The Naked and Famous of 2020 are rediscovering themselves. After a tumultuous period of personal ups and downs, lineup changes and fatigue, founding members Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers have been intent on working through some of the baggage that comes from the ever-challenging trials of life, and ten-plus years in a band.
Self-described as “a vehicle to plow forwards into our own future”, ‘Recover’ – their new album, due this May – is a laser-pointed statement of intent. Largely autobiographical, it sees the pair embrace healing head-on, while taking their take in indie-pop to fresh new places.
In a year that’ll also see them celebrate ten years of their debut, ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’, which scored them a Number 1 in their native New Zealand back in 2010, it’s an exciting time.
Hey guys, how are you? Having a good start to the year?
Thom: Exhausted: we just wrapped shooting a two-day music video for ‘Bury Us’. It was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to see the first edit – we’ve never done anything like this before…
Alisa: So far, 2020 has felt exciting. We’ve both been working on music for The Naked and Famous for the past two years in tandem with various other projects; it’s exciting to see some of this work finally make its way out of the studio and into the world.
Tell us about your last few years, how have you been since ‘Simple Forms’?
Thom: Up and down – lots of soul searching. We needed to rebuild ourselves after that album. While we’ve been quiet publicly, we’ve been through a lot personally. As ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ turns 10, TNAF feels both like a new beginning, and a return to form. The world has almost certainly sped up, and we’re no longer young and naive, but grateful to still be here.
Did the reaction to that record influence what you wanted to go on to do next?
Alisa: Absolutely. I feel the net we were casting creatively during the era of ‘Simple Forms’ was footed in heartbreak and devastation. I could say that period of time was written while I was in a pretty dark place. There were times where it felt like I fell out of love with music and life in general, and I didn’t really want to participate in it. Oscillating between the highest highs and lowest lows. I’m so happy to have gone through some growing pains as a human and now I feel like I can look at life through a more positive lens these days.
What was your headspace like going into ‘Recover’?
Thom: At first, we were at odds – on completely different pages. We tried a handful of writing sessions. Most of them were only semi-productive, many of them were duds. We finally hit our stride in the summer of 2018, when most of the new music and sonic-direction was established. The first song from this eureka-period was, ‘Recover’. It was an energising sonic palette and a mission statement for what this album was going to be about.
How would you describe the record’s vibe?
Alisa: The vibe of this record has a lot of optimism sewn throughout the songwriting, and it’s probably the most uplifting work we’ve done to date. I love how colourful these songs feel.
Which was the hardest song to write?
Thom: Perhaps ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Bury Us’. Both had exciting, effortless, flow-state moments of creation… but both also went through severe revisions. We went full circle on some ideas. That can be important – it’s useful and even validating to end up back with the original idea.
How has the line-up change affected the band’s creation process?
Alisa: When you share experiences with people in your life that you’ve travelled the world with throughout all your formative years, you’re going to feel their absence when they leave. It took some time to adjust, but at the root of this band, The Naked and Famous started out with Thom and I writing the songs. That creative dynamic hasn’t changed, and therefore the process hasn’t really changed either.
What does being a musician mean to you at the mo? Has that changed since the band’s early days?
Thom: Drastically. I feel nostalgia, gratitude and grief all at once. Our goals shift as we grow older. As a younger musician, I wanted nothing more than a slot on my favourite college radio station. I collected CDs and vinyl. I cared about what labels artists were on. I feel very embarrassed for my younger self and his parochial opinions. I feel like a different person now. The overwhelming thing about gaining knowledge is realising how little you really know about everything.
What do you think music’s most important job is in 2020?
Alisa: I find that different kinds of music serve different purposes. If I want to get hyped up at the gym, I’d probably listen to hip-hop, if I’m feeling sentimental, I’d probably listen to something more down-tempo. So I’d hope that music from The Naked and Famous would do its job by keeping people company when they need it the most and be the soundtrack when people want to have a good time.
What are you looking forward to for the year ahead?
Thom: A point in time when it truly feels like we’ve done our best to release/promote/perform/expose ‘Recover’.
I don’t really spend much time looking forward to things, I spend most of my time thinking in hindsight, or lost in the present.
The Naked and Famous’ album ‘Recover’ is due in May.