Alisa Xayalith on success, life and lettuce spinners.

The Naked and Famous were born in 2006 when vocalist Alisa Xayalith met fellow college dropout Thom Powers (vocals). Over time they recruited Aaron Short (keyboard), David Beadle (bass) and Jesse Wood (drums) and in 2010 they released Passive Me, Aggressive You, which was followed three years later by In Rolling Waves. Currently New Zealand’s biggest musical export, the band has played across the world at every globally renowned festival, including Coachella, SXSW and Glastonbury. Their success – including a number one debut album – has seen their singles featured on Grey’s Anatomy, True Blood and Gossip Girl, while “Punching in a Dream” is the theme tune for Made in Chelsea.

Now, their second world tour has recently concluded in California, and we caught up with vocalist, Xayalith, to hear all about the inner workings of her band, her life and her mind.

As a quintet, the group relocated from New Zealand to Los Angeles in 2012. Having held each other’s hands throughout their first eight years together, Xayalith tells me that they now live separately. ”I’m experiencing what it feels like to truly be alone with one-self. I’m learning to do normal things like how to use a lettuce spinner in the kitchen. I’m discovering more parts of LA and making new friends.”

Downtime like this for an artist can only be the catalyst for one thing: creativity. Certainly album number three is already a hot topic in their camp with brainstorming afoot. “Thom and I have begun working on new songs. We want to make an ambitious TNAF pop record. I know that sounds very abstract but I’m very excited about it.” So how else will it differ to its predecessors? “We spent a year making In Rolling Waves and a year touring it, we’re ambitious about writing this third LP but writing music takes as long as it takes….so we’ll take our time, but not too much time I hope!”

A new pop direction would certainly be unexpected as TNAF have always desired to be labelled as an ‘alternative rock band’. Is this change in direction a signal of growth and development for the band as artists or more about commerciality? “I hope to always learn and grow. Today, I feel capable but there’s still so much I want to do; one day I want to write a song as classic as “Stand by Me”. No matter what you do in life, I think people should always be learning and growing and figuring things out.”

Enthusiasm aside, Xayalith says it’s often difficult working alongside four other passionate musicians – who are also guys – and relations do get fraught. “There are five people in this group who care about what kind of music they want to play. We’re usually all on the same page at the end of the day, after having it out with one another! I remember reading about the kinds of arguments that would happen in the studio between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But when it’s great, we feel untouchable.”

Despite living the American Dream, Xayalith is still adjusting to TNAF’s recent success and describes herself as very lucky and proud. “I wake up every day thinking to myself ‘This is my life now, I live in LA and music is my currency. The sole reason I am even in this country is because of music.’ It sounds like an easy life, but it takes hard work and discipline,” she adds warningly.

Travelling the world is often seen as the reward for that hard work and all those months tucked away in a stuffy recording studio and TNAF have performed onstage across Canada, Europe and Australia. But after playing Fuji Rocks in 2011, Japan is the place Xayalith yearns to return to. “It’s the most foreign place we’ve ever been. We all agree that it’d be so fun for us to head back, but next time play a show in Osaka.”

Recounting touring across the world, Xayalith reveals herself to be a culture vulture. Shunning the tour norms of drinking all day and sleeping all night, she prefers to walk and explore each city she encounters describing it as “exciting”. Contrary to this is the physical toll travelling takes on her and she also describes questionable areas TNAF have performed, “Sometimes you can’t go outside because it may not be a very safe area.”

Alluding to their name, The Naked and Famous – an ambivalent title harking to celebrity culture, I can’t help but ask Xayalith her thoughts, as the only lady surrounded by males in a male dominated industry, on the recent iCloud hacking scandal that targeted a wide proportion of female Hollywood. “I think it’s really awful. It’s a huge violation of one’s privacy and that sort of predatory behaviour is mortifying.”

As a compassionate and gentle front-woman, with a passion for culture, the world, life and others, we stray to serious topics. New Zealand has recently committed itself to the international fight against ISIS and Xayalith is truly forlorn as she describes her thoughts. “Politics, it’s a world I’m not oblivious to. I’ve read some devastating articles about ISIS and it makes me feel helpless and angry that such a group exists. I think that using the good in the world to fight evil comes from a place of love and compassion for the human race. I’d like to be on that team.”

Clarissa Waldron

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