Jamie Smith of the xx on touring the U.S. and how the food is better here than in England
Formed in 2005 by a group of classmates in Putney, England, the xx came to the attention of wide audiences with its 2009, self-produced and self-titled debut album. Bringing together a moody, post-punk musicianship with hip-hop beats and downtemp sensibilities, the xx struck a chord with a sound that recalls acts like Portishead and New Order. The act's 2012 follow-up album, Coexist, revealed the increasing influence of the dance music the outfit's members heard in U.K. clubs and elsewhere.
- Tonight: The xx at the Fillmore Auditorium, 6/3/13
- Jamie Smith of the xx on mixing oil and water and how it applies to his London band
- Own a piece of, ahem, music history. Buy xx's lighting gear
The songs on Coexist reflected a clear attention to a depth of atmosphere and texture tied subtly yet masterfully to rhythm. This is dark R&B imbued with warmth of feeling and a sense of romanticism. We recently spoke with Smith about his new live set-up, reworking "Together" for The Great Gatsby and why he thinks the band likes touring the U.S. more than anywhere else.
Westword: In our previous conversation, you expressed an interest in having a variable speed tape machine that you'd like to use live if you could. Have you been able to incorporate that as yet?
Jamie Smith: I've got a lot of new different things on stage, but I haven't been able to design that myself yet. I've got a few ideas but I've been too busy.
What have you added that you've been enjoying lately?
I use two 909 drum machines and a piano and some live drums, a tom and some cymbals.
Your band has been fairly successful in the last couple of years. Has that translated into tabloid type of coverage these days?
No. Luckily not.
Did Baz Luhrmann approach you about writing a song for The Great Gatsby?
Yeah, he was a fan of our music before, and he was working on the soundtrack with Jay Z, who is also a fan.
Was that song something you already had?
It was a song we started doing for Coexist, but we didn't feel it was quite right for the record. Baz sent us the scene and had a little description. What we had, we fit around the scene and recorded with Craig Armstrong and recorded an orchestra to give it that cinematic feel.
Rihanna sampled "Intro" on "Drunk On Love." Were you consulted about that beforehand?
Yeah. It was a long process. We weren't that thrilled about the beginning of the song. So there was back and forth, and we rewrote it with the band, but it eventually went on. But it was a process, as is all sampling.
When you're on tour, do you write new material? Do you do more of that when you're at home?
As a band we've been trying to write on the road, but there isn't much space. Luckily I can just go on my laptop, which is where I make most of my music.
What software do you use these days?
I use Logic. I feel most comfortable with [that]. I've been using it for so many years now I know everything about it.
Do you find it easy to use live?
I never use a laptop live. I like that it's completely separate from live stuff.
So you compose in Logic but live you find a way to re-create it with hardware?
I sample the things I create in Logic, and we use different bits of software.
So you use a sampler? What kind?
I have two MPCs and two [Yamaha] DTXs.
You've toured the U.S. more than once at this point. Is there anything you'd like to see or experience that you haven't yet?
We've driven past the Grand Canyon a lot of times, but never got to see it. I went there when I was really young, and I remember that I was in awe of it, and I'd really to go back to it someday.
The touring experience is a bit different in the U.K. and Europe versus the US. What do you like about touring here?
The U.S. is my favorite place to tour. I think it's all of ours. [It's similar but] it's just different enough to the U.K. The food is what you'd expect but a lot better than England. So much good music comes out of there that we can get a lot of good bands to play with. I think it's always exciting when the crowds are always really nice. On recent tours, it's a little bit more like being pop stars and a group of kids come to the back of venues and want autographs. It's nice to see fans like that. We get fans like that [in the U.K.], but it seems more like a frenzy in the U.S.A.
Is there anybody in the U.S. you have toured with or would like to tour with that you're excited about?
We're about to go on tour with Grizzly Bear over there, which I'm really excited about. We were playing with them in Coachella, and they're really nice guys. I hadn't listened that much before. I just had one album. They're such a good live band instead of just electronic. They have their synths and stuff, but it feels kind of raw like an old school band.
Club music influenced Coexist. Has there been any music of late that has stirred your imagination in terms of writing what you might do next?
I couldn't say, really. It's too early. One thing we know is that we'll write the album from beginning to end and be able to play it well live before we record it. And I think we're all becoming better musicians live, and I think that will influence the recorded version.
The xx, with Hundred Waters, 6 p.m., Monday, June 3, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, $32.50 (sold out), 303-837-0360, 16+