Verge had the opportunity to speak with Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers from The Naked and Famous about their time as artists and upcoming tour. The Naked and Famous will perform at Trinity Centre Bristol on 15 July and Union Chapel London on 16 July 2018. Tickets are available at LiveNation.co.uk.
Tell us about your time in the industry. Did you always want to be artists?
(Thom:) Alisa and I both wanted to become artists but our path has always been ad-hoc. I think it’s perhaps mere nostalgia when people say, “simpler times” but the industry is a little more amorphous than it used to be. Ten years ago we had small tangible goals and each step seemed to have a scale-up effect. But our lives changed when we wrote Young Blood. We signed to a major label when CDs were still the predominant platform for music. Now we’re independent artists again. It’s my personal experience that (nowadays) major labels now have one attitude – you’re either worth all of the money, or you’re worthless. There’s no middle ground. Go big or go home. With that said I think it’s lowbrow to say anything that sounds like, “Bring back the good old days.” (See: MAGA) A middle ground is evolving and many jobs are much easier and more efficient than they used to be. Technology is fantastic. It’s hard to keep up sometimes though! Now, on the world stage, I don’t know what our goals are beyond the obvious: to create authentic music.
How did your journey as artists begin?
(Alisa:) Both Thom and I grew up involved in and surrounded by music but it wasn’t until we dropped out of music college that we began pursuing music as a career! We worked at a record store and spend most of our weekly wages on albums and tickets. We collected the monthly magazines and tuned in to all the coolest radio shows. Afterhours and weekends, we were in whatever constituted a “studio” or rehearsal room.
Tell us about your tour. What are you most excited about?
(Thom) Performing as an entirely new lineup has been reinvigorating. Alisa and I have taste that extend beyond the bombastic sound the band is known for. It’s cathartic to put the fuzz pedals on the shelf for a minute! This acoustic/stripped-back incarnation of the band is coming to an end though and Alisa and I have a pile of new music we feel confident about. There will be new TNAF music released before the end of the year.
What is your favourite song to perform and why?
(Alisa) When Thom takes centre stage and sings “Girls Like You” – I don’t often get to hear him croon!
A Still Heart is very different from your previous albums- what was it like making it?
(Thom) Being asked to perform acoustically is something most artists bump into but it didn’t make sense to us at the beginning of our career. We felt so proud of Passive Me, Aggressive You and believed its sonics were part of what made it successful. Even just the idea of acoustic versions made little sense to us. Somedays I think we were just being precious. Or perhaps we were just excuse-making – it’s easier to perform with the safety of a full band.
Our switch in attitude came about while we were promoting and touring ‘Simple Forms’. We decided to take advantage of acoustic opportunities but we wanted them to feel intentional. We knew we had to rearrange and, for certain songs, completely reimagine them. ‘I Kill Giants’ in particular, has found its truest form on this album. I originally outlined a demo of it for Alisa on the piano but was chasing different goals as a producer when it came time to finish it for In Rolling Waves.
How will performing A Still Heart be different from your previous tours?
(Alisa) It’s a small, intimate and minimal show. Many of the venues are seated, which we love. I don’t think we’ll ever take this drastic of a detour again. So if you’ve ever wanted to get up close with TNAF, now’s your chance!
What is your favourite song on A Still Heart?
(Alisa) “Punching In A Dream.” I’m an absolute sucker for the vocal harmoniser. I want to use it on every song lol!
LIke Thom said, “I Kill Giants” is really special. Luna Shadows performed the piano part and co-produced a few of the stripped tracks with Thom. I showed up to the studio and they had prepared the piano part for me to listen to. It was hard to hold back tears. I feel deeply connected with this new recording of the song. We’ve been lucky to have her with us on this journey.
What is one thing you have learned about yourselves since you started making music?
(Thom) That I deeply value, want and need the creative input of other people. This realization has worn down parts of my control-freak personality. I still seek achievements but my best ideas are never mine alone.
What are your post-tour plans?
(Alisa) New music before 2019!
What is your next big goal as a band?
(Thom) See: above!
What advice do you have for students trying to break into the music industry?
Try a different career. Seriously, get out… quick! NOW! BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” – Confucius (I think). In my opinion, this is a useful foundation for… well, life in general. Being an artist is a unquantifiable shit-show of a vocation though. One size does not fit all. Cultivation is key too. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule is worth reading about…