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The Naked and Famous embrace the American dream

Minding their business and making it personal, the New Zealand synthpop band are back with their third album.
Samantha West

Between the Naked and Famous’s 2010 runaway hit “Passive Me, Aggressive You” and 2013’s “In Rolling Waves,” the New Zealand synthpop band found themselves permanently relocated to America attempting to keep up with their success. Amid a breather, the now LA-based electronic group eventually hit a turning point, following the amicable breakup of guitarist/vocalist/producer Thom Powers and vocalist Alisa Xayalith, who had been dating the eight years prior. The result is the twinkling synth-heavy ”Simple Forms,” their third studio release that dropped in October from Somewhat Damaged. Powers calls from the road to discuss their West Coast transition, the album’s visual component and how the band prepared to discuss the very personal topics on the record.
You’ve been in the states for a while now — are you still identifying as being a New Zealand band? Or has it become different for you?
We moved here in 2012, and being an American band is exciting for us, but it’s funny because I like being an alien. Like a New Zealander in America. I like being removed culturally. It’s like a bonus or a handicap.
Is there a big difference between being characterized as a New Zealand band versus one from the states? Has that been good or bad for you as a band?
We have this thing [in New Zealand] called tall poppy syndrome. Poppies grow in a uniform line — and if one of them rises up among the rest, you have to chop them down. It’s a New Zealand/Australian thing, and I think the English have it a bit as well. Anyone who is successful gets torn down quickly. The belief in yourself as an artist isn’t a trait, as a culture. We’re self-deprecating and our culture supports that. So maybe being an American band is an exciting for us.
Where did the idea for a visual component to the album come from?
We worked with a creative team called Ride or Cry — it’s a multi-disciplinary group — and we wanted to make lyric videos to weave the way through the way we’d promote the album. We didn’t want people uploading crap versions of our stuff, and we wanted everyone to come to our channel where we can control the aesthetic, so we did one video and were like, “Let’s do a whole album of these.”
It was like, “How can we, as a medium-sized band, capitalize on one music video?” [A traditional music video] costs tens of thousands of dollars, so why not just make as many [lyric] videos as we can. So many kids are listening to their music on YouTube now that the video is almost incidental.
There’s a few recurring themes and items that appear in the videos — was that intentional? Arethey symbolic?
It’s a loose romance story told in an abstract way. It’s a story you can piece together yourself, and it’s up to fans to figure out the order. There are a lot of implied metaphorical messages and props that get teased and make their way through the videos, but overall it’s meant to be a romantic story.

It’s interesting that you mentioned kids are getting their music through YouTube, but not necessarily watching the videos — because I definitely do that too. Do you think we’ve gotten to the point where the visual component of music videos is almost irelevant?
Music videos are amazingly fun to put together, and as an artist, it’s amazing to have this thing that visually features your song. Bu they’re so damn expensive. And how do you promote them? When you’re thinking about them from a business standpoint, it’s like, where do they go? They’re incredibly expensive and they’re not something you have to make. There’s a part of me that’s cynical where I assume they’ll just get lost in the wash of the internet.
Part of me wishes they’d change a little bit or we’d let go of this idea of having a music video for every single. It feels expected now. But it’s not like we have MTV anymore or another channel where people are looking to see the latest videos for the latest songs. The weird thing about the internet is that it’s separated digital mediums more harshly.
You and Alissa went through a breakup prior to the release of this album. You’ve been quiet onyour personal lives before now, but given the experience’s influence on the release, it puts your breakup on the table for questioning in a way. Has that been difficult for you?
We sat down and had a good conversation before we did the album. We had been very private up until this point, and the Naked and Famous was almost aggressively against anything personal being on the table. This is different for us, and it’s refreshing. Weirdly, we were very precious about this stuff — not wanting to overexpose. But I don’t think people care that much when you’re not being an idiot — like that version of a reality star, where people say humiliating things. People aren’t as interested when you don’t want to undermine a friendship and relationships. So it’s not a problem when people ask us.
We don’t speak about each other in a way that’s other than admiration and stability. Clearly something this personal feels like a sacred topic, but here we are and we’re OK. It’s definitely difficult. But I hope people see it as something quite constructive and a sane message to send to a world that’s so hostile and aggravated.
If you go:
Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.
Royale Boston
279 Tremont St.
Sold Out, royaleboston.com
Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.
Hammerstein Ballroom
311 W 34th St.
$35-$39.50, bowerypresents.com

Nov. 14 at 8:30 p.m.
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
$29.50, UTPhilly.com

 

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