Interview :: The Naked And Famous
March 6th 2014
It’s hard to listen to The Naked And Famous‘ ‘Young Blood’ without the iconic opening chords transporting you right back to the nostalgia of 2010.
Following the immense success of their debut record Passive Me, Aggressive You and a mammoth touring schedule, the New Zealand five-piece made the move in 2013 to Los Angeles to record their sophomore album In Rolling Waves – and haven’t stopped since. With an impressive run of festival dates and their own headline tour, The Naked And Famous will be returning to Australia in April.
When Lucy Smith caught up with Thom Powers (vocals, guitar) he was having a well-deserved day off in Nashville amidst supporting Imagine Dragons on their North American tour. Powers discussed all things In Rolling Waves, touring life, and subconsciously stalking musicians across the globe.
Lucy Smith: On the topic of the new record, and moving to LA – your first record was self-produced in New Zealand, as was this one. Did you find that the new setting influenced your method of working and creating music?
Thom Powers: Probably only in the way that any environment would, but not Los Angeles in particular as a place. I’d like to think we’re not sort of, so susceptible to our surroundings – I’d like to think it doesn’t sound like Los Angeles. [laughs] I mean, I don’t think it particularly sounds like hair metal solos from the 80’s – so I think it sounds like us. But it is an interesting conversation, because no doubt your environment influences you regardless of what it is you’re doing… our environment is where we live, it’s part of the story that becomes us I suppose.
In terms of production, was there anything you actively sought to do differently in creating the new album in comparison to your debut record?
Yeah, I think it was just a bunch of accumulative experience-based ideas. The first record is a very full – I use the term ‘brick wall’ – even in its quietest moments it’s very slamming and quite in-your-face and direct. And In Rolling Waves has a greater dynamic sonically over all, it’s just got quieter moments and fuller moments… so it’s one of those records where you can end up having to turn your stereo up and down to listen to.
That was a fun thing to create and we stuck to a kind of live ethic with producing it – you know, if we couldn’t recreate what we were doing in the demos in a live environment with just the five band members, we wouldn’t track it. Like every song on the record we performed live several times before we recorded it.
You obviously put a lot of thought into the sequencing of the album between the high and low points – how do you go about putting these songs in the perfect order? Have you ever had to reject songs because they just didn’t fit?
Definitely yeah – it’s quite a strange thing, sequencing. Going from our first two EPs we put out; very lo-fi, quaint idea of these matching brother-sister EPs, and the sequencing of them kind of mirrored each other… there was this logic to the way we were putting things together. And then with Passive Me, Aggressive You we sat down and thought about the sequencing quite intensely and tried to make it a good, old-fashioned album listen from start to finish. And again, tried to do the same thing with In Rolling Waves.
But I think because of the nature of putting songs together to be very performable songs, so very much a live record… we let go of it a little bit more. We put things where they felt appropriate and it was done very quickly. It was quite an easy record to sequence and… now with the way that people listen to music, where they just iTunes shuffle single tracks, the idea of stringing songs together and trying to interweave them so one song leads into another wasn’t so important to us this time.
Do you have a favourite song that you like to perform live from the new album?
It changes really, it depends on the context. I enjoy playing ‘Hearts Like Ours’, cause I love yelling at the end [laughs], that’s really fun. But in a festival environment, that’s quite special. Whereas at our own shows, I enjoy playing ‘Grow Old’, ‘Waltz’ – these songs for us were quite big achievements as far as production, and songwriting, and exploring a new sonic landscape, so they feel quite empowering to perform live. But you know, there’s nothing more fun than still playing ‘Young Blood’ at the end of the set and just people going crazy for it.
Some of the tracks on In Rolling Waves are a bit emotionally intense in comparison to your first record – do you ever have difficulty translating this in a live setting or is it quite cathartic?
I want to say that it’s actually pretty easy because we’re so fastidious with rehearsing, and because our band is a technical band. We’re punching above our weight so to speak as far as the kind of show that we’d like to put on. We’re not really a rough rock and roll band, we try to work on it sometimes – but for us the idea of a show is more of a theatrical event. I love things like the Nine Inch Nails show, where it’s not really about characters on stage and banter, it’s about a very involved visual and audio overload. That’s where we feel most comfortable, we don’t feel like good entertainers I suppose, we feel like musicians and artists – there’s a bit of a difference, I think anyway.
Honestly, there’s a big part of performing live when you’re trying to recreate songs that are quite technically difficult to recreate as far as all the different instrumentation. A lot of live performance is just making sure these parts come out really well – it kind of goes beyond the emotional side of it and becomes very physical, and very practical which is exhausting in itself. But yeah, there’s definitely days where you just feel exactly what you’re singing about.
You have a massive touring schedule coming up in 2014, and you’ve just finished Europe and North America at the end of 2013. You guys do not stop – how do you keep excited about touring, and keep it interesting for yourselves?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer, because to be perfectly honest with you there are quite monotonous points about touring. It does kind of trap you into a static mode, but at the same time that state of being has a point and a reason. You know, we’re out touring In Rolling Waves to promote the new record, to develop the identity of the band into something a little deeper. Because I think on the first record we were perhaps lumped into the synth-pop category, and I don’t think we sound like many of the bands we get compared to. Maybe on a surface level, definitely with ‘Young Blood’ and ‘Punching In A Dream’, I think they feel very ‘of the moment’, 2010 – MGMT, Passion Pit, bands like that – and it’s great, I mean I love those bands. But at the same time I haven’t heard very many songs from those bands like ‘Grow Old’ or ‘A Stillness.’
So I think the ambition for us on this record is to be seen more as an alternative rock band, and to develop an artistic identity that goes beyond our first record. And I’d like to keep doing that with each record; it’d be really great to explore new sonic territory, new styles of song writing – still keep The Naked and Famous as our identity. So that part of the album cycle can get a little bit Groundhog Day [laughs]. But at the same time there is a point and it is positive, and you just have to remind yourself of what you’re doing. If I can find enough time to stop and make more music, and demo new songs and stay productive, and feel like I’m moving forward – then I don’t mind at all.
You were in Australia earlier this year for the Big Day Out, how did you find that Australian audiences took to the songs off the new record?
Well it’s always exciting going back home, because I just consider Australia part of home touring – I don’t have any stupid hang ups about NZ-Australia or any of that patriotic nonsense. I love touring Australia, and I do find the culture is incredibly similar particularly when you talk about things like music. We have so much similar consumption identities, and I find that a drastic comparison would be America to Australia – like the difference between touring America where it’s so slow and vast, there’s so much territory to cover and work to be done.
Whereas Australia, you’ve got things like Triple J that’s been there for a few decades and it’s a nationwide – the industry is a lot more manageable so things tend to happen more quickly. So it’s refreshing to start in a place like Australia because people kind of click quite promptly. And then at the festivals it was just excellent playing the singles that have been out on radio, they’re kind of going off already which is really cool. But over here (US) we’re still trying to…get them on radio, so it’s pretty different.
Have you had any interesting tour experiences so far?
We had an exceptional time doing the Big Day Out, particularly just because we had a bunch of friends on tour with us – the band Grouplove. So we were living really close to those guys in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and were constantly bumping into them all over the world prior to living in LA – and we just kept this running joke that they were following us around the world and we were following them [laughs]. So it was wonderful to party with them every day on the Big Day Out Tour, yeah they’re lovely people. We got to hang out a lot with the 1975 guys, they’re absolutely charming and mischievous – so that was a lot of fun as well.
So you have a big year of festivals coming up – Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball, Coachella – but obviously Groovin’ The Moo is gonna be the biggest one of those! What can the regional parts of Australia expect from the GTM Tour?
Well it’s a more alternative festival, so I feel like by that point it would be nice for us to go out and do a festival set that includes maybe a less high-intensity set. You know, I like to feel that kind of festival allows us the room to play songs like ‘Waltz’ and ‘Grow Old’ off In Rolling Waves, so that we can feel less like we’re having to deal with people’s attention spans. Because that’s always the thing with some of the bigger pop festivals – you have thousands of people there who are there to see hundreds of acts, so you really have to go out all guns blazing, we don’t want to take peoples attention for granted, it doesn’t feel fun doing that at a festival – it feels fun doing that at your own show. So we’ll see, I can’t wait!
WHAT :: Groovin’ The Moo Festival
WHERE :: Maitland Showground, Maitland
WHEN :: April 26
WHERE :: The Meadows, University of Canberra
WHEN :: April 27
HOW MUCH :: $99 from Moshtix
WHAT :: The Naked and Famous national tour
WHERE :: The Metro Theatre, Sydney (over 18’s only)
WHEN :: Tuesday, May 13
HOW MUCH :: $50.90 from The Metro