When I asked a member of The Naked and Famous, Aaron Short, to share one of his favorite moments as a professional musician, he told me, “Every time our manager tells us there is a free buffet breakfast included with our hotel room. It doesn’t take a lot to please us. Imagine how we reacted when a label from the UK wanted to sign us?”
One could definitely say Aaron has learned to appreciate the simpler things in life, especially as The Naked and Famous’ journey grows more exciting, opportunity-filled, successful and complicated. Continuing my conversation with Aaron, he then talked about the New Zealand-native Indietronica band’s big move to Los Angeles.
“Between the time we left New Zealand for our Passive Me, Aggressive You tour in 2010 and landing in Los Angeles in 2012, is a blur of 200 or so shows around the world. We were very ready to pick a spot to settle once we reached the end of it, and LA made sense to us for many reasons,” explains Aaron.
The favorable turn-out of their career in the U.S. provided one motivation for the band to stay in this country, and Aaron even mentions they did not want to “stray too far from a good thing.” Additional motivational factors include affordable avocados, rapid internet connection, and a peaceful house just outside of Hollywood. In this home, the band transformed one of the rooms into a little demo studio, a room that would become the birthplace of their latest album, In Rolling Waves.
As I thoroughly researched the band in the press, and listened to their music from their 2010 release, and 2014 album, I definitely felt a strong sense of artistic development. The Naked and Famous are currently between tours – having just finished Coachella and now taking on the Groovin The Moo Tour in Australia. Aaron very graciously took some time out to talk with me about the band and share the story of this group thus far. One of the parts within the story he shared that stood out for me was his forecast of a third album on the horizon, which he describes as “the next chapter in our book once this current tour is complete.”
While The Naked and Famous work towards completing their Australian tour, and what is most likely the band’s current chapter, I examine the earlier chapters of this band’s life through Aaron’s point of view. I am happy to welcome The Naked and Famous to Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.
Chapter 1: The Rule of Performing Live
When Aaron met Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2008, he did not consider himself a part of the band, nor really a musician. Instead, Aaron saw his future in co-producing within the studio environment. He credits Thom for being a “man with the plan.” Aaron recalls the moment they finished the band’s first EP titled This Machine.
“The demos we made doubled towards the end of term assessment submissions, which pretty much gained me that diploma. Thom was always a man with a plan though, and that [plan] was – make an EP, form a live band, get a song on college radio, play a few shows, and wing it from there, in that order.”
I wondered what Aaron meant by a “live band.” He explains, “Since day one, we’ve always had a rule that if something can’t be performed live, it shouldn’t really be in the recording. This law we followed was definitely more for us than the audience, and it dramatically changed our approach to writing, the way in which we recorded albums, and the live set up.
“What we have now is an incredibly exciting and active stage set up, which makes the songs much more satisfying to play. I find it is boring when I go to see a band play and hear a part [in their song] which sounds really cool, then I look around and realize no is actually playing.”
Learning this fact about The Naked and Famous’ approach to music also excited me. Based on what I initially understood from reading major popular music publications online; In Rolling Waves was the album that first incorporated this emphasis on the ability of successfully playing a song both live and in a recording. Luckily, the band has been doing this from the beginning.
Chapter 2: Push the Dynamics
Moving forward with the conversation, I wondered what changed in the recording experience of the band’s latest album compared to their first full-length debut in 2010, Passive Me, Aggressive You. When The Naked and Famous were writing their debut, the five members who – as Aaron explains – “draw from a massive range of musical influences” came to agree on one musical style.
“Though we all share many of the same favorites,” begins Aaron, “no one’s tastes perfectly match, which is beautiful. I personally come from a strong electronic music background compared to the rest, and this makes for an interesting dynamic when it comes to the production of our records.”
It is perhaps no surprise that, between the recordings of the two full-length albums, everything about the record-making experiences differed. Talking with Aaron, I felt Passive Me, Aggressive You was The Naked and Famous’ first chance to stretch their muscles as electronic musicians, helping create memorable and dreamy tracks like “Young Blood.” As for the second release, Aaron says:
“We put a lot more consideration into the parts being written and refined them to the point we felt they were as powerful as possible, without relying on the use of excessive production to make a track ‘big.’
“There is also this encompassing sense of being a little more grown up this time around. “Young Blood” was written as a demo in 2009, and we were 4 years on from that when In Rolling Waves was completed. You can definitely feel that in the themes of the lyrics, and the construction of the songs.
“We also made an effort to push the dynamics of this record; making those quiet moments even more delicate, and the darker and heavier moments more powerful than on the first record.”
The evolution in the lyrical themes between the two records will stand out to listeners. The lyrics in “Young Blood,” express a shaky love between two people – probably adolescents – who want to be together for no other reason than simply being together. The lyrics are:
We lie beneath the stars night/ Our hands gripping each other tight/ You keep my secrets hope to die/ Promises swear them to the sky…
Fast forward four years, the vocal timbre remains the same, but the tone behind the lyrics changed. Now, The Naked and Famous perform a slightly different tune in the song “Hearts Like Ours” which includes lyrics like:
Could we try to reinvent?/ Feed the head with common sense/ through the streets and avenues/ climbing up the walls with you…
The theme of growing up is evident to the listener in this song. Here, the story between the lovers may have started with the illusion of promise and might be now finishing at an impasse which is represented by the question ‘can we grow together and continue this journey, or should we part?’
Chapter 3: Cool Heights
One might say that time will change anybody’s attitude about their lover, life or even themselves. The same applies for artists. For The Naked and Famous though, their experiences as full-time professional musicians between 2009 and right now speaks louder than only the time that has passed between their album releases.
While the band did not make an additional full-length record between 2009 and 2014, The Naked and Famous did release B-Sides and Remixes which were extensions of their original works and compilations of songs that did not make the album. In addition, the band created a live film of their Passive Me, Aggressive You tour cycle in a live film they released in 2012 titled One Temporary Escape. Aaron says:
“We made it available for free download in HD and with fully mixed audio, as a nice way to wrap everything up before moving to the second album phase. Our live shows reached a pretty cool height at that point, and we want people to see how much better the show looked as opposed to watching if from one of the 10,000 shaky distorted mobile uploads on YouTube.”
Now, the band can expect plenty of additional mobile uploads from fans after “conquering two incredible weekends at Coachella” something the band has looked forward to for years. They are currently touring Australia, which according to Aaron, has involved enduring colder weather than they are typically used to, along with an overloaded van and plenty of long drives.
While Aaron did not mention anything in regards to a live film of the In Rolling Waves tour, fans can keep up with the band by following The Naked and Famous on Twitter – @tnaf – and Instragram – @tnaf. In the meantime, more information about their tour is available on their website thenakedandfamous.com. If you are a New Yorker, you have a chance to see The Naked and Famous perform amongst an exciting line up which includes Jack White, The Strokes, Fitz and the Tantrums, and many more on Saturday, June 7th at the Governors Ball Music Festival. Click here to get tickets.
The Next Chapter?
I feel fortunate to have caught one of the members of a band that is currently experiencing a riveting stage within their career. In addition, my conversation with Aaron reminds me of a piece of advice I received once during my time as an undergrad in Music History – “do what you love, and the rest will come.” Aaron’s experience perhaps parallels these words well.
For a musician though, ‘doing what you love’ is not always easy. Their career might involve relocating to faraway places, and taking on experiences filled with challenges like cross-country tours and squeezing in time for some publicity. Yet, getting to these experiences and achieving these benchmarks is part of the job, and the reward waiting for some, after the successful turnouts at shows, the large album sales, and the additional promotional merchandise, is a peaceful home and the beginning of another album. Although we so far only have a hint of news about a third record, The Naked and Famous would definitely say “We’re getting there.”
*All photos were published with permission from CRS Management in New Zealand