The Naked & Famous has been called the most famous band from New Zealand. It may just become true very soon.
Why are the young so nostalgic?
It seems to be the pervading musical paradox of the decade. Instead of breaking free with a “F*** you” to the parents, or escaping from growing pain hell with raves and candy pop, musicians are reflecting, wishing, and yearning for wilder, natural, and younger (if that’s even possible) times.
The Naked and Famous leaped into the wild rumpus in 2010 with their breakout track “Young Blood,” which has frontwoman Alisa Xayalith wailing longingly over melancholy, bass-driven synth pop. The video has the quintet leaping into water, skating, running, dancing around sparklers, and beating up cars. Through the power of YouTube and the deliberately youthful, nostalgic imagery, The Naked and Famous quickly became the biggest band in their country.
“Young Blood was one of those songs that wrote itself,” said Xayalith in an interview. “After the first demo was done, everyone knew that it was going to be really special, and the fact other people feel the same is coincidental. When our visual team Special Problems set out to make a video for it, it cemented that visual imagery of nostalgia and youthful exuberance, which has been somewhat of a universal language.”
Xayalith was a pretty wild kid, as a matter of fact.
“Whenever I think about my ‘rebellious’ stage, I laugh and realize how petty and silly it was. I ran away from home for three days when I was fifteen years-old and finally decided it was time go home when I ran out of clean clothes to wear.”
She met composer Thom Powers in college, where they started making poppy, grungy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs-inspired tracks for their earlier EPs This Machine and No Light. They recruited more studio brains like bassist David Beadle, drummer Jesse Wood, and synth/electronics manipulator Aaron Short to throw down Passive Me, Aggressive You. The LP, out March 15 on Uniiversal, spans from the lighthearted “Young Blood” and “Punching in a Dream” to sludgier ones like “A Wolf In Geek’s Clothing.”
For them, getting famous in New Zealand was a no-brainer.
“Because [New Zealand] is so small, whatever genre of music there is, there are only one or two bands that are in that genre, and only a handful who can make great music,” said bassist David Beadle. “…At our first show, there were fifteen people there in a small venue, but it sort of just kept growing. It’s been really linear, going up and up and up. New Years Eve was our biggest show all year, with 20,000 people.”
The band is slowly taking over the world too, with a North American tour with the Foals on the horizon, and their recent move to the UK (New Zealand was just too damn remote). It won’t be long before they join the all-star echelon of MGMT, Dirty Projectors, Passion Pit, Animal Collective, and the hoards of superstar bands that tug on those wild, anxious, dancing heart strings.
Try as you might to steal a glimpse of Naked and Famous’ feral inner children, however, they’re pretty cagey when they’re not writing music. Like a lot of brilliant, early 20s-aged new kids on the major label block, they proceed with caution. You wouldn’t even know they were excited — at least, not when you talk to them over the phone with thousands of miles between you.
Trying to loosen them up, I asked for the meaning behind the muted dance pop track “Girls Like You,” since it sounds like an ode to a shallow ex bitch girlfriend. Instead, everything got serious.
“It runs out of polarities, like the male and female dynamic. We used organic sounds that are heavy, and poppy and not so poppy. It runs into a digital landscape and the whole dynamic of polarities,” Alisa said, as I winced.
Clearly fresh from the pressures of writing college papers, Naked and Famous probably won’t be showing off the girl who ran away at 15, or the guy who punches a car in the “Young Blood” video until they’re nice and and jaded. If you’re looking for the nudists, the punks, the nihilists, or the A-holes, their untamed music is as close as you’ll get.
Check out Passive Me, Aggressive You, out on Universal on March 15.
Photo Credit:Dove Shore