INTERVIEW: Alisa Xayalith Dives Deep Into The Naked and Famous' Songwriting Process
    • THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2018

    • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

    A lot of people think guitar is dead in today's world, with artists leaning more and more towards electronic instruments and nasty bass drops. That thought is brought even more to the forefront of listeners' minds when hearing a band like New Zealand's The Naked and Famous, who made their name with some of the most synth-heavy songs to date. However, that notion isn't necessarily true, and we had the opportunity to talk to TNAF front woman Alisa Xayalith all about it.

    Everyone knows TNAF's 2010 smash hit "Punching In A Dream." It reached major success, earning almost 55 million streams on Spotify, a spot on the FIFA soundtrack, and placement in several TV shows and movies. One of the things that made the song so great was its soaring, euphoric electronic sound, so why ever change it? "In the beginning of our career, we felt adverse to playing acoustic renditions of our songs, for fear it would take away the magic of the electronic elements we worked so hard on to establish," Xayalith shared with us. "Now, almost ten years on and comfortably rooted in our musical identity, it feels very right to reinvent ourselves."

    The band is currently promoting their upcoming album A Still Heart (out March 9th), which is made up of stripped back versions of the band's favorite tracks released throughout their decade long career. In it, they highlight the importance of the acoustic guitar, which you can see Xayalith expand on in the intimate video below. "When there's no power, when there's no internet, when all the lights go out, you still have this instrument and you can still write songs," she told Fender.

    Stripped back or not, guitar has a clear and powerful presence in TNAF's music, "we're a guitar-based band, even when it's not obvious," Xayalith told Baeble. You can read more all about it in our interview below.

    The original songs are so electronic, did any challenges come along with stripping them back? Were you afraid TNAF fans wouldn't like it?

    A lot of the process reminded Thom and I of how this band started, so it wasn't a foreign concept to us. The first song I wrote for this band was called "Serenade" on an acoustic guitar. Thom produced my bouncy folk song and turned it into quirky lo-fi rock. We knew we'd established a musical identity but it wasn't purely acoustic even if the song started out on an acoustic instrument.

    We were very encouraged by TNAF fans to record the acoustic versions we were playing during the promotion of Simple Forms. This process has allowed us to hear these old songs in a new light and it has reinvigorated our writing process for LP 4.

    How do you think of the sounds you want when you're making a fully produced pop song from something that started acoustically? Are there any challenges during that process?

    There are plenty of challenges! The first draft never ends up being the final cut. I remember when our song "Punching In A Dream" was going through so many outfit changes before we could settle on what felt right. It's easy to lose perspective on a song when you deliberate over every detail for as long and hard as we do. "Higher" off our record Simple Forms went through a similar process with multiple mixes and several versions to choose from. The type of production we've covered over the years gives us a good baseline of where we can start. At the heart of it all, production will always be a solid mix of organic instruments as well as electronic. That hybrid of sound will be always apparent on every record we do.

    If you could only perform one way, full blown band or stripped back, what would you choose and why?

    I have enjoyed the process of stripping things down to the bone with this record but I think you have a larger tool box to choose from if you are a "full blown band," you can amplify and accentuate your music using technology.

    You've shared that you've recorded your past albums in studios all over the world, but for this you decided to record at home. Why?

    We've had the equipment and skills to do this alone for a long time but it's taken us a long time to find the confidence. With that said, we've always been a self-contained unit. The only technical hiccup we've faced is having to wait for planes and helicopters during vocal takes! I love Thom's studio because there's less pressure and we can take our time to get things right. Re-recording a part of or scrapping an idea feels less devastating. There's subconscious anxiety that comes with paid time in a big studio, even when things are going well. That's not there at all anymore. I think we will finish our next album here too!

    Are there any guitar players that inspire you?

    Annie Clark, Justin Vernon, Jamie Since from the Kills, and Joni Mitchell. All of these artists have their own style of playing and are unique in their own right. They definitely inspire me.

    How do you incorporate the guitar into such synth-driven music?

    Thom's fuzz, octave, and synth-guitar ideas are a signature component of our sound. We don't have plans to move away from that! The guitar is my main instrument for writing. We're a guitar-based band, even when it's not obvious.

    And how does that translate in a live setting?

    I think the great thing about what we do is that we are an alternative electronic act that has big loud guitars. They are probably more apparent in a live setting than in some of our recordings. Sometimes people have found it hard to discern the difference between a synthesizer and a guitar in our records.

    Can we expect to hear some of these stripped songs at future live shows?

    Absolutely, we're making plans to do something special next year. So keep an eye out on our site.

    A Still Heart is set to be released on March 9th. Additionally, they will be embarking on a "stripped" North American tour this spring, which you can find on their site.

    Also watch our session with The Naked and Famous:

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