Californian Soil

Californian Soil

Hannah Reid wasn’t in a great place when London Grammar began working on their third album towards the end of 2017. Over the previous year, the release of the trio’s second LP, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing, and subsequent tour had thrown up experiences that fostered her disillusionment with the music industry—not least the sexism she regularly encountered. The singer/multi-instrumentalist was also living with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia. But it was precisely because of this low that Reid could forge a path towards Californian Soil. Lacking the energy to keep considering external opinions and expectations, she focused on what she wanted to express as a songwriter—and saying it more explicitly than before. “It was so liberating,” she tells Apple Music. “I was like, ‘Even if this album is never released, or I decide that I can’t do this anymore, I may as well say whatever it is that I want to say.’ In doing that, I felt a lot of strength come back to me as a person.” That unfettered attitude carried over into making the music. Jam sessions with bandmates Dan Rothman and Dot Major birthed the trio’s richest and most adventurous album to date, stretching from the neon-lit pop of “How Does It Feel” to the spartan ballad “America.” In between, collaborating with house maestro George FitzGerald brings dance-tent sparkle to “Baby It’s You” and “Lose Your Head.” “We did things where we were, ‘We’re going to make something that the world is never going to hear. Let’s just do it for us,’” says Reid. “Just messing about—which has made it different.” Here, she takes us though the experience, track by track. “Intro” “That string part had been floating about for a while. I wanted it to be a strong introduction to the album, and it’s also the antithesis of ‘Californian Soil’ in some ways. I loved the fact that there was the intro then it went straight into that beat and guitar part [on ‘Californian Soil’]. That is what I wanted for the album as a whole—that juxtaposition.” “Californian Soil” “Dan’s guitar part is so different. There’s a different kind of energy going on. It was like we had nothing left to lose. Nature and landscape have quite a lot of importance to me in terms of my writing. This is not a comment so much on California, but it was meant to be about something really, really beautiful, a landscape or a place. But then my lyrics are quite dark. I guess that’s what I wanted to say throughout the whole album, and it starts with ‘Californian Soil.’” “Missing” “We wrote this song but I was doing spoken word over the top. That did not make the record because it was just ridiculous. But then we took it and then made something a bit more in the world of London Grammar.” “Lose Your Head” “It touches upon emotionally manipulative relationships and toxicity. I know men do experience this as well, but I was speaking about it from a female point of view. All my girlfriends, really, have experienced that kind of thing at some point. Sometimes I’ll write a song that is actually about a story that somebody else is telling me, a friend perhaps, and that’s what this song is about.” “Lord It’s a Feeling” “It was the same thing [manipulative relationships and toxicity]—I think what affected me so much in my twenties, and my personal experience of the music industry. It’s a bit of a fuck-you song. And I do swear in it, which people will not be expecting from a nice, very middle-class lady. But it just came out and I was like, ‘On the second album I would have really second-guessed myself.’ You have to make yourself vulnerable to do that, but the payback is greater, because if you make something that other people listen to and connect with, it’s like you’ve actually done something for somebody else, rather than just write a song for yourself.” “How Does It Feel” “This is the most different for London Grammar, I think. It’s much more poppy. I was encouraged to do a writing session with Steve Mac [a co-writer with Ed Sheeran, Louis Tomlinson, and Sigrid], and I was a bit nervous about it. But I was like, ‘I’m going to do it because this record is all about experimentation.’ He was such a breath of fresh air. The lyrics are still kind of dark, but I love the fact that it’s upbeat. I hope people can one day sing along with it at a festival. It’s the mixture of being happy and sad at the same time.” “Baby It’s You” “This was one the boys wrote together. I turned up at the studio and they’d made this amazing piece of music. Listening to it, I was just like, ‘Ah, I'm just at a festival.’ It gave me such a feeling of being in love, newly in love, and stuff like that. The lyrics came out quite naturally.” “Call Your Friends” “I had that chorus for a long time. Again, it went through a few different versions. It’s one that I go back to again and again. I’m not sure if we ever got that song quite right. It is about being in love and finding yourself in that.” “All My Love” “I’d written this on the piano and then we produced together as a band. This is maybe the most powerful song on the album. It does still have a bit of darkness in there, but it is, again, about falling in love. The amazing guitar part at the end is one of my favorite things that Dan’s ever done. It has so much emotion to it. It’s like the guitar is another voice—he takes over and sings the rest of the song. Then the atmospherics and all the additional production that Dot did just was so sympathetic to the mood.” “Talking” “Dot wrote the piano part, not even in five minutes but almost instantaneously, quite a long time ago. It was floating around on the second album process, and I loved it so much. But nobody else was really that keen. External influences made us lose confidence in it, and when I went back and listened to the demo, I was like, ‘This is amazing. What is wrong with us? We’re going to make it work this time.’ It reminds me of the first album. Our music’s moved on, but I’m so glad we have these moments that remind me of that time too.” “I Need the Night” “I wouldn't really even know what genre to put it in—and that is, I hope, the good thing about where our music has moved on to. Similarly to ‘Californian Soil,’ it was a loop that Dan had, of a beat and a guitar part. Together as a band, we built around that loop. It has a slight Americana darkness to it.” “America” “To be honest, I don’t really know where it came from. It was one of the first ones that I wrote. I wrote it at my piano, and I was very emotional. It just came out, all the lyrics just came out. Now that I’m being asked about that song again, I’m like, ‘What was that song about?’ I guess it is about loads of different things. It means a lot to me. [The cricket noises at the start are] so emotive, because everyone has experienced that, when you’re outside in a beautiful place and there are crickets singing to you.”

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