We caught up with Oliver, Romy, Baria and Jamie from The XX after their recent gig at the Bodega Social Club, to talk about their growing success; they are currently mid-way through a sellout UK tour. You have the option to listen to Audio Interview or read the transcription.
You have just brought an album out called XX, can you tell me how you guys met and formed the band?
O: Romy and I have known since 3 years old. We went to the same nursery, secondary school and college and now this. We have been side by side with her for most of my life. We met Jamie and Baria in secondary school when we were 11 so all four of us have grown up together?
When did you realise that you had a taste for music and wanted to play together?
O: It hasn’t been all four of us from the start, originally it was I and Romby covering funky house beats on the drum machine. From there we created our first song and, which evolved into our first show. Baria got involve recreating the recordings, Jamie got involved and replaced the backing track.
J: I was creating the backing track and it wasn’t ideal, I came to rehearsal and just started playing around with stuff.
Did you have a studio or play at each other’s house?
O: the music rooms were at your disposal, I didn’t think we jammed as the XX, a the beginning there was a lot of distortion we were listening to bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Distillers, death from above. Opposite of where we are now. That was when we were getting into music when we were 15. XL gave us a place to rehearse and got us gigs.
How did that come about?
XL or Young Turks when we turned 18 we were getting interest, and people were coming to shows, talking about releasing stuff, we only had 6 songs, it was a bit premature.
Did you transform some of them into this album?
O:Most of them. Young Turks offered us a place to reherse and they were just looking out for our best interest. So yeah we started working with them for about a year, after that year did they start talking about an album and releasing things. We got the album out now, we appreciate that time we have been given from where we were. I feel ready now whereas that wouldn’t be the case when they first met us.
So you have just finished college?
O: Yeah just. We hadn’t played that many show, even the songs on the album have been revamped, tweak from playing them live, continuously, you build them up, so I really appreciate that time.
So you went to the Elliot school, which is famous for Hot Chip, Four Tet and Maccabees. Were there any other artists around the same time as you?
O: The big one for me is Burial [Dubstep artist who released his album Untrue].
J: Burial was there 10 years ago, as with most other bands, but I have never met him but I am influenced by his music.
We weren’t really aware of these people when were there apart from Hot Chip. The big claim to fame is Piierce Brosnon, but it was only after leaving that we were aware of them being there.
Who picked the name XX?
Me and Romy, I like it it’s a visual thing, strong thing, maybe thinking ahead of ourselves, as like an art work there is a lot you can do such as in a pattern. Identifying different shapes. On the other side we like the ambiguity of it, is it kiss kiss, are the twenty, so we quite like that it was open to interpretation.
Do you write the lyrics or is it a collaborative effort?
What Romy sings she wrote and what I sing I wrote. Our writing is quite separate; I write at home, she does it at home. It is just a case of collaging our work together. We are not singing to one anther, she is my oldest friend, they are love songs.
Do you think it’s a teenage thing you are talking about, like coming of age?
Some of the songs I wrote 6 months ago, and some when I was 16. So I can see the difference more from observation, as times gone by the recent songs are a bit more from those experiences. 4 years is a hug amount of time, I can see the development over the years.
Are any of the songs about friendship?
O: The earlier songs are about me how I saw my friends, who were in relationships, how I thought I might be, a lot of it was from what my friends were going through.
Crystalised is that about friendship, because it is about making you the person who you are today?
Romy doesn’t really explain what she is trying to say, and neither do I because I am sure it would spoil her image of what I am trying to say and it might not fit in with what she is trying to say. We are not sunny and che, we are not spilling our hearts to each other so I like it to be open to interpretation, so friendship or relationship.
I have written about how The XX are a slow paced band but its simplistic and minimalist sound is its driving force.
The simplicity of the sound comes from not having much skill or equipment so it was done on an 8 track and as we had more opportunity to utilise more things but the way is was in the beginning worked.
I have been listening to cyrstalised and I can hear some things that are haunting and can almost sound animal like, how did you get that sound?
I tried to make everything sound as organis as possible, and sample from Vinyl which gives that effect but as I was producing it I wanted to use electronics because I helped me create the sound I wanted.
O: Speaking from Romby, playing live to a backing track is worked, but its tempermental, we used to be like dj play the track. With things of backing tracks there is no room to be spontaneous and robotic. I really enjoy the noises and there is an organicness and he is playing live and be more spontaneous and if one of us were to go out of time we all would. And if we wanted to add more verses we could do that.
I think the harmonies are brilliant, how did you get to that point?
O: It took the courage to sing in front of each other and it was a compromise that we would sing together and it sounded good. After we got the courage to sing a verse on our own we learned together.
You have a sold out show on this tour, how does it feel to support bands like micachu to headlining?
O: Its nice playing songs where people know the songs.
J: Its nice to have people to hear everything.
How much have you changed since you were here earlier this year?
Every show we become more confident, when you are getting over your nnerves, you can get over it. The songs are engraved in my mind so I don’t have to concentrate. We have a long way to go none of us are natural born performers but every show is getting better.
Speaking of bands you have supported…
O: We came off tour with Florence and the machine
They played with white lies and friendly fires. How was it playing with her?
I was really worried with that, after this we are going to tour with friendly fires, they are both high energy, and the crowd want to dance, and I am not sure our set is not like that.
I saw you on jools Holland and you looked like a static band.
J: I think its because that’s not what we do best, the performance is a part of it and is not why we make music.
Do you see the crowd are getting more into you over time?
O:Yeah they have started to vary it and keep it interesting for ourselves, we are touring for another year so we have started revaming stuff for the live performace.
That’s brilliant, I think that your album is one of the best british albums this year and in terms of music you listen to what bands can you recommend?
O:I think its an exciting year. It’s the first year I am listening to current music, I used to listen to my sisters or parents stuff. At the moment I am listening to The Big Pink, micachu, Florence, and a lot of UK bands like treasure Chests and they make beautiful music. Samfa, pariya.
You do listen to a lot of different styles of music like r&b, and you did a cover of Womacks Teardrops.
O: We were trying to choose songs that were a bit removed from what we do, we are not fans of straight coveres we want to add something new to them. By doing that we chose something that was different.
When I heard teardrops I thought it was a unreleased song you did.
We covered Alyia, a funky house hit by kyla.
Well thanks a lot guys and I wish you a the best of luck.
– Chris Jones