The xx - 'It's nice not feeling cripplingly shy'This week UK trio The xx released 'Angels', the first single from their much-anticipated forthcoming album, Coexist - a single that coincided nicely with their quick two-stop Australian promo tour. Having had a cheeky listen to Coexist in full, we can report that it's gentle but formidable, sad, sparse, emotive and beautiful. They've grown up and they've grown confident.
Touring Australia for two gigs only (you can read about their Melbourne show here), The xx's Romy Madley Croft (above, left) sat down with us to discuss sad songs, petrol rainbows, what the title means, and how nice it is to not feel cripplingly shy anymore.
TheVine: 'Angels' was released this week, how are you all feeling?
Romy Madley Croft: Good. I think we're just so happy to get [some new music] out there. It's been a long time. It's a relief.
How would you describe Coexist?
I think it still sounds like us. It still sounds recognisable, but we've all had more experiences, been around the world a few times, kind of experienced lots of different types of music. There's a few more influences.
How did the title come about?
It came from the artwork, which is looking at when you see a puddle on the ground that's got petrol in it and it looks like a rainbow. I wondered why it was a beautiful thing when it was quite, well not very beautiful, and I Googled it and it said that when oil and water mix...well they don't mix they agree to peacefully coexist. I really liked that, that two not necessarily beautiful things make something beautiful. Then I thought about the three of us as individuals, working as solo artists say, when we make something on our own it will never be the same as when it's the three of us, and that's [when we come] together to create something else, I guess. So it has that link, and also the three of us coexist with one another; we all have quite different tastes, we're just different people coming together. There's a few! It's a bit of an open name, I think.
You guys have always copped a lot of comments about the band's preference for black.
What can we read into the flip to white and the introduction of rainbow on the new album artwork?
I mean, we all still wear black, but I still love colour. I don't know, we wanted to do a change with the artwork, but keep sort of a theme. But yeah, there's just a theme of iridescence in this album now, which is something that I found is what that [petrol] thing is. It's the colour, it's the light reflecting through things, and all of our artwork is based around that.
It's very lyrical, and very affecting. What was the album's genesis? And how did it evolve into the 11 songs that it is now?
We had some time off, had a bit of a life, [laughs] had some experiences, and got some stuff to write about. I didn't find touring very inspiring, it's a bit here, there and everywhere and we just wanted to have some time [at] home. After that I guess it's just about our life and people around us, and that's what we find most inspiring.
Love, lost or gained, features heavily. Was there a conscious decision about the album's theme?
Yeah it does, definitely there's some longing and some loss. I think, with Coexist, the name, when you say to coexist with someone if kind of means to learn to live, and it doesn't paint the prettiest picture I guess. It sounds like a compromise, which I guess sometimes it can be like that in a relationship. So, yeah, it's kind of connected as well.
I'm not sure if I'm projecting, but some of the lyrics are quite devastating.
What was the mood like writing it?
I think we don't do a good job of not portraying that we would have been crying the whole way through [laughs]. The thing is, I've always been a fan of sad songs even when I'm in a good mood. I don't know what that says? We weren't crying. The whole time. We had a lot of fun making this album even though there are some sad songs.
In the past you and Oliver have sung the lyrics you've each written. Was the process for Coexist more collaborative, or different at all this time around?
Yeah, it was more collaborative this time. For the first time we wrote about four songs on the album together, which was different. You have to sort of let down a wall with each other, open up and kind of just be in the moment, which was good. It felt good to progress, because before we wrote over the internet. Even though we're very close, he'd be in his house and I'd be in my house and we'd collage the songs. So you've kind of got that…you're kind of shielded, it's like a protection. [It was different] to be in the moment, to bare your soul a bit.
Was that new dynamic nice?
It was. I think it brought us closer together.
Your voices are really beautiful on the new album, and more… mature? Have you been training vocally?
No, I've never had singing lessons or anything. I think it just came from a lot of touring and a lot of singing every night. It just happened, I think we just got a bit more confident, I mean I can hear it in Oliver and he says he can hear it in me, but it's that thing where you don't hear it yourself. But, I realised that I could push my voice a bit more and I thought that was fun.
What were some of the musical influences you brought with you on Coexist?
I guess it was still quite similar to the first album. I sort of listened to a lot of RnB, I kind of listened to Aaliyah and things like that. At the same time we all got a bit more into house music. That combination of dance music that's quite sad, but people dance to it. I've always loved that contradiction. You can have a room full of people having an amazing time, and then you stop and you're like 'That's really heartbreaking!' and I think that's something I got really interested in.
So was that the objective, to create dancey music with that [lyrical] dichotomy?
I think it kind of happened that way. I think we really appreciate that kind of thing and it comes across on a few of the songs.
Can we talk about the introduction of the steel pan?
[Laughs] Yes! Yeah, Jamie has a children's steel pan, it's like a small one and he just has it in his studio, he's used it on his solo stuff on a few tracks. Oliver and I are big fans of how it sounds, and [Jamie] plays it on one song. And he plays it live, which I think is very impressive. I mean, I like it. I was just like, watching him play it. It's good, it's cool.
Where did you record the album?
We recorded it in London, in an area called Angel. It's not a studio, it's just an apartment. We just realised that we could record anywhere, we didn't need a fancy, expensive studio or anything, so we just chose somewhere where we wanted to spend 15 hours a day, [for] six months of our lives. It's not soundproof, so our neighbours have been patient.
How did you handle the pressure of creating a follow up to such a successful debut?
I tried not to think about it. When we came back from touring our first album we were all just so happy to be back, and you know, given the time to make music. So we were just excited about that. The pressure kind of came from us really, because we have high expectations of ourselves and what we want to do. If I was thinking about what everyone else was expecting I think I would freak out.
Were there any limitations?
Only kind of in a good way, in a sense that everything we do has to be played live so we kind of set our own limitations. That way the songs can't overcomplicate themselves. There can't be three layers of guitar, because I can't play it, and there can't be all these other instruments, because we don't want to bring in session musicians, so that creates some limits. But I find that quite healthy. That's how we worked on the first album as well.
In what ways do you think the band has changed in the past few years?
I think we've grown up a bit more. I think we know a bit more about what we're doing. Before we were diving head first, going everywhere, it was very overwhelming. I mean it still is, but I think we've gained confidence, which is probably the thing that we all value the most from everything. Being forced in front of people to talk, and being put on a stage, you have to kind of… we've grown into it a bit more.
I did want to ask if you are feeling more confident this time around.
Yeah, a bit more, which makes things easier. It's nice not feeling cripplingly shy.
What can we expect from the live experience?
Well we spent a long time on the light show, and that kind of incorporates more of the artwork and the colours and the things. I spent a lot of time getting a bit scientific with. [Currently] we're playing about four or five new songs, and there's some reworkings of the old songs. I hope you like it.
Read our review (and see the photos) of The xx live in Melbourne here on TheVine.
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