Photos from The xx’s Captivating Coachella set.
The XX performs during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Photo by Rodrigo Pena Photography.
Sasha Bronner Posted: 04/13/2013 11:52 am EDT
The xx broke into the indie music scene in 2009 with their mesmerizing, whispery self-titled album — and every hipster from Brentwood to Brooklyn embraced their emotional lyrics and addictive sound.
Bandmates Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim started making music together at age 15, but they’ve known each other since they were 3 years old. Hailing from south London, Croft and Sim studied at the Elliott School, the same institution that claims Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet among its alumni talent.
But the xx’s path wasn’t fated: Croft admitted in an interview with The Huffington Post that she never had the intention of becoming a musician. She took up the drums to get out of class, she picked up a guitar after not being too great at the drums, and she started singing just so she could learn the guitar a little better. Bandmate Jamie Smith joined the group later, rounding out the trio. Constantly surprised at their success, The xx has recently released their sophomore album, Coexist, and will play in a primetime Saturday night slot at Coachella. The band also will have a song in the summer blockbuster “The Great Gatsby” and have confirmed a spring tour with indie powerhouse Grizzly Bear.
Just before The xx boarded an international flight to Los Angeles, The Huffington Post spoke with Romy Madley Croft to uncover the struggles of writing personal lyrics, the fear caused by 20,000 pairs of watching eyes and what happens when someone starts to become a diva.
Your debut album received such amazing acclaim and success. What was your intention in moving onto your follow-up album, Coexist? Where did you guys want to go with it?
The thing with Coexist is we had no plan for it. We got back from touring and had been gone a long time and just wanted to make music again. The fact that we wanted to still make music again was a good thing [laughs]. We said if we get back and it doesn’t happen, maybe we will just take some time out. But luckily it all happened pretty naturally. Then it was about learning to work together again after all that had happened. With this album, we definitely had grown up a little bit more.
What is your process like as a band when you’re making a record? Do you write separately? Do you go into the studio with a clear-cut plan?
Oliver and I write quite separately and share lyrics over the Internet. We come up with our own things separately and then kind of collage them together. That’s the way we wrote the first album. But as time went on, with Coexist, we started opening up to each other a little bit more and actually began writing in the same room. It’s silly because I’m sure most people write songs in the same room, but for us it was quite different. It was like letting down a wall. We have been friends for a long time but it was a new place for us.
Another way we work is we just play things live. That’s when the songs become complete with Jamie. Our rule is that everything we record has to be playable live. It’s a limitation but it keeps things simple. If we can’t do it live we don’t do it. At the beginning I couldn’t really sing and play the guitar together that well. So we had to keep it simple.
You and Oliver have known each other since kindergarten. Were you both very musical children?
Not really. We both grew up with lots of music in the house, but neither of us were born-for-the-stage children. We weren’t music children prodigies. We were normal kids and both fell in love with music around the age of 14 and that’s when we both started going to gigs and sort of thought, well, why don’t we just try this ourselves?
What kind of music were you listening to around that age?
I was listening to heavier stuff like Queens of the Stone Age, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills … so a lot more distortion and more attitude, I suppose, than we have as a band. But that’s really what I liked. I started playing the guitar and learning power chords and somewhere along the way that changed. I don’t really know what happened!
When you first have an idea for a song, does it come to you in the form of words and lyrics or do you hear music and melody first?
It’s always lyrics for me. The lyrics come first. I can basically write a poem and then work out the melody with some simple chords on the guitar. I have been writing a bit on tour recently and have been using Garage Band on my iPad, because I don’t always have my guitar with me. So I have been using different tools to get the melodies out of my head. It’s interesting because Jamie listens to a song and hears everything else but the lyrics. He hears the melody and the music. And I think it’s good that he’s different like that because we get both sides. It’s good to have different interests.
You played Coachella for the first time two years ago. What was it like?
It was a pretty terrifying thing for us. We were used to playing small clubs in America — you know, with a couple hundred people. And we walked out onto the stage at Coachella and it was like 20,000 people. It was the most people I had ever seen in my entire life. It was a really memorable moment. For us to come back and play the main stage at Coachella this year is a dream.
I saw you guys perform at the Wiltern years ago in Los Angeles. How different is it playing a show inside a theater vs. playing outdoors in the desert with so many people? Do you have a different approach?
Each is equally terrifying for me. In a small club, you can see everyone’s faces and you can really see into their eyes. At a massive festival, you can just feel the fact that there are thousands and thousands of people looking at you [laughs]. We don’t drastically change our show, but we definitely have some stuff planned for Coachella. We have been thinking about it for a while. The Saturday night 10 o’clock slot is a big deal for us and I feel the responsibility of making sure people have a good time.
While written cryptically in some ways, your lyrics on both albums are in fact very personal. Have you always felt comfortable writing about intimate experiences, or do you have any fear about that?
Well. It sounds silly to say this now, but in the beginning we genuinely didn’t think anybody was going to hear it. We were writing these songs for ourselves, I just thought Oliver would hear it. And some of the songs were ever so slightly cryptically written because we were playing for five people in a pub that were our friends. We didn’t exactly want to spell it out. It’s ridiculous now to think about how many people have heard songs of ours that were never meant to be heard.
When we were going into making the second album, Oliver and I were afraid that we might hold back a bit and be more private. But after about a year at home and writing, I used it as a diary in the same way I did before. It’s still very personal. So now we know [laughs]. We are going to have to sing these songs for a while, so I want to have a personal connection to them.
What inspired the title for your second album, Coexist?
I got really interested in iridescence. Like when you see a puddle of water when it’s rainy and there’s petrol in it in the street. I wanted to know why it forms that rainbow. I just searched online and it said oil and water, when mixed, agree to peacefully coexist. I liked the idea of these two things that are maybe not beautiful on their own but come together to make this beautiful effect. It made me think of the three of us in the band. As individuals, we can make music, but when we come together — the three of us — that’s when we are The xx and we are better together.
And also you got an X in there with Coexist.
Yeah! It was all those reasons I just said and then we, too, were like … “and it has an X!”
You and Oliver have spent some of your most formative years together both personally and creatively. This many years later, what is the same and what is different?
We’ve definitely changed a lot since we were 3! But I think we are still the same in some ways. We have always been very close. He has become more like a brother to me. It’s nice the way that we are bound together now, forever. We get on the same way as any brother and sister — we know each other inside and out. We love each other. We have that with Jamie as well. We have known Jamie since we were 11. They are like my brothers. It’s a great thing to have on tour, especially with all of the traveling. It’s great to have people who know you, and if you ever start to become a diva, you have someone to drag you back. That hasn’t happened yet.
What music or bands are you listening to now?
I really love a band called Polica. They have an album called Give You The Ghost and I have been listening to that a lot. That came out last year and I am really exited to see them play at Coachella. They are a great live band.
You mentioned loving the Yeah Yeah Yeahs when you were younger. They will be at Coachella too.
That is going to be amazing. I saw them play when I was about 15 in London and it was just one of those incredible experiences. It’s going to be amazing to see them again and to sort of have that feeling of being 15 when I was so in awe and amazed by live music.
I listen to both of your albums constantly. It’s music that I can play at any time and love. That’s a really special quality. Have you always felt confident in your talent or do you ever feel anxiety about being an artist?
I think to be honest, with music, it was never my lifelong dream. I didn’t think I would ever be a musician. My only aspiration was go to art college and music just sort of happened. I played the drums when I was younger in school. We had these music lessons and you could get time out of class, so I did drums. And I was never really that good at it. I just picked up the guitar around 14 or 15 and it was just very natural. I picked it up quite easily. It was a happy accident. I only sang because I wanted to teach myself the guitar and the timing of songs. I did a recording and played it for my friends who said I had a nice voice, but I wasn’t singing around the house. I have always been very shy about that.
It all sort of happened accidentally. I have always been pleasantly surprised by it. I love what we do. I wouldn’t say I feel overly confident with it. I feel pretty surprised by what’s coming out of me.
Today we opened our Palm Springs Press. A vinyl manufacturing plant, where your choice of Young Turks catalogue is cut to 12” vinyl, live in front of you. Each cut is done in real time, so the print is naturally limited and comes in a house sleeve designed by Manchester’s own Dr Me www.dr-me.com
If there’s one act that will bring you to tears from the sheer beauty of their music, it’s the XX. The dreamy London outfit put on a remarkable live show, showcasing extended live renditions of xx and Coexist favorites. Their music is oftentimes subtle, but always raw and evocative; in a live setting, its emotional potency is unmatched. Watch the XX live streaming from the first weekend of Coachella.
Coachella Live on Saturday, April 13, 10:30pm PT.
Thank you to all the others instagramming on our behalf, this is the official xx instagram, run by us! xx The xx
Jamie XX from The XX was up in the spot today, calling the shots and saying what’s up (without saying much at all, really).
They’re all Down Under right now so he took the afternoon off to share a wonderfully joyful, killer chiller set.
Here’s the playlist if anything caught your attention:
Astral Sounds - Galaxia
The XX - Swept Away (New Jackson remix)
The XX - Union (Mistakes Are OK remix)
The XX - Fiction (Pearson Sound remix)
The XX - Tides (Dixon remix)
The XX - Chained (Liar remix)
The XX - Missing (Round remix)
Romy Madley-Croft from The xx drops in to Kinky Afro to talk about the band’s latest album, Coexist. The band was last in Australia in 2012 before the album’s release, and Romy says this time around performing is less scary because audiences know the songs.
Romy says she’s now used to not having quiet time by yourself while on tour and she wants the band to not leave it as long between albums in the future.
Hordern Pavillion, Sydney
6 April 2013
The xx have written a song ‘Together’ for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby. It’ll be on the soundtrack, out 6/7th May
THURSDAY 4TH APRIL
“We’ve always sung together,” says Sim, thinking back. “When we were 15 and we started doing covers, it was pretty embarrassing to just start singing in front of your best friend. So we came to an agreement that we would sing together. And then we worked up the confidence to sing by ourselves, even if it was just for a verse.”
After they’d been playing for some time, Sim and Madley-Croft recruited another long time friend, Jamie Smith, to produce their debut album. Smith acts as the counterbalance in The xx, adding darker textures to Sim and Madley-Croft’s minimal pop songs. As Sim explains, Smith is governed by a completely different set of rules, creating spacious beds for Madley-Croft’s laconic guitar lines.
“Jamie has such a different mind to me and Romy. I listen to words and songwriting, whereas Jamie can listen to a song 20 times and not hear a single lyric. He can’t sing a verse to any of our songs,” he laughs. “Jamie understands the logistics of music – chord progressions and arranging songs. I find confidence with him there.”
Once they had established themselves as a three-piece in 2009, The xx recorded their debut album in a garage at the back of their record label, Young Turks, in West London. Being able to record in their own studio gave them space from the outside world – the same space that is evident in tracks like Crystallized, which combine Smith’s electronic beats with sparse vocals and melodic guitar lines.
Each evening, the threesome would arrive at the studio in Notting Hill and work well into the night. “We didn’t need money from our label to record, so we had more time with it,” says Sim. “We weren’t really working to any expectations so if we had failed, it wouldn’t have been such a huge thing for the record label. There was no clock ticking.”
Their first album xx went on to win the Mercury Prize for best British album in 2010 and received three Brit Award nominations. After playing some of the world’s largest music festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, Sim, Smith and Madley-Croft returned to the studio in 2011 to record their sophomore album, Coexist.
Moving into a new studio in East London, they again separated themselves from the outside world and recaptured the mood from their debut. “The second time around, there were expectations,” recalls Sim. “We have an audience now and if we wanted to play a shitty pub to test out songs, they would end up on YouTube or something.”
It’s a world away from where it all began. But in some ways, not all that much has changed. More than 20 years after meeting in kindergarten, Sim and Madley-Croft still live just a few minutes walk away from each other in South London. There’s tenderness in the way he describes their relationship – a softness that extends into all of their recordings.
Before he hangs up to unpack some boxes in his new apartment, Sim admits that they were never trying to make it big. “You know, it came from the most unambitious place, all of this,” he says. “We were just on holiday and we got really obsessed with music. The best thing is that it’s even better now…with just the three of us.”
Written by Marc Zanotti on 2nd April, 2013
The xx have landed in Australia for their national headlining tour behind their award-winning2012 album, Coexist. Having survived the expectations set by their heavily hyped and highly praised 2009 debut, the young English trio continue to grow into the underlying maturity of their music.
With Coexist, The xx proceeded to convey a myriad of ideas and feelings with minimal fuss, and plenty of fuzz. The album’s opening track and lead single Angels is a prime example of their brevity and directness, with its heartfelt lyrics and finely plucked guitar strings striking a chord in Australian fans, coming in at number 19 on triple j’s Hottest 100 for 2012.
Before the tour began, The xx’s endearing vocalist Romy Madley Croft kindly postponed catching up on some sleep to discuss the complexity of emotions that can co-exist within a simple lyric, finding inspiration from and delivering inspiration to hip hop, and why The xx chose Australian act Jagwar Ma to be the support act for their current tour.
Music Feeds: You’ve said that your favourite lyrics are ones that convey complex ideas in a simple manner. Where on The xx’s latest album Coexist do you feel you’ve best achieved this?
Romy Madley Croft: Oh (laughs), tricky. I guess, I’m not too sure exactly if I can say that, but I think the lyrics that I was most proud of when I wrote them was for Angels.
And, let me see my lyrics here, hold on – “And everyday I’m learning about you the things that no one else sees”, I think is probably my favourite just because it is very simple and I think it sums up that feeling when you’re just getting to know someone in a relationship.
Obviously there’s a lot of feelings going on there and it’s a special time. That simple line kind of summed it up for me when I wrote it. I knew it meant a lot more than just that.
That was a tough question (laughs).
MF: Do you think that a simple lyric is a delicate lyric?
RMC: Not sometimes – I think it can be a strong one but I think it’s just about summarising all of your feelings, trying to capture it perfectly in a few words. That says a lot more sometimes than writing a whole paragraph or talking about loads of things…
MF: Angels is an interesting example because in the wrong hands those kind of lyrics could become cliché but they are extremely effective in the framework of the song. What’s more important to you – the positioning of a lyric or the way it is delivered?
RMC: Probably the delivery, I guess. There’s so many times a lyric can be considered a bit cheesy or a bit cliché but sometimes if it’s in the right context and in the right song with the right singer, it can make a lot of sense.
This is a really bad example but in England there’s The X Factor – a girl who covers a Cher song [Believe], which, you know, is Cher normally singing in auto-tune and people probably don’t like that song very much, but this girl covered it and turned it into a very heartfelt piano song. And it was a massive hit in England and with people all over the Internet.
So I found that pretty interesting, in the sense that you can really make a song your own and really change the perception of it.
MF: Is The xx’s often minimal and stripped back sound an attempt to offset lyrical material that might otherwise be heavy-handed if it were sung over fuller instrumentation?
RMC: Yeah, I think it’s based around that. Oliver (Sim) and I don’t have the loudest voices. When we first started out we weren’t the most confident singers and I think we weren’t really the best at playing our instruments. So the songs, essentially, are pretty simple because we couldn’t play our instruments…
But it’s those kinds of limitations that shaped the way we sound. We always had the idea that we wanted to play everything live so when we did want to play live it was quite easy. That’s why some of the guitar parts, for me, aren’t that complicated because I couldn’t sing or play guitar very well when I wrote them, especially on the first album [xx, 2009].
As time’s gone on it’s been a bit more of a conscious decision to play a certain way or because we like the sound. I’ve enjoyed singing a bit more now because we’re playing live a lot more … but I think [our sound has developed from] kind of happy accidents.
MF: Have the songs from Coexist taken on different meanings over time?
RMC: Yeah, I think they definitely have. Some of these songs we wrote when we were 16 and are still singing now. Just to keep it interesting for ourselves, when you perform live your mind wanders to sort of fit them into your new situations.
Some of them become old memories and you relive that when you play them live. But I’m not sick of it yet, which I’m grateful for.
MF: Speaking before on the delivery of lyrics, do you find you’ll emphasise different moments of a song during a live performance depending on your mood?
RMC: When we’ve played a certain set a few times ’round you get a feeling of what kind of emotion you’re trying to get from that song. We change our songs around a lot now, so when you come see us live they’re not going to sound exactly the same as the album. That changes from tour to tour.
So if you’ve seen us a few times in the same year it’s going to be a different interpretation of the set. It depends on the mood, I guess. If you go onto the stage feeling a certain way … the songs that are reflecting the way you’re feeling at the time might become the ones you put yourself into more.
MF: Do you find that the maturity of The xx’s sounds places an unfair expectation of maturity on you, given that you’re only 23 years old?
RMC: I suppose. Personally, I’ve always felt a little bit older than I am. When I listen back to some of the first album [and] think about how old I was, I guess you think, “I was only 18. That was quite an intense feeling,” but at the time it felt completely normal.
So I love writing about love and heavier subjects … but I’ve definitely had people – my aunty said to me that she read the lyrics to the album not that long ago, and wished she’d asked if I was alright at the time. (Chuckles) But we’re just fans of love songs, really.
MF: So you see the difference in age between the first album and Coexist?
RMC: Yeah, I do, definitely. I do think we’ve done a lot of growing up in the time between them. Withxx, we wrote it from nearly 16 and 19. I can see it myself, all the different times in that album. And withCoexist, it was written in quite a specific amount of time … and I can remember that time bit more clearly from start to finish where with xx it was kind of just my whole teenage years.
MF: You do you look for inspiration when it comes to simple but effective lyrics?
RMC: Someone I’ve always really looked up to and admired is Everything But The Girl and Tracey Thorn. I recently read her autobiography, and it was really interesting and inspiring to read that, but there are some songs of theirs that I think just capture… Missing, being their biggest song ever… It’s just very simple lyrics and a lot of people can interpret it in different ways.
I think that’s what makes that song so massive, is that it’s just so simple that people can just sing that chorus and add all their personal meanings to it. It’s not like a story exactly about [one thing]. It doesn’t feel like she’s painting a picture … I mean, it does, but you can really imagine yourself in her situation, I think.
MF: On Coexist, The xx combined musical influences from pop, R&B and hip hop. Are there any rappers you look to for inspiration when it comes to writing lyrics?
RMC: Oliver and I are big fans of Drake. He and Jamie (Smith) have been in touch and have been working on some stuff together. And Drake told Jamie that we’ve been an influence on him and that was really a very special thing to hear… especially [given] how massive he is … It’s nice that he’s so in touch with his emotions, I think.
MF: The xx have been working on some fun covers recently, such as I Miss You by Beyoncé. Would you consider covering a hip hop track?
RMC: Maybe, I don’t know. We’re really open to doing all different types of songs. As long as, to me, it really just comes down to lyrics when we’re covering a song, because the lyrics and melody is about all I like to keep. We’re not going to take the riff, or whatever it is – just take the lyrics and shape a whole new thing around it, really. So I’d definitely be open to something else.
MF: Reportedly The xx handpicked Australian act Jagwar Ma as the support act for the band’s Australian tour. Is that correct?
RMC: Yeah, we did. We were keen to ask someone from Australia to support us and we looked at their music and we’re really into it, so we’re excited to have them. Last time we had Flume with us – that was a lot of fun.
It’s important to us to recognise where we are and it’s fun to meet new people. It’d be nice to get to know them on tour and hear their music live.
MF: Was the difference in musical style between yourselves and Jagwar Ma part of the reason The xx selected Jagwar Ma as your support act?
RMC: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve realised that that’s ok, to have a different [style of band]. We’ve been touring with two producers from Barcelona… They’re essentially house DJs and producers. It’s definitely a lot more upbeat and I can imagine they have a similar sort of live style as Jagwar Ma.
And that was really fun because the crowd was quite energetic and in quite a up-for-it mood by the time we came on. And our sets have gotten a little more upbeat now so it doesn’t seem to out of context.
The xx are currently touring Australia and you can still grab tickets to some of their upcoming shows –
tickets and more show information available from Handsome Tours.
Thursday, 4th April – SOLD OUT
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Friday, 5th April – NEW SHOW ADDED
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Saturday, 6th April – SOLD OUT
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Sunday, 7th April – SOLD OUT
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tuesday, 9th April
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Brisbane