The xx have landed in Australia for their national headlining tour behind their award-winning 2012 album, Coexist. Having survived the expectations set by their heavily hyped and highly praised 2009 debut, the young English trio continue to grow into the underlying maturity of their music.
With Coexist, The xx proceeded to convey a myriad of ideas and feelings with minimal fuss, and plenty of fuzz. The album’s opening track and lead single Angels is a prime example of their brevity and directness, with its heartfelt lyrics and finely plucked guitar strings striking a chord in Australian fans, coming in at number 19 on triple j’s Hottest 100 for 2012.
Before the tour began, The xx’s endearing vocalist Romy Madley Croft kindly postponed catching up on some sleep to discuss the complexity of emotions that can co-exist within a simple lyric, finding inspiration from and delivering inspiration to hip hop, and why The xx chose Australian act Jagwar Ma to be the support act for their current tour.
Music Feeds: You’ve said that your favourite lyrics are ones that convey complex ideas in a simple manner. Where on The xx’s latest album Coexist do you feel you’ve best achieved this?
Romy Madley Croft: Oh (laughs), tricky. I guess, I’m not too sure exactly if I can say that, but I think the lyrics that I was most proud of when I wrote them was for Angels.
And, let me see my lyrics here, hold on – “And everyday I’m learning about you the things that no one else sees”, I think is probably my favourite just because it is very simple and I think it sums up that feeling when you’re just getting to know someone in a relationship.
Obviously there’s a lot of feelings going on there and it’s a special time. That simple line kind of summed it up for me when I wrote it. I knew it meant a lot more than just that.
That was a tough question (laughs).
MF: Do you think that a simple lyric is a delicate lyric?
RMC: Not sometimes – I think it can be a strong one but I think it’s just about summarising all of your feelings, trying to capture it perfectly in a few words. That says a lot more sometimes than writing a whole paragraph or talking about loads of things…
MF: Angels is an interesting example because in the wrong hands those kind of lyrics could become cliché but they are extremely effective in the framework of the song. What’s more important to you – the positioning of a lyric or the way it is delivered?
RMC: Probably the delivery, I guess. There’s so many times a lyric can be considered a bit cheesy or a bit cliché but sometimes if it’s in the right context and in the right song with the right singer, it can make a lot of sense.
This is a really bad example but in England there’s The X Factor – a girl who covers a Cher song [Believe], which, you know, is Cher normally singing in auto-tune and people probably don’t like that song very much, but this girl covered it and turned it into a very heartfelt piano song. And it was a massive hit in England and with people all over the Internet.
So I found that pretty interesting, in the sense that you can really make a song your own and really change the perception of it.
MF: Is The xx’s often minimal and stripped back sound an attempt to offset lyrical material that might otherwise be heavy-handed if it were sung over fuller instrumentation?
RMC: Yeah, I think it’s based around that. Oliver (Sim) and I don’t have the loudest voices. When we first started out we weren’t the most confident singers and I think we weren’t really the best at playing our instruments. So the songs, essentially, are pretty simple because we couldn’t play our instruments…
But it’s those kinds of limitations that shaped the way we sound. We always had the idea that we wanted to play everything live so when we did want to play live it was quite easy. That’s why some of the guitar parts, for me, aren’t that complicated because I couldn’t sing or play guitar very well when I wrote them, especially on the first album [xx, 2009].
As time’s gone on it’s been a bit more of a conscious decision to play a certain way or because we like the sound. I’ve enjoyed singing a bit more now because we’re playing live a lot more … but I think [our sound has developed from] kind of happy accidents.
MF: Have the songs from Coexist taken on different meanings over time?
RMC: Yeah, I think they definitely have. Some of these songs we wrote when we were 16 and are still singing now. Just to keep it interesting for ourselves, when you perform live your mind wanders to sort of fit them into your new situations.
Some of them become old memories and you relive that when you play them live. But I’m not sick of it yet, which I’m grateful for.
MF: Speaking before on the delivery of lyrics, do you find you’ll emphasise different moments of a song during a live performance depending on your mood?
RMC: When we’ve played a certain set a few times ’round you get a feeling of what kind of emotion you’re trying to get from that song. We change our songs around a lot now, so when you come see us live they’re not going to sound exactly the same as the album. That changes from tour to tour.
So if you’ve seen us a few times in the same year it’s going to be a different interpretation of the set. It depends on the mood, I guess. If you go onto the stage feeling a certain way … the songs that are reflecting the way you’re feeling at the time might become the ones you put yourself into more.
MF: Do you find that the maturity of The xx’s sounds places an unfair expectation of maturity on you, given that you’re only 23 years old?
RMC: I suppose. Personally, I’ve always felt a little bit older than I am. When I listen back to some of the first album [and] think about how old I was, I guess you think, “I was only 18. That was quite an intense feeling,” but at the time it felt completely normal.
So I love writing about love and heavier subjects … but I’ve definitely had people – my aunty said to me that she read the lyrics to the album not that long ago, and wished she’d asked if I was alright at the time. (Chuckles) But we’re just fans of love songs, really.
MF: So you see the difference in age between the first album and Coexist?
RMC: Yeah, I do, definitely. I do think we’ve done a lot of growing up in the time between them. With xx, we wrote it from nearly 16 and 19. I can see it myself, all the different times in that album. And with Coexist, it was written in quite a specific amount of time … and I can remember that time bit more clearly from start to finish where with xx it was kind of just my whole teenage years.
MF: You do you look for inspiration when it comes to simple but effective lyrics?
RMC: Someone I’ve always really looked up to and admired is Everything But The Girl and Tracey Thorn. I recently read her autobiography, and it was really interesting and inspiring to read that, but there are some songs of theirs that I think just capture… Missing, being their biggest song ever… It’s just very simple lyrics and a lot of people can interpret it in different ways.
I think that’s what makes that song so massive, is that it’s just so simple that people can just sing that chorus and add all their personal meanings to it. It’s not like a story exactly about [one thing]. It doesn’t feel like she’s painting a picture … I mean, it does, but you can really imagine yourself in her situation, I think.
MF: On Coexist, The xx combined musical influences from pop, R&B and hip hop. Are there any rappers you look to for inspiration when it comes to writing lyrics?
RMC: Oliver and I are big fans of Drake. He and Jamie (Smith) have been in touch and have been working on some stuff together. And Drake told Jamie that we’ve been an influence on him and that was really a very special thing to hear… especially [given] how massive he is … It’s nice that he’s so in touch with his emotions, I think.
MF: The xx have been working on some fun covers recently, such as I Miss You by Beyoncé. Would you consider covering a hip hop track?
RMC: Maybe, I don’t know. We’re really open to doing all different types of songs. As long as, to me, it really just comes down to lyrics when we’re covering a song, because the lyrics and melody is about all I like to keep. We’re not going to take the riff, or whatever it is – just take the lyrics and shape a whole new thing around it, really. So I’d definitely be open to something else.
MF: Reportedly The xx handpicked Australian act Jagwar Ma as the support act for the band’s Australian tour. Is that correct?
RMC: Yeah, we did. We were keen to ask someone from Australia to support us and we looked at their music and we’re really into it, so we’re excited to have them. Last time we had Flume with us – that was a lot of fun.
It’s important to us to recognise where we are and it’s fun to meet new people. It’d be nice to get to know them on tour and hear their music live.
MF: Was the difference in musical style between yourselves and Jagwar Ma part of the reason The xx selected Jagwar Ma as your support act?
RMC: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve realised that that’s ok, to have a different [style of band]. We’ve been touring with two producers from Barcelona… They’re essentially house DJs and producers. It’s definitely a lot more upbeat and I can imagine they have a similar sort of live style as Jagwar Ma.
And that was really fun because the crowd was quite energetic and in quite a up-for-it mood by the time we came on. And our sets have gotten a little more upbeat now so it doesn’t seem to out of context.
The xx are currently touring Australia and you can still grab tickets to some of their upcoming shows –
tickets and more show information available from Handsome Tours.
Thursday, 4th April – SOLD OUT
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Friday, 5th April – NEW SHOW ADDED
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Saturday, 6th April – SOLD OUT
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Sunday, 7th April – SOLD OUT
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tuesday, 9th April
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Brisbane