The xx
UK Tour
June – August 2009
Questionnaire & Photography: Steve Bateman

“The xx are a London quartet, featuring the dual lead vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (who also play lead guitar and bass guitar respectively), Baria Qureshi (keyboards and guitar) and Jamie Smith (beats, MPC sampler). Bonding over a shared love of dark, emotive ‘80s guitar sounds and the high-end sheen of American R&B, The xx’s unique sound befits a band whose wide range of influences include everything from Aaliyah to Cocorosie, Rhianna to The Cure, Missy Elliott to The Chromatics and Mariah Carey to The Pixies. These influences combine via beautiful, hushed vocal duets and a brilliantly inventive use of samples and low-end frequencies to produce stark, sweet melancholic pop and a hauntingly soulful sound.” OFFICIAL BIOG EXTRACT

“They may only have a couple of official songs and a handful of demos to their name now, but The xx is a band to watch. Both casually cool and absolutely magnetic, this young London four-piece makes music that's simple and raw, but utterly captivating. With little percussion, distortion or background noise, the subtle bass lines and guitar riffs slowly build in volume as if self-conscious to be so nakedly displayed. The vocals are delivered in hushed tones to match the vibe established by the minimalist instrumentation. Their songs are almost all build-up and no resolution, which is somehow appropriate for a young band of 19-year-olds who are just gaining momentum in their musical careers.” NPR.ORG

In a musical landscape where more and more artists and bands are vying for attention, and with record companies constantly on the look out for a sound that will prick up ears and an image that will turn heads and grab your gaze. Ironically, it’s sometimes the quieter and more unassuming acts, who are the ones most likely to break through. Take newcomers, The xx (a name they chose as they liked the aesthetics of it) for instance, who create a prism of smooth, sparse, delicate and chilled-out soothing music, which one critic summed up as: “Mature, soulful and full of the bittersweet sadness of experience.” And another: “They capture a mood that's instantly familiar, a kind of twilight longing.”

In other words, music is certainly a much richer place for The xx, and as we all know, you can never have too much great music! Having been best friends since the age of 3, first meeting at nursery school, Romy and Oliver have “a brother / sister complex” – although to begin with, were too shy to sing in front of each other – and eventually hooked up with Baria and Jamie at secondary school, when they were all aged 15. In one of their first ever interviews for Clash, of that period, Oliver elaborated: “Me, Romy and Baria had tried making music before, but it was all quite heavily distorted; kind of a power struggle to see who could be the loudest. Our music is quite the polar opposite now.”

With the magazine continuing: “The polar opposite is music stripped down to the simplest of note sequences and drumbeats, carrying fragile lyrics across equally fragile melodies. A necessary simplification Romy explains: “When we started, the music was quite simple because we couldn’t really play. So it was a case of, this is as complicated as it’s going to get… I’m quite glad for that now, because I like the space and the subtlety.” Any inexperience within the band is steadied by Romy and Oliver’s assured vocals, as their harmonies with each other are so tender and complimentary.”

However, the quartet’s supreme debut 7”, Crystalised (limited to 500 copies and produced by the The xx and engineered by Cocadisco’s Rodaidh McDonald), along with the other original compositions and atmospheric covers they’ve posted on their MySpace page, should be taken more as a taster of what’s to come from the group’s debut album. Which after jettisoning outside producers through fear of their songs being transformed into that person’s vision, is being recorded and self-produced in a one-room studio at XL, for a September release. Because as one review observed: “Their haunting cover of Womack & Womack’s ’80s pop hit, Teardrops, is the sound of a band still discovering their influences, but who are on their way to achieving a stunning new sound all of their own.”

As a recent convert myself, I contacted Richard @ XL Recordings, who cordially asked Romy if she may be able to complete a Q&A for me when she had a spare moment. Who has since obliged, by delving into the inner-workings of The xx and writing a very considered account of the group’s enchanting, softly seductive, calming, nocturnal and carefully constructed melt-in-your-mouth songs, as well as revealing how she’s a music obsessive!

And if you yourself are a music obsessive, who loves cool and classy tunes that relinquish multiple quiet delights, then you’ll be overjoyed to discover the excellence of The xx…


Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.For people who have an affinity with music and who really understand it, not only can it be a sanctuary for them, but also a way of life! Have you yourself, always felt so passionately about music?
“I have always felt passionately about music – I would say it is a great love of my life and people I meet and fall in love with, usually have a similar affinity to the music that I treasure. I think music can definitely provide an escape and sanctuary – it can take you out of the situation you're in and give you a space to reflect and create. So, what I love about music, is that not only can it take you out of the moment and give you a personal sanctuary, it can also enhance the moment that you're in and bring people together.”

2.Do you have a romantic idea of what a songwriter is?
“I think the idea that someone's feelings have been expressed and emotions have been conveyed through not only words but become melodic, is a very romantic idea. The idea that someone has put thought, time and heart into a song, is a very attractive quality to me.”

3.Of all the artists’ and music that you cherish, which songs most move you and are there any songs that you wish you had written?

“There are so many singular lines and moments in songs that get me – in all types of music. From a chorus in an R&B track, like Tell Me What You Want - Mase ft. Total. To a tiny bridge in an Interpol song - Leif Erikson. Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzarus is an incredible song. I saw Bon Iver live last week and it made me cry, at the pure beauty of it.”

4.Continuing with this train of thought, I read that you often collaborate with Oliver when writing lyrics and “bounce off each other.” But what are the main themes of your lyrics and can you remember the first song that you wrote and were really proud of?
“The main lyrical themes of The xx have unravelled to be quite based around elements – such as the sun, the moon, stars and sea. I like to take a situation I've been in that has affected me, and get it out into words and relate it to the elements to add a greater scope to the song. I try to make it cryptic enough that it isn't too painful or uncomfortable if say the person who the song was written about, was in the room – but that wasn't always the case. When I first started writing songs, I was so young, I hadn't even experienced some of the things I was singing about, it was all from my imagination. Now, I tend to be more literal in my subjects. Oliver used to be literal and now he says he has become more fantastical, it's ever changing.”

5.What attributes (creative and otherwise) do you most admire in each other?
“I think collectively, we are all fairly calm and relaxed people. We are definitely very easygoing, and peace and quiet is collectively appreciated. You wouldn't find us screaming out of the tourbus or trashing a hotel room. The general mood is – well, we could be arrogant and ask for a lot, like some bands do, but we don't want to, that’s just not us and I'm glad.”

6.Do you have any hobbies outside of the band?

“I'm interested in photography – the satisfaction of getting a film developed is really exciting to me. But mostly everything I do is based around music; my social life, situations etc. It all leads back to being a bit of a music obsessive.”

7.If you were asked to record a ‘Split EP’ with one act, where you would both cover each other’s songs – who would you choose and what track, plus which song of yours would you like them to cover?
“Cocteau Twins – I'd love to see them take our words and melodies and spin them in their own way. Cherry Coloured Funk is beautiful, although the lyrics don't make up a story, the emotion in the melody really affects me. I'd also love it to be a band that were completely opposite to us. Cover versions are really interesting to me, but only when the band has really made the song their own. I'd love to hear Sugababes or Destiny’s Child covering us, it would just be so fun to hear our songs sung by them.”

8.As a band, do you fashion songs or do they develop in their own way?
“Usually, Oliver and I will have come up with a verse or chorus and then the others will add their input if they want to, a verse or other part. Then us two come together and create the skeleton of the song – just bass and guitar – and from the bare bones, Jamie comes in and fills in the space. Jamie has a great skill at bringing in interesting and exciting sounds that take songs to the next level. The songs then tend to grow naturally from there as we rehearse them – we see what works live and hone it to a playable song.”

9.Morrissey believes that “something extraordinary happens to a person when they sing, which doesn’t occur anywhere else in life.” Would you agree with this?

“I would – I used to be incredibly nervous about singing live. I still wouldn't be able to sing comfortably in a room of people, say at a party, if someone was to get a guitar out and be like, “Sing!” I'd still be ridiculously shy. But on stage, it's like I step into a subtle role, where I am happy and confident to sing in the security and familiarity of our songs. Being on tour with all the waiting around, when we do finally get on stage and I am singing, it creates a certain peace and takes me away from everything just for a moment.”

10.Another musical legend, the New York Dolls' David Johansen, once spoke about how his "pride of influencing other musicians is greater than his regret of never achieving huge success in The ’70s." In terms of your legacy, is 'Influence vs. Success' something that you ever think about?
“I think the idea that we would have an influence would be a very self-flattering one, considering our age and the scope of music that there is to take influence from. I think I would be content with having inspired anyone to consider putting their feelings down into words. When it comes to success, as long as we can continue to make music and travel, I am content – the more people who hear us, the better, but celebrity isn't my idea of success.”

11.If you had to choose between having a #1 Album or Single, headlining The Main Stage at a major Festival, or winning an important Award, which one would you go for?
“Headlining The Main Stage at a major Festival, I think would just be the most electric, memorable experience.”

12.In order to warm-up an audience before a group takes to the stage, what songs should the ultimate pre-gig Mixtape have on it?
“I'd love Passion by The Flirts, it's just one of those songs that you couldn't really object to liking – it will either make you laugh or make you dance. Probably not the most in-keeping with our sound, if it was played before our gig, but I'd enjoy it.”

13.If you were asked to travel the world as part of an NME ‘New Music Tour Package’ – which 3 artists / bands would you most like to join you?

“We recently sang live with Jack Peñate – I know he's not exactly new, but his new album is just really great. I love Florence from Florence & The Machine's voice, and we recently heard a new band called Trailer Trash Tracys, who we think are really good.”

14.Can you tell us what we can expect from your debut album, and what your biggest hopes are for The xx long-term?

“With our album, we tried to keep the essence of the demos and take it to the next level. My hopes for The xx long-term, are that people will like our songs, we will travel to some exciting places and that we will record another album that I am proud of.”

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?


A very special thanks to Romy, to Richard @ XL Recordings, and to Caius @ The Young Turks, for all of their time and help.

“Don’t think that I’m pushing you away
When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?