In 2014, New Zealand electronica quintet the Naked and Famous took a breather from touring its second album, “In Rolling Waves.” Frontwoman Alisa Xayalith and guitarist-vocalist Thom Powers also took a breather from each other, ending an eight-year relationship, and the resulting heartache and loss threatened to destroy the band.
But instead of dissolving, the now-Los Angeles-based band worked through the pain, Powers recalls in a recent phone interview. Speaking from a hotel in Albuquerque, N.M., on his way to a “fun afternoon of bowling and bingo,” Powers says the outfit stayed together after an existential realization: The music world is all they know.
“Very quickly, we all realized that, as much as we were falling to pieces, [the band] was the only thing we had,” Powers says. “No one had a life outside of the band. We’d all been touring and performing since we were 20 years old. So I started writing new Naked and Famous songs.”
The resulting album, “Simple Forms,” marks a departure from the indie electronica that defined the Naked and Famous’ critically praised debut album, “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” which included the Billboard No. 1 single “Young Blood.” The band will perform music from “Simple Forms” on Sunday, May 7, at SunFest in West Palm Beach.
“Simple Forms” is more pop-driven than before, an “experiment” Powers says was inspired by his listening to recent albums from Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Drake.
“Pop is novel to me. I grew up a ’90s rock kid,” Powers says. “Being able to understand why pop albums are so successful, and deconstructing why these songs are catchy and repetitious, it fascinated me. It’s easy to smother my vocals in reverb and distortion. It’s harder to sound clear and vulnerable enough to make a hit. And this album is all about being vulnerable.”
“Simple Forms,” released in October, came together in Powers’ home studio in Echo Park, Calif., after an eight-month break he describes as an “unspoken hiatus,” during which he reconciled with Xayalith and channeled his grief into 10 tracks about the ambiguity of love and the unforgiving passage of time. The bass-heavy anthem “Backslide” directly confronts the breakup, balancing clubby electronics with dark intensity as Xayalith sings about a self-destructive streak: “Who’s to say if you won’t find love/If I cut off my hands/And make you clean it up?”
Powers says neither he nor Xayalith were unafraid to share their warts-and-all relationship woes on “Simple Forms.” Instead, he was “stoked” about the lyrics’ blunt sincerity.
“If it’s an amazing piece of music, I’m more moved by its poetry than about whether it can embarrass me,” Powers says. “It’s funny, because musicians aren’t very forthcoming with the reality of writing songs sometimes. We don’t really sit around planning what we’re going to write about. I just wanted to get my pain out subconsciously, guided by emotion, forgetting all the tricky boundaries. I don’t even think we had a conversation about songs sounding too dark. I had nothing to hide.”
The Naked and Famous will perform 6:30-7:15 p.m. Sunday, May 7, on the Ford stage at SunFest 2017 along the West Palm Beach waterfront. Tickets cost $41-$92 at 1-800-786-3378 and SunFest.com.
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