In a recent New York Times video feature, Justin Bieber, Diplo, and Skrillex explain the creative process behind their song “Where Are Ü Now”, revealing that Bieber was physically disconnected from the actual production of the track. Of course, in the age of the cloud, that kind of separation is increasingly convenient and popular in the music industry—but, according to the songwriting brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure, it’s also overtly mechanical and potentially disingenuous.
“We will never write a song and then send it to someone and get them to sing it,” says Guy, speaking generally, at the very start of our interview. “We don’t just want to tell a singer what and who to sing about because we want them to really believe in what they’re singing.” That genuineness likely helped make their debut 2013 album Settle such a hit, reaching platinum status in their native UK and charting high around the world. They’ve since casually accrued megawatt collaborations with the likes of Miguel, the Weeknd, and Lorde for their sophomore release, Caracal.
While Settle had its fair share of barnburners, the new record feels bigger by design. The Lawrence brothers are meticulous producers who have quickly mastered pop’s clean sound—via complex drums and highly emotional major chords—while not turning saccharine. The songs on Caracal belong in your headphones when you’re pissed, when you’re happy, when you’re feeling. There’s a transmutable quality to them. To deliver that type of impact with every song, Disclosure recruited different vocalists for each one, always writing together and from scratch. In a pop world where the work of songwriting can become digitally fractured, they have found a way to truly marry the machine. The duo tell me about how each track on Caracal came to be, laying out the album’s themes and influences in the process.