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Music |

Interview: The Naked and the Famous

Wednesday 15 February 2017

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After an indefinite hiatus, The Naked and the Famous returned in October last year with their album ‘Simple Forms,’ offering another sublime slice of electronic indie pop. Hailing from New Zealand, the band shot to prominence with their 2010 debut album ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You,’ which feature featured the euphoric, instantly catchy singles ‘Young Blood’ and ‘Punching in a Dream.’ After touring extensively all over the world and relocating to Los Angeles in 2012, the band got to work on their second album, 2013’s ‘In Rolling Waves,’ which heard a slightly darker sound from the band, and proved their talent as they focused on performance, stripping away any use of backing tracks so it could easily be played completely live, and lead singer Alisa Xayalith recording her vocals in one entire take. We caught up with Alisa before the final show of their European tour at Kentish Town’s O2 Forum to discuss returning to making music together, how their sound has evolved, her favourite gigs, and being a woman in the entertainment industry.

How’s your European tour going? 

It’s the last day of tour, I spent my last night on the tour bus last night, I am so happy! I’ve been missing my bed so much. But I am having fun! This last run of three and a half weeks of playing shows in Europe and Britain have been really wonderful. It’s been such a long time since we have been over to this part of the world. One of my biggest fears that I’ve always had from when we first started this band, was the fear that no one would ever come to a show. It’s like sending out a party invitation and hoping that people turn up. The fact that we’re playing the O2 Forum in Kentish Town tonight, I was like, “What’s the capacity for that venue?” and my tour manager said, “We’ve sold over 2000 tickets,” and I’m like, “What? We haven’t played here in like two years, how is that possible?!”

What has been the highlight of the tour?

Communing with this side of the world again has been so eye opening. Like I was telling you before, I have such an anxiety of people not caring about our music anymore, I’ll think people don’t care about our music anymore, are people really going to come to this? I have quite a pessimistic view about the whole thing, and I have been really surprised and reconnected with so many people over this side of the world that have listened to our music for years. It means something to them, and I’m like, oh that’s right, I am doing something good in the world! This is what I’m doing!


So even with your success you’re still doubting that?

Of course! I mean, we sold out all of our shows in Germany, and I’m like what, how can we still be doing this? This is crazy! By the time we get to the end of a show, I am just in such awe, and I am so grateful that I still get to do this. We’ve been a band for like ten years but I can never quite get used to this, it’s something that I don’t take for granted, and at the same time, I’m like, is this really my life? I think I have self imposter syndrome, that’s what’s happening here! I was actually reading about that, about a lot of successful women in the entertainment industry, how they feel uncertain, even actresses like Reese Witherspoon. She’d have such a huge fear that she would be fired during the first week on set because she just felt like she didn’t deserve to be there. And when I read that article, I related to it somewhat; I feel like we’re going to do all these shows and no one’s going to turn up and I don’t deserve to be doing this.

Do your band mates feel the same?

No, they don’t, which is weird. They don’t have the same kind of anxieties that I do about it. It’s really funny, but also at the time time, I guess they don’t think about that kinda stuff, they just go “Yeah, we’re awesome! Yeah, we’re playing here, I’m drinking my beer on stage, woohoo!” I don’t know, I just have such anxiety about this even after all this time and I don’t know why, I don’t know where it comes from.

Do you think it’s to do with that feeling of not being good enough, that as women, we often have instilled to us by society?

Yeah, I think as women, especially in the entertainment industry and pop culture across the board in corporate jobs, women put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the absolute best and to do the absolute best and achieve as much as they can. And I think that is an inherent part of being female and growing up in such a patriarchal society. When you really think about it, I think that’s where it all comes from.


Before your latest album ‘Simple Forms,’ you were on an indefinite break – tell us about this.

Yeah, we were on a hiatus. Thom and I were in a relationship and that came to its end, and so we needed to take a hiatus, which was much needed. When you live in a bubble for as long as we have and tour for the amount of years that we had, something’s bound to break. Things get really tense, and it was just a much needed break, and we hadn’t had one for the longest time, so it was just a kind of obvious step that happened.

So what sparked your decision to make music together again?

I think when you’re so used to doing something, and you kind of lose perspective a little bit, and then you go away and you don’t do that one thing that you’ve been doing forever for a while, you kinda get excited to start doing that thing that you love again. I think it was a really important thing to come back with a newfound perspective and to feel kind of renewed and re-inspired. There was a lot of self-discovering, and all that kind of stuff happening with all of us. We’d grown up together in this band in our formative years, and once you step outside the bubble, a couple of years have passed and you’re like oh, I’m this age and I’ve been living this way for the longest time, how do I live as an individual outside of this machine that I’ve been living in for the last four or five years? That was a shock to my system. When we first moved to Los Angeles in 2012, we were living out of each others pockets, we were all kind of lumped together as a unit, we’d immigrated to this new country and assimilated to the culture there together, and that was great, but now that we’re all a bit older and we’re a bit more sure-footed and living our own daily lives. We really needed to find our feet as individuals outside of the band.

Was it easy to get back into the swing of making music together? And how do you think that break influenced the music you’ve created since then?

Life influences everything that I do. When we write a record, everybody knows their role, everybody knows what’s required of them, that’s the one thing that we do have in blueprint, so no matter what’s going on, we know exactly what to do when it comes to making music. It’s weird, the world could be raging on outside, there could be a fire, but if we had to go and make an album, we’d know exactly how to do that. So I think the hard work that happens behind the scenes is when we go away by ourselves and we write, and we show each other what we’ve written. That was difficult. Just initially showing each other, Thom and I, what we’d written, we’d react, and you’d have to detach yourself from it and go, “Okay, this is really fucking sad, but it’s a really good song so we’re gonna work on it.” I think we’ve trained ourselves really well in doing that, so it worked out for the better, I must say! Creating beauty out of chaos, that’s what we always managed to do, with whatever’s happening in our lives. I wrote about that, I turned it into a song, and I’ve been doing it for the longest time. Music is very cathartic, it’s therapeutic, and as long as it stays those two things, I’ll continue doing this for as long as I can.

“When we first moved to Los Angeles in 2012, we were living out of each others pockets, we were all kind of lumped together as a unit, we’d immigrated to this new country and assimilated to the culture there together”.

So what is your songwriting process like as a band?

It’s very collaborative. Sometimes Thom will come with a fully formed song, and say “Here’s a song, here are some lyrics, but do what you want with it,” so I’ll take it, I’ll put myself into his world, and then vice versa. Or Aaron would come to the two of us with a piece of music and I’d top line it and Thom would arrange it. Or I would have written a song on the guitar, and I’d sit in a room and sing and play it, and then we’d turn it into a song. So it really depends on the song, but those are some of the ways that our writing process works, and there’s not one specific formula that we stick to every time, which is kinda cool, it keeps things fresh and exciting. But yeah, it’s generally Thom and I and Aaron who would build a sound design around what we have written.

How would you say your music has developed from album to album? 

I think when we first started out, we were kind of just figuring out the process, and it was a stroke of luck that we wrote this big hit, ‘Young Blood,’ that just completely took on a life of its own. We capitalised on that, we were like, okay, this is the kind of music that people are really responding to, let’s flesh this out, and let’s make more music like this. We were really inspired by making that type of music. By the time the second record came by, we really wanted to make something a bit more alternative, and something that was more performance-based in an old fashioned way, so for instance, we would be in the rehearsal room rehearsing a song three months before we would go to a recording studio, and I would try and do vocals in one take, and not have autotune on anything. So it was like a real, pure way of approaching production, songwriting, and just performing on the record. And I guess the second record was more of darker album, but when we decided to do the third record, we really wanted to return to form and create music that people fell in love with. To give people music that they could fall in love with, that made them fall in love with us in the first place. We were also ambitious to make a pop record for The Naked and Famous, and it’s probably the most poppy thing that we’ve ever done in our body of work.


Is there something that the album is about? Would you say there’s an overarching theme?

No, I don’t think there is, because we don’t write like that. When we set out to write records we don’t write with a theme in mind, we don’t go, okay, the next record’s gonna be about this. But I think writing an album is like a scrapbook, the songs represent moments in time, and as a year goes on, you kinda just collect all these thoughts and collect all these scratches of songs. When you get to the end of the year, there’s not just one specific thing, there’s no one thing when it comes to writing music that means something to you. So we’ve never done that, but I really admire artists that do, I think that’s a really difficult thing. But yeah, it’s kind of limitless, our writing process in regards to the content.

What would you say was the best gig you’ve ever played as a band? 

In most recent years, Coachella, that was incredible! We played the main stage as the sun was coming down at sunset, and it was incredible. I was so nervous and when we came off stage, we all wanted to go back on and play again. It was the most beautiful, magical moment, and playing Coachella is obviously one of those iconic festivals.

And the best gig you’ve ever been to?

One of my favourite gigs of all time was seeing Frightened Rabbit in Glasgow. We’d just played a show, and they were playing a charity event at Nice ’N’ Sleazy’s, and it was a real unplugged, acoustic set up for them. So we played our show, rushed off stage, rushed down the road and went to see them. There’s something about seeing a Scottish band with Scottish people around you who just sing every single word really loud. It was just this magical intimate show. It’s one of my favourites. Also, seeing this band called Dawes, I saw them playing at this venue in LA called the Hotel Cafe where they were playing this charity benefit to raise money for a girl who had cancer. They were incredible, just amazing, pure – just so good. They also had a really stripped back set-up on stage, just three members on stage, two guitars, one guy doing percussion, and they all sang, so it was just this beautiful eargasm of sound.

So what has 2017 got in store for the band?

Well, we just released our new record in October last year, so we’re just working on promoting it and playing festivals, and playing headlining tours. And hopefully writing some new music! Also, we are going on tour with Blink 182 which kicks off at the end of March, so that’s gonna be really fun. We were all huge fans growing up, and we are playing it with another band called Wavves.

Listen to ‘Simple Forms’ below:

Click here for tickets for The Naked and the Famous’ tour with Blink 182, which begins in Texas on 22nd March.