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The Naked and Famous – Something big has happened

Written by Nicholas Stevenson on January 4, 2011

It’s been a big year for break-out Kiwi outfit The Naked and Famous, whose meteoric rise following the release of their September 2010 debut album Aggressive You/Passive Me has garnered predictions that they might just be the biggest thing to come out of the land of the long white cloud for quite some time. Nicholas Stevenson caught up with member Aaron Short on where they’ve been, where they’re at, and where they’re going.

MF: The Naked and Famous have been awarded the prestigious 2010 APRA Silver Scroll, and I think last week got shortlisted for the BBC’s Sounds of 2011 award?

AS: It was one of those things. Our manager called and said “Guys, take the day off. Something big has happened”. We weren’t sure of the significance of the BBC awards at first to be honest, but it’s obviously a big honour. We’ve been told that we’re one of only three non-UK acts (out of 15) that got a nomination, so that’s pretty exciting.

MF: Particularly Young Blood has got a great reception from its radio play.

AS: It got to number 1 on a New Zealand  commercial radio station that we had never really paid much attention to. We’ve been told that it’s the first time a New Zealand band has done that in a very long time, so all of us are proud to get that kind of achievement.

MF: Who’s in the band?

AS: Alisa Zayalith (vocalist) and Thom Powers (vocals and synths) met at MAINZ. I think they both dropped out (laughs). I had known Thom for ages, like 6th form. I was doing sound engineering and knew that he was making demos with Alisa. David Beadle (on Bass) and Jesse Wood (on drums) are long-term friends of mine.  All of us except Alisa are from North Auckland. I began working on those demos back in 2006 and it’s all gone on from there.

MF: I’ve read that Alisa has said that all 5 members have different musical tastes and so bring something different to the group; what’s your background there?

AS: Growing up, my favourite band was the Chemical Brothers. I went through a house music stage after that, so there’s a fair electronic influence there. I’ve worked with engineering sounds for The Naked and Famous for years, but it’s only recently that we’ve incorporated the production of those electronic sounds live onstage.

MF: That’s when you officially joined?

AS: Officially. Work on the Passive Me/Aggressive You songs had been going for a while; I had done live DJ’ing work for years previously.

MF: Passive Me/Aggressive You sounds polished but not overproduced. You always know you are listening to an organic band. How do you know when to stop tinkering with the demos?

AS: Yeah, Thom and I try to collaborate on that. We don’t always agree on when the song needs more work or when it’s ok the way it is. Eventually you need to agree when to stop putting layers on and stripping them off and throw it back to the band.

MF: It sounds as though there’s a tension there.

AS: We joke that there is a tension, but it’s very productive.

MF: Comparisons are sometimes made between The Naked and Famous and MGMT, and/or Passion Pit. What’s your reaction to that?

AS: Yeah, we’re obviously flattered by those comparisons. Were all big fans of MGMT, so it’s nice to have those things said about us.

MF: So you think the comparisons are fair?

AS: Well, with songs like Punching in a Dream, and Young Blood I can see it. But when people start saying that as a band we sound like MGMT I have to question whether those people have heard the rest of the album. There comes a point when you are no longer comparing bands with bands, but songs with bands.

MF: When I listen to the rest of Passive Me, Aggressive You, I can hear maybe Tricky in the track Frayed, Nine Inch Nails in the Source, early Pulp and Radiohead and maybe even Bjork in the rest of the album, but not MGMT…

AS: Sure, and it’s great to get those comparisons, but as a band we’ve definitely got our own fresh direction.

MF: I hear you guys are coming to Perth; have you been out here before?

AS: No, but my mum lived there for about 8 years – she’s told me to expect it to be pretty hot out there. I’ve been wondering how we’ll deal with it on stage. I think we’re out there for the Big Day Out in February.

MF: It’s going to be a pretty busy couple of months?

AS: Yeah, we tour New Zealand until early January 2011, then do the Big Day Out in Auckland and all over Australia before heading to the UK in February for the NME Awards and more gigs.

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