We asked the violinist from Clean Bandit if he’s sick of that song yet
There’s somewhere he’d rather be
Clean Bandit have been massive ever since hit single Rather Be stormed the charts back in January 2014.
After some heavy-duty arse-licking, supplication, nepotism and violent blackmail, The Tab managed to bag an interview with pop’s coolest violinist, Neil Amin-Smith of Clean Bandit.
What is it like being an international musical phenomenon? Take the compliment.
That’s very sweet, I don’t know if I would describe myself as that. It has been quite a crazy eighteen months, since Rather Be came out, and we’ve just been taking that song around the world. It’s been incredible, like the places we’ve got to go and stuff – Cuba, Tokyo…
Do you still like playing Rather Be or are you sick to death of it? It’s played everywhere.
Yeah! I mean, I wouldn’t choose to put it on. But playing it is still an amazing thing, because although it’s been a while since it came out, the reaction is always insane. Most of the people hearing it at gigs have never heard it live, and as soon as the violin starts at the beginning, they know what it is and start singing. It’s an amazing feeling. Every time.
The band’s been quite extra-curricular with its use of the music. Your song Rather Be was used to advertise Marks and Spencer: how do you feel about that? Are you an M&S shopper?
I used to treat myself with fruit from M&S during exam time, but I don’t tend to go there that much if I’m honest. I’m never at home so don’t really cook.
On the subject of adverts… you guys did that Cortana thing.
*makes a face*
What’s that face for? Whose idea was that?
Umm.. I don’t really know. I guess it must have been Microsoft’s idea.
Do you use Cortana?
*laughs* No. It’s really hard to make decisions in this industry because you have your record label and your management and they all want you to do certain things and not to do certain things – you don’t know how it will play out.
The main reason we did that was because we were persuaded that it would be a good way to bring more attention to the band, make more people listen to the album, and it did.
But in retrospect, if I was advising myself now, I would be like, don’t do that, because I don’t give a shit about Nokia Lumia, and I don’t really, when I actually think about it, feel very comfortable about endorsing a massive corporation like that. I’ve never said that in an interview before!
Talk to me about Cambridge: what did you read?
My undergrad was in History, and then I did a Masters in Economics.
Of course you did… I remember hearing you play a Bach concerto in Jesus Chapel there, and remember thinking how crazy it was that an undergrad could play like that. Were you a child prodigy? I’m expecting the answer yes, so don’t be ashamed.
I started very young, so my sister and I were playing when we were like two. I recently found my old violin, which was about that big.
That’s very small. About the size of a shoe. Very sweet. Did you like Cambridge though?
Umm, yeah. I sort of loved it. It’s hard now because I wish I was there, and I look back on it so fondly and nostalgically. But it is hard to remember exactly how it was. I can remember being, not emotionally, but rationally unhappy at times, but the emotions it provoked in me are all positive.
How did the whole Cambridge experience compare to Westminster? Is it the massive hothouse we hear about or was it fairly relaxed?
No no, it’s not a hothouse really, I don’t think Cambridge was either. I basically did no homework in sixth form, we didn’t really get homework. It was quite relaxed. I wouldn’t say I loved Westminster, but it was quite relaxed and there were some great teachers.
Cambridge is also where you formed Clean Bandit.
Yeah, Grace, the cellist in the band, and I had sort of known each other since I was about ten, but we weren’t friends then. We met Jack at university and then Luke is Jack’s little brother and he got roped in a couple of years later.
How do you get on with your family? Have you bought your parents a bungalow yet?
I mean, I can’t even buy myself a bungalow yet, sadly. When I was little I always used to tell my mum I’d buy her a car, but I don’t think I can even afford to do that. One day…
What do you think is the next big thing for you and for the band? Another album on the go?
Yeah, there is! We are supposed to be recording some stuff this week, but I don’t know if we’ll get round to it. There will definitely be an album next year and probably in the first half – fingers crossed.
Okay, can I ask you about your love life? On the table? Off?
I mean, it’s very out there!
You’re dating Olly Alexander from Years and Years. How did you meet?
We met because Years and Years supported Clean Bandit on our UK tour last October, so we met on that tour.
What’s it like having a relationship with another musician?
Being musicians is great because we can just talk about music loads and that’s really fun. Olly and I both love pop music and listened to loads when we were children, so we reminisce a lot. I guess the hard thing is just being in a relationship where you’re already someone who’s away the whole time, and when you both are it just makes it that bit harder.
This section of the interview is the Rather Be section, where I ask you a series of ‘would you rathers’…
Would you rather be in North Korea or Syria?
North Korea. Definitely. I’m so intrigued by North Korea. I think last year they released a new propaganda video, it’s so exciting, I want to go, I want to be there.
Would you rather be stuck in a lift with Donald Trump or Jeremy Corbyn?
Umm. Jeremy Corbyn. I love Jeremy Corbyn, I’m a fan. I’ll be lending him all the help I can on my social media.
Would you rather be in LA or London?
London. I hate LA. I have to go there sometimes, and when I do I sort of feel sad and hollow and lonely. I’m suspicious of anyone who says they love LA.
Which animal would you rather be: a cat or a dog?
Umm.. I think a cat. Well I would like to have cat characteristics. I’d like to be able to move like a cat and be as beautiful and as elegant. I’d like to look like a cat.
You are all those things, Neil.
That’s very sweet.
Would you rather be a snake or a rhino?
I think a rhino, because snakes a bit repulsive, aren’t they?
They’re a bit creepy. And finally, would you rather be a manatee or a naked mole rat.
I don’t know what either of those are.
A manatee? Like a sea cow?
Cows that swim?
Like walruses but not as offensive? Would you rather be a giant hippo swimming thing or a naked mole rat, which looks like a horrible penis with teeth?
Anything else you want to add?
Thank you! Umm.. I think we might have been invited to come speak at the Oxford Union… But I don’t know what’s happening about that. I’ll investigate.