While most brothers and sisters argue like cat and dog and often don’t like spending too much time together (or is that just me and my siblings?!), Clyde and Gracie Lawrence are an exception. As the front-man and front-woman of their band, Lawrence, who released their debut album Breakfast earlier this year, the pair have been inseparable from a young age thanks to their shared love of music.
Inspired by Stevie Wonder and Janis Joplin among many others, the Lawrence siblings have had their fair share of success over the years, with credits to their name on both the stage and screen. Now, as they focus on their music, they look set to win over a whole new army of fans and kindly agreed to this interview to chat dream shows, perfect songs and ultimate ambitions. They also shared an exclusive video of what the recording process was like when they were in the studio with renowned producer Eric Krasno of Soulive and Lettuce.
PW: How would you sum up your band in a couple of sentences?
Clyde: Stevie Wonder meets Randy Newman meets Christina Aguilera meets Jewish Gospel meets Sweatpants Soul meets a college basement.
PW: How did you meet your band-mates? Were you all friends beforehand or did you
Gracie: Clyde and I have been playing music together forever because we’re siblings. When I was two and Clyde was six we met our neighbor, Jordan Cohen, and we started playing music with him... and now he’s the bari/tenor sax player in our band. And we met our drummer Sam in middle school.
C: There have been tons of really great people and musicians in the band over the years, and a lot of them remain in the extended band family. But all the current members of the band other than me, Gracie and Jordan are friends of mine from college. We were seeking out a group of people who were both stellar musicians and also people who we could see ourselves living in a van with, and we were lucky enough to find it.
PW: Which bands and artists did you grow up listening to and how did they influence
you? Have such influences changed over the years?
C: Our parents have great taste in music, and there was always music playing in our living room. So, really, we were raised more on stuff from the 60’s and 70’s than the stuff that was on the radio during our own childhood. Lots of Motown, lots of classic rock, lots of old-school Brill Building-era stuff, and of course tons of The Beatles. Our influences have largely remained the same, but there have been some major discoveries that have definitely guided us in new and different ways. Like when I heard D’Angelo for the first time, I felt like I was totally being exposed to a whole new way that music could hit you emotionally, and I was immediately aware that it was going to change my approach a bit going forward. Same thing when I first heard Chance The Rapper.
G: My parents knew early on that I wanted to be a singer and a performer, and they made sure that in addition to the Britney and Christina that I loved in the early 2000s when I was super little - and still love - that I was exposed to phenomenal soul singers like Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and even younger soul singers like Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse. In general, the current artists that we really love seem to have similar influences, but bring a modern-pop flare to that old-school sound -- like Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce.
PW: When did you first realize you wanted to be performers?
C: Gracie was always a natural performer. I was always amazed and impressed by how comfortable she was in that role since we were literally babies. That was never really my thing, and honestly wasn’t ever my goal growing up. Same deal with singing. Song-writing was my main passion, and I really only sang and performed as a way of getting my songs out there. It wasn’t until late high school when I realized that being a lead singer/frontman was something that appealed to me, and something that I could be good at. I still really look up to Gracie in that respect though, and I’m always trying to get better at it.
G: And I’ve gone on sort of the opposite journey - going from just being a singer/performer to becoming a songwriter, as well. But like Clyde said, I’ve sort of known from day 1 that I wanted to be a performer. I started acting and singing at a really young age and still nothing gives me a greater thrill than being in front of a crowd of people and fully committing and expending all of my energy with the hope that the audience connects and rebounds that energy back to you... which I know sounds sort of hippie-dippie-pseudo-science-y of me, but I secretly really feel all of that.
PW: As siblings, how easy/hard is it for the two of you to get along in an ever
competitive, stressful industry? Do you balance each other out when things get
C: Yeah, if anything I think us being siblings makes it easier. We get along really well — we somehow managed to avoid a lot of the classic sibling tensions. And our shared upbringing, both musically and generally, allows us to have a real shorthand. We can basically look at each other and know what the other is thinking.
G: On stage the other day, Clyde gave me a look, and I immediately thought, “Oh, he doesn’t want to sing the harmonies that we’re supposed to sing together in unison coming up.” In retrospect, I have no idea how or why I perceived that from just making eye contact with him, but it turns out that that’s exactly what he was trying to tell me. It’s kind of freaky.
PW: What would you say each of you brings to the group?
C: Plaid. And cough drops.
G: And Clyde brings talent, beauty, and charisma...did I say Clyde? I meant me.
PW: Is there a band or artist out there you think you sound most similar to?
C: We get comparisons to lots of different artists, singers and songwriters. So it’s hard to pin down one specifically. But I think the goal is that we draw from a lot of different artists, past and present, and hopefully combine them in a way that feels fresh and exciting.
PW: Clyde, how does it feel to be the youngest ever member admitted to the
Songwriters Guild of America, having been six at the time?
C: I don’t think I was ever the youngest; just the youngest at the time. Either way, it was definitely cool.
PW: Tell us about your work for Miss Congeniality - how did you go about it and how
long did it take?
C: Our dad was involved with the movie, and they needed a song that felt like an authentic theme for a beauty pageant. They had received lots of submissions, but they weren’t happy with anything they had. Even though I was young, I think that I was good at hearing a certain type of song-writing, understanding what is was doing and how it was doing it, and writing things that feel like it. So my dad played me some of the stuff they were going for, and I did my best to write something that felt similar, but memorable. That sort of “writing on assignment” thing is something I still really enjoy.
PW: Gracie, you've done Broadway, and been on TV and the silver screen. Can you tell us a little about some of the things you've been in?
G: When I was 12, I was in the revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway -- it was a short-lived, but amazing experience. Some of my TV and film credits include small parts in The Good Wife, The Americans, The Sitter and Did You Hear About the Morgans? Now, I try to do a lot of improv and sketch comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade.
PW: How have those experiences shaped you both and influenced the music you
G: I feel like performing skills are transferable between acting and singing - so the more I do one or the other, I feel more present and confident in both. And then, as a songwriter and as a writer in general, acting in projects like Brighton Beach Memoirs taught me that everything basically boils down to good storytelling. Clyde and I always obsess over how effectively we’re telling a story, both melodically and lyrically, in our song-writing.
PW: You released your debut album Breakfast in March. For those who haven't heard
it, how would you sum it up?
G: That’s a tough task to summarize the whole album, but when we were making it we kept saying, “let’s make soul-pop music that feels like old-school song-writing and has old-school sounds -- but on steroids.” I know that sounds stupid, but what that really means is that we tried to make Breakfast as explosive as pop music in the current landscape, and as groovy and emotional as pop music from the generations before us.
C: We had this goal of making it so that each song - and the album as a whole - could come on at a party right after a great record from the 60’s and feel good, but at the same time that it could come on right after a great record from right now and also feel good. It’s a tough thing to do, but I’m proud of where it ended up. And a lot of the credit is due to our producer Eric Krasno - look him up if you’re not aware of how much of a badass he is - as well as Jordan Cohen, our tenor sax player, and Jonny Koh, our guitarist, who also received producer credits on the project.
PW: Do you have a favorite track on the collection and if so, which is it and why?
C: It’s tough because I like them all in different ways. Ultimately, I might be most proud of “Play Around,” because it feels the most personal, and I think the way it builds is different than our other songs, so it felt very fresh to me when I was writing it.
G: For the same reason, I’ll say that “Misty Morning” is my favorite - from a song-writing standpoint, it was the most personal for me. I also really like the way it turned out production-wise.
PW: How easy/hard do you find the song-writing process and who/what most inspires
C: It’s both incredibly easy and incredibly hard. The way I approach it, it’s basically musical storytelling, so inspiration is anything that makes you want to tell a story, whether it’s something massively important that you’re dealing with in your life or something totally trivial. Or something you read about or heard someone else talking about. Or even a single turn of phrase or bit of melody that sparks something.
G: I think the difficulty in writing genuinely catchy hooks is underrated. Sure, sometimes a hook will just pop into your head, but contextualizing it and making it work is a hard feat. In that sense, I think pop music, in general, is harder to write than most may assume, and I admire artists like Stevie Wonder or Carole King, or even Bruno Mars, who have mastered the ability to combine memorable, hook-y moments with substantive and soulful song-writing.
PW: Which song, in your opinion, is the greatest ever written and why?
C: That’s so hard to say. “Hey Jude” comes to mind. So does “The Warmth Of The Sun” or “For Once In My Life.” Ultimately, I’d probably have to go with “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman. It’s so life-affirming and heart-breaking at the same time. And it’s so simple, too.
G: I also don’t have an answer to that question, but the first song I was really moved by is “I Will” by The Beatles. I don’t know if I have a specific reason, but I just find it touching. And then in a totally different direction, one of my favorite songs to listen to right now is Sly and The Family Stone’s cover of “Que Sera Sera,” which we also cover.
PW: You've sold out a lot of your shows while on tour in the US and have opened for
Blues Traveler, but if you could play one venue anywhere in the world, which
would it be and why?
C: I’ve always said that my two dream venues were The Beacon Theatre and Summerstage in Central Park, because those are the venues I grew up walking by in our neighborhood in Manhattan. Crazily enough, we’re getting the chance to play Summerstage in September, opening for Vulfpeck and Eric Krasno.
G: I agree with both of those. Growing up in New York City, that’s where we went to see live music, so becoming one of the artists who gets to play at one of those venues is nuts.
PW: Of all the shows you've played, could you pick a favorite?
C: We’ve played so many great ones. Just because it’s fresh on my mind, I’m going to have to give a shout-out to the show we just played. We opened for KT Tunstall on July 4th in a giant barn on a farm in Maquoketa, Iowa in front of more than five hundred people and tons of cows. Enough said.
G: I don’t think I’ve ever felt more famous than when we performed two years ago at Camp Beth Sholom for a couple hundred 6-year-olds and I told them that I was also Jewish. I became Snapchat friends with a lot of 6-year-old girls that day.
PW: If you could share a stage with four other bands or artists, who can be living or
dead, who would they be and why?
C: This is too hard. Pass...
G: Really tough. Maybe Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Etta James, Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin. I know that’s 6, but deal with it. If we were all on the same stage I’d also maybe throw in those YouTube girls that went viral for singing “Hot Girls We Have Problems Too” as sort of a social experiment/curveball.
PW: You've played several festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo and have more coming up, but is there any one
in particular you're most looking forward to?
C: Wanderlust in Squaw Valley, CA is going to be pretty epic since we’re playing two shows in two days, and it will probably also be my first foray into the yoga game.
PW: Are there any plans for you to head overseas and play in Europe?
C: I hope it happens soon. It’s definitely something we’ve discussed. We’ve got a huge band, so getting eight people and all their equipment to Europe and back is an undertaking, so we just have to make sure we do it right.
G: I hope so, too. That’d be pretty amazing.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and do you agree that it's necessary for
bands and artists today?
C: It’s absolutely necessary these days. On one hand, it’s a bummer because it makes it less about the music and more about the brand. One the other hand, it’s great because it allows a band to connect more with their audience than ever before. Ideally, you make it so that your social media presence works well in tandem with your music, so that it feels like it’s all organic and coming from the same place.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
C: Touring, writing, playing Settlers of Catan, and watching the Mets.
G: Touring, writing, and learning how to play Settlers of Catan so I’m not an embarrassment to the family name. And finally reading the rest of the Harry Potter books so I’m not an embarrassment to our little brother.
PW: Finally then, where would you like to see yourselves five years from now and what would you like your lasting musical legacy to be?
C: We want to be the people who make pop music good again. We grew up listening to the pop music of another time, and it was music that told good stories in engaging ways. Pop music is so hated on these days, and I get that, because so much of it is really not very good, but pop music can be great. We want to make the music that we think pop music should sound like.
Check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip of Gracie in the studio recording vocals here and for more information on Lawrence, follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Their album Breakfast is available now on itunes.