Since releasing Simple Forms in 2016, The Naked and Famous have undergone a lot of changes. Founding members Aaron Short and Jesse Wood departed the band and the indie electropop project found themselves whittled down to two. That’s when Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith decided it was time to regroup and introduce the world to the 2020 rendition of the group. This brought the now duo into the studio where they began to work on their fourth studio album, Recover, which drops May 8.
“Once we got started, we realized we needed to do something new in our process that brings out the different sides with our creativity,” Xayalith tells American Songwriter. This led to some back and forth about the best way to go against the typical grain and approach things. “Everything’s been done in such an insular way. We’ve never really opened up our creative process to other people. So we were going through these growing pains of Thom and I figuring out how to get on the same page with the evolution,” she adds.
“If we were going to continue, we needed to try something different,” Powers explains. He says that since Since Passive Me, Aggressive You, the focus has been on he and Xayalith writing songs to be presented as a five-piece band, which helped create their sonic identity and dictated the creative parameters. But those parameters, he admits, have also been a limitation. “So this time around, we gently let go of our expectations and began to find a new sound for the band. We avoided thinking about how we’d perform these songs as a five-piece rock band. Instead, we chose to focus solely on the songs as pieces of art,” Powers explains, disclosing that the band “centered on the songs’ meanings and how fresh they felt to us—how they made us feel.”
To shake things up, Powers and Xayalith teamed up with outside songwriters. “We started collaborating and it just felt very natural,” says Xayalith, who notes that bringing in some fresh opinions was exactly the push that was needed. She says the “eureka process” of the project hit when the title track, “Recover,” was written. “That was the beginning of the new creative evolution,” she adds.
Powers admits that the album took a while to come together but says the journey was beyond worth it. “We were chipping away at demos and trying to work with other writers and other producers. But then we hit our stride in summer of 2018 and we just came across all these new demos that make up the bulk of the record. From right after that process, we went back and looked at the other songs that we’ve written, which ones we wanted to update and bring into bring along with this new sound,” he explains.
In addition to finding their new sound, the band had to focus on restarting internally. “That stuff unfortunately does take off a lot of mental space for us – and also time,” Powers explains. In addition to redesigning the band, the duo was tasked with finding new management and sorting out record deals. But the band, per Powers, is “in a great place now.” And the album very much follows the theme of the reinvention that they had to go through. Powers describes making Recover as being about “recovering ourselves, both personally and as an artistic group. The whole album was really about rebuilding ourselves, which is why the title Recover just feels so right,” he explains.
On February 4th, The Naked and Famous dropped their latest single, “Bury Us,” a track that Powers defines as being about the early stages falling in love and taking a risk, seeing through the fears and the anxieties and the hesitation that’s around that happening to you. “I feel like falling in love just kind of happens to you. You don’t really choose it. It feels pretty out of your control and it can be scary,” he says. The tune also takes on a second theme for the newly reformed band. “The title ‘Bury Us’ sort of implies the finality or the closing or the ending of the group. So it has this double meaning where it’s both a romantic song but also like a statement song for Alisa and I,” he explains.
Their latest release, “Come As You Are,” which released on February 25th, tackles the topic of acceptance. “It’s about just accepting people without judgment and a message to say that people are deserving of love, even if they feel like they’re not,” says Xayalith, who describes it as “a straightforward unflinchingly, honest song.”
And a track near and dear to Xayalith’s heart is “Sunseeker,” the first album teaser, which was inspired by her dog, Ginger. “She came into my life unexpectedly, as did the boy who I fell in love with that found her. I didn’t grow up with a family pet, and now I can’t imagine life without her,” she says. Xayalith says her pup was present for all of The Naked and Famous sessions over the last year and that her dog earned the moniker after developing a habit of disappearing into the garden. “I’d find her in various places basking in patches of sunlight beaming through the trees. The song is about something, or someone, appearing in your life that you didn’t know you needed,” she says.
On Recover, fans, which Powers jokes have been waiting – and not exactly patiently – for new Naked and Famous music, can expect a new sound and direction. “It’s a little more electronic, a little more modern as well. We’ve abandoned some of the purist kind of rock identity that was kind of a limitation for us I think,” he explains, adding that it was freeing to let go from a past of being constrained to a five piece, guitar-based band. “On this album, we just followed whatever sonic emotional or lyrical ideas felt vital and important to us,” he explains.
“Simple Forms was kind of heartbreaking, devastation and depression and Recover has a lot of optimism in the lyrics. It’s a lot more colorful and bright then our previous look,” says Xayalith, of the vibe. And though the band has shrunk in members, don’t expect the live shows to be watered down. “We’ll still have our rock show. It’s still a band. We still write music that has loud guitars and live drums and there’s no way that we could get away with playing all of our old material live without those elements,” Xayalith says, noting that for as long as the Naked and Famous exists, the band will always be a hybrid of electronic and live instruments. “That will never change!”