With worldwide success and a chart-topping debut album, The Naked and Famous seem set for musical world domination. Ciara Andrews talks to the kiwi quintet about their rise to fame
As clean as this band’s songs are, their phone calls have grunge levels of distortion. Through the static of the phone line, while driving to Philadelphia to continue the US leg of their world tour, The Naked and Famous lead singer Thom Powers explains his surprise at the band’s initial success in their native New Zealand. “It was an accident, but it was a happy accident. We had hopes of maybe getting on the top ten of our local college radio but we accidentally got on the pop charts, which is really weird.”
They did not just enjoy a once-off hit, but also the notible achievement of being the first debut single to gain a number one chart slot in New Zealand in sixteen years, and the first homegrown act to reach number one in three years, with their summer anthem ‘Young Blood’. This accidental success has gained the band worldwide critical acclaim, sparking UK and European tour dates, as well as a US tour to promote the band’s debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You. Much hype has been built up around the indie rockers, with constant comparisons to the likes of MGMT and Empire of the Sun. Powers brushes this off with a laugh, admitting to Otwo that “hype is good for your career”.
The band began when singer Alisia Xayalith and Powers met at university and developed as an electro-pop duo. The remaining members joined shortly afterwards and The Naked and Famous was born. Their debut album first came to life in the band’s Auckland bedrooms, with the finishing touches being applied in professional studios. Yet The Naked and Famous still retain the raw sparkle they first developed playing local gigs in New Zealand. Despite their recent acceleration to fame they remain grounded and focused on continuously improving as musicians and performers. “Performing accurately every night is a challenge in itself. I don’t think that’ll ever get old for me.”
The Naked and Famous proved their credentials and earned their stripes doing what many bands of the Southern Hemisphere have deemed impossible: gaining worldwide recognition and success. Powers tells of the difficulty for local bands to gain support and develop on an international level. “I think it’s down to small town syndrome, and I guess it’s just part of the way our music culture works. There’s a lack of interest and a lack of respect for local artists – I don’t really want to go back home to be honest.” And why would they? In the midst of their US tour The Naked and Famous are revelling in the rock and roll lifestyle. However, Powers notes that this band still have their feet firmly on the ground and are focused on the music. “We’re not volatile drinking rock and roll idiots, we do switch to band mode where we are professional and go into being artists, performers and musicians.”
With a record collection that includes everything from the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails to the dancefloor sounds of the Chemical Brothers, the band blend their eclectic musical influences masterfully, creating their vibrant and exiting sound. This is encapsulated on the album as each song draws from various styles and each track stands out from the last. ‘A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing’ is one particularly notable track, as it displays the more sombre tones on the album. Powers explains that “it was quite specifically put together in a certain way; we looked for elements to add to it to make it sound odd and not just straight rock”.
The Naked and Famous’ shiny brand of electro-pop has already succeeded in dominating the charts. With high-profile stints at Oxegen, Reading, and Leeds, as well as many other gigs throughout the summer, their festival-friendly tunes have ensured them a secure fan base throughout Europe.
The band are still revelling in the success of their first album, as the frontman admits that they haven’t reached their peak in their live shows yet. “It’s still something we’re really enjoying playing. I’m still waiting until we can get the right stage production we want before I feel like we’ve hit the point that we want as far as live performances go, which luckily will be when we go back to the UK and Europe. That will really feel like the pinnacle of the touring for me.”
Talk quickly moves to what is next on the cards for The Naked and Famous, and as Powers describes his plans for a sophomore album, it is clear the dust will only begin to settle on Passive Me, Aggressive You before this band will provide fans with more indie pop perfection to treat their ears to. Confident, Powers expresses no fear of a dud followup or any difficult second album syndrome. “I love being creative and I love making music. I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to kick us off for album two.”
The Naked and Famous play Dublin’s Olympia theatre on November 13th. Tickets are priced at €25. Passive Me, Aggressive You is out now.