The Naked and Famous
For over a decade, The Naked and Famous have delivered a boldly nuanced breed of pop that’s both effervescent and imaginative—a direct reflection of the sheer resilience at the heart of their collaboration. Founded in their hometown Auckland, New Zealand, the critically lauded act immigrated to the U.S. in 2012 after extensive non-stop touring around the globe. The duo is now happily embarking on their most musically adventurous era to date.
“It’s been a real story,” says Powers. “Band members have left & we’ve had management changes. These things can easily be exhausting and even demoralizing. At this point, we have put so much of our lives into this music, and we feel quite resilient.”
Originally from Auckland, The Naked and Famous formed soon after Xayalith (the daughter of Laotian refugees) crossed paths with Powers while the two were attending music college. The band put out the EPs This Machine and No Light in 2008, then made their full-length debut with Passive Me • Aggressive You—a 2010 release featuring their platinum-selling breakthrough hit “Young Blood.” As the album climbed the Billboard 200 chart and earned countless accolades (including seven prizes at the New Zealand Music Awards), the band toured across the globe. They finally landed in L.A., living together in Laurel Canyon. Arriving on New Year’s Day in 2013, The Naked and Famous’ sophomore album In Rolling Waves cracked the top 50 on the Billboard 200, boosted by hit singles like “Hearts Like Ours.” Their third LP, Simple Forms, released in 2016, is often recognized as their most complex and compelling work to date.
Post-Simple Forms, it took the two founding members a moment to consider the path forward. “If we were going to continue, we needed to try something different,” says Powers. “Since Passive Me • Aggressive You, Alisa and I have written songs to be presented as a five-piece band, which helped create our sonic identity and gave us creative parameters. But those parameters have also been a limitation. We gently let go of our expectations and began to find a new sound for the band. We avoided thinking about how we’d perform these songs as a five-piece rock band. Instead, we chose to focus solely on the songs as pieces of art. We centered on each song’s meanings, and how fresh they felt to us—how they made us feel.”
The duo found themselves reinvigorated upon joining forces with collaborators like Luna Shadows (a producer/multi-instrumentalist who’s previously played keys for The Naked and Famous), and Simon Oscroft (a childhood friend of Powers, who produced for artists like The Aces). Working out of Xayalith’s home, complete with a grand piano left behind by the former owner, the musicians converted that space into what Xayalith refers to as “a living organism that felt like it was helping us write songs in a way we’d never done before.”
One of the first products of that charmed environment, the new single “Sunseeker” strays from the guitar-driven dynamic of the band’s previous output and embodies a more electronically sculpted sound, brilliantly contrasted with frequent bursts of sweetly childlike sing-along vocals. And in her vocal performance, Xayalith channels a soulful warmth that hints at healing from ennui. “‘Sunseeker’ was written in a time when I was covered in joy and positivity,” she notes. “It was inspired by my dog, Ginger. She came into my life unexpectedly, as did the boy who I fell in love with that found her. I didn’t grow up with a family pet, and now I can’t imagine life without her. She was present for all the TNAF sessions over the last year. I started calling her my ‘Sunseeker’—she’d disappear into the garden, and I’d find her in various places basking in patches of sunlight beaming through the trees. The song is about something, or someone, appearing in your life that you didn’t know you needed.”
Now at work on more new music, The Naked and Famous are fully embracing their newly heightened sense of freedom, as well as honoring the singular chemistry that endlessly fuels their creative partnership. “When things aren’t working, our worlds are severely devastated,” Xayalith says. “But when it does work, we’re both on top of the world.”