Best of What's Next: The xx

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The xx are one lucky group of young musicians. The friends from London’s Elliott School formed a band before any of them were old enough to drive and quickly caught the attention of XL subsidiary Young Turks; the label snapped up the foursome and then kept them on ice for two years, hooking them up with one producer after another as they worked to develop their sound. It was a wise choice: The resulting debut LP—a sensual, stripped-down blend of spare guitars, pouty vocals and thoughtful production—pushed The xx straight into the spotlight after its U.K. release last summer, when the bandmates were all still 19 years old. With the departure of keyboardist/guitarist Baria Qureshi following CMJ in October, the band continues a packed tour schedule as a threesome with some shows at SXSW this week. Paste recently checked in with vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim to see how the current tour’s going and talk about how the young Londoners are handling their new-found fame.

Paste: What are you up to today?
Oliver Sim: We are in Edinborough, Scotland, and we’ve just sound checked. We’ve got a show a little bit later, and hopefully before we play we’re going to go and check out Beach House because they’re playing just around the corner.

Paste: You’re touring now, and you’ve been touring for a while.
Sim: We’ve been touring pretty much since the beginning of last year, but this sort of touring every day we’ve been doing since August, since the album came out. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Paste: How are you feeling? Are you exhausted?
Sim: No, not too bad. I still feel quite rejuvenated from the Christmas break, and we’ve had some time at home recently [the band took a break from touring after the death of singer Romy’s father]. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got some really exciting things coming up, so I’m still glad to be on tour.

Paste: Are you working on new music while you’re on the road?
Sim: I enjoy touring, but I don’t find it particularly creative. I’m used to doing a lot of my writing, as with Romy, at home alone, in solitude. Being alone just isn’t an option on tour. I’m finding it hard writing new stuff, but a lot of the free time we get, we’ve been kind of __ to our soundchecks, so we haven’t had time to work on new stuff. A lot of the time, we’re concentrated on stuff we already had, songs we already have and kind of building them and changing them for the live act. We have new song recorded.

Paste: Have you found any new inspirations on the road that you think you’ll draw on when you have time to sit down and experience that solitude, or does your writing come from a different place?
Sim: I think it will come from a different place, and I think touring is kind of strange. Our last tour we did in America, just because it was our first time visiting a lot of these places, we would get there and we would do a lot of interviews and then sound check, do more interviews, have dinner, play the show and then leave. I think this next trip is going to be very different. Hopefully it won’t be quite as intense, so we’ll get the chance to look around and get lost in these cities and hopefully be inspired. But I think we are having to adapt ourselves to touring, and Jamie’s kind of gone into his own little world and working on his laptop a lot and doing his solo remix work and production. Me and Romy, we lock ourselves away in our bunk sometimes and try to work, but I think it’s going to take some [more] getting used to.

Paste: I saw that you guys are working on some remixes of Gil Scott-Heron’s new material [I’m New Here].
Sim: Yeah, that’s Jamie’s kind of solo work. He’s working on the entire album.

Paste: You and Romy have been friends for a long time.
Sim: Yeah, I’ve known Romy since kindergarten, when we were three years old. We met Jamie when we were 11, in secondary school.

Paste: It must be an amazing experience to grow up together and share this success with someone who’s been a part of your life from the beginning.
Sim: It’s definitely kind of a sibling relationship, especially being on tour. I can imagine touring being so lonely, but I have my best friends with me. And the working environment as well — the three of us don’t have to tiptoe around one another. We’re very frank and honest, so while we were recording, if me and Romy had recorded a tape and it was a bit crap, [Jamie] could tell us, “That was rubbish. Redo that,” and there would be no worrying about hurting one’s feelings. We could be that honest with one another.

Paste: A lot of your material has a real sexual element to it, both lyrically and in the way the music feels. Is that an odd thing to share with someone you describe as being like your sibling?
Sim: It is strange. We both rarely explain what we’re trying to say in our lyrics. Actually, what we do, is just kind being of two parallel outputs rather than singing to one another. I see what we do as a collage, and I like that Romy very rarely tries to explain what she says in her lyrics. It allows me to fit my own personal experiences to them. It allows us both to have some kind of privacy, I suppose.

Paste: You guys are in your early 20s, and you have skyrocketed in the last year or so. Have you ever had a moment where you felt like you couldn’t take it anymore and you just want to go off the reservation? How do you deal with that if you ever do feel that way?
Sim: I think maybe toward the end of last year, it was starting to feel a bit like that. We hadn’t really adjusted to the whole touring life, and we were used to everything working at our own pace before the album came out. Then, it was just such a very clear marker point when the album came out. Things got a lot faster very quickly. I think before properly adjusting to it, it was a pretty intense time. I remember CMJ in particular, in New York was really intense because we had, I think it was 11 shows in three days, and it was a bit much. I learned from that that I don’t work very well in that kind of environment or that kind of situation, so we’ll try not to put ourselves in that again, but I think we’ve grown up a lot. The three of us lean on each other quite a lot. It’s nice to have that. There’s a long way to go, so fingers crossed everything continues well.

Paste: What’s next for the xx?
Sim: When this leg of touring finished, probably about September. I think we’re all looking forward to going home and staying in one place for a while and just being creative again. There’s no huge master plan about a second album. I’m eager to start working on it, but I’m not eager to put it out in any rush. I don’t think any of us are. If it takes us six months, it takes us six months, but if it takes us five years, it takes us five years. We didn’t rush this first album, and although there now is some kind of expectation, I wouldn’t want to rush it. It’s worked well for us taking our time, so I’d like to keep that.

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