We chat with The xx
Sleep is a precious commodity when touring and Romy Madley-Croft, the lead singer of indie darlings The xx is tired.
Having finished their Melbourne performance, the band was whisked off via a silver soccer-mum SUV where Madley-Croft proceeded to get two hours sleep before boarding a red-eye flight to Sydney. More press awaits before their second and last Australian show on a tour that many diehard fans would say is an all too brief trip to Australia promoting their anticipated second album, Coexist.
The singer breathes a weary sigh before summoning some enthusiasm and you can hear a light grin on her face as she greets her latest interviewer. “I’m going to have to get used to this touring thing again,” she sighs.
Probing the change in her songwriting style over the past few formative years, you can almost hear her brain click into interview mode as her voice changes from a whispery, relaxed drawl to a clear, impassioned monologue. “Songs like ‘VCR’ were written from a lighter place, we were 16 years old but I think our songs have naturally become more abstract, songs like ‘Fantasy’ are unpredictable in where they are going.”
Madley-Croft admits her collaborative songwriting with bandmate Oliver Sim plays a major part in keeping their formulas interesting and fresh, “we bounce off each other definitely. A song like ‘Basic Space’, he began and I saw where he was going and just ran with it,” she expalins.
“In the first verse of a new song we wrote called ‘Chained’, I wrote a lyric that I thought would sound better with his voice so I gave it to him so we are quite the team in that way.” She laughs at herself and when questioned about the first official cut from their new album, ‘Angels’ and its nostalgic romanticism, she agrees that it falls into that soppy aphoristic category: “I respect songs that summarise complex ideas into simple statements, that’s what I was trying to do with ‘Angels’, I really like it.”
The dramatically sparse ballad is the first track the nervously-waiting indie world heard from their upcoming second album, Coexist. The title is telling, a not-so-subtle appraisal of a band that juggles the hectic touring schedule of their own phenomenon as well as Jamie xx’s increasing celebrity as producer de jour and one of the most sought after DJs in the world. “We are so proud of Jamie xx,” gushes his XX bandmate, “not only has he given us some good parties to go to, but he’s really made some amazing music. We are his total groupies on tour.”
There is nothing but admiration in the voice of Madley-Croft as she goes on to explain how the dual careers of Jamie and The xx, both in full flight, can only be a good thing. “Jamie always has said that The xx is what he does and that all the production is just to keep him busy, which is totally true because the man is a workaholic,” explains the singer, “as soon as we step off stage you can see Jamie in some corner on his laptop, the man just doesn’t stop.”
He has indeed kept busy with side-projects and remixes, while Madley-Croft and Sim got back to being kids in London and trying to find that thing called a social life again.
Discussing the come-down from their first world-wide tour, Madley-Croft insists that the brief hiatus was needed, “after the first album I found that I craved that normalcy – so Oliver and I just spent time hanging out with friends and going to movies, all the stuff we had missed. It also gave Oliver and I time to meet up and write whilst Jamie was off doing his stuff… by the time we recovened we already had song ideas to work on together.”
These new ideas on Coexist include a more danceable groove and more uptempo songs, due to Jamie’s increasing influence, and Madley-Croft knows it; she is unflinchingly self-aware and honest: “Jamie always wants to keep up with the ever-changing London scene and so I think we picked that up from going out and also our own live performances. We found when we played songs like ‘Night Time’ live, the crowd was loving it and starting to move to it as it got more like house music so we were definitely thinking about that when we were writing.”
This evolution into a heavier hitting band comes as a reaction to the minimalism that soaked their first album, but strangely enough, if there is one person who would disagree about using the word ‘minimalism’, it’s the band’s lead singer: “I didn’t think we were making minimalist music until someone told me it was.”
Instead she chalks it up less to style, than to necessity, “we didn’t own a lot of instruments so we were just working with what we had and we’ve always been passionate about the fact that everything has to be played live. There’s no point having a twelve piece orchestra if you can’t take them around the world with you.”
Pressing Madley-Croft on the band’s design, their understated aesthetic in everything from their cover sleeves to stage design, she giggles under pressure. Responding, “I guess it’s just a happy accident, we appreciate simple design, it’s not as if we had a meeting where we agreed we could only wear black but it has come to the point where I don’t anything that isn’t black.”
She laughs heartedly as if recognising the futility of the debate, the analysis of anything too thought out seems to be lost on Madley-Croft who insists any evolution has come naturally, “we just wanted to make music that reflected where we are now as people, not replicate the first album, which is who we were then.”
The prospect of another daunting touring schedule awaits the band that will seamlessly glide from their Australian promotional tour into a another European visit.
An audible groan is emitted as Madley-Croft inevitably thinks of her upcoming life on the road, “don’t get me wrong, I love playing live. We’ve always loved playing live, even when we were too shit scared to look up at the crowd – I just hate the travel…”
Unfortunately she’s got little else ahead of her as she looks at her itinerary to the US to continue the promotional schedule for Coexist, the promises of a return to Oz have been swift and many, but when pushed for more details, Madley-Croft is as coy as ever, “you know that if it was up to me we wouldn’t even leave.”
Coexist will be released in Australia on Friday 7 September 2012 via Young Turks/Remote Control.