ala., to house's ancestral home, Chicago — and it arguably has made Disclosure the biggest British crossover act since Adele.


"When we heard it, everyone here was slack-jawed. Listeners were immediately like, 'What is that?!'" says John Michael, the program director of KAMP-FM (97.1 Amp Radio) Los Angeles, where "Latch" has averaged a station-high 120 weekly spins since being added in January.

"Occasionally, a really special record cuts through the noise," says Michael. "'Latch' was that rare song that you didn't know you needed until you heard it. I don't even think it's reached its peak."

Disclosure's meteoric ascent is even more startling, considering the band is largely a Hot 100 outlier. Since EDM achieved mainstream viability several years ago, most crossover artists have been of the bombastic extreme — fluorescent, fist-pumping and prone to deploying bass drops like Wile E. Coyote's Acme anvils.

But Disclosure has as much in common with Avicii as Alvin & The Chipmunks. The duo's grooves are propulsive, sleek and precise. The act's musical DNA reveals strands of hip-hop producer J Dilla and dubstep necromancer Burial as well as '80s Chicago house, '90s English 2-step garage and innumerable soul, funk and pop hits — all of it passed on to the Lawrence progeny from the record collections of their musician parents. Beyond refined taste, Disclosure has thrived on timeless songwriting skills and sterling vocal contributions from artists like Smith and AlunaGeorge.

"We're trying to bring class and soul into the songwriting ... using jazz chords that have emotion instead of boring, stabby EDM triads," says Howard, 20, who plays guitars, keyboards and writes most of Disclosure’s melodies and lyrics. Like his older brother, he favors plain T-shirts, jeans and crisp Reeboks. "You can play 'Latch' in a massive nightclub or cover it in a jazz ensemble."

"There are acoustic guitar covers of [our song] 'White Noise' on YouTube," Guy chimes in as their chauffeured car pulls up to the gates of the CBS Radio complex in Mid-City. "You can't do that with your average house tune. The only thing that makes it dance music are the beats."

The brothers are slated to play a DJ set before an audience of radio station contest winners, only their second such performance. With two Coachellas conquered, Disclosure already is a precocious veteran of the festival circuit. But while the radio success of "Latch" has made the pair a veritable household name, the two are not exactly the music world's most familiar faces.

"No one recognizes us unless we’re together," says Guy, taking a bite of a preshow Umami burger. He says that he and Howard originally deliberated how to stay anonymous before quickly realizing that live shows made that dream impossible.

"We’re not born pop stars," says Guy. "We’re not in this for the fame. It’s nice to still be able to go to the pub with friends."

Both brothers harbored initial skepticism about their musical fate. Their father gigged in prog-rock groups that played as far away as Canada. Their mother earned a healthy living singing and playing piano at New Year's Eve parties and other large functions. But neither parent wholly fulfilled his or her artistic ambitions.

"They’re both really talented," says Howard, encamped in the radio station's green room, beneath framed photos of Eminem, Rihanna and Justin Timberlake. "We figured, 'If our parents didn't make it, why would we?' We thought we'd wind up session musicians."

Exposure to early dubstep — a recently maligned dance subgenre typified by warbling bass noises — led the brothers to experiment in the vein of James Blake, Joy Orbison and others they admired. In search of feedback, they uploaded rough demos to MySpace in 2010.

"We thought we'd get some notes from people and make proper stuff after," says Howard, still in slight disbelief. "We were learning to make music, but every single got written up by blogs and released by an indie label."

Their first gig at a pub in London's East End drew more than 100 people. At the end, the audience chanted, "One more song! One more song!" But no other originals existed. Once the songs were written, Disclosure became inundated by offers from larger labels. Upon its release last May, debut album "Settle" topped the U.K. albums chart, selling more than 44,000 copies. Despite rave reviews, American success was a slower burn.

Austin Hargrave
Disclosure's Howard and Guy Lawrence photographed by Austin Hargrave on June 17th at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.

"We decided to go with 'Latch' as a single after seeing crowds react to it live," says Cherrytree Records chairman Martin Kierszenbaum, who signed the group to his alternative-pop imprint (Lady Gaga, LMFAO). "We wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. But it took almost two years to work it to where it is now."

Where it is now is the Red Bull Sound Stage at Amp Radio’s headquarters. The brothers field questions from an interviewer curious about their spirit animal (the caracal, or lynx), ideal time-travel trips (to meet Mozart/see a caveman) and their principal differences (Guy goes out, while Howard is more prone to reading a book). They banter with droll repartee, reminiscent of The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night."

Once the inquiries are answered and the DJ set starts, the sparked hysteria would make the Fab Four proud. But neither the crowd nor Disclosure conforms to EDM cliche. There are no glow sticks. The only stimulant visible is free Red Bull. It’s mostly deliriously thrilled 20--somethings — the guys in tank tops, baseball caps and cargo shorts, the girls in skirts and colorful Coachella-ready headbands, toting expensive purses.

The house beats skip and the 2-step drums rat-a-tat. Bodies flail and arms wave. The Lawrences twist knobs, solemnly bob their heads and run through a sampler of album tracks. The set keeps pulsing and the electricity cranks up with each ensuing beat transition. You sense the crowd waiting for "Latch" as though it's the only possible remedy.

When it finally comes, whoops burst out as if the crowd had just taken a blind plummet down a 100-foot drop on a roller coaster. Men and women, dance snobs and pop devotees, all croon along to Smith’s wounded-seraph wails. ("We were amazed he wasn't a girl," says Guy of hearing Smith for the first time.) The beat skitters, synthesizers radiate and the people manning the energy drink booth stop serving in thrall to the groove.

The applause extends until long after Disclosure has left the room, this time to catch a flight to Nice, France. After that, the pair will visit Iceland, Italy and Ibiza, Spain, before heading back to America for more festivals. In September, the carousel stops and the brothers will retreat to England to rest and write a sophomore record.

In the interim, they might not be able to explain their unlikely stardom, but others are happy to do that for them.

"We fell in love with 'Latch' and then the rest of the album," says Christina May, one of the radio contest winners in Los Angeles. "Disclosure has a different sound, one nowhere near drum’n’bass or dubstep or anything popular here. It might have existed in England before, but we're hearing it now — and it's different than anything we've ever heard." 

Austin Hargrave
Disclosure's Howard and Guy Lawrence photographed by Austin Hargrave on June 17th at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.