Grace Chatto (centre) reminisces on studies at Cambridge, and to the state of student politics todayPomona Press

When I was given the opportunity to interview Clean Bandit I knew that it was too good to be true. Was I really going to get the chance to meet the chart-topping band and get the ultimate Instagram selfie? No. Embarrassingly, having already bragged to all my friends that I had virtually become the band’s fourth member, I discovered I would be conducting the interview over email. However I was still excited to pose some questions to Grace Chatto, cellist and singer from Clean Bandit, who I imagined, based on her Twitter feed, would provide some lively and controversial answers.

Chatto was recently in the news when the BBC blotted out a ‘Corbyn’ slogan from her t-shirt in their coverage of the One Love Manchester concert. Clearly passionately engaged, I couldn’t wait to ask her about her politics. However I began with some questions about her work, particularly the music videos that were (as bandmate Jack Patterson told the Telegraph in 2016) Clean Bandit’s original obsession. Chatto explains that for some songs, the videos remain the key focus and “the music is more like the soundtrack to the film.”

However, despite the creative cinematography of many of their music videos, Chatto explains that many were made on a tiny budget. Those for ‘Rather Be’ and ‘Dust Clears’ “were actually made for hardly any money – the money pretty much all went on flights to Japan and Sweden respectively. I produced them myself and Jack directed them himself. We came up with many ideas on location according to who we met and what happened.”

“We did all kinds of random jobs to try to make ends meet, because we really wanted to make our career as musicians”

Next I ask Chatto about the impact of her huge success on her lifestyle, and the experience of collaborating with famous artists like Zara Larsson and Sean Paul. I ask her about adjusting from living as a normal student to becoming a worldwide star. She disputes my suggestion that Cambridge is a “normal university experience,” stating that for her “it was totally heaven living in Cambridge and being in that environment. The years after that were really difficult: we lived in one tiny room and Jack built a bed that was high up so we could live underneath it in the day, with all our keyboards and mini studio. We did all kinds of random jobs to try to make ends meet, because we really wanted to make our career as musicians. Having success with our recent songs, especially this last year, has been absolutely amazing and we’ve had no problem at all adjusting to the lifestyle! It’s a gift.” 

The leads me to wonder about the difficult choice Chatto and her fellow members had to make on graduating from Cambridge and pursuing music over a conventional career path. I ask how the band possibly managed balanced their commitment to creative music with the daunting Cambridge workload? Chatto replied that ultimately students should always follow their heart over their head: “I think you always have to pursue what you love,” she states, “otherwise you won’t be good at it and you won’t enjoy your life. Life is so short, so it’s never a good idea to not do what you love. If you don’t know what you love at the time you leave university, that’s fine and you can just try stuff out and see where it takes you, but if you do know, then you have to do everything you can to make it happen. I never felt any pressure to do something more reliable (our parents were very supportive of the music idea) and I was never scared that this might not work out: if you think you can, you can.”

“Being at Cambridge was such a huge part of the band history”

Interestingly, she challenges my assumption that a Cambridge workload is a barrier to the pursuit of creativity and passion – she raves about Cambridge. “Being at Cambridge was such a huge part of the band history,” she explains – “there are so many incredible opportunities for musicians to develop alongside academic studies, and actually, so many more performance opportunities than at music college! The May Balls were an invaluable experience: being able to do our first gigs on big high-tech stages supporting people like Calvin Harris and Dizzee Rascal as opposed to most bands who have to go round pubs and stuff – I am so grateful for all of this.”

Finally we get political and I ask Chatto about how her Corbynista politics interact with her music and her public persona. Chatto feels that “we are at a critical moment for the country and the world. Politics is not separate to any of our lives: it IS life. Before Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the party, I was always fairly apathetic towards party politics because we were all born into the Britain that Margaret Thatcher built and in our life time the general elections have not meant much more than an argument about a 3% change in tax and spend priorities between the two main parties. But now that has all changed… we are in an emergency situation after hitting the rock bottom of 6 years of Conservative austerity that resulted in the shocking Brexit result.”

When asked if her politics influences her music, she highlights that “‘Rockabye’ is the only political song we’ve made, and it is probably my favourite! Particularly in the current climate, it felt important to draw attention to women who struggle to make ends meet and are forced to take desperate measures in order to give their children a shot at life.”

Chatto spares no punches for the Conservative government, and feels that it’s important for public figures to engage in the debate, ”especially as so much of the mainstream media are mates of the Tories and are used by them to deflect blame away from their government for the dreadful state the country is in. People need to look elsewhere to gain a more rounded opinion.”

Throughout the interview Chatto is honest and passionate about both her music and her politics. As I begin my final academic year in Cambridge and begin planning for my future, Chatto is an example that sometimes, the road less travelled leads to the greatest success.

Clean Bandit return to Cambridge at the Corn Exchange on the 30th October. Visit cleanbandit.co.uk for tickets

Sponsored links