Jesse Wood and Alisa Xayalith of The Naked and Famous take a few minutes to chat to Dónal Ó Catháin about keeping their clothes on while overcoming ‘second-season syndrome’
“Everybody wants to be naked and famous,” groans English artist Tricky. This line expresses an ambiguous view on becoming a celebrity, which, fatalistically, a triad of Kiwi musicians at the time deemed to be a sufficiently intriguing sentiment for aband name.
Six years later, now a quintet, the real life experiences of Thom Powers and company have led them to understand the true nature of celebrity. One of the biggest bands New Zealand has had to offer the world of rock since Crowded House, and with a deuce of albums and a whole load of touring under their collective belt, The Naked and Famous can reflect on their beginning with real perspective.
Resident drummer Jesse Wood feels that growing up in Auckland failed to make a significant impact on their musical inclinations. “Apart from the desire not to work a full time job … and [to] do music instead.”
Alisa Xayalith, the keyboard player and vocalist adds, “Because we grew up in suburbia, music has always been a vessel of escape. So creating music creates that world for you to live in.”
Similarly, the pair doubts that the music they were exposed to in their youth had any great effect on what the band have produced thus far. “There’s definitely a lot of albums that I could probably sing from start to finish that my parents played when they were younger, but I couldn’t necessarily say that they’re my favourite or are inspirational in any way,” says Wood.
‘Punching In A Dream’, one of the best-known songs from their first album, explores worries about failure. Yet, such fears have not been met by the group themselves, far from it. Both their albums have performed remarkably well in their native country.
Their first, Passive Me, Aggressive You, released in 2010 topped the New Zealand charts, while In Rolling Waves, their more recent offering lauched in late 2013 breached the top five. Xayalith remarks, “Nothing can prepare you for something like that. I literally feel like we were catapulted out of New Zealand.”
Performing in the land next to that down under is not too daunting an undertaking according to Wood, “In New Zealand, it only takes four or five shows to tour the country and then you’re done”, but the group’s domestic success was followed by demand for live shows around the globe.
Xayalith calls her mind back to the first international show we did in late 2010 in Manchester. “Singing every night was such a shock to my body that I got laryngitis. So, it was pretty taxing. Nothing can prepare you for that extreme concentrated touring and press.”
Wood concludes, “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and that for the next two years of our lives we’re not going to have a house and we were going to be living out of suitcases and do 200 or however many shows there was.”
Critical acclaim came alongside commercial success for the group. They made the BBC list of 2011, yet modesty prevails as Xayalith recalls, “I had no idea that it was this kind of prestigious list. Same with the NME award, we had no idea what this award meant. So, naïve and completely unaware, but I think there’s a charm and beauty to that.”
In spite of the rockstar status and touring lifestyle, the band has maintained a level head and have not neglected their individual fans. This firm rooting to the ground contrasts starkly from the dreamy heights to which their psychedelic pop ascends. “When we were writing the album [In Rolling Waves], because we weren’t in any scene, we weren’t really concerned with partying,” says Xayalith.
Wood fondly mentions how they’re “forever clearing our Facebook inbox account with people just writing us stories and experiences. We always respond to them though ‘cause it’s so nice having that interaction.”
Wood also speaks tentatively about second album syndrome. “I wish no one had introduced me to that… it wouldn’t have popped into my head every time we reached a little hurdle we had to get through. It was all very much internal pressure from us in the band. It wasn’t like we were all freaking out because someone out there was saying ‘Where’s the next massive hit?’”
Thom Powers, the band’s frontman, appears to lead their individualistic inclinations, once admitting he could never bring himself to take a selfie, somewhat disgusted by the social media platform prevalent in today’s generation. Yet, Wood poses a profound question on the matter: “To selfie, or not to selfie?” one for all of us to ruminate over this coming year.
“We’re just beginning,” proclaims Xayalith, “Here’s to the next year and a half in a suitcase!” That’s good news, because, as far as Otwo is concerned, listening to this band is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
The Naked and Famous’ latest studio album, In Rolling Waves, is out now.