New Zealand is a beautiful, remote part of the world, but its remote location becomes a bit of an obstacle for recording artists trying to 'break out' internationally. Originally from Auckland, The Naked and Famous seem to be on their way to becoming one of those bands. Formed in 2008 with charter members Thom Powers (gtr, vox), Alisa Xayalith (keys, vox), and Aaron Short (keys), adding David Beadle (bass) and Jesse Wood (drms) in 2009. The band record two EPs before releasing their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You 2010. The first single from the album, "Young Blood" became a widespread hit for the band, and enabled them to tour extensively behind the album. The Naked and Famous made a momentous decision in 2012, deciding to move their base of operations to Los Angeles. The fall of 2013 saw the release of their second full-length, In Rolling Waves. Subsequently, the band returned to their native shores for the six-city New Zealand/Australia Big Day Out festival. After the Big Day Out festivities come to a close, TNAF will embark on a six-month U.S. tour which commences in Boise on February 8th. In the midst of preparations for BDO, Thom Powers ruminated on the advantages of being a working musician in L.A., and New Zealand-style meat pies...
KP - You are preparing to play Big Day Out very soon. How much will the sets we hear you do in the States as a support act for Imagine Dragons differ from what you will be doing for the BDO audiences?
TP - We are on the BDO tour right now actually! Our set is pretty upbeat and loud at the minute… We aren't playing Grow Old - not that we don't want to but the atmosphere isn't quite right. We're playing to (hopefully) thousands of people who've recently arrived at a festival in the middle of a burning hot summer. We're aiming to hold attention spans, celebrate our music and the festival, and debut some of our new tracks live to an audience that may have not heard In Rolling Waves just yet.
KP - Of the acts on BDO, whose set are you excited about catching, when you're not onstage?
TP - The 1975, Grouplove, Deftones, Arcade Fire, Tame Impala, CSS.
KP - Who did the brilliant (in both forward and reverse) choreography for the "I Kill Giants" video?
TP - That was a collaboration between the director Joel Kefali (longtime collaborator with TNAF) and the two dancers. I think Liv (the slightly lighter brunette) did a great deal of the choreography. It was such a bummer we didn't get to sit in the audience for the filming. Aaron's parents did though!
KP - You have done some extensive touring the last couple of years. What are the challenges of songwriting/coming up with new material when you spend so much time on the road?
TP - I find general day-to-day living becomes a great deal more time consuming. It's not as easy to wash your clothes, exercise and take care of my physical (and mental) health while we're on tour. The constant traveling is exhausting. I work on demos if there's downtime where I don't have anything mundane to do… and that's assuming I have the energy and inspiration to actually be creative! Some days I just want eat junk food and play video games.
KP - You hail from New Zealand, but now have lived for a bit in L.A. Compare the two. Also, is the creative process any easier in either location?
TP - New Zealand gave us every reason to leave… and every reason to miss it. I find coming home a very emotional experience. Nostalgia mainly but it's also changed a great deal (for us anyway) since we left so it's quite exciting and invigorating.
LA is a very relaxed place. We lived in Studio City and Echo Park although I'd call Echo Park my home now. I'll be returning there to work on some demos at some point this year. I honestly don't feel comfortable comparing an entire country to an entire city. In Rolling Waves has a song about the frustrations I have with this kind of conclusive generalized thinking… I guess it's directed mainly at young people on their gap-years, or what kiwi's like to call our O.E (overseas experience). People and places are complicated. They're constantly changing and evolving. Cities like LA can be endlessly surprising. LA's population is close to the size of NZ too. It's huge.
KP - It is fairly uncommon for a New Zealand band to break out internationally. Would you care to namecheck any other talented New Zealanders that you feel deserve some acclaim?
TP - (Here are a few band we've been inspired by - in no particular order…) The Mint Chicks, Lorde, James Duncan, SJD, Shocking Pinks, Kody Neilson, UMO, Kids Of 88, Broods, Jakob, Ladyhawke, Liam Finn, Brooke Fraser, Die!Die!Die!, The Veils, Watercolours, Dimmer.
KP - In your travels through the States, have managed to find any good New Zealand-style meat pies anywhere?
TP - Haha yes! One time in New York this amazing NZ-owned pie company tracked us down and brought us a bunch of Mince n' Cheese pies. I can't remember what the company was called?!… Augh! They were SO GOOD.
KP - How do U.S. concertgoers differ from audiences in other parts of the world?
TP - It's really hard to compare crowds, especially in a place as vast as the USA where each town, city and venue can be remarkably unique.
There is something romantic about American touring; the day-to-day travel routine, the long drives, the seemly endless amount of ground to cover…. We really get in the swing of things. There's this feeling of constant forwards motion - and it's hard to snap out of. Every the boring days seem to have purpose!
I love touring America. It's THE rock-n-roll touring experience. And I don't mean that in a cliched party-sense, it's just bigger and there are more people to play for. We can afford to bump up the production. It's not a tour, it's an opportunity to promote our music, as perfectly and passionately as we can, to as many people as possible.
KP - I notice that one of the songs on In Rolling Waves, "What We Want", gives a co-writing credit to Max McElligott. Who is he?
TP - Max McElligott - the original founding member of Wolf Gang (www.wolf-gang.co.uk/)
TNAF and WG became friends almost instantly. Max is a dear friend and an important musical figure - Suego Faults is amazing. If you like us, there's a good chance you'll like Wolf Gang.
We took a little working holiday towards the end of 2011. I wanted to do some co-writing and Max seemed like the perfect collaborator for What We Want. We finished the track pretty quickly. Writing with him opened my mind up to a different kind of song-writing. I've always had my hand on the session, often thinning more like a producer than a chords, lyrics and melody kind of writer. Max is definitely the latter. We met comfortably in the middle during the session but I've since made a conscious effort to write a little more like Max.
The Naked and Famous will be playing the first date on their 2014 U.S. tour in Boise, Taco Bell Arena, in support of Imagine Dragons. Tickets are still available.