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Interview with The Naked and Famous

by Emma

19/04/19

Interview with The Naked and Famous

There’s a huge distance between Bristol, the birthplace of Tricky - whose song ‘Tricky Kid’ spawned the lyric from which The Naked and Famous took their name – and New Zealand, where the band call home. Distance isn’t something that scares them though – staying still, now there’s a daunting prospect. Distance can be felt in every one of their air miles that they clock up on their adoption around the world, and distance, more intriguingly, can be felt on their album, from the poppy accessibility of single ‘Young Blood’, to the fuzzy rock attitude of ‘Spank’. It’s in no way a bad thing though – if you’re willing to make the steps between, you reach one hell of a destination…

Thom, how’s it going? It’s going well, I’ve just woken up.

You’re in the States at the moment, aren’t you? Yeah, I don’t know where I am though… somewhere in the States!

If it helps, I think you’re supposed to be in Philadelphia tonight! Yeah, I think you’re right.

And is this one of the first of the US dates?            No, this is the… I dunno – we’ve been here about two weeks.

So have you accustomed to it yet? Yeah, we’ve been here a couple of times already, like we did a different circuit to what we’re doing now when we were supporting Foals last year, so I think we’ve sort of got used to the US culture at this point. I don’t hate it as much, haha!

Yeah, it’s a brash contrast to anywhere else I think, when you go over to the States. Yeah, I just think it’s funny that there are a lot of stereotypical things that really do exist and it’s not at all an exaggeration that the food here is absolutely god awful it really is. The food is just terrible wherever you go, it’s really funny.

Yeah, I think the country that gave us squeezy cheese has to have its cuisine questioned. Definitely!

I don’t know how much you’re bothered about this Thom, but it’s a good weekend for New Zealand – you’ve just won the Rugby World Cup… Haha, yeah. I just got an email about that actually and I was very surprised that the person had sent that to me because I’m not a big sports person, like I don’t mind it, but all the guys that beat me up in high school were rugby players and I don’t know, I kinda hate cheesy national pride in sport for everything that it is, you know, morally! I have a deep, passionate disregard for national sport and what’s sad as well is that apparently New Zealand’s government was preparing for a rise in domestic violence and some councils were applying for funding to help deal with that during the World Cup just in case we lost.

No, really? Yeah, it happens. I mean it happens in England as well of course, you must know, with football matches as opposed to rugby – people get hurt, so you know, I know we’re totally veering off topic here but I seriously believe that human beings are far too primitive to be playing sports.

Haha, I’m gonna go with that because I was always picked last for the sports teams. I’m one of those weak-wristed creative types, I think that’s my problem. Yeah, me too!

So Thom, you’re coming back to the UK next month for a lot of dates; this is a real triumphant return because you’ve had such a good reception over here, haven’t you? Yeah we have, it’s been really good, but you know, the UK press is so much more clever than in America; everything works so much faster, you know, so you’re getting played on the radio while you’re getting played on TV and BBC everywhere, sort of thing, so it’s so much more logical in the industry with people and it works much better, whereas over here, it’s just a long, slow trudge through the radio stations. But yeah, it’s gonna be pretty wonderful, I can’t wait.

I know a lot of your influences come from British bands, so was international recognition something you aimed for? Were you ready to bust out of the seams of New Zealand? We’d never really intended to leave home; we never thought it was possible – it’s like a dream that you’re not allowed to have in New Zealand… I’m not kidding! It’s completely unrealistic and there are just so many hurdles in getting out of your country that you just kinda, I don’t know… It is just so unrealistic and there’s so much good music that goes nowhere. Yeah, I don’t know, I still think that any minute it’s gonna fail and I’ll have to go home. There’s this horrible reality that’s overshadowing our whole career that we’re just kinda worried about, but no, that’ll never happen because we have a big record deal and everything! But I don’t know, I’m happy not being just a New Zealand artist because we also have, you know, we have a wonderful history and culture that we’re connected to, but at the same time we have this awful, awful syndrome where anyone that does well is just kinda cut off at the knees in New Zealand, so…

Haha, how perverse! That’s really weird. Yeah, I know; the most gracious and the most awful criticism we’ve ever received on both ends of the spectrum have been from our home country. You know, we’ve had some wonderful, wonderful five-star reviews in the national paper and then some really bitter, personal, spiteful, horrible shit as well!

Well the British press can often be like that and it’s something I despise about my industry is that the press will often build up an artist so ridiculously high to the point where you can’t maintain it, then they enjoy knocking them down. Have you been warned about the acerbic nature of the British press? Erm, I think I have and I think I’ve become more aware of it, especially like with what recently to Achilles recently in the NME – I don’t know if you heard about it? It was just some rumours… I don’t know, I’m still waiting for that to happen to us, I’m not sure we’ve experienced that yet. So far when we’ve met with British press there’s always been that calm sort of grounds for communication, you know what I mean? They don’t seem to meet us and think we’re arses with different accents, they treat us more like we’re from a culture they understand, so maybe the illusion of being foreign is blocking that at the moment. Who knows though – maybe we’ll meet the shit soon!

No, I think we do it to our own more, which is like what you were saying about the New Zealand press. It’s like the idea that you can slag off your own family, but no-one else can… Exactly, yeah, yeah and I’ve had a sense of that speaking to media around the world, you know; people are confused about trying to figure out what I’m gonna laugh at, or what I find humorous than they are trying to pick holes in us, but I don’t know, it’s quite a good loss in communication.

You and Alisa come from a music school, and I was talking to an artist recently who felt passionate that music should play a bigger part in schools… You must feel like this? Definitely, well I dropped out actually after about a month! I dropped out but I had been doing music since I was – like I basically knew I was going to be doing this when I was about 9 and that just didn’t stop, and now I’m still living like a child, so yeah, I don’t know, it should be something that should be taken very seriously. There are so many fantastic courses and places you can study music, but I think it’s more that it’s not taken seriously by people’s parents or whatnot, and therefore they’re not helped, or given the encouragement, which you need to take it seriously. There are still some very old-fashioned people out there who frown or look down upon people studying music as their career.

This won’t be something you learnt at school, but the breadth of sounds on the album is really, really strong. Picking just one genre, just because I seem to have seen its renaissance this year, shoegaze is coming back! For such an introverted genre, it’s pretty in my face right now… Yeah, it’s really strange. I like it; I guess one side of that is that with time, everything moves round on itself, I mean, what was it, the early 2000s when retro rock came back in? When The Strokes were big? I don’t know, it seems like all the genres do that – push some out, bring others back in. I mean aren’t the bellbottoms making a comeback? But yeah, I have noticed that as well. A little part of me thinks that it’s a fad, but at the same time it is such an awesome genre that I’m excited. Maybe it’ll be cool to like Tool again…!

I was wondering if maybe it was an antidote to some of the really brash, personality-led acts we have? I love a lot of pop, but Lady Gaga leads by personality, then music second and you get a lot of people like that. Shoegaze goes completely against that... Yeah, essentially it does, which is why I made the joke about it maybe being cool again to like Tool again! Shoegaze is like a pre-cursor to 90s heavy rock music; with My Bloody Valentine was what Billy Corgan wanted Siamese Dream to sound like. So yeah, maybe the turnaround will be that after this, we’ll all get into heavy rock again – who knows?

Listening to the album Thom, there’s a great run of songs – ‘Spank’, ‘Jilted Lovers’ and ‘A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing’ that show real exciting expansion. I mean I love the singles, but these songs for me push it a bit further – do they hint at the further adventures of The Naked and Famous? Yeah definitely, and I’m so glad you said that – thankyou so much – because those are some of the songs we’re really proud of. I think the songs that we want people to hear as much as they do the singles are such a contrast to one another and they showcase those different emotions. I don’t know, yeah, I just want people to get the whole idea of the band and I feel like you do, so thankyou so much. I think with album number two, we’re definitely going to grow on stuff that we developed, you know, we don’t want to be repeating ourselves, but at the same time we don’t want to be pulling a complete 180 and do a jazz record! I think that every element that we’ve developed, each technique of writing and being creative and every emotional avenue that we’ve explored, we just want to go deeper into those things and kinda expand them. Then we’ll try newer things as well, but we’ll definitely still be The Naked and Famous; it’ll be all the concepts and stuff you’ve heard, but maybe even poppier, and maybe even darker.

Thom, you guys are Indie to the core, but it seems like your UK deal with Fiction seems to be providing a nice business balance, but what if they were to make recommendations for the new record, like maybe bringing in a producer, or something like that? Well this is a fascinating question because it’s touching on what you were saying about the whole ‘hipster’ thing in that we’re a completely independent band, like, we do everything. We’re independent in the fact that we’ve never had a record label telling us what to do. When we recorded and produced and set out, we had no record label. So that mentality of wanting to do everything ourselves doesn’t come from us despising the way that things are done or doesn’t come from us despising something that isn’t cool, it’s just we feel confidently capable of doing it ourselves, and excited enough by doing it ourselves, you know what I mean? Like, the idea of producing an album, for us, is a creative, exciting challenge. We definitely want to do it ourselves. At the same time, I’m interested in working with people, you know, but Aaron and I are going to produce the next album. I’m finding it harder and harder to find any truth in these record label horror stories where record labels would suggest people, or tell bands what to do. If anyone tells me what to do, regardless of how much money they’ve given me, I don’t do what they want if I don’t want to do it. No-one can make you do anything. I dunno, it’s weird; I’m very open as well, like we’re not really that protective about letting go of the reigns, just of being forced to do something that might be just ‘cool’.

You and Alisa were at the core of starting the band, but I was wondering if you could tell me what each of the band members individually brings to the floor? Well David has the best laugh on the entire planet. He has a laugh which makes people want to laugh with him, or makes people want to make him laugh, it’s really weird – quite infectious. It’s funny ‘cause when people from the label meet him, they instantly think, ‘we should get him to do all the interviews!’ Other than that I’d say each of us have different qualities; we’re best of friends and I don’t want to expose too much about everyone else! Musically, they call me the benevolent dictator! Then Aaron is good with noises; he’s a very good electronic guy, so giving music to him to muck around with, always comes back very exciting and different, because he likes to play around with things in his own little world of noise, this universe of electronic sound. Alisa’s one of those artists who is much more of a classic artist, you know what I mean? I mean, I’m one of those obsessive day-to-day, always working on stuff types of person; I’m constantly trying to work on music, but Alisa will just sort of have random outbursts of inspiration. She’ll come up with something randomly one day and it’s just brilliant, so she’s much more of a natural artist. Jesse was basically the best drummer I ever knew growing up, so I’m still flattered to be in a band with him. I just always thought when we were kids, in all these metal bands, that I’m gonna be in a band with that guy one day. He probably is the most fantastic drummer I’ve ever worked with. But yeah, I can’t stress enough how hilarious David is!

Thom, you’re gonna bring a fantastic show to Norwich, but what can we bring you? Wow, er, chocolate maybe? Yeah, that’d be good – I have a big sweet tooth, so if someone was to bring me some chocolate I’d be in very good spirits and I’d do my best!

Emma Garwood

The Naked and Famous come to the Waterfront on November 21st. For tickets, go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk

The WaterfrontNew ZealandThom PowersEmma GarwoodThe Naked And Famous