While a New York-based soul-pop band known to craft catchy songs, the music is only one of the things that makes Lawrence such an interesting band. For those in favor of “family bands,” the leaders of Lawrence are siblings Clyde and Gracie Lawrence. Clyde was the youngest member to be admitted to the Songwriters Guild Of America, having received membership at age six for his Miss Congeniality composition; he later wrote for Music And Lyrics and The Rewrite. Gracie is an accomplished actress that has performed on Broadway (e.g. Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs) and in various TV and film projects (e.g. The Sitter, The Good Wife, The Americans).
But back to the music…Lawrence’s debut full-length album, Breakfast, went to #6 on the iTunes R&B charts on its day of release in March. Lead-off track “Do You Want To Do Nothing With Me?” not only offers up horn-based hooky and soulful pop, but references a relaxing day with HBO and Thai take-in without seeming joke-y. It’s everything you enjoy about Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, or Blood, Sweat & Tears, only coming from people who grew up using the Internet.
In support of Lawrence’s May 6 show at Rockwood Music Hall, Clyde and Gracie spoke to Downtown about Breakfast, the Rockwood show, and plenty more. The two need schooling in Yacht Rock, but other than that, they’re A-OK in my book. For more info on Lawrence – which also includes drummer Sam Askin, alto saxophonist Sumner Becker, tenor saxophonist Jordan Cohen, guitarist Jonny Koh, bassist Michael Karsh, and trumpeter Marc Langer – you can follow them via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Are there other Lawrence siblings?
Clyde Lawrence: We have a 12-year-old brother, Linus, who is by far the most talented member of our family, especially in terms of athletic ability and Star Wars knowledge.
Gracie Lawrence: It’s true, everyone likes him better than us, and he has a really nice voice, so due to popular demand, we started making videos where we sing three-part harmony arrangements of some of our favorite songs. We call them “Linus Lunes” videos because they come out every Monday; “lunes” in Spanish. And he’s also singing on “Come On, Brother” on our album, because Clyde wrote it as a letter to him when he left for college.
When did you realize that your sibling was a proper musical collaborator?
C: We’ve been playing together forever. Seriously we have videos of us playing together when I was four and she was one. When we were younger, Gracie was always more of a natural performer and a singer, whereas I never envisioned singing or being a frontman to be part of my dream. I was more into songwriting and playing instruments. Over time, I think we’ve learned a lot from each other, to the point where now the singing, performing, songwriting, arrangement are all shared close to evenly.
G: I don’t think I ever consciously thought of Clyde as a “proper musical collaborator,” just because we’ve grown up playing music together, and it’s always been so second-nature. People always ask us if it’s hard to work together, but I don’t really know how it would work any other way. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve learned a lot from him.
For someone who’s only seen one of your videos on YouTube, what should be expected from your upcoming show at Rockwood?
C: It will feel like you’re simultaneously in the Lawrence family living room and a college basement party. But with a much better sound system and a lot less mold.
What’s your favorite song to play live?
C: “Where It Started From.” Usually when you start a ballad, a bunch of people stop paying attention and start talking to their friends or checking their phone — that’s to be expected. But that song manages to get everyone to shut up and listen, despite starting out real quiet and soulful. And it builds like crazy, so that by the end, all of us in the band and the audience feel like we’ve been on a little journey together, and anyone who did choose to clock out at the beginning regrets not having been along for the ride.
G: It changes all the time, but I do love singing “Shot.” I think sometimes people mistake me for being dainty or meek because I’m still a teenager and I’m like five feet and the only girl in the band, but I don’t really get excited by the idea of being considered precious or fragile in any way. “Shot” definitely gives me an opportunity to show that.
What’s coming up for Lawrence after playing this show at Rockwood?
G: Directly after? I’m going to eat a slice of artichoke pizza, and then sleep for a solid 16 hours.
C: We’re home for a few weeks playing some college gigs in the Northeast, and then we embark on a full summer of touring. Lots of festivals, including a set at Bonnaroo, which we’re pretty stoked about.
Do all of your shows feature a full horn section? Or is there a scaled-down version of Lawrence ever on-stage?
C: Gracie and I do the occasional duet at a small cafe or bar, but other than that, Lawrence rolls deep. We tour with the full horn section, which is tons of fun because we get to fill tiny venues across the country with a pretty massive sound. Fitting eight people into the van is a little tight, but we’re really committed to being able to play four-on-four pickup basketball on our off-days, and that’s what’s most important.
G: Also, Clyde and I can’t drive since we grew up in New York City and never needed to learn, since everyone walks or takes the subway. So we just pretend that we wanted to play with a full band, when in reality we just needed people to drive us around. Thanks, boys.
Your music has a lot of funk and soul influence to it, to the point that it reminds me of “yacht rock.” Does that term bother you?
C: No, but only because I’ve never heard of “yacht rock.” I’ve also never been on a yacht come to think of it. Regardless, there’s a lot of great soul-inspired pop music, and a lot of crappy soul-inspired pop music. I think ours is the good kind, but I also think people should come see a show and decide for themselves.
Who was the musician that made you want to pick up an instrument for the first time?
C: As a baby, while other boys were obsessed with trucks or sports, I was pretty obsessed with The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, and The Monkees, along with whatever else my parents played me. I also remember hearing Elton John for the first time and how much it influenced my piano playing at an early age.
G: I went back and forth listening to Barney and then Aretha Franklin as a toddler. Definitely an eclectic duo, but equally influential on my life. After that, I got really into Joss Stone, Etta James, Amy Winehouse, The Go-Go’s, and when I was 12 I started trying to write songs like Carole King. But honestly, Clyde is the main reason I started writing music and playing a little bit of piano. I should’ve chosen a different instrument, so that I could be better than him at something. I think I beat him at Uno once when we were younger.
Your covers are pretty much all over the place, as I can think of songs by Nelly, Destiny’s Child and Bill Withers that you’ve done. Is there any specific criteria when it comes to choosing a song for Lawrence to cover?
C: Our covers fall into two categories, I’d say. One is paying homage to classic artists that everyone loves, whether it be The Beatles, Sly and The Family Stone, Etta James, Bill Withers, etc. The other is paying homage to the artists we grew up with, like Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, Nelly, Sean Paul, whose music you wouldn’t expect to translate as easily into a live soul/R&B context, but they do because they’re great songs!
Although you’re pretty early into your career, is there a band accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
C: Our trumpet player watched an entire season of Breaking Bad in a single van ride. No, in all seriousness, a few weeks ago we got a chance to open for and sit in with Vulfpeck, one of our favorite bands — that was pretty cool. And doing a bunch of shows opening for Blues Traveler was really sweet also, getting a chance to play in front of thousands of people every night. I’m sure there are others that I’m not thinking of.
G: I’m very proud of Breakfast. It was the first time anything I’d ever written became public in any way. And I’m proud to have worked on all of it with Clyde, our band, some great guest artists, and most of all, our producer Eric Krasno, who we love and are really close with now. I feel like I’ve learned so much from him and from the process of making the album.
When you’re not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
C: Hanging out with our family. Watching the Mets – realistically, watching them lose. And writing music. I don’t really ever feel particularly busy or free though, I feel like we’re perpetually kind of in a working/chilling limbo. But that’s probably because I like what we’re doing.
G: Not to sound like a crazy person, but because I’m also an actress, I don’t have much downtime, and I like it that way. When I’m not working on music, I’m working on acting stuff and vice versa. And like Clyde, I feel like I’m constantly writing music and various things out of necessity for my own sanity. So downtime for me is kind of just switching up the various projects I’m working on. And then of course, I’m finally reading Harry Potter like 30 years too late.
C: Yes, Gracie has miraculously managed to avoid getting any of the details of Harry Potter spoiled for her. If you see her, don’t ruin it.
In having an album called Breakfast, it must be asked: What is your favorite breakfast spot in New York?
C: Ironically, we usually sleep through the hours when most people eat breakfast, at which point I make an Eggo waffle or go to Utopia Diner on the Upper West Side. But I definitely have to give a shout-out to Louie’s and Bagel Gourmet in Providence, RI — where most of us in the band went to college — and the Woodbury Country Deli on Long Island, whose bacon/egg/cheese sandwiches have been the lifeblood of the entire Lawrence operation for years.
G: There’s a tiny place called Giacomo on our corner that has the best coffee and the best people. They play Breakfast sometimes, and the owner Joe is featured in one of our upcoming music videos. Also there’s this niche little place on our block called McDonald’s that kills the game.
Other than you two, who is the best entertainer out there with the Lawrence surname?
C: Jennifer. And Of Arabia.
G: Of Fishburne.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
G: I just turned 19, so if anyone has any advice for the kids, I probably need it. All I have to offer is: stay in school if you feel like it. But also, stay on tour if you feel like it.
C: I don’t really feel qualified to try and dole out wisdom, but here’s one piece of important advice I’m confident in: Kids, when it comes time for you to live out of a van with seven other people, make sure you label your phone charger. Trust me.