Band Notes: The Naked and Famous
We catch up with the New Zealand five-piece, who play two shows in a row at 9:30 Club.
If a band could be said to rise to fame on the strength of one synth riff, the Naked and Famous would be it. The sparkling opening sounds of “Young Blood,” the first single off the band’s debut album, 2010’s Passive Me, Aggressive You, has been featured in countless commercials, movie trailers, and TV shows from Gossip Girl to Covert Affairs. The band formed when vocalist Alisa Xayalith and vocalist/guitarist Thom Powers met in music college in Auckland, New Zealand; they began writing songs together and soon added keyboardist Aaron Short, bassist David Beadle, and drummer Jesse Wood. TNAF’s distinctive blend of youthfully exuberant synth-pop and poetic yet relatable lyrics carries through to their second album, 2013’s In Rolling Waves, along with a slightly darker edge that reflects their time on the road and their maturation both as a band and as individuals.
TNAF tour the US, Europe, and Australia through January, including shows at the 9:30 Club Sunday and tonight. We chatted with David Beadle by phone about the band’s evolving sound, why they decided to relocate to Los Angeles, and his unusual ways of keeping himself amused on the road.
Where am I catching you today?
Man, you know what, I actually don’t know. We were in Houston last night and we’ve got a day off today, thankfully, and we’ll be tomorrow in Atlanta, Georgia. We’ve actually been on the road for five days now—we’ve played five gigs in a row. We did the Craig Ferguson TV show and we’ve done the last three gigs in Texas, which have been amazing; they’ve been really, really good.
Are any of the cities you’re playing new to you?
All the cities we’re going to on our run we’ve actually done before, and it’s good to get back to these towns and play to these audiences again.
Your current tour goes for quite a while—do you enjoy being on the road that much?
Absolutely. Making the music is great, and being able to perform it and play it to an audience is just so much fun. We’ve been off the road … we came off the road in March or April 2012, so just getting back on the road again and being able to perform the new record, In Rolling Waves, is so great, and the response we’re getting is really good too. So it’s only been exciting so far.
Have you picked up any packing tips since your last tour?
[laughs] I’m a terrible packer. My one packing piece of advice to myself is—you know those, like, squashed pennies that people have in towns, like you go to an amusement park or a museum? I’m obsessed with collecting squashed pennies, and there’s a certain kind of penny that’s pre-1982, so I’ve been collecting these pennies and I’ve packed them, so now I can get these copper pennies squashed.
Have you played 9:30 Club before?
I think the first gig we did there was the first tour around US as a support tour with the band Foals. Every time we’ve been to DC we’ve played 9:30 Club, and it’s such an amazing venue, really incredible. And we’re in a position now where we’re able to play two gigs there, which is so wonderful for us. I never could have imagined myself in that position. I can’t wait to play that show.
I saw on Twitter that you just had a birthday.
Yes, I had my birthday in Austin, Texas. I turned 25, so I’m feeling very old. [Ed. note: That’s not old.]
Well, happy birthday! How did you celebrate?
We [the band] all hung out together, and had some birthday cake, and me, Jesse, and Aaron—the drummer and the keyboard player—we got obsessed with remote-controlled airplanes. It sounds kind of weird, but we have this crazy hobby of remote-controlled airplanes. And I got this one, and one of the controllers we had just didn’t work, so these guys six months later got me the right controller for this airplane. And I brought it on the road with us, so maybe even today, on our day off, we can play our remote-controlled airplane.
It’s not going to make an appearance onstage, is it?
No, no. Hopefully I’ll have something more exciting to do onstage than fly a remote-controlled airplane.
Since you’ll be in town for two nights, will you get a chance to explore DC at all?
I wish! Man, every time we’re in a city we never really get to see anything, I always try to go for a run in each city I’m in, but that’s the extent of the sightseeing I get to do. We went to Jakarta in Indonesia, and we were there for 19 hours, so even going to a new country we never really have the time to look around. But hopefully if we’re there for two nights I’ll have time to take a run around and have a look.
You guys moved to California fairly recently, right?
With the last tour of the US, we came off the road April 27 or something like that, and the moment we finished in Vancouver we came down to Los Angeles, and have been living there ever since. It’s a really wonderful place. I think the decision from came not initially a love for the place but for economics and logistics: To catch a flight to London or to New York, or even back to New Zealand, it’s only one flight, and if we’d gone back to New Zealand it takes a long time to get anywhere. So we’re based in a central place, and there’s a very big music community, great studios, great producers, great musicians, so it felt like a very inspiring place to be. At the end of the day it does feel similar to New Zealand; New York feels very claustrophobic and very close together, and London in that regard too, so we have a lot of space in a city like Los Angeles, which is what we’re used to.
So is that home for the foreseeable future?
Absolutely. Aaron just signed a lease on a house in Los Angeles for the next year, so I’m not going to leave him there alone. [laughs]
Tell me about how In Rolling Waves came together.
We’ve been living in Los Angeles—we all live together in a house in Laurel Canyon, and we wrote that record I guess together; we were all in the same space, and the same position, and all together, which is sort of the way Passive Me, Aggressive You came together as well. We set up a little home studio where we were working on tracks together. It was really nice, and came together very organically; there was no rush or no hurry, no worries or anything like that about the second record. It happened very naturally. The only difference was being in Los Angeles we figured maybe we should go to a slightly larger studio than we were in the first time around, so we went to a place called Sunset Sound and worked with an engineer named Billy Bush. He mixed our first record, so it was great to work with him as an engineer the first time around. And after that fact we all came together—and somehow we don’t hate each other yet—we went to London to work at Assault and Battery, which is a great studio out there, with a man called Alan Moulder, who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails very recently. That was our reason to go, because they’re a great influence and inspiration to us. After that it’s sort of history, between pre-production and making sure live shows are exciting as possible.
The vibe of this album is a bit darker and more introspective than your first—was that an intentional shift?
Intent is sort of realized afterward; it’s never an intention for us in the first place to have an idea of something like that. It all comes naturally. But like you say, this record is a lot more introspective, that comes from us having been on the road since the beginning of 2011. I guess the introspection or darkness comes from a sense of maturity in songwriting. We’ve grown as people, we’ve grown as musicians, and we know what works live and what doesn’t. We spend a lot of time on each instrument’s individual part and trying to figure out how we can make each individual part wonderful in and of itself rather than having to layer up the backing tracks, which is what a lot of bands seem to be doing now.
At one point you guys had a little bit of a beef with Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who sampled a lot of “Young Blood” on one of his songs but didn’t give you credit. Did he ever end up making amends with you guys?
I think that situation ironed itself out eventually.
One of my friends theorized that the line in your recent song “Hearts Like Ours” that goes “Half awake and almost dead” is a reference to that conflict—was that deliberate?
That was really just Alisa being an incredible lyricist and a poet, I think.
What’s coming up that you’re most looking forward to?
It’s very exciting to be back on the road again. We’ll be doing North America up until I think the 27th, and then we’ll head to the UK and Europe for a month and do the same thing, and then we’ll be back in US for December. At that point we’ll be working on acoustic stuff for radio, which is exciting for us; the first time around we had a really great acoustic set that we worked very, very hard on, and we’re gonna do the same thing around this time. Then we’ll do [annual music festival] Big Day Out in Australia and New Zealand, and then we’ll see where we end up after that.
And when you finally get a little time off, what will we find you doing?
Flying remote-controlled airplanes!
The Naked and Famous play 9:30 Club Monday, October 7, at 7 PM. Tickets are sold out.