The Naked and Famous
and their stellar debut might seem like an outfit that burst out of New Zealand earlier this past summer. In actuality, the band's recent international success has been a long time coming for the 5 kiwis. After our session with the band, we sat down with Thom, Aaron, and Alisa to discuss their history and the evolution of their sound.
Everyone knows that the very best music can meddle with your mind, plunging you into the opposite extremes of both happiness and sadness all at once, in intense three minute bursts. It can transport you temporarily to a realm where anything is possible and nothing is out of reach. The latest key holders to that illusive turf are New Zealand's The Naked And Famous (TNAF).
These five young Aucklanders have at their disposal a seemingly effortless ability to capture the giddy fun and relentless hooks one has come to expect from the very best electro-pop, while at the same time striving for something grander, more brooding and atmospheric. Its this special proposition that has landed the band triumphant success on their native soil (their single 'Young Blood debuted at number one in the NZ chart, as did the album Passive Me Aggressive You on its recent release, both on the groups own Somewhat Damaged label), and has meant that containing their sounds to their homeland has been something of an impossibility.
One of 2011s genuine organic buzzes has already yielded results that overshadow most hype-bands. Over the past six months the antipodeans fantastical glitching gems have scorched through the blogosphere like a hot knife through butter, culminating first in the international release of 'Young Blood on none-other than the most notorious pop-picking label on planet earth, Neon Gold (Marina And The Diamonds, Ellie Goulding etc) and then with the group finding a home away from home on Fiction Records. Now, with Down Under virtually conquered, and Passive Me, Aggressive You readied for full international release, the bands sights are set far and wide. And in keeping with their musics edifying powers, anything seems possible...
Thom and Alisa met at music college in 2008 and formed a songwriting partnership that would become the life force of TNAF. Aaron, a high school acquaintance of Thoms, was also studying at the same college and soon became a production foil to the duo as they toyed with song and recording ideas after hours in the college studio and various bedrooms. These eventually became TNAFs first releases, the twin EPs No Light and This Machine.
Forming a live band was secondary to the studio for Thom and Alisa. After the couples first tentative steps using backing musicians, they coaxed Aaron out from his role as their live sound engineer to assume suitable knob-twiddling duties onstage - as a sort of electronics overlord - and eventually the perfect rhythm section was found in the shape of another two of their high school mates, Jesse and David. Working furiously throughout 2009 on developing a new live set and dozens of demos, TNAF embarked on an expansion of their sound, as together they experimented with the epic turns and cinematic moods that define them today.
"I feel like a lot of the greatest pop music is the stuff that taps into the really powerful memories or emotions," ponders Alisa. "Just because it's music that can be fun and you can party to, doesn't mean you can't touch upon stuff that can be challenging or heart-wrenching." As early domestic radio love and international cult status began to snowball, a kinship with the widescreen fairytale dance-pop of Empire Of The Sun, MGMT and of course, the ongoing evolutions of LCD Soundsystem, became evident.
Passive Me, Aggressive You, the debut long-player from TNAF came together at scattered small studio locations around Auckland. Operations, as ever, were overseen by self-confessed 'control freak' Thom, the song ideas colored by Aarons input as he and Thom shared production duties on the album, and constantly guided by Alisa's unique melodies.
Singles 'Young Blood' and 'Punching In A Dream' could well do for 3-D synth anthemia what 'Time To Pretend' and 'Kids' did for new psychedelia a few years back. On the record, at its most mountainous, the likes of vacant leviathan 'No Way' and urgent throbbing ascent 'Eyes' work a strange kind of magic. 'Jilted Lovers' wrestles with an unruly synthetic discordance in the vein of the groups greatest shared and acknowledged influence Nine Inch Nails, while 'A Wolf In Geek's Clothing' takes that same stormy heart and cranks it to near doom-laden bulldozer effect. From fleeting sound-scapes like 'The Source' to 'Spank's urgent swamping surge of glitches and fuzzed-out refrains, TNAF never shy away from deconstructing normal indie comfort zones. It stands proud, in a time of quick-fix singles culture, as a genuine album.
But anyone who's witnessed TNAF emerge from what they like to call their natural studio habitat to step onstage where their songs become a truly enveloping experience will testify to the sheer epic proportions of album closer 'Girls Like You'. Perhaps TNAF at their most realizedis a complete collision of swooping, chanting hook-lines and otherworldly expanses of sound. This is a band set to blow a crater in 2011s musical landscape, a young group of warped sound merchants making do-or-die, heart-in-mouth, chart-bound pop to invest your heart and soul in.