Howard and Guy Lawrence, the Disclosure brothers, show up for their promotional appearances the way you would for a job interview: professional and prepared. Fresh-faced and well groomed, at 21 and 24, respectively, the two’s experienced demeanor is similar to a career musician of their combined ages.
Howard is articulate and concise with his responses; his large, round blue eyes directly focused, calmness exuding from his person. Guy is just as eloquent; his responses a bit more elaborate, his frame slightly more delicate than his younger brother’s, his hair blonder, and his energy friskier.
Howard’s almost uniform-like black t-shirt and jeans are representative of his composed attitude. Guy’s grey shorts and black t-shirt adorned with white outline sketches of topless women in various positions is likewise representative of his disposition.
“The most annoying thing Howard does is not share food—ever,” says Guy heatedly. “It just happened. He got some spaghetti bolognese and I know it’s good because I’ve had it here before. I said, ‘Can I have a bite?’ And he’s like, ‘No.’ So I’m eating this chocolate mousse and he puts his spoon in it and has a big mouthful.
I’m like, ‘Mate, you didn’t give me any of yours.’ I guarantee you when I go back, it will all be gone. That’s definitely his worst trait, not sharing in general.”
“The most annoying thing about Guy is that he’s always hungover, and always demands sympathy for being hungover,” says Howard dispassionately. “I don’t drink. I don’t give him any sympathy at all. But the most admirable thing about Guy is his attention to detail. He’s got so much of that.
He’ll sit and EQ a hi-hat literally all day, nine hours, just one hi-hat. You leave the room for five hours, come back, and it sounds exactly the same. And he’s like, ‘Better or worse’?”
“Howard’s whole way of life is admirable,” says Guy reverentially. “His view on life is so mature for someone his age. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t go out. He doesn’t party. He’s a DJ, he goes to clubs, but he doesn’t go into all that. He will sit at home and read and look after his dog. Everyone gets us mixed up as me being the younger one and I can see why.”
Ensconced in Los Angeles’ gracious Chateau Marmont hotel for the week to speak about their second album, ‘Caracal’, and to shoot the third video in their four-part Ryan Hope-directed video series, the Lawrence brothers are at ease. They have the polite detachedness that comes with great success.
Their idea for a video series is realized by Hope’s vision of a futuristic world where a girl with a caracal tattoo embedded with a mysterious gift is chased across the globe. The series starts with the Gregory Porter-vocalized ‘Holding On’ and continues with the Sam Smith-vocalized ‘Omen’.
“I see Disclosure as carrying the beacon of UK dance music history,” says Hope. “My aim is for ‘Caracal’ to be remembered, revered and talked about for its videos as much as its music.”
In the two years since their debut LP, ‘Settle’, the meteoric rise of Disclosure has been as unexpected as it has been astounding. At a time when brashness and repeated climaxes were/are de rigueur in dance music, these guys tapped into the groovy house sounds of the mid-‘90s, wrote actual songs, and struck an international chord with dance, pop, R&B and soul fans alike.
They made a superstar out of the previously unknown Sam Smith with his feature on their global smash, ‘Latch’. And superstars came knocking on their door wanting to collaborate, Mary J. Blige, who reimagined their song, ‘F For You’, Nile Rodgers with ‘Together’; and everyone wanted the Disclosure remix touch like Usher on ‘Good Kisser’ and Emeli Sande on ‘Daddy’.
“We only discovered house six years ago, before that, we grew up on pop, R&B, funk soul,” says Howard who was still in high school when Disclosure took off. “We’re from a town called Reigate, which is in Surrey, England, quite near Croyden where dubstep and grime started. Dubstep was the first dance music we ever heard.
We liked it a lot but we never wanted to make it. It was only when we started looking into where it came from — UK garage, which came from American house, which came from disco — that led us back to the music we were already into: funk and soul.”
Born to musician parents, both brothers were raised with formal music lessons. Guy has been playing the drums since the age of three, Howard is an accomplished piano and bass player, both play guitar. They thought they would get really good at their instruments, become session musicians and make a living that way.
Since their parents hadn’t been able to make enough of a go of it as musicians, they assumed they wouldn’t either. The discovery of dance music and music making software changed all that. Still, the brothers would say they are musicians first. Songwriting falls into the second position for Howard, production third.
Production is Guy’s second strongest suit and songwriting is his third. DJing is a welcome side effect of their career.
These roles became more defined for ‘Caracal’, smoothing the transition into the second album after the highly regarded ‘Settle’. “The last album we both shared every single role,” says Guy. “This one we stuck to our strengths with me doing the production side and Howard doing the lyrics and melody.
The easiest thing was starting. People get scared of their second record. We purposely took two months off and planned to do nothing. A week went by and we wanted to write music. We used to write music as a hobby in our spare time and now it’s our job, but it’s for the love.”
“The fast pace of how the guys work was most inspiring,” says Miguel of working with Disclosure on their collaboration, ‘Good Intentions’. “The creative process was quick and light, not too serious, but focused.”
‘Settle’ was primarily written in the Lawrence brothers’ parents’ home in their bedroom studio. Now, the two have a tiny room at RAK Studios in London’s affluent St. John’s Wood, halfway between Guy’s home in Stoke Newington and Howard’s home in Acton.
There they have an out-of-tune piano, a Neumann U-67 microphone, and a Neve mixing desk on which only three channels are being used. This is where the majority of ‘Caracal’ was written, alongside James Napier aka Jimmy Napes, who co-wrote ‘Latch’, ‘White Noise’, and ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ on ‘Settle’.
This is where all the superstars on ‘Caracal’, namely, Sam Smith, Lorde, the aforementioned Miguel, Gregory Porter, Lion Babe, Kwabs—all except the Weeknd—came for songwriting sessions. It’s also where Mary J. Blige came for ‘F For You’, shedding her superstar cloak at the door and working hard to make the song the best it could be.
And it’s where Disclosure brought virtual unknowns Jordan Rakei for ‘Masterpiece’ and Brendan Reilly for ‘Moving Mountains.’
“We only work with nice people. Most of them we met touring, but we didn’t know all of them before, we were just big fans. Them coming to us showed they actually want to do it,” says Howard of the collaborators.
“We would never work with someone who doesn’t write their own songs. We need them to write with us and we want them to, more than anything, because then they feel what they’re singing about.”
“We don’t do that whole thing of sending a beat to someone and get them to write something. We always get in a room around a piano,” says Guy. “That’s missing in a lot of music. It’s the reason we have a lot of soulless, monotonous, formulaic music at the moment. It’s all sounding the same: make a beat, send it off, someone writes the topline, someone else sings it.
The magic gets lost. There’s nothing like sitting in a room with all those brains together and actually playing the music. We want the singer to sing about something they believe in. There’s no point telling someone what to sing. They can, but it’s not coming from the heart.”
“I love hanging out with the boys. We tell dumb stories and laugh a lot. They remind me of the boys I went to school with,” says Lorde of her time writing ‘Magnets’ with Disclosure.
“We wrote the song over two days. We would go back and forth to this diner. I’d be ordering lunch and humming a new part into my phone and hitting drumbeats on tables and chairs. I kept telling them to make the chords simpler, make the parts simpler, but it’s such a lush record with its complex moments.”
The production techniques and sonics used on ‘Caracal’ don’t differ from those on ‘Settle’. But the style has shifted from overtly house to a slower, R&B groove with a generous dose of jazz influence. The Weeknd sets the tone with the warm album opener, ‘Nocturnal’, on which he gives an infectious, slick sheen.
Smith slips back into his spot, for the fastest written song on the album, the syrupy smooth ‘Omen’. Lion Babe’s turn on ‘Hourglass’ gives it a saucy twist. Aussie Rakei drips soulful over ‘Masterpiece’. And Gregory Porter’s honeyed tones make ‘Holding On’ a house classic.
“Although I’m a jazz vocalist, in many ways I crave simplicity and honesty,” says Porter. “We essentially wrote a soul song, a ballad with the idea that it would change with rhythms and beats.Making that conversion from what I do as a soul/jazz/gospel-influenced artist and bringing that into a genre and ears that may not be aware of me makes the artificial lines drawn between genres unnecessary.”
“The hardest thing about ‘Caracal’ is the same as it was with ‘Settle’,” says Howard. “Because we’re using so many different singers, it’s difficult to maintain a sound throughout the record. If you’re a singer, your voice does that for you.
We have to do it with our production, which is difficult, but at the same time quite natural because we pick all the sounds we like and that leads us to quite similar stuff every time. To an extent, the writing side of it does have some coherence because [Napier] and I are very involved in the actual writing of the melodies and the lyrics.
We do it with the singers but there’s two of us and one of them so it sounds more like something we would write rather than them, but with a hint of their influence. It’s important that as soon as you hear any song, you know who it is within 30 seconds. I feel like we’ve managed to do that with ‘Caracal’.”
When Disclosure unleashed their antithesis to EDM sounds three years ago, they made it okay for house-based sounds to come through. They made space for Gorgon City, Duke Dumont, Tensnake, Eats Everything, Hot Since 82, and other, groove-oriented, 4/4 beat artists.
And they gave renewed life to those who influenced them: Todd Terry, Basement Jaxx, and Etienne de Crecy, to name a few—who all released full-lengths, with de Crecy stating, “House music became interesting again in the last two years. There was a new energy and freshness. I wanted to do it again because the music was close to the music I used to make 20 years ago.“
One of the godfathers of house on the West Coast, Marques Wyatt observes, “The influence of ‘90s house music is definitely there, but sonically, Disclosure’s sound is now. When I play older songs alongside theirs, I have to do a ton of EQing for it to match. It’s very evident there is substance there.
It was pretty amazing to see them at Coachella at the Outdoor Theatre. After going to Coachella for so many years, here’s someone doing deep house on an outdoor stage; it’s packed front to back, and everyone’s singing.”
Disclosure also headlines a like-minded stage at EDC and at the same time, has its own shows at the 15,000+ capacity Los Angeles Sports Arena and New York’s 18,000+ Madison Square Garden. “We were skeptical about EDC. Avicii was on the main stage as we played,” says Guy.
“We never compromise, we play straight up house music, no EDM at all. We had such a great crowd, huge tent, packed. I have no doubt if we were on the main stage at EDC that it wouldn’t work, not yet anyway. Times haven’t changed enough yet for it to work. It’s happened in the UK. Two years later it will happen here. You haven’t got to delete one sound to have another one happening.
He continues, “EDM is such an all-encompassing term in the US. If you take any DJ, you become EDM if you play music around that speed. Sonically, we’re miles away in term of the music we make.”
In its native UK, Disclosure is a house-pop act, placing far from what that country considers EDM, such as Tiësto, Calvin Harris, Dillon Francis.
They have been hosting their Wildlife events at clubs, curating nights, hosting stages at festivals, and earlier this year, joining up with Rudimental for their own Wildlife Festival where Nas and Wu-Tang Clan immediately answered “yes” when asked to perform, which was a “whoa” moment for all involved.
“Guy never becomes used to the success,” says Howard of his brother’s most endearing characteristic. “When we’re meeting famous people, he’s always like, ‘wow,’ whereas I’m over that part. Except when I met Sting, I was pretty excited because I grew up learning the bass to him so that was a big deal for me—and he said I was a good bass player.”
While he may be “over” the idea of flirting with celebrities, it’s his brother who is in a serious relationship far away from their high profile, sometimes plastic appeal. “Howard’s girlfriend is his first love,” says Guy (who is single after the demise of a long-term relationship) affectionately about his younger brother’s most endearing trait.
“They live together. They’re definitely going to stay together forever. He’s settled down with the attitude of a 40-year-old man, which is cool.”
words: LILY MOAYERI portraits: SIMON EMMETT live shot: ANDREW RAUNER