New Zealand group the Naked and Famous will join an elite and diverse sampling of alternative rock entertainment at the Cabooze Outdoor Plaza as part of Go 96.3’s annual Go Fest on July 2. Touring to promote their latest EP, Simple Forms, the band is returning to Minnesota after performing an elegant and engaging headline set at First Avenue last November.
Simple Forms, the band’s third album, was released in October 2016, marking an end to what had then been an indefinite hiatus for the rockers, who were trying to overcome turmoil. The release of the new single “Higher” catapulted an anthemic resurgence, returning the group to airwaves and record stores after having experienced success with their two previous studio albums, In Rolling Waves (2013) and Passive Me, Aggressive You (2010).
Now, touting the hit single “Higher” and old favorites such as “Young Blood” and “Punching in a Dream,” the Naked and Famous aim to please in a handful of upcoming North American festivals before heading abroad. Alisa Xayalith, the group’s vocalist, took a break from touring to answer questions about what the band has been up to and Go Fest ’17.
Paul Patane (TCG): It was a long time in the making, but Simple Forms dropped last October and the band has been busy touring to promote it. How has the reception of the album been, and what’s it been like touring with the new tunes after all the adversity you’ve overcome?
Alisa Xayalith: It felt like we were in the writing room and studio forever. It always feels that way when we are in the process of making an LP. When we release new music out into the world, it can feel like we are letting go of something, letting go of a part of ourselves, and it takes on this new breath of life. The reception we’ve had so far has been met with nothing but love. When I’m singing and looking out into the crowd, it’s relatively easy to see and feel what is connecting with the audience. I have witnessed some beautiful moments, I have seen a grown man cry standing alone, I’ve seen lovers hold each other close, I’ve seen a band of friends put their arms around each other and sing along with me. Music is magic.
TCG: You guys are on record talking about how long “Higher” took to get arranged and straightened out for the album. As a result, it’s been called anthemic. You guys took a break but also pushed forward, past the adversity you’ve gone through. Can you elaborate on how you found a path forward with passion and energy to release new music?
Alisa: No matter what is happening in our lives—for us—music is our catharsis. It’s the creative platform that we have chosen to express ourselves and we’ve been doing this for almost nine years. There’s a blueprint to our creative process, how we write songs hasn’t changed even if the writers themselves are experiencing personal change.
TCG: What are some themes that Simple Forms highlights, and how do you think those themes translate to live performances?
Alisa: The Naked and Famous don’t write thematically—maybe one day we will. Writing songs is an emotionally visceral expression of what is inspiring us at the time. We write pop songs, lead by wearing our hearts on our sleeve. One of my favorite moments live is getting to play a song called “Losing Our Control,” which I get to play on my Fender Telecaster. Playing guitar took a backseat for a while because I was focused on mastering my singing capabilities. I have always written songs on the guitar, but playing this instrument on stage empowers me in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.
TCG: The Naked and Famous have performed in the Twin Cities multiple times, including headlining at First Avenue last fall. Do you have a favorite memory you can recall from a Twin Cities–based show?
Alisa: First Avenue is great! The hospitality of that venue is wonderful—namely because I remember the donuts they put in our dressing room, frosted with a welcome message. Maybe we should start a food tour diary of all the venues we play?!
TCG: You’ve got a lot of festivals coming up this summer, including Go Fest in Minneapolis. Do you prefer the more intimate indoor shows you headline, or is it more fun to be part of a larger outdoor festival that features multiple groups?
Alisa: There’s an ease and comfort in playing headline shows. We can take our time setting up, soundcheck and make sure everything is working. There’s room to work and write if we want to. Playing headline shows is intimate, and there’s something really special about the time and space you have with people who really connect with the music we make. With festivals, I feel like I have to work extra hard to win people over who wouldn’t normally come out to see us play a show. The social aspect of it is a breath of fresh air because you get to leave the tour bubble and be outside of your usual schedule.
TCG: Whenever I interview artists or groups, I like to ask if they have a favorite song to perform live. I often hear that the answer changes constantly, but sometimes a clear favorite sticks out. Do you have a favorite song to perform live currently?
Alisa: I mentioned I loved playing “Losing Our Control” because I get to feel like a bad-ass and play my guitar. There’s another that I like to play called “Laid Low” because I get to jump up on the drum riser and annoy my drummer and play on his crash symbol. [laughter] I love hearing people singing the chorus at the top of their lungs.
TCG: What are some things the band members like to do while you’re on the road and touring that keep you fresh and engaged with each other?
Alisa: A common denominator that will always bring us together is food. We are all on the same mission to find a decent meal that doesn’t consist of corn chips and salsa. Often, we remember places we’ve played because of the amazing and terrible meals we’ve had in those places.
TCG: You’ve got a summer packed with festival performances. What do you have in the works for the rest of 2017?
Alisa: In between tour dates, we have been working away on new material. Our focus is playing shows and being prolific as possible. So hopefully you will hear new music from us sooner rather than later.
Joining Xayalith and the rest of the post-punk outfit from New Zealand at Go Fest will be Bleachers, MUTEMATH, Muna, and the Unlikely Candidates. For Twin Cities–based acts, Step Rockets, Whosah, and Jeanne Taylor will be featured on the Go Local stage. Miles the DJ will spin records between sets to keep the crowd buzzing, and with two stages packed with talented artists pumping out the tunes, the Cabooze will be the place to be for live music this weekend.