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Interview: Clean Bandit on making the track of the year

By Anette Lien Nov 1, 2014

If you have not heard it on the radio, in a club, or from your friends’ mouth when they scream out the lyrics at a pre-party, chances are you have been living under a rock for the past year.

Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, featuring Jess Glynne, is 2014’s most streamed track in the UK – in addition to having an astonishing 150 million views on YouTube.

We caught up with the band’s violinist, Neil Amin-Smith, and after politely congratulating them on their success – could not help but ask: Do you ever get tired of the song yourself?

“Well,” Neil hesitates. “It’s probably not one of my favourite songs of ours anymore, but I still enjoy playing it live. When the crowd sings the lyrics back to you, it’s the most amazing feeling ever. That is has been this popular is just out of my comprehension.”

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On paper it has definitely been a successful year for the four-piece, which also includes brothers Jack and Luke Patterson and Grace Chatto.

Originally from Cambridge, they formed in 2009 as a string quartet, but then Jack brought electronic music into the mix and a fusion match in heaven was made.

Since the summer they have released their debut album, New Eyes, played various international festivals, and have currently embarked on a sold-out UK tour. But there is still some time for fun in their busy schedule.

“The strangest experience we have had till now is probably meeting Craig David at an afterparty and he ended up performing Rather Be with us,” Neil laughs.

Their career got off to a rough start when, according to The Guardian, record companies thought they were a “joke band”.

When I ask Neil about this, he sighs. “That was taken a bit out of proportion. We had a meeting with one label and they thought we did novelty songs. Now it sounds like the whole industry hated us, and that’s not true”.

Still, chances are the label regrets that comment today.

Maybe it was the slightly odd band name that made them wonder. We know we are. “Grace lived in Russia, and a friend of her sister called her clean bandit, which is a Russian translation for total bastard,” Neil explains.

“It was meant affectionately,” he quickly adds.

Earlier this month Clean Bandit and Jesse Glynne travelled to LA to shoot a music video for their new single, Real Love, which could very well lead to another monster hit. The music video was actually produced by the band themselves.

“We think the videos are a vital part of the music we make. It’s sort of the final output and we wanted to be involved in that,” Neil says.

In the video for Rather Be we follow a girl obsessed by the band and the song, but in their new video for Real Love they have gone back to basics.

“It’s different because it revolves around us playing in a studio and at a gig. We also finished it in LA in just a day,” Neil says.

Giving advice on how students in bands can make it big, Neil champions music video production as an important factor.

“In addition to playing as many gigs as you can, I definitely think music videos are important as a way to get attention to your band.” You hear that aspiring musicians?

What makes Clean Bandit stand out in today’s musical jungle is perhaps their ability to mix their classical background with an electronic future. The second single, Mozart House, from their album includes parts of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21, while the lyrics debates whether electronic music is too repetitive or not.

However, Neil doubts whether he can turn their fans into liking classical music.

“We did not deliberately try to inspire anyone to listen to classical stuff, but if they do that’s great. We just play the music we enjoy.”

Going back to their roots, they have recently been in a recording studio with BBC Philharmonic. That session and a few new tracks, including Real Love, will be on a new special edition of their album, out later in November.

Now the band focuses on touring, but confess they have been trying to commit to healthier lifestyle decisions.

“We have actually taken away all the alcohol from our rider. We wanted to give it a try. I’ll get back to you on how that goes,” Neil says.

To go sober for October is perhaps not the most rock and roll thing a band can do, but we have a feeling the “total bastards” of Clean Bandit know exactly how to properly celebrate.

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