It’s been less than a month since The xx rocked a sold-out show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but their mark as one of 2017’s gig highlights so far is indelible. We caught up with the winning trio amidst their whirlwind world tour to talk about their love for Singapore, tight-knit friendships and their growth as a band.
Not many acts come to tour Singapore with every album – and Jamie has been here as a solo artist too. Is there something about Singapore that draws you back?
JAMIE: When you are touring so much it’s really the people and the crowds you play to that make a place memorable. The vibe of the crowds in Singapore always makes us want to come back.
While the tone of I See You is bolder and more upbeat than previous albums, you’ve also previously mentioned it’s an honest reflection of yourselves. How so?
JAMIE: I actually think, as well as having the most joyful songs we’ve ever made, I See You also has the most raw and solemn songs on it too. We went through lots of ups and downs whilst making it, so that is a good reflection of ourselves.
In terms of songwriting and recording, how differently did the band approach the making of I See You?
ROMY: In terms of songwriting, Oliver and I worked very closely together this time, [whereas] in the past we’ve always mainly written separately. I think it just shows a natural progression in our friendship, in our openness, in our self-confidence, to be able to sit in the room together and write a song. For some reason, we always used to find that quite scary even though we’re best friends, so I’ve loved working and writing together. We give each other notes and tell each other if it’s not good, which is cool.
t[For] the recording, we went to different places around the world this time – we went to Marfa in Texas, Los Angeles, Reykjavik in Iceland. It was amazing to get out of London and see some different parts of the world, it was very inspiring.
The xx’s album artworks are often very striking and unusual. Can you tell us about the concept behind the reflective cover of I See You?
JAMIE: There is an obvious literal reference to the album title with the the physical album being a “mirror”. The title references how your friends can often be a mirror for how you see yourself.
I think the lyrics in the new album is probably the most tender and romantic ever for The xx, with songs describing love and relationships. Would you like to share us about the lyrical concept of the new album?
ROMY: We always love writing about relationships and emotions and the way that people make you feel or the way that you feel about people. For the first time on this album, we’ve written about how we feel and how we see ourselves. So it’s a slightly different idea in some of the songs – like in ‘A Violent Noise’ and ‘Replica’, Oliver is sort of questioning himself and the way that he’s going about his life, and any struggles he’s gone through. And I think that’s really brave and it’s great that he was really open to facing some things that were troubling him on this album. So I think facing things is a theme, as well as romance.
Congrats on the ‘I Dare You’ music video. It’s fantastically tonal, the visuals and colour choices are great, and also features a solid cast, including Millie Bobby Brown and Paris Jackson. How did it all come together?
ROMY: Thank you! I’m so glad that you like the video. I think that we are very proud of it, and we are very proud the whole series we did with the director Alasdair McLellan. We did three videos and this last one was a collaboration with Raf Simons from Calvin Klein who creatively directed it, so the cast are ambassadors for Calvin Klein and Raf wanted to have them in the video. We were up for it because we were excited to have actors in the video as we’d never had that before. We’re just really big fans of Alasdair’s photography and it was amazing to do the music videos with him because it’s not something he’s really done before, and we’re so pleased with how that turned out. We really wanted to explore that warmer side of ourselves; I think we felt like maybe sometimes we’d been perceived as quite cold – a bit like vampires – in the past and I think we wanted to show that behind closed doors, we’re warm people. The sunlight and the youth and those elements [in the video] show a reflection of what we’re really like.
We see the colour blue much on this album’s appearance: album cover, skies in music videos… What gives?
ROMY: Well, I’m glad that you’ve picked up on that, because that is definitely a purposeful theme. When we were discussing visual ideas – that’s something I’m very involved in and get very passionate about – and again with the idea of being seen as a bit cold and detached, we wanted to include a lot more natural light and warmth and sunlight on this campaign, as a reflection of what I feel we are like behind closed doors, which is warm and fun. The blue skies sort of came about when we were experimenting with mirrors and reflection, we wanted to have the sunlight in the reflection. The blue reflected in the mirror looked really beautiful – we made everything about the sunlight and the blue and mirrors. Those themes combined very much encapsulate the way I feel about this album, which is brighter, warmer and more celebratory.
I See You feels a lot more intimate and happy than the previous album. Do you think it’s because you have more fun in doing this album?
ROMY: Yes I do, I think we have had a lot more fun and worried less, and [felt] a lot less scared about what we should do, what people expect from us, what we expect from ourselves and just [focused on] making music that we enjoy and experimenting. And that’s been fun. Obviously it’s very difficult making an album too – there were definitely some stressful aspects. It wasn’t all just fun times, but in comparison, I’d say this has been my favourite album to make.
With this album it seems there’s a new direction emerging: of transformation and breaking barriers. Was this a necessary progression for the band?
ROMY: Yes I definitely think so. We all just let go of the barriers that we had set around ourselves. We always had this rule that everything we recorded had to be playable live, exactly as it was on the album, and in a lot of ways I’m grateful for that – it shaped our sound and made it what it is. The fact that we don’t have layers and layers of instruments was because of that rule to make it minimal and playable live. But we never set out to be a minimal or a simplistic band, it was just our own limitations that made us sound that way. I think that we let go of that slightly on this album and we were like “let’s just see how that sounds”, still with the intention of not filling up the sound, because we like having a spacious sound, but we were just less strict with that rule.
What is the bravest thing the band has done?
OLIVER: I look back at our earliest shows and I don’t know where that bravery to get up on stage came from. It didn’t come naturally for any of us – we were shy teenagers with bags of insecurities, but we still got up there, did it and continued at it until it became comfortable.
Looking back and examining the present, how would you say you’ve grown and evolved as artists and as individuals?
OLIVER: I think we’ve grown a lot in confidence, it was something we were all lacking quite a bit. It partly has come with growing up but I believe this band has helped us with it a great deal. We’re still far from being the most confident people around but we’ve come a long way.
Being longtime friends and bandmates, has your friendship ever made it difficult to address work issues?
OLIVER: It’s often the other way around; we don’t hold back at our words with one another which can get tense, but I’d rather things were said out loud than be tiptoed around. Because we’ve known each other so long, we can also sometimes assume things instead of [addressing it], which can get wires crossed, but we’re really trying to avoid that by speaking more.
Being such a tight trio, what do you think is the biggest change or growth from the first album to your most recent work, I See You?
ROMY: I think that we’ve all grown up together very closely. Oliver and I have been friends since we were three years old and we met Jamie when we were 11 years old. And we’ve been there for each other through different aspects of growing up, and I think that in the past few years whilst we were making I See You, we were growing into adults and having to be more accountable for things that we were doing. Having more responsibility and just trying to take better care of ourselves, sometimes that’s hard. I think I realised that it’s important to give friendships attention and love, just as much as you would with your romantic relationships. And I’m really grateful that we’ve learnt to appreciate each other, and I think that’s very special.
Special thanks to Love Da Records for making this interview possible.
Was The xx your favourite gig of 2017 so far? Share with us your concert highlights in the comments below!
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