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Interview – Thom Powers, The Naked & Famous

| 4 September 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Story first published in X-Press Magazine’s 28 August 2013 issue – HERE
100% ROCK: Hey Tom, how’re you doing today?

Thom Powers: Very good mate, how are you?

100% ROCK: Cool man, Thanks for your time today.

Thom Powers: No worries

Thom Powers TNAF 02

100% ROCK: So, let’s talk about the new album – In Rolling Waves, released 16th September. First up, can you explain the title to me?

Thom Powers: It’s a lyric actually from one of the songs – a song called Grow Old. And it was the first song we finished in the writing process for the album. It’s a fairly intense song – both musically and melodically and lyrically, it’s quite a big statement for us. And it became the first thing that we did for the record that felt really positive, like it was this great artistic achievement and everyone felt really great that we had this demo, and it became this staple of making the rest of the record and this thing that we could all fall back on. So no matter how badly things were going, or how stressful things were, it didn’t really matter because we had this song that everyone felt really good about and passionate about as an artistic achievement. So that song really felt like the staple that was holding everything together, so we put it there in the middle of the record. And there was just a lyric that stood out from that song, that I felt really described the nature of the emotional content on the record – I like the metaphor, I like the visual representation that it gives to you.

100% ROCK: The album was written on the road while you toured the world, you did demos in Wales and Australia, and you recorded in Hollywood – do you think all of that has given it a wider world view than if you’d just made it sitting at home in New Zealand?

Thom Powers: [chuckles] Um… strangely, we did a lot of demoing for it right around the world but there was still a big chunk of writing that we did right here in Los Angeles[where] we’ve been living for like, a year and a half. It’s strange because you’d think that – broadening your horizons and adventuring around the world and doing the – you guys call it the O/E’s as well don’t you? The Overseas Experience? – that aspect in itself I guess broadens your horizons, but our music is still pretty insular, it’s introverted and the things we sing about and the topics we incorporate into the music are very introspective and personally based. I think we’re a little bit sceptical about the idea of being too broad with where we’re coming from emotionally because I think sometimes that can get a little bit contrived and a little bit vague. So I think it’s important to look inwards and keep it a little more real and a little more believable. But I think the experiences we’ve had over the past two years with the band going around the world and blowing up and stuff, that in itself has had a lot of influence on who we are. But I dunno – I think I find that people are the same everywhere! I find it hard to conceptualise being somewhere else and writing new music – its always just music to me.

The Naked And Famous - In Rolling Waves CD

100% ROCK: It’s interesting that you say people are the same everywhere. Having lived in LA for a year and a half, how ‘fish out of water’ do you guys feel there?

Thom Powers: [laughs] Definitely… yeah we definitely do feel a little like a little fish in a big pond – but not so much fish out of water. Because we’re not exactly living in Hollywood – we were close to it before but we’re sort of in our own little bubble. The place where we’re hanging out and working, in Echo Park, is full of cool bands and it’s definitely not Hollywood! It’s like a vibrant and youth oriented area – it’s full of rock n’ roll stuff and like, this weekend just gone we had a big festival down near the Echoplex, which is like a classic medium sized venue. So we’re not immersed in the Hollywood culture and we haven’t been – we’re hanging out where all the cool bands are and stuff, you know. That side of being here in Los Angeles was a full-on experience when we first came here ‘cos, you know, most bands they just play at venues in Hollywood and they stay at venues near Hollywood – you can’t help it. And you can get a pretty bad impression of the place, but it’s fun. It’s cool. It’s a polarising place – it has that extreme ridiculousness, and then there’s the polar opposite of that, and that’s where we’re hanging out. I do really love it here!

Thom Powers TNAF 03

100% ROCK: Does having the accent and being the ‘stranger in a strange land’ open more doors still, like it used to back in the day?

Thom Powers: Yeah, definitely! [laughs] I feel far more exotic! So, yeah, there’s definitely that side of it and hey, that’s fun! But at the same time I never liked the idea of being too patriotic, because I feel that can close a bunch of doors as well. So I feel I have to do all of this myself, I’ve melded into the culture here pretty well – I don’t feel too ‘fish out of water’ here any more…

100% ROCK: That’s cool man, So how would you describe the band’s style to someone who hasn’t heard The Naked And Famous, ‘cos there’s a real daydreamy, cinematic feel to the music?

Thom Powers: Well, I feel like – thankyou [chuckles] – I feel like it depends who I’m talking to! If I was talking to my Grandma I’d say ‘Oh Grandma, it’s really loud rock music’, right, but I guess if I was talking to someone more culturally savvy, I think ‘alternative rock band’ is the most apt description for us. You know, there are all sorts of bands who got thrown into various genres when they first got started, like Massive Attack got thrown into Trip Hop, but they’ve had a career for the past few decades and they’re not really seen as Trip Hop is all that they do, and I feel like it’s the same for a lot of alternative bands, like Radiohead – they’re an alternative rock band, maybe they got thrown into some other earlier genres in the Nineties when they came out and stuff. But I feel like for us, we’re moving – we’ve made, especially with this record, we’re moving into being an alternative rock band, I don’t think we have a lot to do with the electro pop or electro synth bands that we often get lumped in together with. Our music is really danceable, and a lot of it’s upbeat and fun, but we’re not really singing about things like that – [laughs] like dancing or anything. I don’t know, I think there is a seriousness to what we do, and a side that others [miss], and I only mean in a pop culture sense when people hear Young Blood or something like that, or one of the singles and people think ‘Oh they’re THAT kind of band.’

Thom Powers TNAF 04

100% ROCK: Yeah. I read the bio first before listening to the album and I definitely wouldn’t say electro pop – that means something very different to me! It’s interesting – that’s the goal isn’t it though, to transcend boundaries and genres and become something a bit more individual?

Thom Powers: Yeah exactly! And then it’s nice to – it seems ambitious but I’d love the idea of being like some of the bands I love, and when somebody goes ‘oh, what’s that like?’, you know ‘oh well, they’re an alternative rock band, they’ve been doing it for ten years – you should just listen to it’

100% ROCK: So, living in Los Angeles for so long and then recording the album there, did any sonic influences from L.A. lend themselves to the album – I mean, I can’t hear a lot of Guns n’ Roses or Poison in there…?

Thom Powers: [laughs] Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, you should have a look on our YouTube channel – David & Jessie while we were on tour put together a side project called Living Like Kings – Acting Like Queens, and that’s where all the Poison and the Guns n’ Roses has gone – so check that out, it might make you laugh! But we didn’t really… again music for us I think it’s something that we go out and look for rather than it being something that’s environmental, so I’ve got no idea where the bands I like are from [laughs] I’ve got no idea! I don’t think particularly [that] the L.A. rock scene… if anything it would be bands like Hym, or there’s a band called Health, like a blues rock band. But we’ve been listening to Health since before we left New Zealand! I think if there are any influences they’re just there naturally rather than us becoming part of the culture here.

The Naked And Famous 2013

100% ROCK: How do the band operate in the studio – do you write as a team or bring songs in individually and work on them together?

Thom Powers: Most of the time, the atypical [sic] scenario would be I start a demo on my computer and then I would either come up with a vocal idea or leave it blank, then go to Lisa and we would start working on it together – whether it was something sung by me or sung by her. And then after that after that I would go meet the band and I would start producing it and the band would start working on it together. So that’s the kind of hierarchy and the way that things seem to work, and that’s just based on people’s skillsets and how the band has always operated – but there’s always exceptions to the rule! Like, I’ll take Alissa’s demos and turn them into band songs, and on both records so far there’s been one song that Aaron has started on his own, and I’ve grabbed it, like ‘gimme that, I’ll turn it into a band song’, and given it to Lisa and she’s written her vocal part for it. Yeah, there’s one of those songs on each album and I think that’s a tradition we’ll probably continue with. I think that’s the most simple explanation.

100% ROCK: And how organic is the recording? It sounds very lush and layered – were there a lot of overdubs and layering going on, or was it deliberately made to be able to replicate live with just the five of you?

Thom Powers: Well the first record was deliberately made with the idea of the five piece band, but it was very layered and quite dense, and it’s a very flamey record, like there’s a lot of compression – but we wanted that, we wanted it to be very bright and in your face and almost redlining the whole time! But the second record has a lot bigger dynamic range, it’s quieter AND louder – like, the loud moments are genuinely loud and the quiet moments are just volume, turned right down. And the cool thing about that it’s one of those records that you have to turn up a little bit and then turn down a little bit. [laughs] on your stereo. But the cool thing about that is it makes for a more dynamic listen, it encourages people to actually listen rather than put it on in the background. Which is, I dunno, it’s just a, sorta like a conscious decision. But this record was definitely made with a far stricter idea of how we were going to perform live – so there a no tracks on there which we can’t perform live apart from Indian Track, because it’s got a string quartet in it. But then again, we’ve got all the sheet music, so if we get the opportunity to play that, we’ll hire in a quartet and do that. That was a big challenge in itself but it was just an exciting way to fit parameters to give the album a cohesive approach and execution.

100% ROCK: You produced the album with a bit of input from Aaron – how do you deal with those moments when you have to put on your producer’s hat and say ‘well no, that’s crap, do it again’ or tell someone to do something differently?

Thom Powers: [laughs] Just like that! [laughs] No, I try – you know, it’s difficult because I’m not trying to – when I’m doing that I’m just trying to do what I think is best for the song, not what’s best for someone – so, I feel like sometimes I do a poor job of going about things the right way. And I think that’s maybe because this is my band. I think if I was an outside producer I would be able to let go, and that would be fine. I think that’s a real skill in itself and I think that’s what producers tend to do – they don’t just come in and suggest ideas, they kind of manage the situation quite well. So it can become quite heated when you’re hanging out with your friends that you live with and you’re making a record. It’s not exactly like you can detach yourself emotionally all the time. But I think I do okay… yeah there’s been some difficult moments. But I think if there weren’t some difficult moments, then there’d be something wrong, because it would mean I guess that no-one else was as emotionally involved. So it’s kind of a good sign I think if you’re butting heads, ‘cos it means that everyone cares.

Thom Powers TNAF 05

100% ROCK: Is it hard though, to leave that in the studio at the end of the day and go back home and say ‘hey, what are we having for dinner, let’s hang out and have a beer’?

Thom Powers: Yeah, definitely. It does take a toll, and it’s not… it’s a difficult thing to manage and obviously just too circumstantial for me to explain adequately in a few minutes – but it definitely does take it’s toll, but there’s enough respect I think, and enough common goal, and enough friendship in this group to keep everything together. You know – we care about each other, so it’s not like we would sacrifice our friendship over something trivial.

100% ROCK: You toured Passive Me, Aggressive You for over two years – I read you played to something like 600,000 people in that time, which is just staggering – is that the plan for In Rolling Waves as well?

Thom Powers: [laughs] Here’s hoping! Yeah, I hope we can play to as many people as possible – it just depends though. People might not connect with the record. I feel positive about it, I’m pretty sure people are gonna connect with it – but who knows? Life’s like that!

100% ROCK: You have some gigs in the UK and Europe for November, and Big Day Out early 2014 in Australia – so what happens after that?

Thom Powers: We are planning up to August or September of next year! [laughs] It looks like it’s only going to February but there’s lots of long plans being made right now… but obviously I can’t give any of those away just yet!

100% ROCK: Is that stressful though, with the band being at a level where people are relying on you for income and stuff like that, and dates are being locked in for a year down the track?

Thom Powers: Yeah it is, but at the same time I like to think we put stress on people in return [laughs]. Honestly, I feel like its more stressful working for me that the other way around! You know, the record company is probably worried that they’re pissing us off about something as we speak!

100% ROCK: Take note all potential future roadies…

Thom Powers: [laughs] Yeah, but I think if you surround yourself with good people that are considerate and have good intentions, then all the stress, it feels good to get through this stuff when you’re surrounded by good people who want to help you and in return you want to help them. It’s not like … there’s no-one working for me tonight who I don’t want working for me. It’s great – all these people we’re surrounded by who’re helping us out, they want to help us. So, I feel an obligation to them, but that has nothing to do with the music, you know. It’s more the working relationship surrounded the music we create. I don’t feel like just doing arrogant things to upset the record label or upset management – there’s a lot of professional respect in our band!

100% ROCK: Cool. Okay, a hypothetical one to finish up. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record through history, which one would you choose?

Thom Powers: [laughs] I think maybe The Downward Spiral [by Nine Inch Nails] but I might be too afraid to do it!

100% ROCK: So what does that album mean to you?

Thom Powers: It was just one of those records that I heard when I was growing up, when I was 14 to 16 somewhere around that age where you’re really impressionable, and it shocked me and it freaked me out, and I didn’t get it at first, then I got it and then I got it more, and then it was just the greatest thing I’d ever heard – so dark, and awesome and I dunno, it made me a more open minded person.

100% ROCK: Thanks for your time Thom, good luck with the record!

The Naked And Famous Xpress Mag 28 Aug 2013

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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