No. 1 on the pop charts -- check. BBC Sound of 2011 -- check. Critically-acclaimed album -- check. What is there left to do for The Naked and Famous? How about a world-wide tour that will take them away from their native New Zealand.
The Naked and Famous will certainly make you believer when they tour with Foals and Freelance Whales this spring. Even if you can't catch them, their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You is that kind of album that enchants you more with every listen. The NME called it, "A classic case of ugly and beautiful: TN&F's passive melodicism and aggressive innovation clash in a dazzling blaze of psych/sonic fireworks."
The five-piece was founded by singers Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith with Aaron Short. Jesse Wood and David Beadle round out the band. Before they traveled to SXSW, I talked to bassist David (on the far right in the picture above) about their debut album and the excitement and confusion of being chart toppers.
How did you find yourself in this band? I know that Thom and Alisa met in music school.
Yes, they met at a music school in Auckland. The core of the group, Thom, Alisa and Aaron, just started writing songs together. Me and Jesse were brought in at the beginning of 2009 to give the group a different dynamic. They had essentially recorded two EPs as a four piece band, so me and Jesse were kind of the fifth member.
I’ve listen to the EPs to compare it with the new album, and it’s night and day. The EPs sound like it was made using Garage Band, while the album is a fully-formed, professional sounding effort made by five people.
Yeah. The sound became a lot thicker when we joined. Consequently, Passive Me and Aggressive You became a much more bigger sounding album. The live show also reflects that.
Is there a vibrant music scene in Auckland?
Not really, but it is a close-knit community where everybody knows each other. There are about one or two bands playing a particular genre of music. Us and Kids of 88 are the bands playing alternative electro-pop.
When you joined the band, we’re they still playing small venues to small crowds?
Yeah, they had a small following, but still playing pretty small rooms. It’s just the nature of Auckland. There’s not a lot of places to hear live music. Plus, by the time I joined, they hadn’t played live for a while. It was only when we released “Young Blood” that more people were noticing the band.
When it came time to making this album, were there certain goals you wanted to meet in terms of what you wanted to sound like?
We did want to sound more cohesive as a band. We went through a phase where we thought we wanted to bring in an outside producer. Eventually, Thom and Aaron wanted to be in control. It was an aesthetic that we had in that we always wanted to have complete creative control.
"All of This" is a great way to start the album because it defines the band’s sound with that driving rock beat. Was the song designed as a sort of introducing to the band?
When me and Jesse came into the band, that song was one of the first demos that was being fleshed out. The song’s lyrics does include the name of the album, so I guess it does encompass a lot of the what the band is about. I guess it's just a good driving pop song.
I don’t see you as a pop band though. I feel that you guys “rock,” quote-unquote, more than you do “pop” if that makes sense.
It’s tough to define us as what kind of genre we fall into I guess. Our main influences are 90s alternative rock bands if that helps.
“Punching in a Dream” is one of the stand-out songs on the album. How did that song come together? Did you start out with that cool electronic part?
That was the last song recorded for the album. The demo for that song originated way, way back. It was originally called “Wait”. The way we work, everything is constantly evolving. That song must have gone through so many changes. It’s probably why it was the song we recorded on the last day.
Do you have any visual imagery you have in your head as you’re making these songs? I’ve never been to New Zealand, but I can imagine that there are areas that can evoke a strong emotional response.
I don’t know. It one of those things where you come to know a place so well, that when you come to a new place it creates a whole new level of excitement. We’ve all been in New Zealand our whole lives. Other places are much inspiring for us. Lyrically, Alisa focuses more on ideas. She takes inspiration from other songs or a movie. None of us really leaves our house that much [laughs].
How do the lyrics take shape?
It’s a three-step process. Thom and Alisa have a traditional way of writing songs. They’ll hash out a demo of what the song should be. Then Thom and Aaron will produce it and come up with new ideas. Then the whole band comes into a rehearsal room to see if it works live. Then we can determine what parts are working and what needs to change. Something like “Young Blood” was interesting because it came together rather quickly. Alisa had a keyboard line and Thom liked it a lot. For that point, everything fell into place.
“Young Blood” went to No. 1 on the New Zealand charts. Do you get anything for that like a trophy or something?
[laughs] We didn’t actually knew what it meant. Our only knowledge of charts came from the College Radio charts. At that point, we thought cracking the top 10 of that was pretty exciting. Our manager had to explain it to us how the Top 40 pop chart works. It’s just a complete foreign territory for us. We kind of didn’t know what to make of it.
I would also think that being on the BBC Sound of 2011 list was a turning point for the band.
As with the Top 40 chart, we didn’t know what the BBC list meant. Our manager had to lay it out for us. When we went on the internet, we saw who else was on the list. That was when the gravity of it all hit us.
You are about to embark on your first major tour of the U.S. and Europe. Are you nervous? Excited?
I’m really excited. I’ve been living at home all my life. I think it’s about time I leave my parent’s house. [laughs] I’m really looking forward to going to Sweden. It just seems like a beautiful place to visit.
Let’s hope you all don’t get sick of each other.
Not to jinx it, but what I think will happen -- or what has already happened -- is that we’ll get stuck in the van for six hours a day and we’ll just not talk to each other the whole time. Aaron, Alisa and Thom shared a flat for a few years, so I think they are comfortable with not saying anything. We’re all quiet people to begin with.
Do you treat Alisa like the little sister being that she’s lone female of the group?
No, there a moments where she’s like our mother looking after us. She keeps us all in check and out of trouble.
Their debut album is out now. You can check their official website for tour dates in your area.