Ten years into being a band, The Naked and Famous are finally living up to the first half of their name and baring it all — kind of.
After beginning their career crammed in a bedroom penning and recording songs for 2010 debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You, the New Zealand-born indie mongers have landed in the same place a decade later, recording their acoustic album A Still Heart in guitarist and vocalist Thom Powers’ garage studio. Originally simply titled Stripped, the record is the outfit’s in-between project, spanning the gap from 2016’s Simple Forms to their still unnamed “LP4” with medley versions of select songs from their three prior studio albums.
“We are no longer the kids who wrote Passive Me, Aggressive You,” Powers says. “That era feels distant. I look back at who I was and cringe. In the past we’ve been adverse to acoustic performances. It wasn’t how we wanted to represent The Naked and Famous and we didn’t feel confident, or creatively equipped, to pull off that kind of performance.”
Throughout 2017, the group has been dropping songs from A Still Heart piecemeal, the most recent of which, “Punching In A Dream,” debuts today (December 15). The entire record is due out in the spring of next year.
Currently juggling both A Still Heart and their fourth studio album, The Naked and Famous’ tenth anniversary year is wrapping up as one of their busiest on record — and looking forward to 2018, the bangers are bound to be abundant. Vanyaland chatted with Powers about a decade of TNAF, the band’s favorite unplugged albums, and why A Still Heart is most definitely not a “best of” album.
Victoria Wasylak: What made you want to release a “stripped” series? You just released Simple Forms in 2016, so it seems like a quick move, plus it’s kinda crazy to hear you guys play without any synths.
Thom Powers: Thank you! In the past we’ve been adverse to acoustic performances. It wasn’t how we wanted to represent The Naked and Famous and we didn’t feel confident, or creatively equipped, to pull off that kind of performance.
The idea to perform acoustically came up in talks about how we might promote Simple Forms. We’re an established act now, so it felt appropriate to experiment with our identity. But we didn’t want to strum-out awkward ad-hoc versions of our high intensity songs. We felt they deserved to be presented in a way that felt authentic and original. If we were going to do anything acoustic is had to be tasteful and intentional. Ultimately we wanted our fans to wonder which version came first!
How did you pick the songs that you wanted to re-record for this album?
There was a fair amount of deliberation and consideration. The concern that it might look like a well disguised “best of” disappeared as soon as we began recording. The songs sounded so different. This made us feel it imperative to stick to our most well known songs.
Where did you record the album, and how long did the entire process take?
I’ve come full circle; back in 2008 we were recording in our bedrooms. Passive Me, Aggressive You had us bringing our laptop production into a professional studio (in New Zealand). In Rolling Waves was rehearsed intimately as a full band, recorded at a studio in LA, mixed in London and mastered in New York — we sat in on both the mixing and mastering. Certain songs from Simple Forms were entirely re-recorded. Some were mixed three times by various people… This record has been recorded entirely in my garage studio, haha. I feel confident enough as a producer and engineer now. Having our own space means we can keep more of a daily schedule. It’s relaxed but ultimately more productive. We’ve began LP4 and will no doubt finish most of it in this space too.
What are some of your favorite acoustic acts/ unplugged albums?
Alisa [Xayalith] and I have always been big fans of acts like Bon Iver and Damien Rice. Lately we’ve been listening to people like Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Zander Hawley. I wouldn’t necessarily label any of them as “acoustic.” More singer-songwriters. We didn’t want this to feel like like an “unplugged” album. While some of those records, like Nirvana’s, feel classic and standalone, there’s potential for cliche. Especially in the world of rock. We are behind the ’90s and one cannot casually strum a power chord on an acoustic. I have always loved Nine Inch Nails’ Still EP. It seemed more thoughtful and curious.
Have you already started thinking about what’s next for you as a band, musically and touring-wise?
At least two-thirds written, we are heading towards LP4. We have been writing much more with other people. It’s beginning to feel like, “How did we ever do this all on our own?!” Having additional creative input can be a satisfying experience. If we stay this course it’ll mean more The Naked and Famous music, more regularly.
You’ve been a band for 10 years now. How do you think you’ve changed since then, if at all?
Joints are beginning to ache. Some aspects of being an artist get easier and cause less anxiety. Others make you more jaded. We are no longer the kids who wrote Passive Me, Aggressive You. That era feels distant. I look back at who I was and cringe. At the same time I feel nostalgia. A more accurate answer might be to swing that question back to you and the readers: How much have you changed over the last 10 years?
What do you want for the next 10 years as a band?
Too far ahead to speak with certainty, but if we still feel like The Naked and Famous is a working vehicle for our artistic voices, we will keep it on the road.