A few days before the much-awaited official release of “Coexist”, the second album by The xx, we spoke to the London trio about their songs and their inner worlds, which remain mysterious.
Before sitting down to do the interview at a table in the coffee shop of a hotel in Madrid, we watch The xx without them knowing that we are here. The three of them are kidding around, sitting on a sofa along with their British manager, who could be their school teacher. While Jamie Smith (producer) makes a paper airplane (which he throws, clumsily, right into the ground), Oliver Sim (voice, bass) jokes with Romy Madley-Croft (voice, guitar). Although they are now 22 or 23 years old, they are acting like teenagers. At the beginning of the conversation they are a little distant, but then they take more of an interest, especially Oliver (the only one who gets our jokes and who even laughs!). Romy is very shy, her muted voice seeming about to disappear at any moment, and she has a very hard time looking you in the eye, even when she is talking to you. Jamie is odd, shy and reserved, but he knows that he is one of the greatest talents in music today and this gives him a pride that is almost offensive.
“Coexist” (Young Turks-Popstock!, 2012), the much-awaited follow-up to “xx” (2009), will be out on Monday, so we are sitting here with the trio trying to break through the veil of mystery surrounding them and uncover the secrets of their songs and lives.
In the new album, there doesn’t seem to be major stylistic changes in respect to the debut. In your electronic pop there still seems to be this duality that - in my opinion - characterises the group, between heights of euphoria and a placid drowsiness, between pleasure and pain. What was your intention with this work, in terms of sound?
[An uncomfortable silence reigns. Oliver has to gesture to Jamie for him to speak].
Jamie: I like to see this album as a progression in our sound. To tell the truth, I don’t get too wrapped up in the ideas there might be behind what I record, I only care that it sounds good. I think that we didn’t want it to be the same as the first one. The goal was to move ahead. But I don’t think we could go much further ahead, either. In the end, what comes out is what we know how to do, what interests us, what we are.
Romy: The interesting thing is that there are songs that talk about really sad things and yet the rhythm is cheerful. It’s precisely that mixture you were talking about between euphoria and sadness.
is a space
The cut “Reunion” is an example of this idea: the music starts with a dialogue between Oliver and Romy that gives a feeling of confusion and exhaustion, as if it were moving ahead out of inertia. And then suddenly the rhythm changes brusquely, with an exciting atmosphere slipping in and building to a crescendo. It is a very evident mixture between dance and introspection.
Romy: Yes, definitely. In this song, the three of us started to improvise, without really having the melodies that we wanted to develop in mind yet. There is a very introspective part and, at the same time, this is the song that is most influenced by house music on the whole album.
Sometimes when I listen to your music, I feel like I’ve walked in on a couple’s private conversation. Is that your intention?
Romy: We never really talk about each other. I mean, I don’t talk about Oliver and he doesn’t talk about me. We use experiences that we have with other people for inspiration, but it isn’t a dialogue between the two of us, although it might seem like it. The song is a space where we can project our feelings.
What was the process of composition like for “Coexist”? The songs are very different depending on who is singing them; the intonation or type of voice gives one feeling or another. How do you decide who will sing which part?
Romy: In general, everyone writes what they sing. It’s all a really natural process: when Jamie has a melody that could be used for the beginning of a song, he passes it to us. Then each of us works on it separately until we have something tangible and all three of us get together in a room to write at the same time. That’s the first time that we open ourselves up to each other and this is where the final product should come from.
When did you start working on the new songs?
[They are all quiet again. It’s obvious that none of them are very talkative].
Romy: When we finished the tour at the end of 2010, we had a little free time. We went back to London and we moved out of our parents’ houses. It was a bit weird to go back to the routine of our lives before, so we started thinking about new ideas very quickly. We spent the whole year working, and in the fall we went into the studio.
Would you say that there is an idea that is present throughout the album?
Oliver: If I had to go to the most basic thing, I would say that - like the first one - this album is about love songs. But it’s true that the world that I live in now has changed so much since then … In the debut there are songs that I wrote when I was 15 years old. Then, I didn’t have much experience in love. Everything that I talked about was how I imagined things would be when I did them. Now I am 22, I’ve grown up and I’ve had a lot of experiences. I would say that the lyrics are more autobiographical. In that sense, this is a more honest album. While the first one was forged over several years, this one draws on a very specific period of time: from when we finished the tour at the end of 2010 until the beginning of 2012. For me, it’s all very concentrated. My lyrics, specifically, reflect my experience during the summer of 2011.
"In general, nobody has the guts to tell you how they really feel when they listen to your album"
What happened in the summer of 2011?
Oliver: [with a shy, adorable little smile]. Last summer… Well, I was in London. A lot of things happened.
[It’s obvious that no one in The xx is going to talk about their private life to a journalist that they have just met a few minutes ago, but I had to try to cut through the tangle of references and code words that define the group’s music].
When I listened to the album, I felt different emotions, some of them contradictory. In songs like “Missing” (“and there’s no hope for you and me”) and “Reconsider” it seems like one is suffering all of the pain and sadness in the world; however, there are also cheerful cuts like “Swept Away” and narcotic ones (in a good way), like “Our Song”. Would you agree with me about this?
Oliver: It’s good to hear people’s reactions to your music. It’s especially good when they are new songs and you don’t know how people are going to react to them. In general, nobody has the guts to tell you how they really feel when they listen to your album.
But do you usually think about the feelings your music is going to give to listeners?
Oliver: I think about the listener a lot when I’m writing. That’s why I try to talk about very general things, things that everyone can identify with. We don’t use genders, the words ‘he’ and ‘she’ don’t exist in our lyrics; we don’t talk about specific places or dates. My goal is to connect. I would love it if in the year 3000, a girl in Japan could identify with what I’m singing on the new album, for example. When I think about my favourite songs, they are the ones that made me feel something when I listened to them during the important moments in my life. One of the few things that I always take into account when I write is trying to come up with something universal.
Albums The XX - Coexist
News The xx, Resident Artists At The Manchester International Festival And Curators Of A Multimedia Exhibit In Los Angeles - The London trio will offer a series of special performances for an audience of no more than 100 people
The latest edition of SonarSound took place this weekend at the Ageha venue in Tokyo, which offered a wide exposure of a...
After his death in 2006, the Jay Dilla cult started to grow and his career started to be revised by their hiding fans. S...
Nick Cave stalks the trail between theatrics and intimacy in a shattering, unabashed performance. Joined by a full band,...
Why do we get tattoos? And more importantly why do some people decide to get tattooed on the most visible parts of their...
The world of Gonzales is a fascinating one: full of humour and hard work, amazing metaphors and nice melodies, rap bars ...
We talk to the party-hard-producer-gone-serious-composer about his latest album, “America”. We also cover politics, aest...
We Speak to Daniel Kessler, of Interpol, ahead of the release of the deluxe 10 year anniversary edition of “Turn On The ...
Last weekend we attended Club 2 Club, the booming electronic music festival in Turin, Italy, which made a few things cle...