All-encompassing, atmospheric sounds, and soaring vocals are the key ingredients for any London Grammar record, and as the British-trio returns with their third studio album, Californian Soil, it’s clear that the band intends to remain quintessentially London Grammar, although, this time, with a distinctly upbeat and joyous undertone.
Despite being the trio’s third studio album, and 2021 marking their 12th year as a band, releasing a record evokes a jumble of emotions: anxiety, anticipation, and excitement. “I’m so excited,” Hannah Reid tells EUPHORIA. “I’ve never been so excited about releasing one of our albums. We’ve also booked a tour for the end of the year, which is something that six months ago I thought was never going to happen. I feel good about it, but there is a huge amount of anxiety as well. I’ve just been doing this so long that I’m used to that. I’ve accepted that I’m probably not going to sleep for a month.”
Californian Soil is the band’s first album since 2017 and, as lead vocalist Reid explains, it’s their most upbeat record to date: “For this album, I basically wanted to channel any negativity and turn it into something really beautiful, and I think in doing that, this is the most upbeat album we have ever made.” The negativity Reid refers to was the initial driving force behind the writing of Californian Soil. From misogyny in the music industry and toxic relationships to falling ill with a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and excessive exhaustion, the record touches on a number of significant themes. When asked about the events that inspired Californian Soil, Reid reflects with stark honesty: “We were very young when we started, and I was quite green. I’m also an introvert, so I just battled with loads of small things, but it was constant every day. Around us, there were a lot of old-school mentalities, and that was really, really toxic to me.”
How Misogyny Inspired London Grammar’s Californian Soil
Included amongst the issues that inspired the writing on Californian Soil was the pressure many women feel to adjust their behavior or appearance to be taken seriously and avoid unsolicited sexualization. As a woman, feeling inappropriately sexualized is, unfortunately, commonplace and something that the London Grammar frontwoman knows all too well. “There were some occasions in the studio when I de-sexualized myself; I purposely wore jeans and jumpers or t-shirts,” Reid shares. “I even did that on stage too, because I’d had the experience of not being taken seriously as a musician so many times.” She continued with slight indignation, “When that happens enough, you do, as a woman, naturally start to adjust yourself around certain male personality types. But, I just wanted to be liked, and I wanted the art to be good.” Addressing these issues through music is a bold statement for London Grammar to make, but its necessity is undeniable.
With this in mind, Reid took the opportunity to praise those women who are fighting against that vicious cycle. “That’s why I’m obsessed with Lizzo! I just love the fact that she is a writer, a producer, and will also be there like ‘here’s me in my green bikini, and I’m gyrating on a rock.’ I think she’s great,” she says.
Hannah Reid on Her Health and Fibromyalgia
Aside from her experiences as a female in the music industry, Reid’s health has been a central focus for London Grammar’s recent work. Life with chronic illness is never simple, and when coupled with working in such a fast-paced and sometimes outdated industry that is often associated with long and late hours, fibromyalgia can spell disaster. “The music industry is still run by loads of old white guys, it is getting better, but it is still run by old white guys with old-school attitudes,” she says. “That coupled with overworking myself and not managing things in the way that I should, resulted in me kind of having a physical breakdown. I ended up getting fibromyalgia, and I got extremely sick.”
While the singer did reassure me that her health has drastically improved, it took time and effort to get to this stage. Speaking about her battle with fibromyalgia, Reid shares, “I have a lot of support around me, and everyone knows that I have to look after my health as a number one priority. It’s the most important thing because if my health goes, the music goes.”
She continued, explaining how she took control of the condition, “I ended up being a raw vegan for about a year. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but it was kind of extraordinary too. By doing that, I went from being very sick to being able to run. Although I don’t think it was just the diet that impacted fibromyalgia. I think there are a few things that contributed to it, such as previous viruses, high doses of antibiotics, high-stress levels, and all the other things we’ve been talking about, like putting up with all the shit that I was. I think all of those things combined ended up causing it.”
London Grammar Grapple With Poignant Themes
With such emotional topics to contend with, moments of anger and sadness are evident on Californian Soil. London Grammar’s candid songwriting style is so valuable, but as Reid suggests, it can also be a double-edged sword. “In a really deep, cathartic way, writing about such emotional topics is really liberating. Then, sometimes, when I’m out on the road, and I’m singing those songs, again and again, I find lots of tears in the front rows, then it starts to affect me.”
“Lord It’s a Feeling” is a fierce example of London Grammar’s candid style. The track is led by stark lyrics and cutting synths, and in her own words, Reid says, “On ‘Lord It’s a Feeling,’ the lyrics are quite upfront and I’m quite angry.” However, in other moments, those frank feelings of frustration and anger are channeled through much softer poeticism. “I Need the Night” is the perfect example of that. Listening to the ethereal track feels like being told a story, and the song has an imposing metaphorical strength. “I Need the Night” may not be as direct as “Lord It’s a Feeling,” but the track is irrefutably impactful.
London Grammar’s Collaborators on Californian Soil
After delving into the darker themes on Californian Soil, Reid followed up by highlighting all of the joyous and positive experiences that contributed to the record. “Some people are really enlightened, and I also have met some really lovely men who I have absolutely loved working with,” she says. “Obviously, my bandmates [Dot and Dan] are included in that. Some men genuinely self-reflect, talk very openly and admit that they definitely did or thought certain things. So, I think the industry is changing loads, and it’s changing really quickly,” Reid explains with delight.
Notably, one of these positive experiences was London Grammar’s collaboration with Steve Mac. A multi-award-winning British producer and songwriter, Mac has not only worked on some of the decade’s most successful pop tracks but is also a London Grammar-certified great guy. Speaking of the band’s experience working alongside the acclaimed producer on their track “How Does It Feel,” Reid says, “I took ‘How Does It Feel’ to Steve Mac, who is a very well-known songwriter in the UK, and I was very nervous because of everything I’d been through up to that point, but he turned out to be absolutely lovely. We had some great conversations, he’s very open-minded and pretty woke, and then we wrote this song together.”
Starting out purely as an experiment, “How Does It Feel” subsequently became one of the most sonically jubilant and upbeat songs on Californian Soil. However, the track’s perfectly unapologetic pop sound initially concerned the band. “At first, I was worried ‘How Does It Feel’ was too poppy for London Grammar, but then, I realized the whole album had been such an experiment, and this is a part of that. Now, our fans really love it,” Reid says.
Mac wasn’t the only industry-renowned producer that worked with London Grammar on Californian Soil, though. George Fitzgerald also had a hand in helping the trio create the uplifting electronic track “Baby It’s You,” and arguably the album’s most freeing and empowering offering “Lose Your Head.” While London Grammar’s relationship with external producers is an important one, it is something only explored in the finishing stages of a track. “Producers get involved in the process very late on,” Reid says. “We worked for a long time, probably about a year, getting demos and songs together. Then, with ‘Baby It’s You’ and ‘Lose Your Head,’ we sent the songs to George Fitzgerald and asked if he could add a bit of magic to the songs, and he did absolutely add his magic. I think we’ll always probably work like that. The organic demo will always come from us three.”
Joy and Freedom Are Overwhelming Themes on Californian Soil
Californian Soil may be, at times, topically heavy, but throughout the record, the predominant undertone is that of joy, freedom, and strength. The album’s title track, “Californian Soil,” takes a deep dive into those themes of strength and freedom. The song’s soothing beat is almost enough to put you in a trance, and it is simple to see why it became the focus of the album: The title track is an ode to getting lost and finally coming out the other side.
Another standout moment is “All My Love,” a serene and captivating track that’s one of Californian Soil’s most impressive examples of Reid’s vocal control. “On ‘All My Love,’ there is so much joy,” Reid says. “It was really fun to create that signature, very emotional, London Grammar song, where the lyrics are actually about falling in love and healing.” In this, Reid is completely correct; “All My Love” does sound like a classic London Grammar song. What’s changed is Reid’s decision to be vulnerable, and in that decision, she uncovered a wealth of beauty.
Upon hearing Californian Soil, it is easy to recognize the surface-level contrast between the record’s moments of bliss and its elements of anger, but dig just a bit deeper, and those disparities begin to wane. Finding a way out of darkness and coming out the other side is at the core of every song. Some of those songs may indulge feelings of frustration to a greater extent, but eventually, each comes to the same conclusion: freedom. On this highly anticipated third album, London Grammar’s songwriting is the most open and liberated it has ever been. The band has taken this opportunity to elevate Reid’s voice, and in doing so, have opened a beautiful and poignant commentary.