Jamie xx to join BBC 6 Music for Friday 6 Mix series
The station has announced the line-up for its weekly late-night show
October 24, 2013 16:27
The xx's Jamie xx will join BBC 6 Music this week as part of the station's Friday 6 Mix series.
He will feature as part of a six-strong team of DJs playing back-to-back on Friday (October 25) which includes 6 Mix regulars Erol Alkan, Groove Armada and Andrew Weatherall, alongside other new additions Goldie and Derrick May.
The DJs will then all play separate shows, with Jamie xx’s set taking place on December 6.
The Friday 6 Mix series is as follows:
All DJs back to back, 10pm – midnight, (October 25)
Goldie, 10pm – midnight, (November 1),
Derrick May, 10pm – midnight, (November 8)
Erol Alkan, 10pm – midnight, (November 15)
Groove Armada, 10pm – midnight, (November 22)
Andrew Weatherall, 10pm – midnight, (November 29)
Jamie xx, 10pm-midnight, (December 6)
• 25 October 2013
Best Mercury Prize winners: Arctic Monkeys, the XX and more
The Mercury Prize is designated to the UK’s best album of the year, according to a panel of music industry heads in the UK and Ireland. And as with things like this, depending who you ask, they never get it right.
Wednesday, the shortlist for the 2013 Mercury Prize will be announced in a ceremony that will have artists tugging at their collar for two different reasons. While the prize can give huge exposure to a band and essentially launch their careers, there’s some who say it’s cursed, an albatross rather than a feather in the cap. Look no further than past winners like Roni Size, Talvin Singh and Gomez. You’ve never heard of them? Case in point.
Still, the prize is a tremendous honor for the non-superstitious. Alt-J took home the prize last year, and so far, it’s done them nothing but good. This year, house/techno DJ duo Disclosure are favorites to bring the award down, but the panel has surprised in the past.
Come along with us as we take a look at 10 great albums that nabbed a Mercury Prize over the award’s contentious 22-year history.
for more: http://www.heyreverb.com/blog/2013/09/11/10-mercury-prize-winners-you-should-know/76926/
• 12 September 2013
The XX and Alt-J up for Indie Music Awards
Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Wednesday, 7 August 2013 11:13 UK
These awards recognize artists on independent labels and the unsung heroes in the indie sector of the music industry.
Ten albums have been nominated in the Album of The Year category including Vampire Weekend, The XX and Daughter.
Independent Album of the Year
Daughter - If You Leave (4AD)
David Byrne & St Vincent - Love This Giant (4AD)
Ghostpoet - Some Say I So I Say Light (PIAS)
Jagwar Ma - Howlin’ (Marathon Artists)
John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts (Bella Union)
Jon Hopkins - Immunity (Domino)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed)
Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain (Liquid Management)
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
The xx - Coexist (XL)
Best Difficult Second Album
Ghostpoet - Some Say I So I Say Light (PIAS)
John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts (Bella Union)
Major Lazer - Free The Universe (Because Music)
Villagers - Awayland (Domino)
The xx - Coexist (XL Recordings)
• 12 August 2013
Music review: The xx stole hearts in Manila
For all the words that couldn’t be said, The xx came through for the crowd who waited with bated breath for their performance last July 30 at the NBC Tent. Songs about yearning, loss, and the space between one’s hands rose and fell with the audience’s electric pulse that night. Oscillating from precisely fast-paced to solemn notes, the band gave a moving show, and no one was spared.
Everybody—you witnessed that even those who did their best to steel themselves—surrendered; their raised palms were a testament to this.
“We weren’t expecting this, which makes it all the more meaningful,” vocalist
and bassist Oliver Sim professed as he gazed in wonder at the hundreds of faces that were fixated on him. “It’s our first time here in your beautiful country.”
The xx played while the lights danced around them. Mia Carmella Bontol
A smooth bass line, a catchy guitar riff, and a good DJ are usually enough to turn heads in the music business. The xx had all of these but they also had an ace up their sleeves. Their lyrics seemed like words stolen from the mouth of a lover whose heart was freshly torn out of his chest or an ex who yearns for the warmth from a person she used to love.
There was a palpable sense of gratitude among the fans that evening, as though with Random Minds production house bringing the London-based The xx to Manila, a wave of similarly coveted acts streaming into the Philippines had been set into motion. As local band Taken by Cars warmed up the audience, followed by the always graceful, heart hitting Up Dharma Down, you could feel that we have arrived, and something unnamed but nonetheless thrilling was brewing in the music scene.
Opening with “Try,” you could tell that The xx had no desire to jump-start a frenzy, but instead, stoked a slow, lasting burn. By the time Oliver and vocalist and guitarist Romy Madley Croft chorused together for the second song “Heart Skipped A Beat,” a natural high was reverberating among the fans, taking them to a place where they had never been to before.
artist Jamie Smith had a steady, intuitive touch on weaving a seamless flow of beats from start to finish. Smith stayed behind Sim and Croft but his talent was equally undeniable. He traversed the stage from left to right, juggling
multiple instruments, mixing many sounds without skipping a single beat.
The voices of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim jived perfectly. Mia Carmella Bontol
Their performance was a gripping marriage of lights and sounds; as “Sunset” dropped, you were transported outdoors, looking at a fireball of warm oranges, magenta, and indigo. Things escalated to an out-of-body experience as the laser show launched with “Night Time,” succeeded later on by “Shelter,” with the lights throbbing rhythmically, hypnotically.
Croft, vocalist and lead guitarist, tried her best to hide her emotions as the crowd cheered after every song. But in one particular break, the cheering got so loud that a crooked smile crept into her face. She quickly hid it but the people who saw it knew what it meant.
Even if Manila was a late addition to their tour, the reaction they got will be something the band will not easily forget.
Surprising everyone with “Intro” as the encore, they gave a witty, fitting close to such a thoughtfully orchestrated (though missing a few favorites), perfectly timed concert. The xx left you shaken, imploring for more—the very same underlying current of feelings found in their music, and the reason why they’ve had you spellbound for years. —KG, GMA News
• 11 August 2013
The xx downsize for tiny Manchester concerts
A week ago, Mercury Prize-winning band The xx were playing to tens of thousands of fans at the Glastonbury Festival. Now, as part of the Manchester International Festival, they are performing to just 60 people at a time.
Jamie Smith, one third of The xx, is doing his best to give away as little as possible about the secret venue where his band are playing 18 gigs over the next two weeks.
Ticket-holders only know that they must meet at Manchester Victoria train station and wear sensible footwear for a walk over “uneven” ground to the final destination.
"It’s a journey to get there, and when people get to the space they won’t really know where they are," Smith says vaguely.
"It’s somewhere that’s being built at the moment, that we’ve managed to get hold of before it’s finished."
So far this year, as well as headlining Glastonbury’s second stage, The xx have staged three of their own outdoor festivals and been on a world tour that has taken in two nights at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom and another two at Melbourne’s 5,000-capacity Festival Hall.
Now they are headlining a building site.
The band’s second album Coexist went to number one last September
"The idea was to do something more intimate, compared to the sorts of shows we’ve been doing recently," Smith explains.
"We wanted to play to a smaller number of people, like we did at the beginning, but with our better knowledge of performance and the fact that we’ve got a lot more confident in what we’re doing."
It took between a heartbeat and the blink of an eye for the Manchester tickets to sell out.
The band’s debut album won the Mercury Prize in 2010 and became ubiquitous as the soundtrack to many a TV trailer. Their second album, Coexist, went to number one last September and has enhanced their stature.
On the surface, the trio appear unlikely candidates to be one of the country’s biggest current bands. But their aching torch songs, sparse twilight beats and anti-pop aesthetic have caught the (slightly sultry) mood of modern Britain.
The group, fronted by the expressionless, black-clad vocalist-guitarists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, have no problem with big gigs, Smith insists.
"We’re very happy with how our stage show is at the moment," he says. "We feel like we’ve got a sense of intimacy but also a big production."
At typical gigs, the atmosphere is heightened by ambient white lighting and overflowing dry ice.
"But we want to keep pushing ourselves to do things to make us better, basically, and make us interesting and keep people interested.
"I think that’s the only way to progress. So we keep coming up with things to do, and this was one of them."
Smith, a keyboardist, producer, percussionist and remixer extraordinaire, recalls an early gig at the ICA in London as an example of how special a small gig can be.
They played in an upstairs room that was “like a living room”, he says. “There were people sitting on the floor while we were playing, and you could see the whole of St James’ Park in the background.
"There are a lot of intimate ones that I’d like to forget," he adds. "We’ve played a lot of gigs on a Friday night in small pubs, where people just wanted to dance. Instead, they were listening to us being… us."
The band hope the tiny gigs will give them ideas to use in their larger shows
In Manchester, the band are playing three gigs a day on some days, an arduous schedule. And the residency will take a relatively big chunk of time for such an in-demand band.
Most groups would play one gig for 1,000 people and move on, rather than stay for two weeks to play 18 shows. (The xx have also added a larger show at the Manchester Ritz.)
Smith repeats that the band want to “push ourselves” and says it is worth taking more time to create events that they and their fans will remember.
"I think any band that gets to this point should be pushing themselves, rather than just doing the standard big gigs [for] big money around the world," he argues.
During their stay, the trio are renting a house on the edge of the city, where they will use a home recording studio to work on new material.
"I’m actually really looking forward to it because we get to spend two weeks in on place, which is quite rare for us. We haven’t done that in about a year," Smith says.
And he hopes the experience of playing the tiny shows will get the group’s creative juices flowing and give them ideas about what they do next.
"We’ve been touring for six years now," he says. "I think if we didn’t try and make things interesting for us and for people coming to watch us, I don’t think we’d be inspired to make another album."
The xx play at a secret venue in Manchester until 18 July and at The Ritz on 9 July.
• 7 July 2013
The xx is still quiet, just not on stage
12:01 p.m. EDT, June 12, 2013
Midway through the xx’s set at April’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival in Indio, Calif., the London-based trio threw a cover song into its set: Aaliyah’s smoldering 1997 single "Hot Like Fire." Solange, the R&B singer and friend of the xx, joined the band on stage to solidify one of the weekend’s standout moments.
Guitarist and vocalist Romy Madley Croft, 23, talks modestly about her acclaimed band, but doesn’t hesitate to gush about the two R&B singers who helped make the highlight possible.
"Aaliyah has been an artist I’ve grown up with, like an older sister," the soft-spoken Madley Croft said. "We were constantly playing her music around the house when I was growing up. It was apart of my life. … When it came to Solange, we just think she’s an incredible person and musician."
That combination of seductive R&B and the xx’s dour, longing brand of indie-pop might seem strange to some, but spend time with the band’s excellent albums (2009’s “xx” and last September’s “Coexist”), and the marriage makes sense. At times, the xx’s music is difficult to categorize, but the sexy, slow-burn of Solange’s recent work and Aaliyah’s understated melodies fit the band’s sound.
The music-obsessed trio — which also includes bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim and producer Jamie Smith, all best friends since age 11 — is influenced by a wide range of sounds, including ’90s R&B, obscure house and calypso to name a few. But given the members’ love of dance music, the xx’s albums are surprisingly stark and minimalist. The result is a group that sounds like no other working band today.
But don’t be fooled by the “minimalist” label. When the xx takes the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage on Sunday night, its deceptively powerful set will justify the large amphitheater setting.
Early on in the xx’s young career, that was not the case. The band that quietly wrote its first album late at night in their bedrooms — in order to not wake up their parents — was not ready for large festival stages, Madley Croft admits. But when your group’s debut record wins the Mercury Prize, an award given to the best British album of the year, there’s little time to drag your feet.
"We’ve been thrown on so many different stages all over the world," she said. "We just had to embrace it."
Two years of constant touring in support of “xx” fortified the group’s aplomb and stage presence, Madley Croft says. The band brought that confidence into a London studio and recorded “Coexist” between November 2011 and May 2012. When the album was completed, the band, whose members most often listen to music on headphones, “sat there and turned it up on the big speakers,” Madley Croft says. As a result, the songs revealed themselves in ways that could reach even the most remote areas of large venues.
"This whole other, different part of the music comes out," she said. "The sub-bass, the stuff you can move to, as well as the subtleties. You get more of the rhythmic side. That’s what we embrace."
The juxtaposition of the hushed vocals exchanged by Madley Croft and Sim with Smith’s meticulously crafted, tranquil backdrops has made the xx one of the most exciting bands to emerge from London in years. Given the group’s sparse, intimate arrangements, its also been labeled one of the quietest bands ever.
Madley Croft says that distinction is only half-right.
"We’re not extroverts. We’re not introverts," she said. "We’re quite normal, not in-your-face people. But anyone that comes to see us live will see we’re not quiet live. I love that people can feel the bass in their body."
Then, perhaps feeling a bit brash about the last comment, the polite Madley Croft quickly brings the xx back down to the ground.
"We don’t ever want to be in anyone’s face," she said. "We’re not the kind of band to cause a scene."
• 12 June 2013
The xx find undiscovered shades of grey
The xx’s sophomore LP, Coexist, is a dark and moody affair, but it’s not without its splashes of sunshine
by MIKE USINGER on MAY 23, 2013 at 3:35 AM
As sensitive and melancholy as he’s often portrayed in the media, Oliver Sim is also a trouper. This gradually becomes evident when the Georgia Straight tracks him down in his hometown of London, England.
When the xx singer and bassist picks up his cellphone, the first thing you hear is the roar of traffic and the wailing sirens of passing police cars. If the spotty connection is any indication, there also seems to be a minor hurricane in the vicinity.
Sim has had a busy day; he notes that he’s just left band rehearsal, an all-day session that’s part of the preparation for the xx’s upcoming U.S. tour. But as thoughtful and gracious as he comes across, it seems something is wrong, and not just because a good third of what he says is completely unintelligible. This has nothing to do with his answers; it’s more that he’s seemingly standing at the mouth of the world’s largest wind tunnel, no doubt in the pelting rain.
Asked three quarters of the way through the interview if everything is all right, Sim finally confesses that it’s not.
“I’m really sorry about this,” he replies. “It’s raining right now and very windy. And I’m really freezing. But we can keep going.”
On the strength of two hit albums, 2009’s xx and last year’s Coexist, Sim is in a great place right now, as miserable as he is at the moment. The band—which includes singer Romy Madley Croft and DJ-producer Jamie Smith—has enjoyed a rapid rise since slinking onto the international music scene three years ago.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, xx turned out to be one of the most unlikely hits since the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells back at the turn of the last decade. All muted synths, fluttery percussion, and minimalist-minded musings on love and love lost, the album somehow waltzed away with the Mercury Prize for 2010, its songs getting invaluable prime-time exposure everywhere from NBC’s broadcast of the last Winter Olympic Games to the Greek version ofNext Top Model.
No one was more surprised at xx’s success than the three musicians who made it.
“My expectations were so low going into this—we didn’t have any huge aspirations to be on-stage performing even,” Sim admits. “That only came about because we were sort of forced on-stage as a way to get our music out there. I don’t know what I was expecting, or what I was dreaming about the xx accomplishing. I do know that in my wildest dreams, it wasn’t this.”
What has him doubly amazed is that the xx has shown no sign of losing momentum with Coexist. The band’s sophomore outing has led to high-profile slots at this year’s edition of Coachella, universally positive reviews, and sold-out shows at North American soft-seaters like Vancouver’s Orpheum. It’s also turned Smith, Sim, and Croft into the favourite dream collaborators of other musicians, with up-and-comers like Australian DJ Flume frequently putting the xx right at the top of acts they would die to work with.
The band’s members went into Coexist determined to re-create the vibe of their debut, not necessarily sonically, but more in the way that the songs were recorded. Sim reveals that the second release started causing them stress even before they’d finished promoting the first album.
“I started to get a bit frightened while we were doing our last tour for xx,” the bassist says. “I remember a journalist starting an interview with a huge warning about making a second record when the first has been successful. He told me the pressure would be enormous, and that we’d be constantly second-guessing ourselves—whether we should stay true to our sound, or consciously try do something drastically different. He basically told me that the process was going to be torture.”
xx came together after-hours in a tiny recording space in the offices of the Beggars Banquet record label, where Sim and his bandmates reshaped and tweaked songs that they’d written as teenagers. Success enabled them to set up their own small studio for Coexist. The goal was then to shut out not only their self-doubting inner voices, but also the outside world. Looking back, Sim figures that was accomplished, with Coexist—released on the Beggars boutique label Young Turks—serving up more of what made the xx a critical and commercial favourite. Once again, dark-and-moody is the primary colour scheme, with the band building atmosphere the low-key way, whether through the distant-thunder percussion rumbles in “Missing” or the subterranean guitar washes in “Try”. There are splashes of sunshine if you look hard enough—check out the tropicália-tinted drums in “Reunion”—but the xx mostly seems determined to imbue each song with 50 previously undiscovered shades of grey.
Sim considers himself lucky that he and his bandmates were able to do this with zero outside interference.
“We had the rarest of rare, which I appreciate now and realize now that I’ve spoken to other people,” he says. “Everyone that we work with basically left us alone and let us be. There was no pressure to play anything for anyone and no time limitations put upon us. It was us and only us. It was really nice to get back to that intimate state, making music purely for the love of making music. We kept that up for a year.”
That process wasn’t completely hiccup-free. As has been noted in past features, the xx is one of those rare bands where the members practically share the same brain, a result of Sim and Croft having known each other since they were babies, with Smith coming into their lives at age 11. The problem with the band being like family, the bassist acknowledges, is that it’s possible to convince yourself that there’s no need for outside feedback.
“I think that maybe we took things too far, where we kind of lost perspective,” Sim offers while breaking down the creation ofCoexist. “Eventually, when we did bring people into the studio from Young Turks, they didn’t really need to say anything. With just the three of us, it was like we didn’t know what was good anymore. We were going around and around with the songs. With the first record, we were playing live and getting feedback—this one, we were in the studio pretty much 24 hours a day. I think the next time, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Actually, given the final results, maybe they should. As cold as he is on this day, Sim—like his bandmates—couldn’t be much hotter.
• 26 May 2013
Minimalistic British trio The xx go for broke
Band laying it all on the line creatively and financially
May 24, 8 p.m. | Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Tickets: $39.50 - $47.50 plus charges at 604-569-4416 or NorthernTickets.com
British neo-noir trio The xx may appear to be reclusive, guarded types, but don’t judge them by their calculated, minimalistic sound or deceptively dark appearance: This is a band that is laying it all on the line for itself and its fans.
Bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim, guitarist/vocalist Romy Madley-Croft and producer/percussionist Jamie Smith are still touring promoting latest album Coexist, globe-trotting on a multi-legged trek that took them to Vancouver last fall at the Vogue Theatre and sees them return May 24 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The band is lugging around about twice as much lighting gear as it is amps and musical equipment, which includes its trademark array of downtempo guitar, bass and synthesizers, aiming to give fans an experience as striking as possible.
Among the elements we saw last fall were high-definition ambient visuals fed by giant projectors from the back of the room, X-shaped Plexiglas stands, strobes, and a giant LED-speckled X that came down from the ceiling at the end of their set.
The xx are, quite literally, going for broke.
“We’ve always said, ever since we were able to play a proper venue rather than a pub, that we wanted to have something people could go away with afterwards and talk about,” Smith said in a recent phone interview from Prague. “We’re happy not to make that much money off touring if that means people will remember the show for a long time.”
The man known as Jamie xx is a charming, soft-spoken guy.
When it was mentioned that what The xx are doing is risky considering the current music business landscape where everyone is struggling to make a living, Smith gave an audible shrug.
“I guess so,” he said. “When we thought of doing this we did it because we loved it. We didn’t want to do anything else, and we always came at it from a creative approach rather than wanting to be a ‘big band’ or to make money.”
Beyond Coexist, the band has started to work on pieces of songs for a future album, though Smith admitted the process was haphazard on the road.
The band’s newest piece of music is a song entitled Together that appears on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s latest musical epic The Great Gatsby, a soundtrack that also features Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, will.i.am, Florence + The Machine, Jack White, Jay-Z, Emeli Sande, Gotye and more.
A clear snapshot of today’s musical landscape, the soundtrack immediately recalls that of Luhrmann’s late ’90s hit Romeo + Juliet, which featured Radiohead, The Cardigans, Garbage, Everclear and other alternative acts of that era.
Does Smith feel The xx is part of a musical moment in time by being included on the Gatsby soundtrack?
“I hope not,” he said with a chuckle. “I like most of the artists that are on the soundtrack and we’re so happy to be on it. But I hope we don’t become one of those bands that people remember as ‘of this era.’ I want to keep going.
“We love the Cardigans but we don’t want to be them.”
When it is revealed to Smith that the soundtrack was being pressed on vinyl via Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Smith audibly lit up.
“That’s great! I didn’t actually know that,” Smith said. “We went to Jack White’s studios when we were on tour in the U.S. last time and it was amazing to see. It made us want to have everything of ours in one place and have people come to us. It’s a really nice idea. But I guess you have to get to a certain level like Jack has.”
Beyond The xx’s work, Smith admitted he remains constantly busy working on his own stuff.
A sought-after remix artist, one of his most famous collaborations was with late great poet Gil Scott-Heron for 2011’s We’re New Here, a remix of Scott-Heron’s final studio album I’m New Here from 2010.
These days, Smith admitted craving to work on bigger pop albums with major label artists.
“I’m interested in going down that route as well as still making more underground releases,” Smith said. “When I went to work with Alicia Keys (for Girl On Fire track When It’s All Over), it was a very interesting and exciting experience and I want to do more of that.
“She seemed like somebody who lives in another world to us. To be able to go in the same studio with her and make music and hear her sing at me was something I’d never imagined I could do.”
• 22 May 2013
Romy XX shares her dark festival experiences
The xx’s reluctant frontwoman on dark nights, darker attire and the pressures of hosting your own festival
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 05.31 EDT
Romy Madley Croft of The XX. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage
What was your first festival experience?
Oliver’s mum took us to Reading when we were 14, which, when I think about it now, is pretty hilarious. She was a massive fan of the White Stripes. She saw that Oliver and I were falling in love with live music and took us along. She was way more hardcore than us: she stayed down at the front through punk bands like Dropkick Murphys to watch the White Stripes. I remember being amazed by it all, but at the same time thinking: Get me away from this place.
You’ve gone from the mid-afternoon siesta slot to headliners in a short time. How does it compare?
It’s been quite sudden but although it’s more pressure being high on the bill, our band is better suited to night. We’re awful in daylight – there’s a lot of bumping around and I feel so exposed. We put on a much better show in the dark. I feel more comfortable surrounded by lights and the smoke.
You’re quite shy. Do you find the intensity of festivals hard?
You can try and hide, but actually I find it more relaxing to watch the other bands on the stage I’m about to play on. It makes me feel calmer than sitting backstage thinking: Oh my god, what am I about to do?
Who is your ultimate festival act?
One band who are always incredible to watch at festivals are the Kills. It’s not like they’ve got loads of stage production, it’s just them on stage, going for it. Seeing the two of them side by side, boy and girl, with no obvious lead singer – it inspired the xx hugely. Alison Mosshart came to watch us recently and I could see her from the stage with her new tequila sunrise hair. That was quite a big moment for me.
You’ve just come back from Coachella. What are the differences between UK and US festivals?
I feel like it’s normal to see English people going crazy, but in the US it’s a different kind of wild. There was a lot of screaming at a show we played in America recently and that wouldn’t happen in England. I came off stage thinking: What band were they watching? It shocked me, it was a proper One Direction scream!
How do you manage to reconcile rain ponchos and wellies with your all-black band uniform?
You’ve got to wear wellies. It would be a mudfest without them. Oliver and I went to Glastonbury in 2011 just for fun – the weather wasn’t good, so we bought wellies and got involved like everyone else. If it was raining, I think I’d wear a poncho. I would be happier if it was a black one, though.
You’re curating your own Night + Day festival this summer. As it’s your party, can you sit back and relax for once?
Oh, not at all. It’s our party down to every little detail. We’re considering everything from the atmosphere to the kind of food we want to the DJs we get to play. I’ll be well prepared for my wedding after this •
The xx play Night + Day, Glastonbury, Pukkelpop and Positivus
• 9 May 2013
The xx, Coachella Indie Pop Band, Talks Intimacy, Songs That Were Never Meant To Be Heard
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.
• 13 April 2013
The xx: Oliver Sim
THURSDAY 4TH APRIL
Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft met at kindergarten when they were three years old, and they’ve been best friends ever since. But it was only when they went on holiday as teenagers that they decided to write their first song together. As Sim explains over the phone from his living room in London, The xx’s unusual question-and-answer vocals – which feature interchanging lead parts from both Sim and Madley-Croft – were developed because as a teenager, he was a little embarrassed to sing in front of his best friend.
“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.”
• 3 April 2013
The xx – “Drake Told Jamie We’ve Been An Influence On Him…”
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
• 2 April 2013
The 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time
XL/Young Turks, 2009
Pop was in a maximalist phase, all pummeling Eurodance beats and rococo production flourishes, when these London indie rockers arrived with a radically different musical message: less can be much, much more. Songs like “Crystallized” and “Islands” are masterpieces of minimalism – songs built around simple chord progressions, delicate guitar and keyboard ostinatos, the gentle rub of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s his-and-hers croons. It’s beautiful music, an exercise in restraint, in the artful use of space and silence. It’s also funky (check the bonus track cover of Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire”) and, against all odds, sexy – booty call music for the blog-rock set.
• 26 March 2013