The Nocturnal Emissions of the XX
Published Oct 23, 2009The XX may be the subtlest band you ever hear. The pulsating drum patterns rarely ever out-race a tortoise's pace, the girl/boy vocals are always sung in sensual near-whispers and when the echo from the guitar and synth do rise above an undertone it's always restrained and delicate. It all appears so carefully and meticulously crafted, yet singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft is quick to dispel any preconceptions about how her band ended up this way.
"I don't think we have ever premeditated how we wanted things to sound," she says. "At first I guess it came from just using the equipment we had and there were definitely limitations there. My guitar sound pretty much came from discovering there was reverb on my little practice amp and really loving the mood it created. We usually just start playing and see what comes out."
What came out is xx. Named after the fact that all members were 20 years old at the time of release, the album is a gorgeous set of nocturnal emissions that touches on the minimal and fragile arrangements of Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth and the lyrical smoothness and seductive, quiet storm style of Sade.
By looking at these Londoners you wouldn't expect Croft and co-vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim to ooze such soulful harmonies. Croft says it was as much a surprise to them as it was anybody.
"I was a very quiet, shy child. I only started singing at about 15 and it came as quite a surprise to my dad," she explains. "Singing together came out of a 'You sing first,' 'No, you first,' 'I didn't know you could sing'-type situation. And somehow it didn't sound horrible. The way we sing together now is the way we always have. We've never tried to harmonize or anything."
What Croft and Sim do harmonize on is some raw and affecting material, dominated by the three Ls we hear about most in song: love, lust and loss. To Croft, though, it's "always been based around emotions, right from the start. My favourite songs are usually quite sad and I think heartbreak is something that so many people can connect with."
And people are definitely connecting with it. Press for the band's slick, sexy and sharp sound has been unanimously glowing. It's staggering to hear that the band made such an exquisite record in the ridiculously frugal quarters of what Croft calls a "bathroom-sized studio."
"We recorded in the studio at XL Recordings," she humbly admits. "It was once a garage and was a pretty confined space, but perhaps that added to it. We often recorded at night after everyone at the office had left. It was isolated and quite creepy."
Of course, the XX could have done it differently. They had other options, like having Diplo and Kwes produce it in a more spacious, lavish studio. But instead, they gave their fledgling beatmaker Jamie Smith the job to ensure nothing was compromised.
"Everything we've recorded, we always wanted to be playable live, right from the start. That's why there aren't four layered guitars or triple-layered vocals," says Croft. "Working with different producers was a very inspiring and educational process, [but] it just sounded a little more like them than us. I think some may have seen the space and simplicity of our demos and tried to fill it. And we realised maybe it didn't need to be. Maybe the demos were enough."