Disclosure are brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence who hail from South London and have established themselves serious newcomers in the UK garage and house scene.
I caught up with the UK duo at SXSW Music on March 14th, 2013 in the apartment they were temporarily residing at, just above the 6th Street hustle and bustle in Austin, TX.
You’re back for your second US tour. How does it feel to return to the states? Is there anything about American culture that you missed?
Howard (H): Great. It’s nice to get away from the snow in England right now. Everyone’s really nice here. Everyone’s always nice here.
Guy (G): I’ve had a lot of red meat, a lot of cheese.
H: We were saying last night that we think American people are a lot more driven. They try much harder at whatever they do. Like, there’s a waiter, and he’s trying to be the best waiter ever – they’re all like that. Whereas in England they’re like, “this is until I get to what I really want to do”. It’s a 13 day tour, 6 events here at SXSW. We’re going to be over here a lot for the next few years.
Are you doing anything different in terms of your live set-up?
G: This little run here at SXSW is scaled down quite a bit. Just the basic instruments and tables. No lights, no production, no visuals, not even all the instruments just because it’s costly. When we come back for Coachella it’ll be the full production.
H: We’ve been able to expand our show back home in England. We’ve got lighting design and we’ve got a sound guy who’s changed it’s whole look. We’ve got two stations with two stands. We’ve had to sort of strip it back to make it fly-able. We still play the same instruments so it’s mainly just how it looks that’s changed, not so much what we’re actually playing.
G: For live we use Ableton on one laptop to run stuff we can’t play, but we try to play as much as we can. We play loads of synthesizers. One runs on main stage for sounds we can’t re-create. Howard has a Moog Little Phatty, I’ve got drum pads. I do a lot of triggering and drum samples. I play the bass as well sometimes on these pads. Roland SPDX, bass guitar, loads of percussion and drums.
H: The general rule – we don’t stick to it exactly – but I’m normally playing the chords and / or the sub. Guy is playing the percussion or the samples.
G: Yeah, like for “Tenderly”, those vocals we play on the MPC. All the interesting main parts we play live, we like to let [the crowd] see where it’s coming from. Little things like shakers we just leave on the track because there’s only so much you can do.
H: If the vocalists are around we get them to come around and sing it live or we sometimes have to leave it on the track. I sing some of them, too.
G: With our visuals we can incorporate the vocals a lot more if the person’s not there. There’s going to be a lot of things going on to make it more interesting, more interesting than just having the vocals running because it’s a bit weird. There’s no way around it really but, you know. For tracks like “White Noise” and “Latch” though, even if they’re not there, the crowd just sings it anyway and it’s amazing.
Disclosure seems to have a pretty complex live stage set-up, and it’s clear that you both want to create a true performance for the audience. Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of electronic artists isolate themselves with live sets where they piddle around on a laptop with few “live” components. What do you think about that performance style and why does Disclosure distinguish itself with a focus on live instrumentation?
G: Well everyone just fakes it, I just don’t understand it. A lot of people say they’re live and they’re just not. There are so many acts out there that bill themselves as live and then you turn up and it’s just a laptop and a controller. It’s actually probably, for me, less impressive than watching a DJ because it’s doing even less. I’d much rather them DJ. [Laughs] Anyone can put a tune into Ableton, warp it, and press go. Everyone can warp records.
H: We come from quite a band-oriented background. We grew up listening to bands more than anything else. Our parents were both in bands so we grew up playing instruments and I think it’s only right that we play them in our live show. We play as many of them as we can in one show.
Did it seem like a natural step to go into music? Did you toy around with other career options beforehand?
G: I was quite into sports in my teen years, but I’ve played drums since I was three and I taught drums as a teenager. So whether it was on the teaching side, the playing side, or even the industry side, I would have gotten into [music] somehow, someway.
H: Same. It was the only thing we were really good at. [Laughs]
G: I was in a band before [Disclosure] with my friends at college and we used to play house parties but never got that serious. I would have carried on doing it even if it sucked because it was fun. We do this because it’s fun.
When did you decide to form Disclosure?
H: Nearly four years ago, it was 2009. Guy was doing his music tech course at college and I was still in school. He’d bring home little bits of Logic files and show me what he was doing. I thought that was really cool and I started making little beats and stuff. And then, Guy for his homework would be like, “I wanna practice mixing something” and I’d be like, “can I mix those beats?”. Eventually we made two songs – not even two songs, we just made two beats – and that ended up being our first single.
G: It was really fast. We just put out a MySpace and there was a thing on MySpace called Friend Blaster. It was where you could get someone’s page up and add all their friends to this program – which is illegal, but – we did that and added all of these DJ friends that we liked. One of them just happened to run a really good blog. We got on that blog and then within a couple of weeks we met these guys who started managing us [points to their management team] and had the release tour. It was ridiculous. We were like, “what the hell is going on?”. Really, really fast.
Your second single “White Noise” has been met with a lot of success, reaching #2 on the UK charts.
Were you expecting it to be so well-received in comparison to “Latch”?
G: Not at all. We thought it would be amazing if “Latch” got to Top 40 and that got to #11. So that was what we thought would be the best thing we’d ever do. We didn’t think “White Noise” was that commercial, we thought it was kind of clubby. I guess we just thought we’d probably get a really good response on the blogs because, it’s AlunaGeorge – a cool upcoming act – and Disclosure. But we didn’t think normal people would get it. [Laughs] It was supposed to be a cool club track just to kind of tie us over into the next single and it got up to #2. So it’s just like…[throws his hands up] we don’t know!
H: In our minds, we set out trying to make a really deep, underground track. “White Noise” comes out and it’s [received] like a pop song and we’re like, “ughhh”. [Laughs] So we were like, okay we’ve done “Latch” and that was cool, we’ve gotten onto the charts, let’s make a club one. And it got up to #2.
G: That’s because there are vocals on it. With the album there’s a balance between full vocal tracks like that and then I think we actually have some club tracks.
H: Yeah, we have made some club tracks. [Laughs]
What was it like to collaborate with Aluna Francis (AlunaGeorge) on “White Noise”?
H: We worked with Aluna Francis just in a day. We had the beat half-done, like we had two sections made and we sort of structured it on the day and fleshed it out in one day.
G: We always write the vocals with the vocalist, we always make the song for them. We discuss lyrics and melodies as a group.
Tell me more about the expected full-length album. How far into the process are you?
H: It’s 99% done.
G: Yeah, it’s nearly done. We’ve got to go back for a few days and mix things but it’s all written. We’ve been playing a lot of it live and seeing how it responds. “Latch” and “White Noise” are the first two singles.
Disclosure was on the lineup for Moogfest 2012 in Asheville, NC – one of North Carolina’s largest music festivals – and it’s not too far from our college station at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Tell me more about that experience.
G: It was cool, they gave us some [Moog synthesizers] to play on stage. It’s really nice people in the middle of nowhere where we probably never imagined to go. They gave us goodie bags with sunglasses and nice gifts.
In the past year Disclosure has toured with SBTRKT, Hot Chip, and Annie Mac amongst others. Were there some major highlights from joining them out there on the road?
H: We learned the most from touring with SBTRKT, just from seeing a performer in a similar genre of music. What he makes to [is close to] what we make, so there was a lot to see with what instruments he was playing and what parts he chose to play. He’s got a similar thing to us where he has to choose what he plays for songs because he didn’t write it the way he plays it.
G: SBTRKT took us on our first support tour February last year. That was just interesting to see how it was to support someone because we’d never done that before.
H: It was a great pairing because I think a lot of our fans crossover. If you like SBTRKT you might like us, and other way around as well.
G: It was like playing to our own crowd because nearly all his fans knew our songs already so it wasn’t really like a support tour, it was like a headline tour. It was awesome.
Narwhals or unicorns:
Saturdays or Sundays:
H & G: Saturday nights, Sunday days.
G: Special K. The American one has chocolate in it, so that’s easy. In England that’s the healthiest cereal you can buy, and here it’s got chocolate in it, so even better.
Favorite cartoon growing up:
H & G: The Simpsons, Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes. Now it’s Family Guy and American Dad. Anything that’s Seth McFarlene is good.
Movie you’ve seen that you wish you could do the score for:
H: “Life of Pi”
Most recent purchase that you’ve loved:
H: My new Moog synthesizer.
G: And that t-shirt you bought downstairs.
H: Yeah, I bought a t-shirt with the Texas [state] on it.
G: Hmm…A case of beer? [Laughs] In terms of equipment though-
H: -You bought a lot of cowbells. [Laughs]
G: We got a new preamp in the studio which was an expensive purchase, but it’s one of those that you buy, and you’re done for life; you’ve got it forever. It had to be done. We can finally record vocals in our own studio. We usually record everything up in London so it should save us a few trips.
If you had a million dollars and 15 hours to spend it, how would you get it done:
H: I would buy the most amazing tour bus. It would be a hell of a tour bus. Everything would be gold.
G: I’m into cars, so it would probably be a car.
Big shout-out to our promoters at Co-Sign for getting us connected with Disclosure!