In 2013, Disclosure turned the dance music world in its head with “Latch,” a driving club-ready tune that recalled the glory days of the Chemical Brothers’ big beat revolution and that featured a then-unknown vocalist named Sam Smith.
Two years later, Smith has a room full of Grammys and Disclosure (brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence) are back with another batch of warm chords, banging beats, and singers both super-famous and brand new. In a recent conversation in New York City, the Lawrence siblings let EW behind the scenes of the creation of the biggest tunes on their new album Caracal, which lands in stores on September 25.
“Omen” (with Sam Smith)
Guy: Up until the point that we all stepped into the room together, everything was different. Sam arrives with security guards now, but as soon as the studio door shuts it’s like exactly the same as it was before. It was exactly the same as it was the last time on “Latch.” He’s got no ego. The only difference was it was better. There was no awkwardness because we already knew each other.
Howard: I think we were all more eager to do it this time. Last time, we thought Sam was a great singer, but we never met him. We didn’t know if he was a nice guy or if he was a good writer. We just knew he had a good voice. Whereas this time, we’d written with him before, and he’s our best friend, and we hadn’t seen him in like a f—ing year. We just wanted to get in the room and hang out.
Guy: We had like three days with him, and “Omen” was just the first song we wrote. But we wrote a bunch of stuff that weekend.
Howard: We write with Sam all the time. It’s just that most of it never comes out.
Guy: It will! Eventually. I think that was the best thing about “Omen” that it really cemented the fact that “Latch” wasn’t just a one time thing. I think the partnership between us and Sam is going to continue for a long time.
“Magnets” (with Lorde)
Howard: We always say, “Has anything interesting happened to you?” With anybody we’re working with, we always ask if anything mad has gone down in their life recently that we can write about. Or maybe I’ll come in and have had something happen to me. It’s very organic. When Lorde came in, I had this idea about writing about the phrase “the point of no return,” and originally that was going to be the name of the song. We didn’t know how we were going to use that, because that can be used in a lot of different ways—flying, or boating or whatever. Ella came up with the idea of using it in the sense of if you’re attracted to someone you shouldn’t be for moral reasons, and then you tell them, then you’ve gone past the point of no return.
Guy: Stepping over the line of “I’m out there now, I better fully go for this.” It’s a nautical term, you hear about it with ships. When you’ve gone so far you can’t get home with the amount of fuel that you’ve got. I’ve heard our dad say it—he sails yachts and uses it a lot.
“Nocturnal” (with the Weeknd)
Guy: We wrote that here, in New York. It’s the only tune we wrote outside of London. I don’t know if it sounds New Yorky, but it definitely has a different feel. We wrote and recorded it in Alicia Keys’ studio, which has got the most amazing panoramic view of Manhattan ever. The sun was going down and it was such a lovely vibe—that definitely informed the lyrics a little bit, and the vibe of driving around late and night, and it’s getting dark, and the beat’s pretty slow. Abel was loving it. We were all feeling that vibe and just let it flow. And it’s f—ing long, isn’t it? It’s like nothing we’ve made before.
Howard: It’s self-indulgent!
Guy: It’s definitely self-indulgent, for sure. Any track that goes longer than like five minutes is self-indulgent.
Howard: In reality, we’re always pretty self-indulgent with our music. We make music that we like. If we weren’t, we’d be making house music for the whole record, because that’s what’s big in the UK at the moment. And we could do that and probably be successful, but it’s not what we want to do. We’d run out of ideas pretty quick.
“Good Intentions” (with Miguel)
Guy: He’s quite a sexual man, isn’t he? But you can never go too sexy. I feel like if we ever brought him out at a show, it would probably melt the first three rows of the crowd. It probably happens all the time for him, but it’d be a new experience for us. It was a pleasure working with him. He’s an absolute dude. He’s probably one of the coolest people we’ve met. When he walks in the room, you’re like, “Yeah, you were born to be a pop star.” It was the same with Sam.
Howard: He’s painfully cool. He really cares about his music, too.
Guy: Yeah, even after we had written the song, he was like, “Cool, I’m going to record myself singing.” We were like, “Oh really? We’ve got an engineer, or we could just do it.” But he set the mic up at the computer and wanted to do take after take himself. He was like, “You guys just go and chill for a half hour.”
Howard: He works in a similar way to this guy that we had on our first record called Ed MacFarlane. They both just sit down and almost record word by word, or each phrase one at a time.
Guy: It’s super detailed. They go line by line so they’ve got the perfect expression. It’s really calculated and cool. The way he sung that song too, he didn’t deviate from his style at all—the crazy bending of the notes in the chorus?
Howard: “Let you doooooown…” Me, [co-producer] Jimmy [Napes] and him were writing those lyrics, and we had the line, “No one let you down.” And then he went and did it and made it doooown.
Guy: That little thing makes it.
Howard: That’s part of the reason we work with these other people. Me and Jimmy and Guy could have written a very similar song without Miguel. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, but it would have a similar vibe and the same kind of melodies. But we wouldn’t have done it that way. That track has its own identity because of him.
Guy: It wouldn’t have that edge. Each track is made its own by a different singer, and all we have to do is make sure they flow correctly and become cohesive through the use of the production. A fresh voice every song means they’re all going to sound different, so as long as we do our job and keep it sounding cohesive like a band, then it’s OK. I think on the last record, we thought there was a little bit too much boom-boom-boom, too much house. This time, we want to just keep that sound but spread it over loads of different tempos and loads of different styles. And we’re still learning.
“Masterpiece” (with Jordan Rakei)
Guy: My friend James is one of my oldest friends from school. He went and lived in Australia for a bit, and we have very similar taste in music, and he sends me s— all the time, and he found this guy out there in a very small venue, playing keys and singing. He was like, “Check his EP out.” I got it off BandCamp and loved it, and I played it for Howard and Jimmy and they loved it as well. We were like, “Oh, he lives in Australia, that’s going to be hard to hook up.” But we checked out his Twitter and his last tweet was “I just moved to London.” So we were like, “Yes! That is ideal!” A week later he was in the studio. We were talking about music for an hour before we wrote a single note. Loads of artists names are flying around who we all loved, and one name that kept coming up—and you can hear it in his music—was D’Angelo. We always bang on in interviews how much of an influence D’Angelo is, but we’ve never written something that sounds like a D’Angelo tune—that really slow, sexual vibe. So we were like, “Why don’t we finally do it?” This guy is big fan and he plays like him, and we don’t want him to sing like him but we can get the vibe in there as well and add the Disclosure elements in there as well. But that’s why the intro and the drums is just a complete rip-off of “Untitled.” I’m so glad we could do it with someone like Jordan, because it was such an important thing for us to keep this record balanced in terms of big names and still bringing through new artists that we like. I think that’s what people liked about the first record is they all found different artists they liked and then went on to be fans of them, like Sam or Aluna George or London Grammar. So it’s something we wanted to continue, and Jordan seemed like the perfect guy for that.
“Hourglass” (with Lion Babe)
Howard: Lion Babe is actually two people: Jillian, who is the singer, and is the Lion Babe, and then there’s this producer named Astro Raw. His name is actually Lucas. We didn’t get in the studio with him, because we do that for ourselves, though we respect him massively. So we just got her in the studio and sat around the piano and wrote a song.
Guy: She’s Vanessa Williams’ daughter.
Howard: I didn’t know that until after we did the session.
Guy: She doesn’t talk about it. She’s trying to do it herself.
Howard: She’s going to be pissed we’re telling everyone about it. We heard about them a long time ago because they brought this track out called “Treat Me Like Fire,” which was an awesome track. We found out more recently that it was the first song she ever sung, and she sounds amazing on it. Like, how did she not know she was good at singing before then?
Guy: Everyone has artists that they love listening too. It’s just that we get the opportunity to call them and see if they want to work with us. If we hear an album we like, that will be the next person on the list.
“Right Now” & “Follow” (with Mary J. Blige, from her album The London Sessions)
Howard: Originally she e-mailed our management asking if she could do a cover of “FU,” from our first record. Which is weird, because you don’t need to ask to do a cover of something. Then she asked for the parts, like the drums and everything. We thought that was weird, but we had them, so we sent them over. She sent back this version that was basically a cover of the song, except she added new sections and had written new words and melodies. So we said, “Well, if you’re going to do that, we might as well do it with you and produce it like a Disclosure song.” We don’t work with people because they are a big name. As you can see on the album, we have Sam Smith but also somebody like Jordan Rakei, who nobody knows. We just work with people who are good and down to earth, which she is. She could easily have this big ego. She’s Mary J. Blige! I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a complete diva, but she’s not. She comes to the studio, and she’s got her entourage with her, but then she’s like, “Everyone get out,” and just sits in the room with us and writes the best song we can write. She drops everything at the door, which is exactly how it should be.
Guy: She can work with any huge American producer she wants—Timbaland or whoever—but she chose to work with two white guys from Surrey.
Howard: “Follow” was originally supposed to be a Disclosure song. We wrote that with her for our record. We decided that we didn’t want it on our record, and she did.
Guy: That’s very Disclosure-y—much more house driven. But “Right Now” is definitely more classic Mary, but more evolved. That was the proper collab. We’re very happy and proud of both those tunes.