We Quizzed Disclosure on Their Big-Name ‘Caracal’ Collaborators
The British brothers offer their take on the voices that make their sophomore album sing
Though it’s early in the morning at the Meatpacking District’s hottest hotel, the Standard, the Disclosure brothers — Howard and Guy Lawrence, British dance’s biggest export since the Pet Shop Boys — stride into building’s softly lit lounge with nary a yawn. They’re fresh from press appearances in Los Angeles, and after our chat, they’ll hop in a car headed to a photoshoot, wrapping up a swarmed five days in the U.S. “We’re definitely tired,” Guy says before asking his publicist for “any kind of egg sandwich you can find.”
With the September release of their hotly anticipated sophomore album — Caracal, the follow-up to 2013’s Settle (one of SPIN’s Best 300 Albums of the Past 30 Years) — fast approaching, the guys are ensconced in full promotion-mode. In describing the star-studded new LP (which is due out on September 25 via Island Universal) it’s best to describe it in direct relation to its predecessor: Whereas Settle was the music you want to be partying with past midnight (see: modern radio staple “Latch” and dance-floor heavy “When A Fire Starts To Burn”), Caracal’s the jubilant comedown you’re craving at 4:00 a.m, loaded with abstract thoughts on friendship (“Superego”) and skittering, harmonious revelations about loving and clubbing (“Omen”).
SPIN sat down with Disclosure to quiz the guys on some of their new LP’s featured collaborators. Read on to see what the Lawrences had to say about working with the Weeknd, Lorde, Miguel, and many more (and follow along with Disclosure’s new Caracal collaborators playlist).
The Weeknd, “Wicked Games”
Guy: The Weeknd. [Hums along.] It’s on House of Balloons, isn’t it? What’s it called? I know all the words, but I don’t know the name.
Howard: Me too.
This is “Wicked Games.” He’s the singer on the first track of Caracal — you guys probably got him in the studio right before he blew up on Top 40 radio with “Can’t Feel My Face.”
Howard: We actually supported him about three years ago in London. He was playing his first-ever London show and his support act dropped out. He was like, “Who can just come and DJ before our set?” We went and did it. That’s one of the first times we ever saw him, but we were aware of that tune “What You Need” before that.
What was it like working with him? I’ve heard he’s awfully reserved.
Guy: Very chill.
Howard: Actually, I thought he was really relaxed, but I didn’t feel like he was reserved at all, which is what I was expecting. He was a really good writer. He made a lot of input into the song.
When you bring in somebody like that — a big name — do you ever worry at all that they’re going to bring too much? Or not enough?
Howard: We’re very picky with who we work in the first place, so we only choose people we know have written their own songs and are good at writing. I don’t ever get worried that they’ll bring too much, because we’re quite good at telling people to shut up. [Laughs.] In Abel’s case, he didn’t [underperform] at all. He got our vibe straightaway. I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing, but he just completely got it straightaway.
Sam Smith, “Safe With Me”
Guy: Sam. [Smiles.]
Obviously this is Sam, yes.
Guy: [Looks at Howard.] How did you not get that? “Safe With Me,” this was off his Nirvana EP. That was a while ago. That was with Two Inch Punch, great producer. I always liked that one. I thought that was way more R&B for Sam than how the album came out. “Stay With Me” and “Safe With Me” — there’s such a big contrast between the two tunes.
Howard: I always thought Sam needed to do a song like that.
Guy: To get the Beyoncé in him out, that’s what he needed to do.
I met you guys at a listening session back in June, and when we talked, you said it was very easy to get back in the swing of things with Sam in the studio. Did you or he come at it with any sort of agenda?
Guy: No. All we knew is that we didn’t want to try and copy or top “Latch.” We just wanted to do something fresh and different. I think we knew we were going to probably start at a different speed and have a different vibe to the song. We started it in the same old way, just sitting around the piano writing the song. It’s kind of up to me how it sounds sonically in the Disclosure way, because the guys wrote the lyrics and the chords, and everything else is what we have to decide.
Howard: I remember we wrote the majority of the chords first, before everything else. Before doing melodies, lyrics, or the beat, it was just the chords on the piano. And I remember thinking at the time that it sounded like we were writing a gospel song.
Guy: But as soon as you put it on a synth and put a really swung beat behind it, it became us. It was wicked, man. Working with Sam is always great.
Is there something in particular that Sam brings out in you both as writers and producers?
Howard: I think it brings a certain mood to the room. It’s the same thing that Jimmy [Napes] brings, actually. We love writing with Sam, so every time we get in the room, we’re all just super hyped to be doing it. I think that’s why it’s such a happy-sounding song.
Guy: Our writing styles really complement each other. I think the stuff he writes goes well over Howard’s chords, and Howard’s chords go well over my beat.
Howard: Me and Sam always write in this weird way that we’ve only just realized we do, which is when Sam will sing a melody, but he’ll sing all one note, and he’ll just do it across the whole chorus and it’ll basically give the rhythm of the melody, and then I just move all the notes around to what he’s done in my head and then sing it back, and he’s like, “Okay, cool, done.” That’s how we did it with “Latch” as well.
Guy: That’s boring. You nerds.
Gregory Porter, “Liquid Spirit”
Guy: “Liquid Spirit.” Yeah, it’s a good tune, man. There’s a big remix of this going around at the moment, in Europe.
Howard: I don’t think it’s really hit here too much.
Guy: The Claptone remix of it is getting hammered in Ibiza and stuff.
How did you guys come around to Gregory?
Howard: In the U.K., he’s not big. If you’re into jazz he’s huge, but if you’re not, he’s not really on mainstream radio. I follow jazz really closely, so he’s always been on my radar. We met him the first time at the Grammys two years ago, when he won jazz album of the year. We got in contact with him over management and asked, “Do you want to get in the studio?” He said yeah, because I think he’d heard “Latch.” We had this concept, us and our managers, where we were talking about old house music and old garage remixes. Did we tell you this?
Yeah, you told me that producers had basically mined every viable soul sample there was.
Howard: Yeah, we basically needed to write our own soul song. We just thought, “Who’s better to write a soul song with than Gregory?” He’s one of the most soulful voices in the world.
LION BABE, “Impossible”
Guy: LION BABE. Is that the new one?
It is the new one.
Howard: I haven’t heard this one yet.
Howard: Oh yeah, I have heard this.
Guy: Yeah it’s one of my favorites. It’s definitely the more club-based, sort of classic Disclosure-sounding ones if you can say “Classic Disclosure” yet. Probably not. We need another ten years.
Howard: We’ve only released one album… [They both laugh.]
Guy: Maybe “signature Disclosure” then. Yeah, she’s wicked. I know they’re two people, and we love Lucas [Goodman, LION BABE producer], but we kind of only really needed Jillian [Harvey, singer] because we’ve got two producers anyway. I’ve got massive respect for him, though. That song is cool, but “Treat Me Like Fire” is the one we both f–king love.
“Hourglass” [the Caracal song featuring Harvey] is one of my favorite songs, though. In our head I think it was going to be like blend between like a more poppy song that we had done like “Voices” but kind of darker, mixed with a clubbier song like “Apollo,” for instance. The song’s basically about getting old and being alright about it, just accepting age and not being afraid of it.
Is that something you’ve already dealt with? You’re both so young.
Guy: No it was one of Jimmy’s friends and Jimmy brought up the idea. I don’t know who, but I think she was having a mare about the whole thing. She was freaking out.
Howard: I remember we were writing it hypothetically more than anything. We were making up a situation about how like, “Oh, we’re getting old, but it’s okay as long as we’ve got people around us.”
He has such an incredibly powerful voice, but he manages to keep it nicely restrained on the song on your album.
Guy: He’s dope, man. He’s got one of the most soulful voices I’ve ever heard. He’s a baritone, and we probably pushed him to the max on the “Willing & Able” chorus.
Howard: He was really uncomfortable at some of it. He was like, “I really don’t want to sing this high,” and we were like, “DO IT.”
With somebody with a voice like that, how do you tell them how to use it?
Guy: [Yelling:] “Sing! Sing louder now.” Just don’t be afraid. You just got to attack ‘em.
Howard: We wrote all the melodies with him, so he knew what he was getting into. Sam said the other day that he tried to sing “Omen” live recently and he was just like, “It’s the highest song I’ve ever tried to sing…”
Guy: It’s not though! I proved to him that it’s not. The note of “Latch” is higher.
Howard: I know, but it’s the fact that he has to hold that note for a while… Maybe not, I don’t know.
Guy: Yeah, it’s a belter. We push him to the max. I think if you’re only doing one song with someone, you try and give it everything. With Kwabs it was such a chill vibe, but it just needed that life in the chorus, and he does keep himself around that range of the baritone voice, but he can belt it. When he does you get this really nice, raspy sound coming out.
Howard: Sounds more like Seal.
Lorde, “Glory & Gore”
Howard: Lorde. She posted an Instagram of us with milkshakes.
Guy: Yeah it was just us getting milkshakes, which must mean we’re making a song. [Laughs.] We usually say “Don’t post anything” because we like to keep things a surprise, plus then if it doesn’t come to anything, no one is disappointed.
Howard: I mean, to be fair, she just posted a picture of us with milkshakes.
Yeah and it’s not like the first time you’ve interacted in public —
Guy: I actually didn’t know she took it. That was a sneaky one.
Howard: I didn’t know either.
Guy: That’s fine though. It’s cool.
Did the immediate reaction surprise you at all?
Guy: Yeah, it was really nice, man. Everyone was super excited. I didn’t realize how many fans we share. I’m really excited for her fan base to hear it as well as ours because it’s a really big collab, not just like in terms of her singing on a Disclosure tune but the whole thing is a collab, from the drum sounds to the chords. She was involved with every aspect of the song as opposed to just doing the lyrics and melodies and then leaving the rest to us.
It was like someone challenging us, someone saying, “We can get that extra ten percent.” We totally did. “Magnets” was a really nicely written song. The best thing about it is its simplicity. It’s just a load of tribal drums. It’s the shortest song we’ve ever made as Disclosure as well.
Guy: Mr. Se-xu-al. Miguel.
Have you guys listened to the new album?
Guy: Yeah, I have actually, he’s cool. He makes me feel incredibly uncool. Some of the stuff he was telling us in the studio — which I will never repeat — is really quite amazing. Our track with him [“Good Intentions”] was so much a collab musically and style wise. The way he sings it is so him, with those crazy bends.
Howard: Also, he recorded all of his own vocals. We were there. He was like, “I got this guys.” [I said] “It’s our studio, you sure you don’t want us to engineer it?” and he’s like, “It’s cool, just give me like, ten minutes,” and just recorded the whole thing.
Guy: He just did it like he does his own stuff, set up a mic, sat in front of the computer, line by line. I think he panned all the vocals the way he wanted them and he was like, “Don’t touch the pans, leave the pans like that.” I was like “Cool, alright, yes sir.”
How long of it was a session with Miguel? I know that he’s incredibly in-demand.
Guy: Two days. I think we had him for six or eight hours a days. Then obviously it’s the post-production that we do that takes a while. The song was written in a day, recorded the next day, did a few adlibs, then we went to the pub. It was fun.
Guy: Weird story: We only found this out when we performed “Superego” and “Willing & Able” at the same show and we had Kwabs and [Nao] come down. They ran up to each other and gave each other a big hug. We were like, “Oh you guys know each other?” She was like, “Guys, I used to be Kwabs’ backing singer.” We didn’t even know that they had met each other ever so that was really weird. She’s so good. She’s so easy to work with, not shy but really quiet.
Howard: She’s a great writer. She was really good at writing [“Superego”] with us.
Guy: It didn’t feel like her first session.
Howard: She really knew how much she was supposed to be giving or not giving. She’s a producer so she could have easily dived in and been like, “Use this drum sound.” She actually said at one point, “You guys are just better at drums, so can you just do it? I’m just going to do the singing.”
Jordan Rakei, “Selfish”
Howard: Good story, you’ll like this one.
Guy: I found Jordan through my friend James, an old school friend. He’s really into music as well, and he DJs. He lived in Australia for a year and did some traveling and found loads of wicked music. He found this one guy singing in a bar, bought his EP right there and then, and he told me to get it. It was on Bandcamp. Went and got it and I just loved it. He’s like a white D’Angelo basically.
We were like, “Whoa, that’s pretty cool.” Then I knew he was from Australia so I was I like, “If we’re ever there, maybe we should hook up.” Then I checked him out on Twitter and his last tweet was that he’d just moved to London. We were like, “Yes, so ideal!” It turns out he’s half-English, so he’s got a U.K. passport, moved to London, and got in the studio with us two weeks later and wrote “Masterpiece.”
You told me in June that “Masterpiece” was your most D’Angelo-esque moment.
Guy: Well, we always talked about how much we love D’Angelo and just neo-soul in general or whatever you call it. But we never got a chance to make anything like that. It wasn’t right on the first album, but we were like, “F–k it, this is the point where the album is beginning to not just be house, but beginning to be loads of things.” If we could take it to this extreme from house, and then just kind of fill in the gaps on the way there, then maybe we lighten the album on a record like this.
What was it like working with Jordan in the studio?
Guy: He’s an incredible jazz artist. He’s got the voice, but he’s also an incredible keyboard player.
Howard: We sat and spoke music with him for like an hour and a half before we started writing anything, just talking about a lot of jazz. We didn’t know if he was going to be a good writer or anything because there is nothing online about him, no way of finding out if he had written all these songs himself or if he produced them or what. So we just got in the studio almost on a whim, hoping he’d be good. He was.