Best known for their distinct and unique minimalistic sound that blends the likes of indie pop, indie electronic, dream pop, and electronic rock, The xx prides themselves in being rare breed of musicians.
Consisting of members Romy Madley Croft (guitar, vocals), Oliver Sim (bass, vocals) and Jamie Smith (beats, MPC, production), The xx first gained attention after posting demos on their Myspace page. By 2009, the band released their debut album, “xx”, with the British independent record label Young Turks, and was met with critical acclaim.
Fun fact: The xx recorded their first album in a small garage that was part of the XL Recordings studio, often at night, which contributed to the low, whispery nature of the album.
It didn’t take long before The xx was invited to play at 5 of North America’s most popular music festivals e.g. Coachella, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits Their 2nd album, “Coexist”, was released in 2012 to positive reviews, peaking at #5 on the Billboard 200. And now, after a 4-year lapse between releases, the band finally released their long-awaited 3rd album, “I See You” in January 2017. “I See You” debuted to critical acclaim and peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200.
The xx’s “I See You” album release saw them go on a promotional concert tour around Europe, North America, and yes, you guessed it: Asia. During the Singaporean leg of their tour, The xx took a little time off their busy schedules to talk about the making of “I See You”.
Here’s what went down:
It has been almost 4years since your last gig in Singapore! What are you guys most excited about your return?
Jamie: When you are touring so much it’s really the people and the crowd that you play to that makes a place memorable. The vibe of the crowd in Singapore always makes us want to come back.
Would you like to convey a special message to Asian fans who flew from their respective countries to see you in concert?
Jamie: Thanks so much for coming, we really appreciate the effort it takes. I’d love to travel more around Asia and play more places soon.
The xx’s album artwork is often very striking and unusual. Can you tell us about the concept behind the reflective cover of “I See You”?
Jamie: There is an obvious literal reference to the album title with the the physical album being a mirror. The title references how your friends can often be a mirror for how you see yourself.
In terms of songwriting and recording, how differently did the band approach the making of “I See You”?
Romy: In terms of song writing, Oliver and I worked very closely together this time, in the past we’ve always mainly written separately. I think it just shows a natural progression in our friendship, in our openness, in our self-confidence to be able to sit in the room together and write a song. For some reason we always used to find that quite scary even though we’re best friends, so I’ve loved working and writing together. We give each other notes and tell each other if it’s not good which is cool. The recording, we travelled to different places around the world this time rather than London, we went to Marfa in Texas, we went to Los Angeles, Reykjavik in Iceland. It was amazing to get out of London and see some different parts of the world, it was very inspiring.
I think that the lyrics in the new album is probably the most tender and romantic ever for The xx, with songs describing love and relationships. Would you like to share with us about the lyrics concept of the new album?
Romy: We always love writing about relationships and emotions and the way that people make you feel or the way that you feel about people. For the first time on this album we’ve written about how we feel and how we see ourselves. So it’s a slightly different idea in some of the songs – like “A Violent Noise” and “Replica”, Oliver is sort of questioning himself and the way that he’s going about his life, and any struggles he’s gone through. And I think that’s really brave and I think that’s great that he was really open to facing some things that were troubling him on this album. So I think facing things is a theme as well as romance.
Congrats on the “I Dare You” music video! It’s fantastically tonal, the visuals and colour choices are great, and also features a solid cast e.g. Millie Bobby Brown, Ashton Sanders, and Paris Jackson. How did it all come together?
Romy: Thank you! I’m so glad that you liked the video. I think that we are very proud of it, and we are very proud the whole series we did with the director Alasdair McLellan. We did three videos and this last one was a collaboration with Raf Simons from Calvin Klein who creatively directed it, so the cast are I guess ambassadors for Calvin Klein and they are doing work with them so Raf wanted to have them in the video. And we were up for it because we were excited to have actors in the video because we’d never had that before, we were excited that people could bring an acting element to the video. We’re just really big fans of Alasdair’s photography and it was amazing to do the music videos with him because it’s not something he’s really done before and we’re so pleased with how that turned out. We really wanted to explore that warmer side of ourselves, I think we felt like maybe sometimes we’d been perceived as quite cold a bit like vampires in the past and I think we wanted to show that behind closed doors when we’re alone our friendship is very warm, and we’re warm people. The sunlight and the youth and those elements just show a reflection of what we’re really like.
Being such a tight trio throughout all these years, what do you think is the biggest change or growth you’ve experienced as a team from The xx album era to your most recent work?
Romy: I think that we’ve all grown up together very closely. Oliver and I have been friends since we were three years old and we met Jamie when we were 11 years old. And we’ve been there for each other through all different aspects of growing up and I think that in the past few years whilst we were making “I See You” we were growing into adults and having to be more accountable for things that we were doing. Having more responsibility and also just trying to take better care of ourselves, and sometimes that’s hard. I think I realised that it’s important to give friendships attention and to give them love, just as much as you would with your romantic relationships. And I’m really grateful that we’ve learnt to appreciate each other, and I think that’s very special.
“I See You” feels a lot more intimate and happy than the previous album. Do you think it’s because you had more fun in doing this album?
Romy: Yes, I do. I think we have had a lot more fun, and worried less, and a lot less scared about what we should do, what people expect from us, what we expect from ourselves and just making music that we enjoy and experimenting and not worrying too much about how we were going to play it live. And that’s been fun. Obviously it’s very difficult making an album too, there were definitely some stressful aspects, it wasn’t all just fun times, but in comparison I’d say this has been my favourite album to make.
With this album, it seems there’s a new direction emerging: of transformation and breaking barriers. Was this a necessary progression for the band?
Romy: Yes, I definitely think so. We all just let go of the barriers that we had set around ourselves. We always had this rule that everything we recorded had to be playable live, exactly as it was on the album, and in a lot of ways I’m grateful for that – it shaped our sound and made it what it is – the fact that we don’t have layers and layers of instruments was because of that rule to make it minimal and playable live. But we never set out to be a minimal band, or a simplistic band, it was just our own limitations that made us sound that way. I think that we let go of that slightly on this album and we were like “let’s just see how that sounds”, still with the intention of not filling up the sound, because we like having a spacious sound, but we were just less strict with that rule.
You had a big break between albums. When it’s one like “Coexist” that was so well received, do you feel a lot of pressure to release something similar in terms of the sound?
Jamie: I felt less pressure in terms of sound this time. I think we were really enjoying making music for ourselves and feeling confident that it was good rather than thinking about how others might receive it or compare it to our previous records.
Romy: It’s funny because I think people often say to us “that band sounds like they’re influenced by you,” and we’re the last people to realise. I always like music, and then my friends say they totally sound like they’re ripping us off, which is funny. I think if I’m honest and when I take a step back and I look at how pop music is different now from when we started, I can see that things are more simple and spacious, and I’ve definitely heard my guitar sound on a few big pop songs which has been kind of surreal. Maybe they could’ve just asked me to play on the album? Haha.
Looking back and examining the present, how would you say you’ve grown and evolved as artistes and as individuals?
Oliver: I think we’ve grown a lot in confidence, it was something we were all lacking quite a bit. It partly has come with growing up but I believe this band has helped us with it a great deal. We’re still far from being the most confident people around but we’ve come a long way.
For your latest music video, “I Dare You”, you guys mentioned that it was a “love letter to Los Angeles”. What is it about the city that inspires you guys and your music?
Romy: I love Los Angeles, it is a place that we went to record and we chose it because of those blue skies and the sunlight and it was just so different to London. There’s a lot of history there musically, a lot of inspiring people and inspiring music around. It was an incredible experience for us, it was November and it was sunny and we had a swimming pool at the studio, it was like living the dream really. Growing up in London with grey skies and recording in tiny one rooms without any windows, it was a big change. When we’d finished recording there I stayed on and I ended up spending chunks of time there, so I lived there on and off whilst we were recording “I See You” and I had an amazing time. It really represents a time I was getting to know myself off stage and feeling connected to my past and dealing with a few things, the losses that I’ve had and made me sad – it was a healing place for me.
What do ya’ll think is the bravest thing the band has done before?
Oliver: I look back at our earliest shows and I don’t know where that bravery to get up on stage came from. It didn’t come naturally for any of us, we were shy teenagers with bags of insecurities, but will still got up there, did it and continued at it until it became comfortable.
In three 3, describe your latest record.
Romy: Challenging. Beautiful. Warm.
Thank you Love Da Records and The xx for the opportunity!