Tim Lambert sat down with Jamie Smith (AKA Jamie xx) and Romy Madley Croft from The xx during the band’s recent jaunt to Melbourne; they talked West Texas, tour mode, pop samples, and the evolution of brand new album I See You.
It really seems that you have thrown out ‘The xx rule book’ on I See You. Was this a conscious effort or a natural progression?
Romy: Both, I think. Mostly natural. I think that over the period between putting it out, touring it, and playing this album, a lot of things have changed… [writing] with confidence, just the way we did things creatively, and worrying a bit less.
How did the songwriting process open up this time around? Jamie, were you coming in with samples in mind, or adding the cream on top afterwards?
Jamie: It happened where I brought an idea with a sample, and that sort of triggered the songwriting. Mostly I get inspired by what Romy and Oliver [Sim] are doing, and this time they came up with more fully-formed demos, fully-formed structures of songs, which made it easier for me to just put in my own thing without having to worry too much about arrangement and structure (which is not my forte).
I have been trying to pick the sample at the start of Say Something Loving – can you ease my curious mind?
Jamie: It’s from the Alessi Brothers [1976 hit Do You Feel It?]. We were listening to them on our road trip from Seattle to LA; we ended up in LA and recorded that for a couple of weeks, but that was a big part of the trip.
Have your influences changed since Coexist?
Romy: I think in a way, my taste is pretty much still the same. I’ve always been really open-minded to different kinds of music. Really eclectic. Particularly putting anything into a genre – I think it’s a good song, I don’t mind. I think maybe our influences are a bit more visible this time, the more poppy sounds coming out on this album.
Jamie: All of us always loved dance music, and after being out on tour on my own, playing dance music all the time, I wanted to come back to the studio with the guys and make not-dancey stuff. They were going to bring the tempo up, so it was more the other way around if anything. Honestly, I still love dance music. I’m happy with that.
Tell me about Marfa: how did The xx end up in West Texas?
Romy: Marfa’s just a very unique, tiny town in Texas. It’s not what I imagined when I pictured a tiny town in Texas. [There’re] a lot of art galleries… it challenges your way of thinking, I suppose. It seems like quite a creative place, and [it was] recommended by Caius [Pawson] from Young Turks. His mum has a house there and she… just kept saying we’ve got to come check this place out. When we [said] “I think we wouldn’t be up for recording outside of London,” [Pawson] said, “What about there?” and we [said okay], from the spirit of just being open.
Jamie: [For the On Hold clip, set in Marfa] we brought a couple of people over, but mostly we used kids from the town at a party. The house was a genuine party, and they were just having the best time ever. It was really fun.
Were the Marfa locals big fans of The xx?
Romy: Two people. Two people in the US, and to be honest, I wasn’t going there expecting people to know us, especially teenagers – they were like, 14, 15. There were a couple of really sweet kids. One of them brought his vinyl along, it was really nice.
A Violent Noise is a stand-out for me – I think it has that ‘festival moment’ written all over it. It’s just euphoric to listen to. How did that track come about?
Jamie: It started out as a song that Oliver wrote for my album, which was over a completely different instrumental, and we split the two up. Oliver writing helped the song become what it was; then we worked on this version for years, had loads of different goes at it. We finally came up with this. It was a long journey, just like a lot of the songs on the album.
Speaking of festival moments, will we be seeing you back on shores this year?
Romy: We love Australia – we had a great time on Coexist when we came and did some really big shows, for us at the time. We love coming to Australia.
How are you easing back into touring mode?
Jamie: We just did six shows, to kind of warm up. I felt like we were just getting into our stride.
Romy: Yeah, same for me. I was really focusing on trying not to mess up, but it’s quite good [when] we’re not singing and I can step back and take it in. It was amazing to see some heads moving and people getting into it, as well as the people that are just listening. I know for me, even if I love something, the first time I hear at a live show, I’ll probably just stand still and take it in.
What kind of reception has On Hold been receiving? It’s certainly a favourite Down Under.
Romy: Yeah, it’s been amazing because as soon as I was singing, people were singing along, and I didn’t expect that. I remember we had a really good moment in Australia when we’d just put out Angels – I think the first gig we played after putting it out was [in Australia] – and we walked out and played it and I was like, oh my God. Everyone was singing along. I wasn’t expecting it again, it was really good.
I See You by The xx is out now via Young Turks/Remote Control.