Disconnect, Rebuild, and Move On; An Interview with Thom Powers of The Naked and Famous


The Naked and Famous

Los Angeles by-way-of New Zealand quintet The Naked and Famous are set to deliver their sophomore album, In Rolling Waves, via Republic in final quarter of 2013 release of their sophomore album, In Rolling Waves, via Republic (September 17). Fronted by Alisa Xayalith (vocals/keyboards) and Thom Powers (guitar/vocals), The Naked and Famous, who originally lit a fire under an online fan base, with a video subculture built through YouTube and into radio, return with a stunning follow up that is sure to delight current fans and earn them a drove of new ones when the band will commence a North American tour in late September before heading to Europe and arriving in the UK late November (dates below).  
After two years of near-constant touring, the New Zealand five-piece set up home in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles to begin work on the twelve track album. The resulting album, In Rolling Waves,  produced by Powers and Short, along with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Beck and NIN) with co-production on two tracks, delivers darkly nuanced, intricately rocking electro gems once again born in bedroom studio sessions, then demoed in studios in Wales and Australia ahead of recording at Sunset Sound in Hollywood.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Powers to discuss their output, confuse him with questions about YouTube, and to find out where they hang gold records.  This is what he said. 

Do you guys ever Google yourselves?  What kinds of results do you get?
I use Google alerts for interviews. Some kids may think that’s egotistical, but this band is my life! I don’t believe it when artists say they’re only doing it for themselves. I’m thinking, “Yea ok buddy then why do you have a record label, publisher, management, etc.” I think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction though. Maybe the artist feels pressured to conform to this romanticized idea of the “artiste”. I want an audience though. So does any musician participating the in music industry. Humans want connection, respect, appreciation, empathy, sympathy, etc. On the other hand the world mostly consist of judgmental opinionated idiots… like me.
Was it overwhelming to think that you’d sold over 500,000 copies of Passive Me, Aggressive You?  Do you have a special place for the U.S. Gold single?
It certainly was! We have some gold singles at our managements’ office back home in NZ. I imagine Paul and Campbell (managers) staring at them, holding hands, doing deep breathing exercises, telling each other, “It’ll be fine…” after getting off the phone with me. LOL. I think all our parents have the rest. I don’t really need one for myself. I feel humbled simply knowing that a large amount of people have my record.
You guys haven’t just been embraced by the fans, but also some of your peers.  What are your relationships with M83 and Tiesto like these days?
Tiesto I’ve never met, but we mailed each other a fair bit. He was trying to get us to help him out with some tunes at one point, but we were just too busy.
I see Morgan Kibby from M83 regularly. She’s working on her solo project White Sea. She was supposed to come to the beach with us the other day, but she was “busy shooting a video”. Pft. Drinks on you next time Morgan. M83 are all good people. We stole two of their live-techs.
How big an influence do you believe YouTube has had on the success of the band and growth of your fanbase?
I’m not sure I understand the question. It doesn’t really matter what I believe, but I could certainly track down some statistics. Are you asking whether YouTube alone is a solid tool for growing a fan base?  I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t know of any successful bands who began their career via YouTube. I think at the point of having decent music video an artist has some form of business infrastructure. I’m not sure how YouTube could have influence over success… It is simply a tool, not a taste-making entity like a reviewer.
I think people are still a little confused about social media in relation to music. “Does Facebook make you famous?” No, making music does though. Again, social media is just a tool. People generally don’t develop a fan-base solely from having a Facebook page. There are countless small bands with virtually nonexistent audiences. Social media is great for connecting with an already established fan base though. I certainly don’t just go randomly hunting for undiscovered bands via Twitter etc. I check out music blogs and websites.
What was it like recording the album in Laurel Cannon, a place with such a huge musical history?
We recorded the bulk of the live instruments at “Sunset Sound” in Hollywood. We wrote, produced and engineered all of the electronic aspects at our Canyon home though. 
Everything influences my output, including environment but… real stuff. Things that are tangible and realistically affective. The idea that a living in the same place as a bunch of long dead musicians will influence your own artistic endeavors is like saying eating lunch in Bruce Lee’s old house will help you do backflips. There’s probably more porn made in the hills than music, but I didn’t feel any randier than usual either. Our home studio was great, but not unlike a home studio anywhere in the world: the environment outside the room has nothing to do with what you’re working on. Making music is an introverted process for us. To be perfectly honest Groningen had more to do with this record than LA. 
Was there significant pressure on the band to avoid the sophomore slump with In Rolling Waves after the last record was so well received critically?
Yes and no. The pressure we felt was mostly self-induced. But again, I think that’s quite a vague question… it sort-of implies that without pressure we may possibly have considered writing an album we intended to be not so well received. Or that we actually had a simple formula for critical success in the first place. I hope all my music connects with all people everywhere, all of the time! But alas… I have not figured out how to do this yet. 
I hypothesize that some acts spit the dummy on the second record, turning their back on what made them successful because they actually feel confused about it. They go off and do something a little more self indulgent. I don’t think we did that with this record. I think it is a step forwards from the PMAY but in a reflective way. We’re trying to master our craft, not abandon our past.
Is there a theme that ties the new record together?  Is it “about” a particular, topic, idea, or does it have a unified story?
No, we’ve never been big on this notion. A concept album does sound a bit cheesy, but mainly it can be counter intuitive to the creative process. I used to try planning musical ideas in advance of actually executing them, but the reality is often unpredictable. I’ve learnt to let go of and just start working. The bigger picture becomes clearer as the work accumulates too. With In Rolling Waves there’s definitely loose thematic things that we naturally gravitated towards, but this is just us being us, here and now. Disconnection, rebuilding, moving on, learning emotional lessons; these are some of the themes I hear in the music. I feel like I need time to reflect. My answer will probably be different in a year or so.
What was Justin Meldal-Johnsen able to bring to the table that helped you realize your goals for this record?
Justin was the first person I’d spoken with, outside of the band, who could articulate his thoughts on our demos using terms I could actually do something with. The most simple way to explain it would be to say he hung out, brought good vibes, encouraged us and offered me a second opinion. I feel fortunate we had the opportunity to reach out to someone like him.
You will be back to the U.S. in 2013.  Is there anything about the trip that you are particularly excited about?
We are here right now! We’ve been living in LA since we stopped touring PMAY. The first show is September 25. I am excited about so many things but mostly I am excited about playing the shit out of In Rolling Waves haha.
(The Naked and Famous North American Tour: 

Sep 25 – San Diego CA, House of Blues  
Sep 27 – Los Angeles CA, Wiltern
Sep 29 – Tucson AZ, Rialto Theater
 Oct 1 – Dallas TX, House of Blues
Oct 2 – Austin TX, Stubbs
 Oct 3 – Houston TX, House of Blues
 Oct 5 – Atlanta GA, The Tabernacle
 Oct 6 – Washington DC, 9:30 Club
 Oct 8 – Philadelphia PA, Electric Factory
 Oct 10 – New York NY, Terminal 5
 Oct 12 – Boston MA, House of Blues
 Oct 14 – Toronto ON, Sound Academy
 Oct 16 – Chicago IL, Riviera Theater
 Oct 18 – Denver CO, Fillmore Auditorium
 Oct 20 – Vancouver BC, Orpheum Theatre
 Oct 21 – Seattle WA, Showbox Sodo
 Oct 22 – Portland OR, Roseland Theater
 Oct 24 – Las Vegas NV, The Cosmopolitan
Oct 25 – Oakland CA, Fox Theater
Oct 26 – Pomona CA, Fox Theater 

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