Their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You hit the number one spot on the New Zealand charts, quickly followed by sell-out Australian tours and a host of international gigs. Now The Naked and Famous are touring the U.S. and releasing their second LP ‘In Rolling Waves’. We sit down with front-woman Alisa Xayalith about getting back into the groove of performing, anime, and her sound! Read the full Q&A below…
I know that locales don’t limit your recording or writing process. What was the recording process like for “In Rolling Waves”? It seemed the album shifted from L.A. to London to New York!
Alisa: [Laughs] Yes, we sure did move around a lot on tour! We thought that it would be easy to flick the switch in our heads to begin being creative and start work on our sophomore record right away. We had collected a lot of material that we had etched out on tour and we thought we would hit the ground running as soon as we decided to stop touring. It was definitely not as easy as we thought it would be. We all realized it had been two years since we had been in a studio environment and we had a few false starts. We struggled to settle into our creative rhythm, there were so many ups and downs and patches of manic frenzy where songs were really pouring out. I guess that’s what you can expect from any creative processes, it’s not easy, there are going to be struggles and if you believe in what you’re doing than the fight and struggle is worth it. It’s so rewarding when you get to the finish line, you can see all the hard work has really paid off.
Wow, so it must have been a difference experience versus the ‘Passive Me, Aggressive’ recording?
Alisa: I think in many ways it was a different. We were only 18 and 19 when we wrote all the songs for Passive Me, Aggressive You. Written in various bedrooms around our small home town Auckland City in New Zealand. When we had begun writing for In Rolling Waves, i felt that we were armed with a lot more creative hindsight regarding song writing and production. We were able to look back at what we had already done and decide on what we wanted to do differently and things that we wanted to avoid. I find the song writing on this record feels graduated, i think that’s an important thing too. That people will appreciate hearing the growth on this album when you compare it to Passive Me, Aggressive You.
We had a few special people work on this record. Justin Meldel-Johnsen co-produced two songs, it was so refreshing to work with someone like him. He actually gave us tangible notes that we could put into action and he essentially became a band member during the time he worked with us. We never really had someone from the outside work with us before, we’ve always been so self contained. Letting someone like that into our sphere was easier than we thought it was going to be. Billy Bush engineered the recording sessions at Sunset Studios, he mixed Passive Me Aggressive You when we were living in NZ and all of our correspondence was via email and Skype because he is based in LA. It was so nice to work with him in person this time around, he knows the way that we work quite well and it made all the difference in the studio environment. Another dream come true on this album was working with Alan Moulder. He’s mixed so many of my favourite 90’s alt bands and current ones too, it was so cool to be in his London studio and spend the time with him to mix our record.
Having performed over 200 shows in over 20 countries in just a few years, how did that aid you as a performer? Did you have any issues with confidence as a lead singer or were you always comfortable on stage?
Alisa: Performing live was something i had to teach myself to do. It wasn’t really a natural thing for me. The studio environment is where i feel the most comfortable. The transition from a controlled environment to an unpredictable one took a bit to get used to. After a few years of touring, i have come to love performing. Playing that many shows has really given me the confidence to really push myself and most of all have fun. The feeling of having the music you make take on a different life of it’s own on a stage is thrilling. It’s thrilling to feel and see the connection that people have with our music, it’s unlike anything else.
However, at the same time, playing that many shows does have it’s disadvantages too. I have to be careful not to get too run down. Being on tour can feel like an endurance test on your body, it’s so important that i take the best care of myself. When we first started touring in 2011, i wasn’t used to singing or performing every night and the anxiety/stress/exhaustion made me ill and i got laryngitis. That is every singer’s nightmare. So the last few years of being a performer has been a journey for me and so it should be.
How did Naked and Famous’ sound come about and more importantly, how did your voice mix in so well with synthetic drum beats and catchy electro-pop sounds? Was this genre always something you wanted to make?
Alisa: Thom and I listened to a lot of 90’s alternative rock music growing up and we both felt so inspired by the bands we listened to that it propelled us to want to make music in the same vein. That combination of live instruments and electronic elements has been something we love doing and will continue to do. Sometimes the sounds can be so polarizing and beautiful. There’s so much that you can do with the technology that is available out there to be able to then perform all the electronic elements live is something we are really proud of.
What challenges are their connecting with an audience in the United States as opposed to New Zealand and other parts of the world. Is one of the goals of the new album to hit the U.S. charts higher?
Alisa: Being able to sustain a career in music is the real challenge and goal for us. We’re lucky enough to have audiences all over the world that truly connect with what we do. Just people and music in perfect harmony seems like the perfect match. We don’t concern ourselves too much with things like chart placings…..Don’t get me wrong though, the successes we have had with things like that are great but it’s not the main focus, it’s not the reason we make music and want to continue creating music.
“Jilted Lover” was one of my favorite songs on the last LP and was wondering if you went back in the studio to record more darker songs for the new album.
Alisa: Thank you..You must be quite a dark soul [laughs]! No, I love that song too. It’s a vulnerable place that isn’t always easy for me to go to and the answer to your question is YES. The melancholic aspects of our music is something that will always be apart of The Naked and Famous. The darker places on this album go a lot further than they did on Passive Me Aggressive You.
Are you a fan of anime?
Alisa: I love anime films, specifically the Studio Ghibli films. I want to explore so much more of that world, i enjoy it so much.
P.J. Harvey once said “I enjoy looking like a tart and thinking like a politician.” Do you sometimes feel like you have an obligation as a lead vocalist/songwriter to sing about topical situations or address issues that most people wouldn’t expect to hear from a band like yours?
Alisa: She’s an admirable woman and one whom i have felt inspired by over the years. I’ve never really felt any obligations to jump on any political wagons and to have overt public opinions, that side of being in the public eye is very foreign terrain for me. I am a woman in her mid twenties still figuring it out and that is okay.
Any surprises or details you could tell us about a tour to support the new album? Any new locations you plan to perform that you haven’t yet?
Alisa: Ha! Well, we are pretty much going to start from where we left off. The live production of our show has grown over the last few years and hopefully it’s only going to grow more!
Lastly, you are in a unique position as a lone female band member and wanted to give you an opportunity to provide any words of encouragement to any amateur or struggling singer out there! Any advice?
Alisa: I think that it can be thrilling and frightening when you first start to pursue the career of being a musician. I think that it’s important to practice and nail your craft whatever it may be, be the best you can be, read books and find information on what your favorite artists have done to be successful and how they have done it. Never stop learning and it’s okay if you’re still figuring it out take your time…..but not too long. xx
Want to stay up to date on all of TNAF tour dates and buy the new album? Follow their cookie crumb trail below: