24 Apr 2021

INTERVIEW: London Grammar

From Music 101, 2:15 pm on 24 April 2021

London Grammar are among a group of international acts to recently announce NZ tours. Lead singer Hannah Reid speaks to Music 101's Tony Stamp.

London Grammar

UK trio London Grammar. Photo: Supplied

The acclaimed UK trio has just released their third album "Californian Soil" and announced that they would be performing in New Zealand at Spark Arena on 22 March 2022.

Tickets here

Hannah Reid talked to Music 101 from her home in Britain about the new album's focus on feminism, collaborating with her bandmates Dan and Dot, and her family connection to New Zealand.

"Half of my family live out in Auckland. Like a lot. All my aunties, uncles and cousins and my cousin's babies. Lots of husbands floating around," Hannah says.

But she hasn't spent much time here herself.

"We've done a gig in Auckland before and I obviously spent as much time with them as I could. But basically the last 10 years I've just always been on the road. In New Zealand, I feel like you need like a month to, like, really travel around and hopefully next year I'll be able to do that, is my hope."

The last time the band was in Aotearoa it was a "really homely feel".

"I obviously had family in New Zealand and I love them so much. I really miss them. And it's sad we're so far away. And I just feel like I feel like New Zealanders are so welcoming and friendly, it was quite an unusual experience, actually.

"I actually feel that way when we do come to Australia as well, Australia and New Zealand. I just feel like that part of the world kind of has made us have a career.

"It's like we could be on stage and people will be like raving to wasting my young years. Oh, like raving to like the slowest emotional song.

"And I'm like, these guys are all having a real party. And I don't know, it's just coming to that. That part of the world has always just been such a privilege. And I think that is unusual to have a kind of fanbase or a culture that I think that you guys have where it doesn't matter if that's like four years in between, an album doesn't seem to be a problem, whereas that's not the case everywhere."

Overcoming fears and the 'cowboy industry'

In a question throwing back to an old news headline that asked "Will they (London Grammar) overcome their morbid fear of the spotlight?", Hannah says the band has.

"I used to get very nervous before going on stage and jeering. The boys coped with it much better than I did, but we were very inexperienced performers and I think it's just a rite of passage.

"I think loads of young acts have the same problem. Definitely a lot of like self-work. I feel like, yeah, I'm a different person now. I don't think it will be an issue anymore."

The band hadn't actually discussed themes like feminism, she says.

"We didn't actually speak about it. It's funny... they don't me that much about my lyrics. I think that they feel like that very private. So they like they're so polite and British, they wouldn't ask me.

"But it became more and more obvious. And then it was so obvious by the end. But obviously, I've been asked a lot about it and I'm in a good place. I'm happy to talk about it, you know."

Track two of the album is 'Californian Soil' and the final track is 'America'.

They're bookends, Hannah says.

"Those those two songs were actually written at a very similar time, sort of I think probably two weeks in the same two weeks. So it felt appropriate. I like the idea of starting the album with one of them and ending the album with another one.

"But they're linked because for me the idea of the American dream was floating around in my subconscious and definitely a lot of the American Hollywood pop culture that I grew up with because I consumed so much American culture growing up.

"And I think it kind of amusing the idea of the American dream to describe a disillusionment that happened within me. And I think within that whole, like, Hollywood culture, which ... has been transported everywhere around the world, really, especially in the UK - there were real problems with some of the stuff that I was consuming, I think, growing up. So I think that in that way, the two things relate."

Hannah has called the music industry as "cowboy industry".

"Oh, what don't I mean by that? Oh, my God. It's like when we were rehearsing at this kind of quite big rehearsal studio in London, like one of the biggest ones the other day.

"And they've got this plaque on the wall with a kind of a crew T-shirt sort of in it and on the t-shirt - I can't remember the exact quotes, but it's something like 'the music industry is like hell on earth where good men die'. And that is like the darkest quote.

"And I remember reading it, they like, oh, God, it's kind of true, though.

"It is a cowboy industry because there's no rules and regulations. So it is a complete free-for-all. And actually, a lot of the time the most ruthless people win and the people that suffer at the hands of that are the sensitive artists."

She thinks that the state of affairs is improving "a little bit".

"I still think it has a long way to go. I know that like the landscape of Ministry of Sound in particular, which is where we're signed, I think they've made a really big effort, actually.

"And they've got some incredibly strong women who are basically running the show. And I don't really know about other record labels, but ... I went to an awards ceremony, which must have been a couple of years ago. And ... it was a sea of old white men. I was kind of surprised."

What about the new album?

Ninety percent of it was recorded in band member Dan's bedroom.

"I think the most expensive-sounding song is a song called 'All My Love', but it's such a richness to it. And that was recorded on not very good mikes in his tiny loft studio. And actually, the windows open in the background and you can hear the birds singing outside."

As for the writing process, Hannah says it is "very emotional and melody focused".

"I always have melodies that just go going round and round my head and I don't really know where they come from. And that was definitely one of them. That melody had been going around my head for years, I think.

"And actually we found this really weird old demo of me kind of singing that melody from like six years ago. But then on this album, we just demoed it up in a slightly different way and it felt like the right time... like, turn this from a melody that's going around my head and being like something really epic."

The group has always struggled to find a balance, she says.

"I mean, well, [our] whole first album is a bit depressing, but it's something that I wanted to make even more extreme on this album. So the alternative stuff is, I think, very emotional and alternative.

"But then if you're going to write a pop song, you may as well just really go for it. So I feel like we kind of pushed the boundaries on both ends, which was really fun."