London trio The xx rides minimalist musical permutations to massive international success
Like its understated band name, London trio The xx traffics in stylishly minimalist indie pop. Over the course of two albums, Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie xx, all 23 years old, don’t do much more than pluck out deceptively simple guitar and bass lines while conjuring layers of tense percussion from a digital drum machine. But The xx are far from a simple band. Their intriguing blend of American soul, British house, ’80s pop and gauzy electro-rock is instantly recognizable — and powerfully honest.
Croft and Sim’s modestly entwined lyrics reflect their lifelong friendship, while the heady, groove-laden swirl of songs like “Crystalised” and “Chained” is impossible to resist. It’s no surprise, then, that The xx has won a coveted Mercury Prize, sold out multiple worldwide tours and emerged as bulletproof darlings of the notoriously fickle independent music press. Folio Weekly chatted with Croft about the band’s self-imposed limitations, introspective nature and desire to create emotional, immersive experiences.
Folio Weekly: This will be The xx’s first trip to Florida, correct?
Romy Madley Croft: Yes, we’ve never been to Florida, so we’re really excited. This next tour is all about going to places in which we haven’t spent much time. The warm weather will be nice, too — it’s freezing here [in London].
F.W.: When you, Oliver and Jamie first emerged in 2009, many critics said you were noticeably uncomfortable on stage. Has that changed?
R.M.C.: There are always nerves, but that’s healthy — if you reach a point where you don’t have nerves, maybe you should stop. Or maybe you don’t care. We have gotten a lot more confident, but we still care, so it’s taken a long time for us to not be looking at our feet. We’re quite reserved people, but we’ve really learned to love performing. It feels more normal now, although it’s never quite <> normal. [Laughs.]
F.W.: Do you only write and record music that you’re capable of replicating on stage?
R.M.C.: Yeah, that’s something we’ve carried right from the first gig. And it’s really shaped our sound. We didn’t set out to make minimal or simple music; we just wanted it to be playable live. It’s a nice limitation — the music’s own set of rules.
F.W.: Did the high-profile DJ and production work that Jamie scored after “xx” was released in 2009 figure into the development of last year’s album, “Coexist”?
R.M.C.: It was still a very organic thing — we were so supportive of him going off and having those experiences, and we were inspired by the music he was listening to. It was a kind of group growth, I suppose.
F.W.: Do you or Oliver have aspirations for that kind of extracurricular musical success?
R.M.C.: Right now, I’m very happy to focus on the band. But Oliver and I do have aspirations to write for other people. We’ve always loved pop music — big voices like Beyoncé or Rihanna that are completely out of the context of ourselves.
F.W.: Major artists like that are crediting The xx as inspirations, so it could certainly happen.
R.M.C.: [Laughs.] We’re so involved in our own music that it’s hard to realize what’s going on with it. If I heard someone that was influenced by us, I’d probably just like the sound, you know? But I have noticed that music has gotten a little more emotional and introspective. Maybe people are becoming a bit more open to that because of us.
F.W.: You created an iPhone app to go along with “Coexist.” How does technology like that jibe with The xx’s emotional music?
R.M.C.: The initial idea came from my concern that people buy albums online and miss that experience of looking through the lyrics and artwork — stuff that we spend a lot of time on. I suppose I wanted to create an immersive experience for people.
F.W.: Will there be another three-year gap between “Coexist” and the next album?
R.M.C.: We had a month off over Christmas to come back to London and decompress, and I definitely used that time to write, which has made me feel way more inspired and eager to create music than I did after putting out the first album. We want to make a conscious effort to not take so long next time.
F.W.: Are you able to fully decompress? Has the success of the band intruded on your personal lives at all?
R.M.C.: No, and that’s something I’m very grateful for. We can come back to London and it’s like nothing ever happened, you know? We never get stopped on the street, and that really works for us as people. None of us got into this to be famous. o