SAN FRANCISCO — Access will only get you so far. Eventually, even if you have a head start to success, it still comes down to skill. Take New York soul pop band Lawrence.
Clyde Lawrence, 24, wrote a key song for the 2000 film Miss Congeniality. Lawrence was 6 when he wrote the song. His father, Marc Lawrence, was the executive producer and writer for the film. Still, Clyde’s song was not selected above others written by adults because of the familial connection. The film’s other producers chose it not knowing the writer. Seven years later, in 2007, the father again turned to his oldest son to write songs for Music and Lyrics, the Hugh Grant film he had written and was directing.
“I think I just always had a very specific knack for being able to tell the kind of story that I wanted to tell through song,” Clyde Lawrence said following soundcheck at Outside Lands, where the band he leads with his sister, Gracie Lawrence, was performing. “So whether it’s … an upbeat song or a more melancholy song for Lawrence, or a song for a movie, where I have to put on a totally different hat, I think that I may be better (communicating with music) than using English words in an interview. I’ve always had a much easier time putting my ideas into song.”
Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, 20, have been making music together since he was 5 and she was 1. Their parents always had a keyboard and other instruments in the house, Gracie said. It was only a matter of time.
When Clyde was at Brown University, he started a soul, pop and funk band with friends: drummer Sam Askin, guitarist Jonny Koh, bassist Michael Karsh, trumpeter Marc Langer and saxophonists Sumner Becker and Jordan Cohen. The band gravitated toward soul music, with bright brass and keyboards. Stevie Wonder was such an influence that one year, at a student concert, the band performed a Stevie Wonder tribute set. Another year, the band performed a Fountains of Wayne set.
Gracie joined the band, rechristened Lawrence, while visiting her brother at the university in Rhode Island. Her first passion, however, had been acting, with appearances in her father’s 2009 film Did You Hear About The Morgans, as well as 2011’s The Sitter and on TV shows like The Good Wife and The Americans.
“It wasn’t too much of a conscious thing,” she said. “I grew up on movie sets with my dad and saw that it was something I wanted to do. I was the classic, annoying kid performer. Then I started taking acting classes for years. I was part of a few different plays and started doing it professionally because it turned into something that was more than just a kid who had a hobby. Like, I ice skated, but I wasn’t going to be a professional ice skater. But acting or singing … that just naturally felt like something I would do professionally.”
Her favorite role was actually not on a screen but a stage. She performed on Broadway in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs when she was 12.
“It was really hard, but it was an amazing experience,” she said. “Lots of rehearsals.”
In Lawrence, the brother and sister have leaned heavily on the music that may get thrown into the “throwback” category—think Allen Stone, Amy Winehouse, Etta James, Sly and the Family Stone and even John Mayer. At Outside Lands, the band, which includes five backing members, also covered a Sean Paul track. It’s not uncommon for them. It’s clear that Clyde and Gracie love plenty of modern acts like Beyonce.
“At the end of the day, so many people these days get the wrong impression when you say ‘pop’ music,” Clyde Lawrence said. “We are the pop music that we want pop music to be.”
They’ve even incorporated some jam band influences. Their debut album, 2016’s Breakfast, was produced by Eric Krasno (Lettuce, Tedeschi Trucks Band) and included guest appearances by Adam Deitch of Lettuce, Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy and Maurice Brown of Tedeschi Trucks Band.
“I could not have named you a jam band until a couple years ago,” Clyde said.
The album came out in March 2016, reached No. 6 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart, and in November of the same year, Lawrence was signed with Warner Bros. Records.
The band has been on the road for much of the time since. Clyde graduated from Brown in 2015, but Gracie is still officially enrolled and approaching her sophomore year. The first year she was able to complete remotely while on the road, she said.
“I’m going back for the fall, so it’s an interesting situation that probably only Brown would allow me to do because it’s a very artsy school,” she said.
The siblings’ parents, who are both artists—their mother is a dance teacher—instilled confidence in creative expression early on.
“Growing up around people who never considered going into the arts as a profession as a joke—that itself is unusual, I think,” Gracie said. “It was always completely supported when we played music when we were younger. My dad’s … job is storytelling. … So [we were] just absorbing little nuggets of knowledge about what storytelling is, how we can do it effectively; that is all songwriting is. It’s conveying an emotion or a story.”
Their parents and 13-year-old brother, on a trip to Los Angeles, flew up to San Francisco to see the band perform at Outside Lands. Lawrence has been to the Bay Area to perform a handful of times, but a trip to San Francisco as children—Clyde was 12 and Gracie 8—still is the strongest memory for Clyde. Their parents took them to Pier 39’s bungee trampoline. These days, when they visit, it’s to play a show.
Next, they plan to finish their second album, while at the same time working on other projects. Gracie is acting and Clyde is working on music for an upcoming Disney Christmas film directed by their father and starring Anna Kendrick.
“I’ve just always gravitated toward music,” Clyde said. “I definitely picked it up and absorbed it as a language earlier than I absorbed English. It’s always been the thing that I cared about the most and the thing that made the most sense to me.”