The Naked and Famous’ Alisa Xayalith Talks Moving to LA, Becoming a Homebody + Making New Album ‘In Rolling Waves’
From adapting to unfamiliar surroundings to meeting new people, moving from one place to another can be both an exciting adventure and a nerve-racking challenge. For the Naked and Famous, relocating from Auckland, New Zealand, to Los Angeles was much more than your average move. It was a bit of a culture shock.
Despite the change, the quintet rallied together to write and record ‘In Rolling Waves,’ their brand-new sophomore LP. Softer and more melodic than their 2010 debut, ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You,’ the album shows how these synth-poppers have grown over the past three years. Featuring songs like the encouraging lead single ‘Hearts Like Ours’ and ‘What We Want’ and ‘Rolling Waves,’ ‘Waves’ is strong effort through and through.
Singer and keyboardist Alisa Xayalith recently chatted with Diffuser.fm about moving to the Golden State, making ‘Waves’ and discovering the joys of nesting.
It’s been three years since ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You.’ Why did it take so long to put another album out?
Oh man, life has been happening. That’s what’s been going on. We released our first record in 2010. Then we released ‘Young Blood’ in the U.K., and then we released it to the rest of the world in March 2011. Things just snowballed from there, and I felt like we had to keep up with the momentum of touring. We were just chasing our tails and playing as many places as possible. I don’t think we could have crammed anymore. It was so busy, and we were touring on and off for two years. ‘Young Blood’ just did so well so we kept on touring.
We just really felt we had to put the breaks on and make other records so we really started trying in the very, very beginning of 2012. Then we decided to move to Los Angeles for more practical reasons and then started recording the record. But you know, I don’t feel like we had a lot of time to write this record. And I think because half of it was written on the road and half of it was while we’re living in Los Angeles … we feel like we’ve had our whole lives to write the first record. On the second, there was a little bit of pressure with regards to time. But it was good. I mean, it didn’t cause a lot of problems.
How was the approach to this this one compared the first album?
Like I mentioned before, it took us a while to get started and be creative again. The switch wasn’t so easy, especially with just coming off tour. But while doing that, we were also trying to find our own feet in a foreign country. I feel like the geography is a huge part of what’s different about this album. When we were writing the first one, I felt like we writing it in a little cocoon, completely unaware of how unsuccessful that was. Now with the second record, I feel like there was more expectation, and we were putting expectations on ourselves to write something that was good because we’ve already set the standard for ourselves. We were also writing it in a foreign country, and in a way, we were more isolated. Because on the first record, everybody had day jobs and everybody had a normal life aside from just making music on the side. This time around, it was more of a full-time thing. We had more time to focus on this record so it makes sense.
You mentioned there’s a standard you’ve set for yourselves, and other people who know your music also have expectations for the new material. Were there any worries about this second album flopping?
I feel we’ve been asked that quite a few times. Personally, after all the life experience and touring and knowing what people loved most about the last record, I feel like we’ve still got it. We’re still the same band. I feel like we have the confidence to push ourselves more and even further. But I’m not worried about people’s reactions about the whole sophomore-album-syndrome thing. I’m not worried about that at all. I’m pretty confident with the second record. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, and I hope everyone who listens to it like the first album.
What’s the story behind the song ‘Hearts Like Ours’?
Lyrically, it’s an anxiety-filled song about leaving a place or situation and to go somewhere new like on an adventure, and making that kind of decision can be frightening as well. And I think it’s a song about being brave and conquering your anxiety about a changed place and changed environment. That’s what it’s pretty much about. That song actually went through several formations. Musically, it’s been through so many changes.
It’s interesting you mention ‘Hearts Like Ours’ being about the anxiety of leaving a place because there seems to be a bit of that in the music video. Can you talk about the premise behind it?
When it comes to the music videos, we never really tell [the directors] what to do it. It’s so funny because we give them so much artistic reign to do what they want. And it’s great because all of our videos are about the work and their interpretation of what they think the visual should be to go with the song. I love it because sometimes they’re really on point with what the song was about or punctuating parts of the song and highlight certain things. This video is a bunch of little vignettes of people struggling and overcoming. I feel really dumb talking about their videos because I feel like I’m going to interpret it wrong. So that’s what I think [the video is about].
And it was so much fun to shoot because most of the footage was shot in the house that we were living in, in Studio City, which is really close to Laurel Canyon. I think it’s a really special piece of art that I want to cherish because it was made in our house that we pretty much wrote the album in.
Listening to ‘In Rolling Waves,’ the songs are a lot softer and far less aggressive than the ones on the previous album. What inspired you guys to go into that direction?
I’m really glad you picked up on it. The first record is dense, and the production on it was a lot brighter. And on the second one, we really wanted to graduate our sound from that. We wanted to stick the “less is more” theme. And I think we wanted to go that way with it because after the experience of live recording and playing live and hearing ourselves recorded in live sessions, we notice what we could have done to make things better. We would say things like, “I wish those bass tones were different and not blend in together like they do live.” So there were all these technical things that we wanted to do better on the second record and allow each part of the song to really have its own life and not be crowded by so many layers. I think we really wanted to have a lot more quieter moments and the other end of the spectrum compared to things being more full. It was a conscious thing we wanted to do because we wanted to make something different, especially with all that we learned over the last two years.
You mentioned being on tour a lot over the past couple of years. What’s the most memorable place you’ve performed in or visited?
It’s so hard to choose. But I only say this place because we actually had some time to look around. Most of the time when you’re on tour, you’re in then you’re out and only see the insides of clubs. But we had the chance to go to Japan to play Fuji Rock. And that, for me, was definitely one of my big highlights. Just feeling lost in translation and being in this country. It was great. I had such a great time. And we had an interpreter with us, and they took us to all the restaurants and ordered all the things for us. It was just so cool being in a country that’s so different and vast and full of so many cool things. I had such a great time. We got to spend maybe a week there before we played the festival. It was fantastic. I would probably feel the same about the other places we visited, had we more time to just be there and have a guide to show us around.
Since you are on the road so much, is there something you need to have from home?
While I’m here in L.A., there’s so many Kiwis here. It’s ridiculous. And when I’m hanging out with the band and all the people from there, it actually feels like you’ve never left home. I get these moments, which would last a couple of seconds, where I look outside, seeing where I am and seeing who I’m hanging out with, and it feels like I’m in New Zealand again. So being around New Zealanders and being in a band of people from New Zealand, it feels very easy to feel at home when we’re all together. And I think that’s what’s the special part of our band is that we’re from the same small country, and we’re all experiencing the world together. None of us feel home sick or anything.
Since moving to Los Angeles, is there any spot that’s become your ultimate go-to?
When we stopped touring and we moved into the big house, I really flipped and became such a homebody and took advantage of not going out too much because I feel like the last two years of my life was going out every single night. And so I really missed it — having a bedroom, having a shelf to put all my books on and just cooking. I cook a lot. So my home was my haven. And I didn’t go out a lot because we were working on the record. So I really took advantage of the time to nourish myself in that way. And I didn’t go out as much or do anything like that, which I think makes me an old soul in that respect. The guys like going out and are quite social. They’re always going out, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out. But being at home and creating that environment where I can be comfortable is really important to me.
Since the album released, what are the plans for the Naked and Famous?
Oh my gosh. It’s so exciting! Well, I’ve been telling you I’ve been home [before the album came out] and just nesting, and it’s so nice. But we’re touring now, and I suspect that we’ll be booked up till next year. That’s our focus now. We’ll go to all the places we’ve been to before and then hopefully play in a few places we haven’t been yet.