London Grammar’s melancholy chill-out pop, with its blend of wan melody and gently pattering trip hop rhythms, has been one of the musical triumphs of the past year. The trio, who met at Nottingham University in 2009, saw their 2013 debut album If You Wait reach number two in the UK and go top 20 around the world.
Their success has led to numerous festival appearances, invitations to appear on American TV and in US Vogue, as well as two sold-out dates at the Brixton Academy this summer. But, before that, comes the Brit Awards nomination for this week’s ceremony in the Best British Breakthrough category, along with Disclosure, Bastille and Laura Mvula.
And London Grammar guitarist Dan Rothman has been busily preparing for the Brits. “I’ve just had a brand new suit tailored for me by two Polish ladies who needed a translator because they didn’t speak a word of English,” he explains down the phone from a hotel room in Birmingham, where London Grammar have just played one of their biggest gigs to date at the 02 Academy. “I haven’t had a suit fitted in my life. Actually, it’s my first new one since my barmitzvah.”
North Londoner Rothman, 24, grew up in Mill Hill and Hendon and attended JFS — his first year there was the school’s last in Camden before the move to Kenton. He took the bus to school every day, feeling safe in the suburbs, more so than he did travelling to Camden. “I never got picked on, even though I was only a little kid.”
His barmitzvah was in Borehamwood and although his synagogue attendance has since been erratic, he carries his Jewishness with him wherever he goes. “I’m incredibly proud to be Jewish.”
Last year, he did his best to observe Yom Kippur while playing a festival on a bill with the likes of Chic, Manic Street Preachers and James Blake. “It was Yom Kippur and I had this terrible Jewish guilt because I wasn’t at shul,” he recalls, “so I thought I might as well fast”.
Rothman reveals that of all the London Grammar members, he discusses his religion more often than vocalist Hannah Reid or keyboardist/drummer Dominic “Dot” Major talk about their Christianity.
“I haven’t exactly tried to convert them but they’re getting into it,” he says. “They use a lot of Yiddish words because of me.”
But then his band colleagues have spent a lot of time with Jews. If You Wait was largely written and recorded in the garage of Rothman’s home, in the shadow of Hasmonean High School, where he still lives with his mother, a kindergarten teacher, and stepfather, who deals in antique silverware.
He was studying economics and philosophy at Nottingham when he met Major and Reid. Major was in the year below the other two and completing his finals at the same time that they were finishing If You Wait in London.
Rothman had been in bands before and had all but given up on his dream of a career in music. He assumed he would probably become a banker or something vaguely related to his degree.
“I knew kids in bands who had been signed, such as the guys from Bombay Bicycle Club — and with a previous band I’d been in, I’d played a gig with Cajun Dance Party,” he reminisces. “I remember both of them getting signed and thinking: ‘I’m 18, my chance has gone now.’ Then I met Hannah, who was obviously an incredible vocalist. I was pretty lucky.”
Now everyone from US actor-comedian Zach (Scrubs) Braff to magician Dynamo has been tweeting about London Grammar and they’ve received a platinum disc for 300,000 sales for their album. Yet Rothman’s mother would rather he didn’t hide his light so conspicuously under a bushel.
“She’s a bit fed up with me because I’ve put the disc under the bed for now because I didn’t want it to get damaged,” he says. “She wants to show it off!”
Apart from an incident last year when Radio 1 had to apologise to Reid after inviting listeners to tweet whether she was “fit” — upsetting the shy, self-conscious singer in the process — London Grammar’s rise has been largely trouble-free. But not all the trappings of success suit Rothman. He was, for instance, amused to have been featured alongside Reid and Major in a fashion photo-spread for America’s style bible.
“That was hilarious,” he says. “I thought it was so funny that this short Jewish kid from Hendon was in American Vogue. Hannah looked really beautiful — she looks like a model anyway — and Dot’s got a model thing going on as well. But I looked ridiculously out of place.”
He acknowledges the strangeness of performing London Grammar’s moody, intensely personal songs in front of large audiences, particularly for Reid, who is responsible for the lyrics. It accounts for her “terrible stage fright”, he explains. And yet conversely it is Reid’s heart-on-sleeve confessionals that have connected with so many.
“She has the ability to write really personal lyrics that relate to a lot of people,” he decides of darkly compelling anthems such as Wasting My Young Years, although he believes London Grammar’s “spokespeople for a generation” tag has been somewhat overplayed. And yet there’s no denying the power of Reid’s pithily insightful examinations of the human condition. “A lot of the songs are about past relationships and her family life, but there is also a general fascination with human psychology. I think that’s what she would have done if she hadn’t become a musician.”
Rothman wasted his own young years selling advertising space in a call centre in Finchley. These days, he thanks his lucky stars he doesn’t have a nine-to-five job. Instead, he’s in a platinum-selling band, is about to tour the States for six weeks and is happily settled with a Jewish girl from Edgware he met at Nottingham and who now works in human resources at Dorothy Perkins.
“She’s really cool about me going away for long periods,” he says. “She keeps me grounded, which is good. In fact, she tells me if I’m being a dick.”
Life could not be much better for Rothman. Or as he puts it, preparing to head off for another gig in a prestigious venue, this time in Bristol: “It’s alright, innit?”