A GoPride Interview

Milan Neil Amin-Smith

Clean fun: British electronic-classical band Clean Bandit breaks out with 'Rather Be'

Sun. September 21, 2014  by Jerry Nunn

Since 'Rather Be' came out we have been so busy. We have been able to do so many exciting things.
Milan Neil Amin-Smith

neil amin-smith (right) of clean bandit

British electronic group Clean Bandit combines string arrangements and electronic music together to form an original sound of classical strings with a house/dance beat. Composed of a quartet made up of Neil Amin-Smith, Grace Chatto, Luke Patterson, and Jack Patterson, they banded together in Cambridge, England in 2009.

Clean Bandit's breakout song "Rather Be", which has exploded to top the iTunes Dance Singles and Billboard Pop Singles charts, takes listeners back to old school disco while somehow sounding modern and fresh.

Jerry Nunn caught up with Milan Neil Amin-Smith, the violin player, to learn more about this interesting concept in music and the band's first U.S. tour.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Where in the world are you right now?

A: (Neil Amin-Smith) I just left the BBC studio. We just did some recording and I am on my way home.

JN: How did the recording go?

A: It was good and really fun. We are just doing some songs for a BBC festival.

JN: How did the group come together in the beginning?

A: It was a long time ago now. Grace and I have known each other for a long time. We had been in local orchestras and music courses together. We were reunited at university and started the playing classically over there. Jack made some records of our quartet and started messing around with them playing some beats over them. That was the genesis of it. We really liked what he had done with it. He wanted to put vocals with it. We just carried on with it at a very slow pace for about five years. We went full time with it last year and here we are.

JN: So it was classical music moving into dance music?

A: Yeah, in the early days especially all of the tracks that we were writing were based around classical samples. They grew out of those. Nowadays we don't use any classical samples when we write but we still have string instruments in the mix.

JN: The band name is based on a Russian phrase?

A: Sort of. Grace used to live in Russia. Her friend called her a total scoundrel in Russian that was affectionate that translates directly to Clean Bandit. We thought it was a funny miscalculation so we stuck with it.

JN: How has it been having a huge hit with "Rather Be?"

A: It has been amazing. It has changed our day to day life quite a lot. Since "Rather Be" came out we have been so busy. We have been able to do so many exciting things. People want to talk to me on the phone every day like you [laughs]! It is great. We could have never predicted what would happen from one song.

JN: How did you find Jess Glynne who sings on that track?

A: We had heard Jess sing on a track called "My Love" with Route 94, who is a British producer. She has evolved with lots of records. We had been writing "Rather Be" but when she sang on it then she just smashed it and took it to another place.

JN: Do you want to work with her on more songs now that this has been a hit?

A: Yeah. We just released our album. She has such a great tone to her voice it would be great to release something else again with her.

JN: There are so many artists singing on the various songs on the record. How did you find all of them?

A: In so many ways actually. Sharna Bass, who is on our track "Extraordinary," Nikki Cislyn, and Kandaka Moore we met at a community project we had in London in a studio. In exchange for using the studio we take on apprentices from the local area. We have a really amazing ground roots local music scene. We met all of them just through that.

Eliza Shadda, who is featured on the "Birch" track, we just met performing on the street. Jack just happened to cycle past. He heard her voice and stopped. He just asked her to come down to the studio.

JN: That's so random.

A: Yeah. We worked with her for quite a long time. She has performed with us live a lot. It was a really lucky meeting for both of us.

JN: Do you make your own videos with producers being part of this group?

A: So Jack spent a year at film school in Moscow. Since then he and some friends have made videos for themselves as projects. They started putting videos up and it quadrupled the attention we were getting immediately. He has been learning on the job and directs all of our videos now.

JN:That is handy to have around.

A: Yes, certainly useful that way.

JN: Did he come up with the treatment for the Asian angle to the video for "Rather Be?"

A: He did, yes. Jack and Luke had been on family holiday many years ago in Tokyo, Japan. They had met a sushi chef with their parents and got obsessed with the mechanics of being a chef and the fish market. They wanted to make a video that used that kind of treatment.

JN: Is everyone coming on this tour?

A: Sadly not. We used to all tour because there were five or six of us but it kind of got unmanageable. It is the four of us and singers that perform with us for our live shows. I think Jess Glynne is going to join us on a couple of dates.

JN: Hopefully at Lincoln Hall.

A: Yes, it is just dependent on her schedule. She's getting busier and busier.

JN: Any plans for visuals on this tour?

A: I'm sure what our plans are for that yet. What we did on our last tour was hanging a sign with our logo. We also projected lights on to it since it was high enough on the stage. We will see how we transport that to the US.

JN: Have you been to Chicago before?

A: I haven't, no. I'm very excited. A good friend of mine's family is from there so I have heard a lot about it.

JN: We will have to show you around the town. Are there any gay angles to the group?

A: At university it was a gay environment at times so we have all been around that a lot. Many of our early fans were gay so we have always had an audience there.

JN: Your video is played often in the gay bars just so you know.

A: Great!

Clean Bandit has fans dancing at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Avenue, on September 22. Visit lincolnhallchicago.com for tickets and details with more from the band at cleanbandit.co.uk.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.