ALISA Xayalith and her bandmates from The Naked and Famous had spent a heady two years playing more than 200 shows in 24 countries before they faced facts: it was time to relocate from their home town of Auckland.
Sharing a home in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, the quintet shut out the world, slowly began to decompress and started work on their sophomore record, In Rolling Waves, fleshing out the snippets of music and lyrics they had penned on scraps of paper and laptops while on the road.
‘‘We get asked a lot about whether the environment inspires the way we write music and I always say it doesn’t, because I don’t like limiting my creative inspiration to the direct environment outside, it’s more of an internal creation,’’ Xayalith says from Los Angeles, where they are still based.
If anything, the new album – while continuing in the punchy synth, electric pop and emotionally charged vein of their 2010 debut Passive Me Aggressive You takes some bold detours into both darkly nuanced and mellow folksy territory.
‘‘I feel like it’s a much darker and moodier album, the palette of production is a lot more scaled back,’’ Xayalith says.
‘‘We really wanted to pay attention to the small details, we didn’t want to layer it up and just fill it like we did on the first record.’’
Xayalith also made peace with sharing the experience of losing her mother to breast cancer, writing her most personal song to date, I Kill Giants, after much encouragement from her bandmate Thom Powers.
‘‘It was the biggest event of my childhood, this huge loss that I experienced, and it was something I always wanted to write about, but I never knew how I was going to do that,’’ she says.
‘‘A few years ago we were laying demos for Passive Me, Aggressive You and it never felt like the right time to finish or really get stuck into it.
‘‘Thom really pushed me to finish it to get it out there and it was such a cathartic release – music helps me to heal, to release things – and writing that song was a really special moment for me and the most open I’ve ever let myself get in lyric writing.’’
The Kiwi five-piece’s efforts to record albums that can be performed live without relying on backing tracks have been rewarded with demands for another world tour, which will take them through Europe and the United States.
Their songs have winged their way across the globe through video games, television shows including Breaking Bad, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and Gossip Girl, films including Pitch Perfect, documentary Kony 2012 and even on the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club.
The band will perform in California at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 13 and 20 before returning to Australia and New Zealand.
Xayalith was still a student at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2008 when she teamed up with vocalist and guitarist Thom Powers to record with fellow student, keyboardist and engineer Aaron Short two EPs This Machine and No Light, which were released independently but are still available on the band’s website.
‘‘It was really a learning curve and we were just having fun – we never ever imagined leaving New Zealand, it was our biggest ambition to get a song on the college radio station in Auckland.’’
Xayalith began performing live with Ben Knapp and Jordan Clark on bass and drums, who later left the band and were replaced by Jesse Wood on drums and David Beadle on bass in 2009.
She compares their relationship to that of a family, especially her friendship with Powers.
‘‘Thomas has been my creative collaborator for the last seven years and we know each other so intimately and so well when it comes to writing music that we don’t even really need to think about things or explain ourselves too much because we just know how each other works,’’ she says.
Xayalith says the band is likely to write the seeds of their next album on their upcoming tour and remain wedded to their appreciation of ’90s golden era alternative rock, which for all of their new directions will continue to be a mainstay of their sound.
The Naked and Famous will perform at Groovin’ The Moo at Maitland Showground on April 26.