Interview: The XX open about the vulnerability of songwriting and the influence of The Velvet Underground

Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith are The XX.

Three close friends, three soundscape architects thrust back into the limelight after a sustained period in creative hiatus as the band prepare to tour their new album I See You across the globe.

In an intimate conversation from the House of George Stroumboulopoulos to celebrate their record, the band have spoken to the good people over at The Strombo Show about what to expect from the new direction of the band.

On the inception of the record, I See You
Oliver: “There was no concrete start to this album and the end of the last. We officially finished touring in November 2013, had a few months off and then ended up playing again at a residency and then had a few months off and played Guggenheim so it was a lot more fluid than it was been in the past where it had a final stop. Just started writing..”The XX interviewRomy: “…at the end of 2013, actually. I think we were all surprised at how soon we started writing after touring Coexist and it was exciting to think that we were all exhausted from the tour, but inspired, which was a good sign. We took some of those songs when we went to New York to do this record when we did a residency at the New York Armoury, which was a cool thing where we played to forty people at a a few shows a night and it was a real intimate thing and we road-tested some songs, did a little tour to Texas… It was a cool place, a shelter from the world. It definitely feels different from London. And we kind of loved the open skies, the pace of life. It felt good to have a change.”

Oliver: “That was the first place that we recorded for this album because it felt the exact opposite of where we recorded the second album. It sort of gave us a new light in which to record. We went to LA and Iceland because of that experience that we had in Texas… We were looking for a place where we could all be comfortable and be with each other and not go home at the end of the night.”

Romy on how complete the songs were before recording, limitations:
“They were quite rough, but we got some songs ready to play live and then we experimented a lot in the studio. We had less rules, where we were a bit more free with things, where before we said – make sure you can play it live. That creates some limitations and maybe made it more minimal, more simple and we didn’t intend to set out. People say, you are such a minimal band, but we don’t intend to be that. We’re just writing within our limitations. On this album, let’s just try stuff and figure it out later.

Jamie XX on preparing the new songs for the live show:
“It’s a challenge, but it is very satisfying when things work. Its getting very excited about going back on tour… [The solo tour] made me miss this experience and being on the road with my best friends.”

Oliver on the inspiration of Jamie XX’s In Colour on The xx’s new record:
“Seeing Jamie do what he has done over the past few years has been so inspiring and definitely lit a fire underneath me and Romy. Going to his DJ sets, hearing our voices being blasted but being on the other side is a surreal experience, but part of Jamie being away and part of his sucess has taken him around the world and has sort of left me and Romy to just work more on the songs. It has given us more time. We have presented fully formed song as opposed to, here is a verse and a bit of a chorus – let’s start work. It has worked out well. We have definitely been inspired by what he has done.”

Romy on the change in lyricism, what they want to say:
“I’ve enjoyed that we have branched out a bit. We’ve said to people, oh it’s different in themes, but to us – I think the love songs that are on there are more joyful, rather than “you’ve left me and I feel this way…” It is kind of like, we’re together and how are we figuring this out, celebrating it and taking a risk. That’s been my shift and I’m sure that is going to be fun within the set, having the lightness and joy and writing not solely about other partners, but writing about eachother and writing about our own introspective stuff has been really nice to challenge ourselves in that way, for it to not always be about the “you.”

Oliver on presenting new vulnerabilities to the audience:
“Although we are three best friends, siblings almost – sometimes communication is not great. I found, speaking for myself and songwriting, stuff has come out in songwriting before we actually spoken about it as the three… Life, what’s going on in life. I’ve learned stuff about Romy through songs that she has gave me that I didn’t know.”

Romy on the influence of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
“In terms of thematically with the album title I See You and the story of what that means to us, the lyrics of that song fit really perfectly with that about seeing a friend and being there for them or whoever it is. That song we all heard and oh, that fits with what we’re trying to say with the title.”

Jamie XX on his response to song ideas that he does not like:
“I feel like I’m pretty honest. I feel like you have to be, otherwise it is not fair to anyone.”

Romy on the liberation found during the creation of the new record:
“I think we just with this album we wanted to grow. A part of us wanted to go outside of our comfort zone and try new things and be a bit more free with it and less like – that wouldn’t be ok for an XX song. It wasn’t like when Jamie presented songs to us, that was too ‘you’ or whatever it was like – oh, that is amazing, let’s work on that.

“Whatever we loved, we thought let’s do that whereas when we were working on Coexist – is this right for us? Is this too much? It was very liberating to be like – that sounds great, let’s just keep going maybe that is something that we have never done before but that’s ok. That has been the reenergize for us and that has keeping us going.”


 

The Strombo Show is the home of the best records played in the best order, from the 1-2-3-4 to the 808’s and beyond. For over two decades, George Stroumboulopoulos has been working on behalf of you to find and champion the songs that’ll get you through the night.

Interviews, intimate sessions and out-of-its-mind full blown house concerts. The Strombo Show reflects the beautiful and the badass of Canada’s diverse cultural landscape. There are no boundaries, with the gamut running from Aretha Franklin to Slayer and everything in between.

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