On January 13, UK trio The xx will finally return with their third album, I See You. A stark departure from the band's previous two LPs, 2009's breakout XX and 2012's Coexist, it's a colourful, sometimes joyous record that maintains the nuance of the band's delicate sound, but finds them expressing feelings they haven't before, through sounds they'd only previously hinted at.
Exclaim! sat down with Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith in a Toronto hotel to discuss I See You and the years of work that went into it.
I See You does away with the minimalist sound that defined their first two records.
Oliver: "Coexist was tough to make. It was the first time we made an album knowing we had an audience, and whether we knew it or not, there was a lot of clinging onto what we knew people liked about us. We had an idea that we made minimalistic music, so we thought, 'Okay, people like that, let's cling onto the fact that we have rules that we only want to record what we could play live.' There were quite a lot of limitations. This time around it's just, 'We want to make the sounds that we want to hear.'"
The band have become better communicators…
Romy: "With this album, we sort of naturally felt more comfortable with ourselves, having grown up a bit more, touring and all of the things we'd done. When we came into writing I See You, it sort of felt like we didn't have to be so closed. It was okay to show it to our friends, to ask people what they thought. Maybe they would say it wasn't great, and that was okay. We were even having more open dialogue with each other, in terms of our songwriting. For this album, we sort of naturally — without trying to, it just sort of happened — critiqued each other a lot and worked together in different ways."
…and thus, better songwriters. Though part of that was thanks to Romy's writing sessions in Los Angeles.
Romy: "I went to L.A. and did one of those things where you just sit in a room and sing a round of melodies with a stranger. I [found] it fascinating to realize how intense the structural process is, how paint-by-numbers it is. You have this intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus, and the timings of it and stuff. I did find some of it really interesting, but some of it was too rigid. I took some of it with me and left some of it behind."
Oliver: "I feel more confident, and like I have more to say. I feel like I'm working, more than ever, not just from fantasy, but actual experience. I'm an adult now — I actually have experience."
That better songwriting has allowed Jamie a bigger role in the songs.
Oliver: "For Coexist, I think we ended up presenting Jamie half-finished songs. I think because he wasn't available to us this time like he was then, it forced us to spend more time with what we were doing. We sort of came to him with fully formed songs. Also, Jamie literally has a voice now, via sampling. He's always had a voice, but now it's an actual voice, it's part of the songwriting."
Romy: "I only sort of realized a few songs in, after Jamie started doing it, that it was like his voice. He was picking out these words and lines from the songs, and it was like him having his part."
Jamie: "I think what's helped is that these guys have become better songwriters, and now I don't actually have to worry that much about structure. On Coexist we were sort of piecing it together. This time, I was free to have my voice, to inject more of my personality into the right parts of the songs since the songs were already there for me to do that."
They're in the best headspace of their career, and it's audible.
Romy: "I love that we've come out of challenging times with music that's uplifting. When we were touring Coexist, we sort of leaned more on the first album for the lighter moments, the moments where the crowd could dance. I'm excited to tour this record and have those more joyous moments in the set. I really love that, bringing people together and feeling the love. It's great for us on tour, too, to lift our spirits."
I See You is out January 13 courtesy of Young Turks. Listen to "On Hold" below.