An awkward interview with The xx

With plenty of pauses.

I met Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith in their high-rise Melbourne hotel room. With the weather 30 degrees and sunny, Melbourne was showing off. But it seemed I was the only one feeling the heat.

“Apologies for my sweaty appearance,” I joked.

“We haven’t had a day over 20 degrees in ages.”

My comments were received with wry smiles that meant either:

a) they had not in fact heard my hilarious attempt to lighten the mood, or
b) their reputation of hating interviews was entirely correct.

With zero sense of shame, I quizzed them about it. 

“Well, it’s not that we hate interviews, we’re just quite private people,” said Romy. 

“I think that we’re definitely getting better though.”

I hoped so, they’ve been doing this a while. After forming as a duo at the age of 15, Romy and bandmate Oliver Sim met Jamie while studying at Elliott School in Putney, England. Like that, The xx was born.

What ensued was a string of extremely successful albums: xx, Coexist and now five years later, I See You.

Following an awkward first encounter, I sat with Romy and Jamie to chat road trips, solo projects and one of Australia’s most underrated party cities.

Welcome back to Australia! When were you here last?

Jamie: I actually spent New Year’s here last year, touring my solo project for a festival. I spent a fair bit of time in Wollongong last January, which always brings up a few fun memories.

Wollongong? Really?

Jamie: You can’t make this stuff up.

You had a big break between albums. When it’s one like Coexist that was so well received, do you feel a lot of pressure to release something similar in terms of the sound?

Romy: I think on Coexist we worried a lot more than we may have let on, particularly when it came to writing things that we thought people wanted to hear. I think we just worried what people thought of us. But on this album, we made it over a long period of time, questioning what do we love and what feels right for us, rather than sticking to the rules about what makes an xx song.

What were you listening to while writing I See You?

Romy: It’s hard to say anything specific, just because it’s three different people with different tastes.

Not Jamie’s solo album, In Colour?

Jamie: No (laughs). I have definitely heard that too much. At one stage we did a road trip from Seattle to LA and we made playlists that had everything on there from jazz, to techno, to electro, to rock. Even the radio…

Romy: That was kind of counterproductive because a lot of Jamie’s solo stuff was being played on the radio at the time.

Did you find it hard to balance that solo project while writing for this album?

Jamie: Well, my tour definitely went on a little longer than expected.

Too much fun in Wollongong?

Jamie: That was literally it, too much fun. The balance shifted from being what I thought was manageable, to us spending too much time apart. Romy and Oliver were finding it hard because it was very on/off on/off. We finally managed to get a lot of time together in London to finish the record. 

I remember feeling very out of it in 2012 because I didn’t have the Coexist album cover as my iPhone lock screen. How did you come up with it?

Romy: I think that in the beginning we chose the name because we liked Xs. It sounds trivial, but it was a very simple decision at the time – Oliver and I were just naming a Myspace when we were 16. 

When we were working to design the artwork at the beginning, we collaborated with a graphic designer who we thought really got us. But the stuff he showed us was a bit too complicated. I said: “I think it should just be an X?”

The first single off the new album, ‘On Hold’, is definitely a little more pop-y. Is that something you take into account when figuring out the first release? That you want it to be more commercially appealing?

Jamie: Obviously we have a lot of input, but I think it’s difficult to have perspective when you’ve been working on something for so long. We listened to the record with a lot of people and tried to gain perspective that way, which really helped. It also helps when you have people around you that you trust.

I See You is out now.


This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 165. You can read it here.

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