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Why Clean Bandit's New Album Is All Their Own -- Even With 12 Collaborators

Clean Bandit
Zoe McConnell

From left: Luke Patterson, Jack Patterson and Grace Chatto of Clean Bandit photographed on Oct. 25, 2018 in London.

The past months have been a trying time for Clean Bandit. The British dance-pop trio, one of music’s most unassumingly successful singles acts, has been hard at work completing its much-delayed second album, What Is Love?, featuring 24 guest vocalists -- among them Marina and Luis Fonsi (“Baby”), and Ellie Goulding -- across 16 tracks. It means that the bandmembers have spent more time in the studio than might have been necessary, bending their schedules to those of their collaborators.

Today, in southwest London, the three multi-instrumentalist members -- Grace Chatto, 32, and brothers Jack and Luke Patterson, 32 and 26, respectively -- exchange a complicit look. It’s unclear which of them sighs first.

“There was a time, just recently, actually, when each of us quit,” admits Jack. He smiles ruefully, eliciting a frown from Chatto. “Well, not me!” she says. “I was left behind.” Now she smiles, too. “I’ll probably be quitting soon enough, though.”

What Is Love?, the follow-up to their 2014 debut, New Eyes, is the logical next step for the group, a second attempt to show audiences that it’s more than just a singles machine. Each track is infused with bits of Latin, reggae and hip-hop, like on 2017 hit “Rockabye,” featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie, which peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has earned 441.3 million on-demand U.S. streams since its release, according to Nielsen Music. New Eyes had a soft landing -- it reached No. 180 on the Billboard 200 -- yet the band’s overall catalog, including new singles, has accrued 1.5 billion on-demand U.S. streams and sold 3.8 million digital downloads.

While many acts would kill for Clean Bandit’s commercial supremacy, the hit factory perception is one that Jack, the trio’s creative engine, consciously tries to subvert. “I know we live in the digital era, where singles are more important than anything else, but I’ve always liked the idea of being an album band,” he says.

To Jack, What Is Love? represents a watershed moment in the group’s development, a project with a sustainable through line. “I don’t want it to sound like you are just listening to the radio,” he says. “I want our albums to sound like a cohesive piece of work, and for each song to work on the piano alone, the acoustic guitar, and still sound great -- and I want them to sound like our songs.”

In Clean Bandit’s native England, success has brought with it certain pressures. The bandmembers don’t have a particularly positive press image, largely due to their Cambridge education, and that they speak in posh, elaborate sentences. “That has been strange,” says Chatto. “In the U.K., [our education] is something that is used to attack us. In America, it seems quite cool that we went to Cambridge.”

The group formed while at the university in 2007 -- Chatto and Jack used to date -- and the members were all set for proper careers (“I was going to become an architect,” says Jack) until Chatto suggested otherwise. “The first time I heard the songs Jack was writing, I knew we would go somewhere,” she says, “especially when he wrote 10 more after that.”

They would road-test their tracks -- dance music, ostensibly, but played with strings and with a commercially viable instinct -- at club nights in Cambridge. Chatto recalls that “you could tell from the way people were reacting that there was potential here.”

In those early days, their lineup included a fourth member, Neil Amin-Smith. But after the act’s first album delivered six hit singles, including “Rather Be” with Jess Glynne (which peaked at No. 9 on the Hot 100 and has racked up 400.3 million on-demand U.S. streams), Amin-Smith exited the group. In 2016, Clean Bandit officially became a three-piece.

Now, Clean Bandit’s revolving door, with both bandmembers and guest features, might rotate a little less. “We’ll still collaborate with singers -- because we do love it, really -- but we also love working with our touring vocalists,” says Jack. “It would be lovely to have a whole album’s worth of material just with them, in one studio, the same people. That would give us more of an identity, and it might be a more” -- he pauses, looking for the appropriate word -- “comfortable way of doing things.”

 


 

THE COLLAB EXPERIENCE

Bhad Bhabie -- “Playboy Style”

Chatto: "We had been working on the song with Charli XCX, and she wrote all of those lyrics -- the best on the album, I think. She recommended getting Bhad Bhabie in. She contacted [Bhabie] on Twitter, and that’s how the collaboration with her came together in Los Angeles."

Sean Paul -- "Rockabye"

Jack Patterson: "The song was almost finished when he came to the studio. He wrote his part about single moms in the booth. It was like watching a stalactite grow: a little line, a little droplet; then it freezes, but it’s malleable. By the end, it’s done, the song complete. That was amazing to watch."

Demi Lovato -- “Solo”

Chatto: "We were in London and we sent it to her; she liked it but was on tour. She was in Alabama on the night we recorded it, via Skype. There was a bad connection, a terrible delay, and it was really awkward. We just had to hope for the best. When we listened to it, we were thrilled."

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of Billboard.

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