Shirts and Skins: The Naked and Famous Bare All

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Published January 18, 2011

The Naked and Famous’ lead singer, Thom Powers, would probably be Batman if he wasn’t a musician—but luckily, it’s been working out for him as the frontman of one of the bands on the rise for 2011. The band, which combines synth beats and shoegazey dream-pop, has struck gold as the first New Zealand native band in sixteen years to have a number-one hit in their homeland. Powers’ vocals have a psychedelic quality that creates a mellow trance. The band’s songs are like candy for the sugar-addicted: once you hear one, you’re hard-pressed to ignore the rest.

The Auckland natives’ debut, Passive Me, Aggressive You, will be released throughout the U.S. on March 15, 2011, but the band has already generated buzz akin to Passion Pit and MGMT. The Naked and Famous have an upcoming supporting tour with the Foals, after having played with Nine Inch Nails, The Temper Trap and Florence + the Machine.  It’s hard to be passive when stardom seems to be an aggressive glance into a crystal ball away. We caught up with Powers while the band was still in the States.

ILANA KAPLAN: How did you guys come up with your name?

THOM POWERS: It’s actually from a Tricky song. There’s an album called Pre-Millennium Tension. It was like 1996, I think.

KAPLAN: You were on the BBC’s “Sound of 2011” list, even though your album hasn’t been released yet. How did that feel?

POWERS: It was insane. The whole thing, in itself: just the idea of a New Zealand band getting out of New Zealand is, like, absurd. So, yeah I can’t really pinpoint one thing. The whole thing has been a bit surreal, you know?KAPLAN: What comes to mind when you hear the words “naked and famous?”

POWERS: I always thought it was just ridiculous and over the top. I thought it was fitting for us because, I don’t know, I find myself being quite cynical—and I think we all kind of are—towards the idea that it’s associated with being a musician; you know… the kind of rock-star attitude. So, I hope that people know it’s a joke.

KAPLAN: Have you or any of your bandmates woken up naked and realized you were getting famous?

POWERS: The first part: every day. I did this morning. The second part: yes, actually, just probably not the first thought. To answer your question, yeah, but probably not too often.

KAPLAN: Who have been your influences as a group?

POWERS: We’re music fans, so we’re constantly listening to new music. I can probably name a couple of big influences on what we do that have stuck with us for a long time. One of them would probably be Nine Inch Nails, as far as electronic rock music and using your own band, and a lot of the heavier guitar work. We’re kind of referencing all kinds of different genres and all kinds of different groups when we’re writing and producing, so I couldn’t really put it down to any two particular groups that sort of got us into music. For songs like “Young Blood,” M83 sort of influenced us on that track. When we were figuring out the bass line, we were listening to some Daft Punk and chatting about that. So, it just really changes, and we try and pull as many different things as we can into the music.

KAPLAN:  How did you come up with the titles for “Punching in a Dream” and “Young Blood?”

POWERS: Well “Punching in a Dream” was something that I think Alisa said and we were just wondering about one day, was a good song title. It was like an idea we already had kicking around. And when we finished the actual track “Punching in a Dream,” we were just… it was kind of an instant thing. We were like, “Brilliant, we can use that, we can use that name you came up with!,” because it just seemed to match the song. And then it became a lyric as well. In  “Young Blood,” same kind of thing, except the thought came after the song. So, we had the song, we just sat around thinking about names. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain how lyrics kind of pop into your head. It’s kind of like brainstorming.

KAPLAN: What are your favorite songs on the album to perform?

POWERS: It depends. At the time they were being written, I think my favorite was always the one we were recording. It’s like trying to pick your favorite child. A couple of moments I’m really proud of instantly, I always know are “The Sun” and “Jilted Lovers.” I think those two are the darkest moments on the record. I’m inclined to show people those. I also am very proud of “Young Blood,” you know, the type of song it is. Now, after everything, it’s kind of carried the band, you know what I mean? It’s kind of become our legs. It changes week to week.

KAPLAN: What was the most interesting touring experience you’ve had so far?

POWERS: Well, being huge Nine Inch Nails fans, we actually got to open for them when we started in 2009, back home when they played in Auckland. I think that probably, if anyone said, “What’s your favorite show,” it would still be that. We sort of felt like retiring after that tour. It would have been an amazing career: to release two EPs, support your favorite band, and call it quits. Right now, doing our own shows… we were able to do our own big album tour back home, and that was amazing. That was, to me, the pinnacle of what I always thought live music was about—which was, you hear about a band, you listen to the album, you buy the album, you love the album, you know it intimately, then you go and see the band live and it’s just an immaculate kind of re-creation of what was on the record, with a couple of surprises and I don’t know… just a really well put together, elegant performance. The idea of your own tour as a band is pretty thrilling.

THE NAKED AND FAMOUS WILL RELEASE THEIR DEBUT ALBUM, PASSIVE ME, AGGRESSIVE YOU, STATESIDE ON MARCH 15. THE BAND IS CURENTLY ON A WORLD TOUR. FIND OUT MORE AT THEIR WEBSITE OR MYSPACE.

Slideshow photo creditsPhotography: Mitchell McCormackStylist: Ashley Phan-WestonGroomer: Jessica LiparatoArt Direction: Jennifer de Klaver, de Klaver DesignsThe band wears Wrangler jeans and American Apparel shirts. Leather jacket (on Powers) by In Add Minus. Denim jacket by Levi’s.

*CORRECTION: This article originally stated that The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” was used in a trailer for the US version of Skins. None of MTV’s official trailers used the song.