From a standing start – three students at Nottingham University get together, muck around writing and playing, discover they have an alchemical gift for melodic and sonic gold; play pub gig in Camden in December 2010; sign to Ministry Of Sound; record DIY album in Rothman’s family’s garage – London Grammar and their music took off at bewildering speed.
The trio’s intoxicating mix of soulful electronics, techno-folk and Reid’s stop-you-in-your-tracks vocals was bewitching on record, and stunning on stage – and beyond: the band often had a good foot on the dancefloor, as most obviously evidenced on Reid’s collaboration with Disclosure on the DJ/producer duo’s track Help Me Lose My Mind. And London Grammar became global Grammar: If You Wait travelled everywhere.
In part this meant returning to first principles. While they couldn’t again lock themselves away in Rothman’s family garage, they could go back to their roots: three natural musicians, writing and playing together in simple, uncluttered environments, conjuring fresh musical ideas in privacy, and at their own pace. Dreaming it up from scratch, like a brand new band fired up by everything they’d experienced over the preceding three years.
In a gap in touring they’d already had one studio session, providing a cornerstone for what would become their second album, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing. In London’s Metropolis in January 2015 Reid played the boys a song she’d written “in the shower, basically completely a capella. It started on tour then I finished it at home.”
The sparse, spine-tingling Rooting For You was almost a done deal from the off. “The demo we did was super basic,” notes Rothman. “And then the recording was simple too," adds Major. “It didn’t need much done to it.”
In the end, what little production there was came courtesy of Paul Epworth, the Oscar-winning but alternative-minded producer of everyone from Florence & The Machine to Adele. Congregating in his beautiful north London studio The Church, his involvement spurred on London Grammar’s creativity, loosening them up, opening them up. In the lovely sub-cardiac rumble at the end of Rooting For You, for which they partly credit Epworth, you can hear his studio and his vision. Bones Of Ribbon, a soaring, surging anthem-in-waiting that was entirely written at The Church, is another glorious result of this fruitful producer/artist/studio partnership, as is Hell To The Liars. The latter is a strings-laden epic that promises, live, to be a proper moment. Like Rooting For You, it comes coloured by the genius of 32 orchestral players, recorded by the band in Prague.
After the surprise appearance of Rooting For You at New Year, follow-up single Big Picture was produced by friend and Mercury-nominee Jon Hopkins (Brian Eno, King Creosote). “It’s happy sad,” suggests Reid. “Uplifting,” counters Major. “Jon took a lot of Hannah’s vocals and Dan’s guitars and some of the production work and made it big and widescreen and awesome, basically.” Rothman’s take is more acute, simpler: “It’s one of the best things we’ve done.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, on the other side of the recording experience, London Grammar wrote two songs, Everyone Else and Leave The War With Me, in Los Angeles with Greg Kurstin, the “genius” most commonly known for crafting pop hits for the likes of Sia among a raft of others.
“It really felt that we were just hanging out, jamming in his basement,” says Rothman. “Greg is so sympathetic,” enthuses Reid. “Whoever he’s working with, he lets them shine. He challenges you but in a hugely creative way. He became like a fourth member for a few days. So exciting.”
Other standouts are the heavy, beautiful Oh Woman Oh Man and the album’s title track.
“Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is really similar to If You Wait – it just came out in half an hour,” says Reid of her devastating piano ballad. “I didn’t necessarily know what it was about, it was just pure self-expression. Maybe [it’s about] everything we’ve been though as a band. We share the same experience, more than we realised. Other personal stuff is in there too. And, like a couple of the other songs, it’s about perspective – you lose all perspective if you’re isolated, in whatever experience, not just touring.”
Forget all the awards and the huge worldwide sales. London Grammar are still that band of friends in the garage, doing what comes naturally, and doing what they love.