TNAF: Famous five's very big year

By Scott Kara

The Naked and Famous will return home to face the NZ Music Awards - lots of them probably - after a hectic year that isn't finished yet. Scott Kara reports.

The Naked and Famous have found themselves to be a worldwide sensation. Photo / Supplied
The Naked and Famous have found themselves to be a worldwide sensation. Photo / Supplied

This is how the next two months in the life of The Naked and Famous will play out. They play in Zurich tonight ahead of seven more European dates and before travelling to Australia, then on to America for 17 shows during October. At the beginning of November they're home to attend the New Zealand Music Awards and play a one-off show at the Auckland Town Hall. Then it's back off to Britain for more gigs until the end of the year.

That sort of relentless schedule has been TNAF's lot in the past nine months-or-so since they left New Zealand to promote their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, overseas.

As well as playing some of the biggest music festivals - from Glastonbury in England, to Melt! in Germany and Lollapalooza last month in Chicago - they have also played shows everywhere from Leeds to Las Vegas.

No wonder songwriter, producer, and singer/guitarist Thom Powers still sounds a little overawed by it all.

"It's amazing actually. I'm pretty speechless because it is like living a dream, I guess," he says on the phone from San Francisco airport, en route back to Europe for the upcoming shows.

The band, which can be best described as sonic-synth-pop-rock, are New Zealand's biggest musical export at the moment. But more on that soon because back home, TNAF are the leading finalists at this year's Tui Awards on November 3 at Vector Arena with five nominations, including single of the year for No. 1 hit Young Blood and best album for Passive Me, Aggressive You.

They are also finalists in the People's Choice Awards and the video for the album's third single, Punching In A Dream, is up for best video.

And last night at the Music Awards finalists announcement, Powers and bandmate Aaron Short won the technical Tuis for best producer and best engineer (along with Olly Harmer) for their debut.

"It is flattering. I'm just dreading having to do speeches if I have to. I was terrible at speeches at high school. I don't know what we're going to do if we win - a couple of wines might help maybe, I don't know," he laughs.

It's hardly surprising the band - also made up of singer Alisa Xayalith, bass player David Beadle and drummer Jesse Wood - lead the nominations, given the success of Young Blood, which went to No.1 in June last year and also won the 2010 APRA Silver Scroll. And the album, which was TimeOut's top record of 2010, is beautifully noisy, boundary-pushing pop music.

It also had an intensity and uniqueness to it that gave it international appeal - and the choice to head overseas after signing with British label Fiction Records is paying off. Although Powers is quick to point out that "we were pulled out of New Zealand" back in January.

"It wasn't something we had planned. I would have been happy getting on the bFM top 10 or something like that," he laughs. "We had very realistic ambitions about what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to do. I never dreamed we'd get signed to a major label in London, so it's been all about going along for the road. In saying that, every time we have been presented with an opportunity we took it all very seriously and tried to capitalise on what we were doing. We never f***** about, never took anything for granted."

He laughs now when he thinks back to a crazy round-the-world trip where they were wined and dined by a number of record labels looking to sign them.

"It was like a good old-fashioned 90s record label bidding war - and it was, honestly, so surreal. Even then I was sceptical, I was like, 'this is amazing, but it all could be bullshit and it could all just fall apart'. Because there are plenty of failed stories and plenty of great bands who have had deals and it has fallen apart for whatever the reason."

So far all is going to plan for TNAF - who are all still in their early 20s - although it's hard for Powers to quantify how well it is actually going for the band. "I feel like we're too young to know how well it's going. Every time something big happens for us it's all still a learning and growing process - and we're all still trying to figure out how it all works."

Perhaps the best indication of their current standing is the sold-out shows they've been playing - and the number of screaming fans who can be seen on video blogs from festivals like Lollapalooza.

"And we had a 9.30pm slot at the Melt! Festival in Germany. It was epic. Bigger than Glastonbury, because there was a bigger crowd, it was night time, and there was a spectacular lighting show. Some pretty surreal things have happened and that sort of stuff makes you feel like you are achieving something by playing these shows and our career seems to be ... permeating," he says with a laugh.

"I feel like everything is getting progressively bigger and bigger."

And life on the road has brought them closer together, he says. "I think we're all a lot closer and there is a real togetherness about who we are and what we're doing." They are even managing to write new material for a second album. "With all the experiences performing live, we will have a fresh perspective going into record number two and it has definitely changed our creative ... I don't want to say boundaries, but basically I think we're interested in taking on anything these days."

LOWDOWN

Who: The Naked and Famous, NZ Music Awards leading nominees

Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Nov 4

Listen to: Passive Me, Aggressive You (2010)

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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