Photo: Alex Waespi

“Male Musicians Don’t Get Called Difficult”: London Grammar’s Hannah Reid On Standing Up & Taking Control

Singer-songwriter Hannah Reid has finally embraced her spot at the helm of London Grammar. After 11 years and just in time for their third album Californian Soil, Reid has found the courage to share her truth. While many of us might’ve considered her a celestial force already, this newfound duty was a deliberate and considered one.

Shortly after wrapping up 2017’s Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, Reid emailed keyboard slash percussionist Dot Major and guitarist Dan Rothman declaring that it was her time to step up. She had been hiding behind them both lyrically and literally. The band needed a leader and it had to be her. Dot and Dan wholeheartedly supported this epiphany and the result is their most rewarding record yet.

Californian Soil yanks the rose-coloured glasses off the American Dream and the boys’ club better known as the music industry. The tale of a bright-eyed British band taking on the States is a well-known one and was an important rite of passage for London Grammar. But when they did eventually make it to America, Reid was taken aback by the natural beauty contrasted against the disturbing levels of poverty and ingrained misogyny. It was a painfully poetic metaphor for her lived experience. Although the band had achieved great success, it was tainted by a sexist industry and the lack of control she had over her own creativity.

With this realisation, the Nottingham trio ditched the recording studio and instead largely recorded ‘Californian Soil’ in a hidden Narnia located behind mirrored walls and up a secret staircase in Dan’s bedroom. In this oasis, they thrived away from the pressure. By stripping back the process and returning to their roots, they’ve also evolved their familiar sound. The record infuses London Grammar’s signature ethereal sensibilities with Americana motifs and bubbly pop that’s sure to ignite dance floors when they finally hit the road.

It won’t be too long until we can test that theory, with London Grammar planning a huge Australian tour in 2022. If the world can keep its shit together until then, the trio is set to enchant stages in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide in February and March next year.

Music Feeds caught up with Hannah Reid to chat about the labour of love that is Californian Soil, the death of the American dream, embracing her destiny as a leader and why now, more than ever, she’s ready to stand up and speak out.

Music Feeds: In between wrapping up the last record and creating this one, you made the decision to really step into the lead role in the band. What led to that epiphany for you?

Hannah Reid: There were a few different strands to it. I felt like the bands that I really love and have longevity are the ones that have quite strong leaders. And I think that’s because you need that person to be respected by an industry that can be a bit of a cowboy industry at times. And we have struggled sometimes in being a bit too polite or a bit too nice. Something just wasn’t really working.

I said to the boys, “Look, if we’re going to use my lyrics and my songs sometimes and experiment with working with people outside of the band, and keep touring… I need for people to respect me as being the leader of the band, even if behind closed doors I’m not always the leader of the band.” We actually are very democratic as a band and in loads of ways, I think musically, there was just something that I wanted to say that maybe I hadn’t been ready to say.

MF: I think as women we’re taught to apologise for taking up space and standing at the front or making our voices heard, do you think that had something to with that realisation as well?

HR: Yeah, I do think I’ve struggled with that. I think that I would give away too much power sometimes or too much say over songs that I had written. Not so much with Dan and Dot, but it definitely became more difficult when we were on the road or worked with people outside of the band.

I think that male musicians don’t get called difficult. I feel like when men act in a certain way or when men are leaders of bands, or just taking control of their career, I think it’s viewed as having integrity. And I think that other men respect them because I definitely felt like as a female, it was harder for me to take on that role. And so I stopped myself, I think.

MF: In the past, you’ve also said it’s a very British thing to shy away from expressing exactly how you’re feeling but there’s so much power in sharing your voice unapologetically. Do you still feel that way?

HR: Yeah, exactly. I think I would be doing myself a disservice as a songwriter if I’d kept on feeling like I was doing that. It is a very British thing to do as well. Me, Dan and Dot have really struggled with that. I can’t even explain it. I wouldn’t describe us as being buttoned up but we were the kind of people who like something would happen, and then it would only be a month later, we’d be like, “Wait a minute, what the fuck just happened? That was really annoying and really not cool”. But I’m like, “Why is it taking us a month to realise this?” (laughs). Whereas I don’t know, maybe that’s not a British thing. Maybe that’s just a London Grammar thing.

MF: So with that in mind, when you sent that email to Dot and Dan, how did they respond to it? Were they surprised or were they a bit relieved that it was finally happening?

HR: It was the latter. For some reason, touring just made me a shell of a person. And I did have terrible stage fright for years. And I think that then led to them sometimes stepping into the leadership role because I just wasn’t healthy enough to do it. And I think when I actually felt healthy enough to do it, I think they did breathe a sigh of relief. I think it’s easier for them now.

It’s funny, we actually did this live recording of the album over the weekend, which was very emotional but it was amazing. And there was no audience there, obviously. It’s just like a live film of the record, essentially. And I felt pretty confident. I was quite confident on stage. And I turned around to look at them, and they looked absolutely terrified. I was like, have I just never noticed how scared they’ve been as well on stage this whole time (laughs). And, yeah, it was kind of funny. But I was like, maybe they’ve always been really nervous and I’ve just been thinking that I was always really nervous.

MF: With this newfound confidence and goal to be more open in your songwriting, was working on the new record liberating, daunting, scary? Or maybe all of the above?

HR: It was all of the above. I changed something within myself and definitely stood up to something within myself. Through making this album, I became more and more unafraid as the process went on. Sometimes I had a tendency to hide behind my own lyrics, especially on the second album. 90% of the album was just us three, recording in a bedroom. So it was very private. And I only really thought about the fact that people were going to hear it sort of very recently, probably just now actually. Now that I’m here talking to you.

MF: Did you feel like you were experimenting more or creating with less inhibition because of that?

HR: Yeah, definitely. 100%. And you hear that so much, actually. Apparently, Prince used to record his vocals on the shittiest mic in his bedroom. And I don’t know, that’s a rumour I’ve heard and sometimes I do think that that kind of rawness and that intimacy can actually capture a real magic and you can be in the fanciest studios with the best producers in the world, but it won’t capture that necessarily.

MF: After speaking with a few musicians over the last 12 months, I think a lot of them are feeling that way because they’ve found a love for this analogue creative process that has been forced on them as a result of the pandemic.

HR: Yeah, totally it. Yeah. And I hope that that continues.

MF: I know it’s like asking to pick your favourite child, but is there a track that’s especially meaningful to you because of that experience?

HR: I really do love them all, which is an amazing feeling. There are actually songs that didn’t make it onto the album that I’m really upset about still. I’d say my favourites at the moment are probably ‘Californian Soil’, ‘All My Love’, ‘America’ and ‘Talking’. The ones that aren’t necessarily the most “single-y”, the more alternative stuff. I guess they have this slight Americana sound that I’m really into and I think have probably the most vulnerability on them, lyrically.

MF: The record is bookended by ‘Californian Soil’ and ‘America’, and as you said, draws inspiration from that Americana sound. There has always been a bit of folklore around UK bands making it in the States, but what’s the significance of the US for this record?

HR: Yeah, definitely. I grew up consuming a lot of American culture. The big pop stars, the big movies, I just loved it all. And I think when I actually went there, I was very struck by how beautiful it is. The landscape is beautiful. And actually, some of the people there are the friendliest people that I’ve ever met in the world. But the poverty was the worst I’ve ever seen. I guess I just didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t expect to see that. And I saw some really horrible things. It just got me thinking about loads of stuff. I think it was just a bit of an eye-opener. And I think sometimes you absorb these things into your subconscious. And then they seem to have come out on this album, where I’m speaking about the death of the American dream. But also it’s a metaphor for my own personal experience. If that makes any sense at all? (Laughs).

MF: Yeah, totally. It’s like taking the rose coloured glasses off and seeing the American Dream for what it is. Californian Soil is also a feminist album. Can you talk a little about why it was so important to you to make a record through that lens, especially given the current state of the world?

HR: Yeah, I think that’s it. Everything that’s happened in the world, it has been a really scary time for women. I’m really, really, really sad. And I think the thing that is so sad about it is I’m like, I don’t want to have to talk about this stuff. Really, to be honest, I don’t want to keep going on about this stuff. Like women don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want to have to. And I think that’s really sad that it’s taken up a lot of our energy. You know, feeling sad and worried. It’s so all-consuming. I guess seeing what was going on in the world, combined with my own personal experience. I was like, I literally cannot sing about anything else. So if I’m going to go for it, I’m going to really go for it and say exactly what it is that I want to say.

Then it’s always a slightly complicated relationship. I think when you’re an artist, when you’re saying something that is kind of political, you then have to prepare yourself for the questions that you’re going to get asked. I kind of felt ready for that. I am ready to speak about stuff now. Maybe I was very guarded at the start of our career, especially in interviews. But I’m slightly less now.

MF: You’ve described this album as a labour of love rather than necessity. Why was that so this time and how was that different to your previous experiences?

HR: I think we locked ourselves away from any pressure. We felt the pressure on the second record. That first album was just such a zeitgeist thing. There are parts of the second album that I just absolutely love, and funnily enough within our fan base, I feel like that probably is the cult album that forevermore will probably be our fan’s favourite. The B-sides on Truth is A Beautiful Thing. But for us, it felt a bit like if you’re going to evolve, you need to do it with a lot of courage and really evolve and really go for it and experiment a lot. So that’s why we shut ourselves away from any pressure. And we didn’t play anything to anyone for a long time.

MF: Now that it’s almost out and you’re making plans to tour the album, how are you feeling?

HR: I’m so excited. And I never felt really excited about releasing an album before. I think the first one I was just like, “Okay, well I guess I’m releasing an album because I signed a record deal”, like “I can’t believe that happened” (laughs). But you never expect anything will come from it. And then the second one, I was just like, “Oh God, everyone’s gonna hate it.” The difficult second album, like what the hell? And then this one, I’m just so excited about it, which is really nice.

MF: Third time’s the charm! You’ve just announced a 2022 Australian tour as well! After playing it live on the weekend, are there any that you’re especially excited to perform to a crowd when you get back on the road?

HR: Um, all of them? I know that’s just the worst answer (laughs). But I’m really excited by a song called ‘I Need The Night’. That was the most fun for me. I think my lyrics in it make it fun for me. Honestly, coming to Australia is the first thing we always want to do. And so we’re trying to make it happen, but it obviously just depends on COVID. But even if it meant quarantining, I think we still, we probably will. So I don’t want to make any promises. But I think it will happen. That’s my feeling.

‘Californian Soil’ is due for release this Friday, 16th April. Pre-order here. This week, the UK trio have announced that they’ll be making their long-awaited return to Australia in February 2022. See tour dates below. 

London Grammar 2022 Australian TourSaturday, 19th February

Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth

Tickets: Secret SoundsTuesday, 22nd February

Riverstage, Brisbane

Tickets: Secret Sounds

Thursday, 24th February

Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne

Tickets: Secret Sounds

Saturday, 26th February

Aware Super Theatre, Sydney

Tickets: Secret Sounds

Tuesday, 1st March

Entertainment Centre Theatre, Adelaide

Tickets: Secret Sounds

Must Read