Beyond a life hardwired to pop culture via the 24 hour news feed, The Naked And Famous elicit a romantic connection inspired by the golden era of alternative rock; a shared response to a teenage soundtrack of epic, emotionally charged mid nineties music.
Released in March 2011, their ambitious debut Passive Me, Aggressive You featured the singles, ‘Young Blood’ and ‘Punching In A Dream’. Lauded by the NME, it was “A classic case of lovely and beautiful: TNAF’s passive melodicism and aggressive innovation clash in a dazzling blaze of psych/sonic fireworks” and Rolling Stone magazine described Young Blood as one of the year’s “best singles”.
Fronted by Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers, The Naked and Famous lit a fire under an online fan base, with a video subculture built through YouTube and into radio. M83 invited TNAF to remix a single and a Tiesto remix transformed ‘Young Blood’ into a club smash. Agencies fell into The Naked and Famous slipstream, and theirs became the go-to soundtrack for gaming, Hollywood and TV shows mining a zeitgeist of young and interesting.
Twelve months previously the New Zealand quintet (including David Beadle, Jesse Wood and Aaron Short) had been writing and recording songs in bedrooms on Auckland’s North Shore.
By June 2012, The Naked and Famous had played to more than 600,000 people in 24 countries, but the band chose to hit pause and embark on a second album. Singer Thom, “Maybe we could have kept touring, there seemed to be many places to visit, but we’d been writing on the road and we were ready to make new music.”
They took a house together in Los Angeles folk music enclave, Laurel Canyon – a fitting reflection of their communal existence, just around the way from the glitter and doom of Hollywood. “LA is a surreal environment. It’s like someone at a party on the verge of tears – vibrant… but at the same time there could be something really depressing about it at any moment,’ says Alisa. “We’re a weird, functional family – so it’s inevitable that we end up writing about each other, about romance and being sad, about what we see each other dealing with.”
The resulting album In Rolling Waves delivers darkly nuanced, intricately rocking electro gems once again born in bedroom studio sessions, then demoed in studios in Wales and Australia ahead of recording at Sunset Sound in Hollywood. Says Thom, “We spent a lot of time rehearsing the songs before we started recording, we all agreed the intention was to make an album we could perform as well live as in the studio.”
From the moody synth swirls of ‘Waltz’ to the hard-edged lullaby of ‘Grow Old’ this is a bold, considered record. Plugging into the folksy sonics of their LA existence, the fiery kaleidoscope licks of ‘A Stillness’ become a prog-tinged epic, whilst ‘Hearts Like Ours’ and ‘What We Want’ both find this band still have a firm grasp on the euphoric sound their audience love so dearly. Xayalith’s raw pop thrill ‘I Kill Giants’ drew on her childhood, with it’s title coming from Joe Kelly’s comic book of the same name, a cartoon Xayalith had discovered mirrored her own story.
Both ‘I Kill Giants’ and ‘The Mess’ were co-produced with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, NIN). This was the first time the band had brought anyone else into the studio in a production role. “I’d been skeptical of the producer role but Justin was interesting and I was up for the collaboration,” says Thom. “You can ask someone for perspective and they can actually give you something tangible… like, ‘get rid of that fucking guitar, it’s awful!’”
Powers sought out Alan Moulder (NIN, Foals, My Bloody Valentine) to mix this daydreaming dark-wave experiment, saying “It was my teenage dream to work with Alan Moulder. Growing up, I noticed his work on all the records I was listening to.”
In 2013 The Naked And Famous are matured and determined to deliver new music to their fans as soon as possible. “Every song feels like it’s in the middle of something. It’s not after the fact, it’s momentary,” says Thom. “I feel like the whole record has had this ‘less is more’ approach… It feels more vital.”
Vital? Certainly. Exhilarating? Definitely.
‘In Rolling Waves’ has been produced by Thom Powers with Aaron Short, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. The Naked and Famous are Thom Powers (guitar/vocals) Alisa Xayalith (vocals/keyboards) David Beadle (bass guitar) Jesse Wood (drums) and Aaron Short (keyboards).