PUBLISHED: JANUARY 30, 2013
As the xx starts touring behind its second album,Coexist, singer-bassist-keyboardist Oliver Sim sees a night-and-day difference between the group on stage now and the one that toured for their 2009 self-titled debut.
“On the first album, if you put us in some of the situations we’re put in now, I think we would pass out,” Sim says. “Because that first album, each day we were kind of pushed a bit further out of our comfort zone. So, the venues got a bit bigger and a bit further away from home, and the tours got a bit longer. We just grew. I think we’re still the same people, but we’ve come very far with our confidence.”
It isn’t just the band’s presence on stage that’s changed markedly in the three years since this South London trio of Sim, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Romy Madley Croft and drummer Jamie Smith released their first album. That debut met rave reviews and won the Mercury Prize, a prestigious award honoring the best British or Irish album of the year. But becoming one of rock’s most buzzed-about bands, Sim says, created concerns about how expectations and anticipation for the second album might affect the creative process.
“The first album, a lot of the songs were written at a place where we didn’t think anywhere outside of the band, really,” he says. “Going into the second album, we had the idea of ‘these lyrics I’m writing right now could end up in a lyrics book or reaching a lot of people around the world.’ I thought that would be a scary prospect and would make it maybe a bit more reserved and perhaps a bit more aware of putting so much out there.”
The group found a way to deal with these concerns by not allowing anyone – including its record label and management – hear the music that was being created.
“It was just the three of us for a year before we played anything to anyone,” Sim says. “I think it was good being that internal. It gets a bit easy to just forget about the whole outside world.”
Things were comfortable enough that the writing process evolved in significant ways during the year it took to create Coexist.
Although Sim and Madley Croft had been close friends since childhood, they wrote the first album individually, exchanging over the Internet the ideas that would eventually become the finished songs.
For Coexist, some of that separate writing happened. But for the first time, Sim and Madley Croft wrote together, face to face.
“Although she’s like a sister to me, it’s still a pretty scary, intimate thing to do to kind of go in there and kind of share something with her,” Sim says. “(But) it was incredible. … It was so, really gratifying. It was so instant. It was, ‘What do you think about this? Yes or no?’ The back-and-forth was so quick, and we wrote four songs like that.”
Also different, Smith became more involved on Coexist. Between albums, he grew considerably as a producer, doing a remix of Adele’s hit “Rolling in the Deep” and producing the title cut of Drake’s Take Care.
Smith’s input extended to the songwriting on Coexist, and while he also produced the first album, he was able to bring far more to the table in producing Coexist.
“Jamie has grown so much as a producer; I’m kind of still a bit in awe,” Sim says. “Now, along with being his bandmate and best friend, I’m a fan. He just constantly blows me away.”
Yet, for all the contrasts in the creative process,Coexist retained the xx’s stylistic hallmarks.
Once again, sound is quiet and spare, as the group leaves space between the bass lines, chiming guitar notes, silky synths and electronic beats that populate songs like “Try,” “Angels” and “Sunset.” This measured instrumental approach allows the fragile vocal melodies and personal lyrics to take the spotlight and create music that is emotional, intimate and bold in its own starkly understated way.
The band’s songs, Sim says, have started to take on a bit of a different character live.
“We’re evolving the songs every day, like every show, to kind of keep it exciting for ourselves,” he says. “Some subtleties on record might not translate too well live. So, it can be a case of not being more blatant, but being a bit more exaggerated or extending songs that maybe could hold up a lot better live, or adding a bit more of clubby feel. … It’s kind of changing all the time.”
Omg Far Nearer for a bit. The show tonight is great!!!
BY Charles Poladian | January 25 2013 2:41 PM
(Photo: Charles Poladian)
The xx have moved beyond being indie darlings and have embraced the spotlight that has shone upon them since their much hyped self-titled debut. At Hammerstein Ballroom in New York on Thursday, The xx defined maturity and the fragility of love and relationships.
Over the course of two albums, The xx have become incredibly popular, first playing the Mercury Lounge in 2009 and now selling out two nights at Hammerstein Ballroom. Their success has been defined by the exploration of love and that tenuous string that draws people together but can so easily be lost.
The xx have carved a niche for themselves mining human emotions and at their first concert of 2013, the band exuded control. Much like relationships, some experience goes a long way and that was evident throughout the night. Quietly assured of their choices, The xx know they have made the right step and can truly expand on the rich tension of their music.
Hidden behind a curtain, The xx start the night with “Angels,” from their latest album, “Coexist.” That initial veil is quickly removed and fans are given an early treat with “Heart Skipped a Beat,” from their debut. The xx are theatrical on stage, pulsing and quaking with tension and pushing for relief.
While the focus may be on the dual leads of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, the not-too-secret secret weapon of Jamie xx is further highlighted throughout the night. Jamie xx, who has quietly become a superstar producer, gaining great notice for his Gil-Scott Heron remix album “We’re New Here,” gets to have a moment in the spotlight with his single “Far Nearer.”
For The xx, a chasm seems to keep Madley Croft and Sim apart as each stand on opposite ends of the stage. Sim sometimes crosses that imaginary line and the two leads converge at the center of the stage. If there has been a knock against the band, it could be that they are more style than substance. Each member is dressed in black with little physical emotion but the band uses that style to create something more than the sum of its parts. The band is a blank slate for the emotions, such as love and loss, that make up the core of their music.
The xx are now out of the shadows and their personalities are allowed to shine while the more minimal songs of “Coexist” are built up and expanded. Jamie xx is allowed to flex his production muscle, providing segues, thunderous blasts of bass and club-ready beats that had the crowd at Hammerstein Ballroom dancing.
At times, The xx on stage could be considered adventurous. Very rarely in the past did the band go beyond their comfort zone but at Hammerstein, Sim and Madley Croft would move to the center of the stage with all the attention on them. The band even went so far as to introduce a one-time only version of “Chained.” While it took them three times to get it right, the effort was worth it, especially seeing Madley Croft and Sim laugh and that cool facade melt away for just a second.
Visually, The xx had a few tricks to compliment the musical tension. The lighting would set up cloudy skies that were soon coupled with pulsating lights, offering a nostalgic and dream-like quality to the set. At the end of the main set, The xx revealed a giant “X’ hanging above the stage that lit up and announced the end of the main set and the inevitable return for an encore.
“Intro” was a concussive and satisfying way to return to the stage segueing perfectly into “Tides” before wrapping things up sweetly with “Stars.” The xx proved that they had grown up and become more than just a pining youth in love. Instead, The xx were willing to lead and show off what they had learned.
The setlist and a playlist from the night are below. A link for the playlist can be found here.
Photograph-Jamie-James Medina/Young Turks
EDMONTON - A few years ago, two local music fans started a Facebook group to convince The xx to come to Edmonton.
Whether the British dream-pop trio saw the online campaign or not, they’re about to play their first show in our city.
The xx, led by the woozy, under-the-sheets vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, will perform Wednesday, May 22 at the Shaw Conference Centre — their only date in Alberta. Tickets are $43.50 plus service charges at ticketfly.com. On sale Friday, Jan. 25.
Their minimalist debut, xx, won Britain’s Mercury Music Prize in 2010. Their second, Coexist, hit the top of the British charts — and went to No. 2 in Canada — last year.
PUBLISHED: JANUARY 23, 2013
When the xx first got together in 2005, they were still in high school. Their 2009 self-titled debut folded dreamy, downtempo grooves with soulful vocals, particularly those of Romy Madley Croft, who often evoked the same sort of emotional tension as Beth Gibbons. The album was endlessly praised by critics and fans, and the teenagers set about touring the world, winning over even more fans with energetic shows that integrated innovative light design and changed from night to night.
Before embarking on a follow-up, the band wisely took time to let it all sink in, stay in one place for a while, approach things slowly. The result is another gem, Coexist, which exudes an easy sophistication that brings them even closer to their obvious heroes, Portishead. Now, they’re back on the road and coming to Rams Head Live on Monday. When we caught up with Croft in advance of the shows, she promised some new visual surprises which integrate the iridescent oil-and-water design on their album cover, as well as lots of new sounds.
City Paper: Your first album took off so quickly, how did you approach making a follow-up?
Romy Madley Croft: We’ve been touring for so long—we toured the first album for almost two years—and we’d gotten to the point where we needed to stop and reflect and have a bit of a normal life for a while. After finishing that tour, we came back to London and all took about a year off and moved out of our parents’ houses and did a little bit of growing up, I guess. In doing that, we got inspired by things that weren’t touring and new experiences, and gave ourselves some new things to write about. Once we got a bit more ready to start making music again, we bought a studio—actually just an apartment, it wasn’t soundproofed or anything like that. It was just a nice space that we wanted to hang out in a lot. We set up working there and hid ourselves away for about six months and were constantly in there. We were quite private while we were in there, we didn’t play anything for anyone, even our label. They were very patient and I’m very grateful because I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone. We just started again, really, and learned a lot from playing live so much and having new experiences and came at it as ourselves, having learned more.
CP: Did you feel pressure to make something that would be as well-received as the first album?
RMC: I think because we took some time, we kind of got into this normal life, it was easy to forget about those expectations and pressure, which is a really good thing, because we would’ve really worried about that, so I’m grateful that we managed to block it out quite well. When we started doing press, before the album had come out, people started talking about the pressure and we were suddenly thinking, Well, should we have thought a bit more about this?, but we just tried to make something that we liked and we were proud of—like the first album—because we had no expectations for that and had no idea what it would do, so we tried to get into that state of mind.
CP: What kinds of experiences did you go through after touring that influenced the album?
RMC: I think it’s just living a bit and being in the moment and one place for more than a day. And growing up as well. In the two years that we had to make Coexist, I felt like it was that kind of transition between young teenager to a bit more of an adult. I just feel a different perspective on things. I felt like writing a bit more observationally, about chats I’ve had with friends, over coffee or something, and hearing their experiences and about love and their relationships, as you do when you’re talking with your friends, and I found that really inspiring, which I haven’t done before; I’ve been writing mainly about myself, so it was good to write from a different perspective.
CP: Did you try out the songs from Coexist live before recording them?
RMC: No, that would have been a luxury for us to do that. We’d been playing some of the songs [on the last album], like “VCR,” we’d been playing in pubs and clubs for two or three years by the time we actually recorded them on the album. We knew that song inside out and we were happy with it and we knew that it went down well live. With Coexist, we play the songs live to each other and everything is always written live—we make sure it’s always playable live—but when we went out onstage for the first few shows, we initially were kind of going in blind and hoping that it worked live and going on our instincts, and I’m very grateful that it has worked out, but I think going forward, we are going to be a lot less hesitant to just press things on the audience and make things on tour and play them and just develop things a bit more and not wait so long. I think you can really see in the moment whether it’s working. We like to change up our sets a little bit, to try out new bits and new versions of songs. It’s quite fun for us and for the audience, who may have come and seen us before, and everything sounds different the second time.
CP: You guys are known for putting on a great visual show—anything new in store for this tour?
RMC: Something we’re really passionate about is making sure that the lights and the full show [are] as much of an expression as the music. The lights this time out all reflect our album artwork, which is all about iridescence. We got really obsessed with finding colors and integrating the look of natural things, like oil and water and stuff like that. We tried to tie it in. You can see it in our music videos and… in our live shows.
CP: You recently launched an app, right? What’s that about?
RMC: Yeah. These days a lot of people—including me—buy music from iTunes, and you kind of miss the experience of buying a CD and looking through the booklet and reading the lyrics and seeing the artwork and things like that. We spent a lot of time thinking about the artwork and I thought, realistically, not everyone’s gonna see it, so we have an app that’s got the lyrics and the artwork and some of the videos, and you can sort of immerse yourself in that experience, which you might miss.
The xx play Rams Head Live Monday Jan. 28.
The xx posted on Facebook:
We’re in rehearsals right now getting ready to fly to New York tomorrow and play some shows. We’re thrilled to announce another run of dates that go on pre-sale tomorrow at 10am local time, and general sale on Friday.
xx The xx
April 15 - Tempe - Marquee Theater
April 16 - Las Vegas - The Joint
May 22 - Edmonton – Shaw Conference Center
May 24 - Vancouver - Queen Elizabeth Theater
May 29 - Reno - Knitting Factory
June 1 - Berkeley - Greek Theater Berkeley
June 3 - Denver - Fillmore Auditorium (no pre-sale)
June 4 - Kansas City - Uptown Theater
June 9 - Governors Ball - Festival
Rehearsing for our US tour. See you soon! xx The xx
Another Oliver and Solange video!!!!!!