Disclosure Talks Songwriting, Exhaustion, Skeptics

Every year, a few albums manage to seep out of whatever genre they ostensibly belong to and attain far broader appeal. One of those successes in 2013 has been the thrilling synthesis of house, pop, and U.K. Garage wrought by the brothers in English duo Disclosure. Buoyed by propulsive rhythms and electric melodies, their debut album, Settle, has leaped out of the world of club music and garnered the attention of a public eager to see where pop is going in the 21st century. Ahead of the band's set at Treasure Island, we talked to 22-year-old Guy Lawrence about Disclosure's song-focused approach to dance music, the exhaustion of touring during a breakthrough year, and why the band's skeptics — who've accused it of diluting and even exploiting underground styles — can shove it.

SF Weekly: Disclosure has blown up this year, and you seem to be playing everywhere. Do you ever get to sleep?

Guy Lawrence: Not really. We flew straight from Australia to [Seattle] yesterday, so the jet lag is mad.

I read that you played something like 37 festivals this year?

Forty-seven, I think, actually.

Does any one of these dozens of gigs stand out?

I'd say over here in the States, Coachella was probably one of the best moments of the whole year. We played in Central Park [in New York] as well the other week, and that was again a really big moment. Glastonbury was for us an amazing thing to do because we've watched that festival since we were children. It was amazing just to be there, let alone play it.

Is it because of your musical backgrounds that your songs have more of a pop feel, rather than a dance-track feel?

Structure is really important to us, probably one of the most important things on the album. I think that is what differentiates it from normal house and club music, the fat layer of choruses and verses rather than big long intros and a buildup and a drop and a buildup and a drop. I love all that stuff, but I don't think in an album format that would really work. We spent a lot of time structuring the songs and cutting a lot of stuff out. We wanted [the album] to be a very quick, concise listen. It's always changing or moving, that was really important to us.

It seems like that pop appeal kind of got you in trouble with the dance-music heads, who are accusing you of diluting house music.

I mean, I don't really care about that stuff. Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but I'd say that's a very small percentage of people who've said that. The people who are really into their dance music and know their shit have more respect for the fact that we're able to do that. I think a lot of [the] reason why producers don't do that is because they just can't, you know? They don't know about writing pop songs. There was no way someone could say to me that a whole album of club music, of just instrumental club music, would be as successful as this one has been. That's why there's so little albums in dance music. It's a really difficult balance to try to achieve; that's why we spent so long on the structure side of things.

Songs like “White Noise” and “You & Me” also seem to have a lot of emphasis on melody.

We knew from the start we were working with Eliza [Doolittle] and Aluna [George], and those are big pop artists, so we wanted to make the most of their voices. That's why the melodies are so expressive. They also cover a really wide range — Howard [Lawrence; Guy's brother] always really likes to do that when he's working with a vocalist, like make sure he gets the best out of them. They're pretty hard songs to sing as well, man. I feel quite bad for them really. But we just do what's best for the song.

Do you work out the melodies with the vocalists, or just the lyrics?

We do the melodies and the vocals with them. We pick the theme, what we're going to talk about, and then we all just kind of sit in a room and just sing together and work out little bits on the keyboards, and then put it down.

Your parents are both musicians, right?

Yeah. I think that a big reason of why we write like that is because when we were growing up, like that's how we'd see them writing. I'd just see my dad sitting there with a guitar, playing some chords and just singing completely random stuff until he came up with something that he liked. And then he'd write it down. So that's just how I assumed people write songs.

What do you parents think of your music?

They get it, I think. They're not dance music heads in any way, or even electronic music really. So it's kind of a different world for them, but like I said with songs like “Latch” and “White Noise,” because they're structured in that way, they can kind of relate to them a bit more than maybe songs that are a bit more for the club.

What's next for Disclosure?

I don't know. We're not really done with house music or garage music yet, so we'll probably keep making that for a bit. But definitely in the future I want to produce some hip-hop, and just around some other tempos really. Because we've been around the same tempo for a while now, and at the end of the day, no matter what anybody says about genres and sounds, dance music is mainly classified with speed. At the moment we're making things at house-music speed, but soon I want to make some stuff at slightly slower speeds.

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