Alisa Xayalith of The Naked and Famous Talks Inspiration, Simple Forms, and Burritos

Meredith Schneider

If you haven’t yet heard of The Naked and Famous – comprised of Alisa Xayalith (vocals, keyboards), Thom Powers (vocals, guitars), Aaron Short (keyboards), David Beadle (bass) and Jesse Wood (drums) – you may have been living under a rock for the past few years. The Auckland natives play adrenaline-inducing alternative music that started garnering massive attention internationally in 2010. They’ve reached a level of notoriety that has them listed as so many band’s favorites, namely Judah & The Lion, another stellar band that we got to sit down with recently.

Sitting high with a list of admirers – and rightfully so – The Naked and Famous released their third studio album – Simple Forms – last week. We got the unique experience to shoot some questions at none other than the stunning Alisa Xayalith leading up to its release to get a little insight into what’s been going on with the band.

What is the first album or song you remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?

The first song I remember hearing as a really little girl, I think I would’ve been about 5 or 6 years old. My father used to sing “Mona Lisa” to me. Nat King Cole holds a very special place in my heart. I remember he would sing it to me in the morning before school, still wearing his pajamas.

Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music?

I knew from very early on. My father was a singer in a local Laotian community band where I grew up in South Auckland. I was always singing and making up my own little songs. My brothers had to tell me to stop singing around the house, they found it very annoying. Throughout my life, whenever I’d be asked what I wanted to do/be, music and singing was always my answer.

Simple Forms is out this week. How do you feel leading up to the release? (Do you still get nervous?)

I feel a sense of relief and nervousness. I’m anxious to know what people will think and if they will like it. However, Im also happy to release new music in the world and go on tour in support of the new release. A mixed bag really!

How have you found that your recording process has changed since your first release?

When we first started out, everything was new to us. We were all navigating/figuring out recording studio, songwriting, performing and getting to know what roles we played in the band. Two records on, everyone knows what their roles are and things get done in pretty swiftly. For example, I no longer get so nervous having people in the room when I’m in the booth doing my vocal takes or feel embarrassed when I’m trying random things out in the songwriting process. Feeling self-assured this time around feels really good. I know my limitations and I know how most things work. Where in the beginning we were experiencing a world of firsts.

Do you have any fun anecdotes from recording Simple Forms?

We recorded a large amount of Simple Forms at NRG studios in Los Angeles. The boys all freaked out when we were told that Fred Durst was working in the studio next door. The boys thrashed out to limp bizkit growing up, bunch of metal heads! They were thrilled about it.

Do you have a favorite track off the album, yourself?

Laid Low – almost had a chance of not being finished due to my terrible allergies. I went to extreme measures to make sure I could record vocals.
I had nose strips, steroids, olbus oil inhaler, the works! All to get rid of a blocked nose sounding vocal! It was hilarious. Allergies are a total pain when you’re a singer.
Also to note, Laid Low has my favorite sounding drums on the record.

“The Runners” is exquisite. What was the specific inspiration behind that track?

Thank you. The lyrics for that one had been lying around on a demo for years. I almost gave up on it, but Thom was determined to finish it. It’s about unconditional love.

Now that you’ve been touring for a while, do you have any specific place you like to go back to?

I’d love to return to Japan. I think for all of us, the experience there was so unique and magical. I have very fond memories of playing Fuji Rocks on 2011. The culture is just unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Another place on my bucket list where we haven’t traveled to yet is Iceland!

Any rules for the road? 

When we are on the road, the tour bus is our new home and we try our best to keep it peaceful and cozy. Unfortunately, we are not the dirty rock and roll cliches that trash everything and have terrible drinking habits. We’re quite the opposite, we’re of the variety where having healthy minds and healthy bodies are important. We like to check out good coffee spots and local food favorites wherever we can.

What does your rider list look like?

Our rider list recently got an upgrade. One of our managers is very sad there are no more chocolates and candy for him to gorge on anymore. Touring can be physically taxing and having a rider that is full of veggie platters and coconut waters is our kind of vibe. I wish we could have puppies come spend a day with us though. That would make everyone happy.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the industry, who would you work with, and what would you do together?

Sometimes I think this can be a difficult concept because I don’t necessarily want to meet my heroes for fear that they turn out be awful people. My heart would be so broken if I experienced that.
With that being said, there is an artist called Max Richter who is a composer of beautiful contemporary classical music and if we collaborated we could make beautiful dream like sequences of TNAF songs. I’m dreaming of it right now.

What do you think is the one food item that would perfectly sum up your band and why? (Yup. Out of the box here.)

One food that could sum up our band is a burrito. We’re individually made up of our own unique personalities and somehow manage to make it work when we are all rolled in together. Haha that’s a funny one. But that’s the best I could do with that!

Favorite superhero?

Favorite superhero would have to be Finn from Adventure time. He just wants to be a hero and save everyone. A pure soul.
Cats or dogs?

Dogs.
Do you like green eggs and ham?

Nope!

___

Simple Forms is out now. The Naked and Famous is in the midst of an extensive North American tour, wrapping up in Sacramento in June before they hop back across the pond to take over the UK. Find out where you can catch them here.

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