The Naked and Famous

Featuring hit singles Young Blood and Punching in a Dream, The Naked and Famous 2010 debut Passive me, aggressive you earned the band a number of prestigious nominations and awards. Now it’s time for the New Zealand band’s second album In Rolling Waves to take the world by storm. In Stockholm for a show at Debaser, we catch up with band members Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith.

Tell me more about your new album.
– We began working on it as soon as we stopped touring with our debut record Passive me, aggressive you, Thom says. That was in the beginning of 2012. We decided to relocate and move to Los Angeles, where we were living in a place called Laurel Canyon. It’s a kind of goofy, but cool rock’n’roll area. We are happy that the record is out now. It was difficult to complete and difficult to finish.

Where does the title come from?
– It was taken from a lyric in a song in the middle of the record called Grow Old, Thom says. It was one of the first demos we completed and felt good about. Like I said, as soon as we got off the road, we were living in Laurel Canyon and got this studio that was a ten minute drive from the house. We started working on this new record, even though the studio that we had was a bit too intense. It was like a final production recording studio and we really just needed a small little demo space, like dingy and not so professional.

– We had two songs that came out of the first session of writing, Waltz and Grow Old, so we started with those. Grow Old is just this monster of a song, it’s the longest song on the record, it’s a really big and dynamic song when it comes to performance and it’s emotional content. It was a new sonic landscape for us, it set the tone and felt like a real centre; that’s why we chose to put it right in the middle of the record and took a line out of it for the title.

I think all creative people
inhabit this innate sense
and desire to make something

Who writes the songs?
– Alisa and I, and Aaron, the keyboardist too, Thom says. I’ve been writing music since I was a little kid, I didn’t know what else to do when I was growing up, I was always playing guitar. When I met Alicia she was studying to be a composer and writer at music’s college.

Where do you find inspiration for your music?
– That’s always such a hard question to answer, Alisa says. I think every single creative person would find it difficult, because it isn’t just one singular source that you go through every time. I think all creative people inhabit this innate sense and desire to make something, and whatever they create is dependent on what’s going on in their heads and imagination. I never know what to answer to that question because it isn’t just one thing that motivates me to create.

– It’s not as simple as hunger, where you feel hungry and understand that you want to eat something and that’s it. It’s not quite like that with music, you don’t just see something and decide that I have to go and write a song. Sometimes it can be as stupid as that you hear something weird in the background, a noise that stays in your head for weeks and eventually turns into an idea.

– And songs can come to us when were bored, like sitting on a plane for hours. It can be random.

Describe your sound?
– I like to say alternative rock, I think that’s a nice and broad definition, Thom says. It’s predominantly the kind of music I grew up listening to and the music I listen to now.

The Naked and Famous. Photo by Victoria Stillwell.
The Naked and Famous. Photo by Victoria Stillwell.

Do you have any specific influences for this album?
– As far as music we were listening to I remember heading a big slump, and having a bit of writer’s block, not knowing if any of my ideas were alright or terrible, Thom says. I was listening to the band Old J, and to the latest James Blake album.

– I also listened to EMA, an American noise rock band, and Bon Iver’s self-titled album. I was switching between those two albums. They had such a hard contrast in their production, because the EMA album is really noisy while the Bon Iver album is very lush in its production; the songs are super melodic, there are no parts that are hard to listen to, and it’s all sort of soothing. I was right between these albums on tour. But then I listen to so much music that it’s hard to pin point any particular albums.

How do you think your background has shaped your music, you grew up in New Zeeland?
– We’ve been asked that quite a lot recently, especially in America and England, Thom says. And also about our decision to move to Los Angeles, because of Hollywood, it seems so cheesy for a rock band to move to Hollywood to make a record. We weren’t in Hollywood, but we were right next to it, it was our backyard. Laurel Canyon has this 60’s and 70’s rock history to it, and people have asked us how it was part of our sound.

– When I listen to Passive me, aggressive you it doesn’t sound like my mom’s house in Auckland. People tend to take it very literally, that just because you live in this area it influences your music. I moved back home when we were recording our first album to save money. I was living in suburbia when I grew up, it was boring and music was my escape. I’ve always associated music to something that’s not mundane and daily. So in that respect I don’t think your direct surroundings have to influence you.

– We’re very insular and in here, Alisa says, pointing to her head.

Photos by Victoria Stillwell.