One night only
The xx’s Oliver Sim talks music-making ahead of their Auckland show
INDIA HENDRIKSE: With your latest album I See You, fans had to wait almost five years since your previous album Coexist. Did you feel a lot of pressure releasing this album?
OLIVER SIM (pictured above right): Not in comparison to Coexist. Making our second record when the first one [titled xx] had done so well was really confusing, because there was a lot of thinking about ‘what do people like about us?’. So we wanted to keep that and push that even further. I’m proud of that album [Coexist] but the whole process of it was pretty intense. There was a lot of second guessing ourselves. I think [with] I See You we tried to be more free and to trust that if we liked what we were making, it would go down well. It wasn’t an easy experience, just because it took a long time but it was a lot less of a claustrophobic experience making it.
So you say that you had to hone in on what fans really loved about you. What did you discover that fans wanted more of?
That first album was just a series of happy accidents. When we wrote a lot of the songs we were still learning to play our instruments and we had a lot of limitations, through that the sound was quite simple and there was a lot of space. Then when people started picking up on it, we were like ‘oh, really?’. I suppose it wasn’t intentional. And then making Coexist, we pushed that space and that simplicity even further. We had set rules for ourselves, that everything we recorded we had to be able to play it the exact way it was on the record. But we let go of that on I See You, so there’s doubling of guitar, a doubling of vocals. It was a lot of fun to do but made it an absolute nightmare when it came to figuring out how to play it live.
And was having a bit more fun with it in response to the common critique of The xx being a little too sombre?
Yeah… do you know what was a big incentive? For me and Romy [guitar, vocals], going to Jamie’s [beats] DJ sets and seeing him make people dance, I felt fully jealous. I was like, I want this for us. While we were touring Coexist, we pushed that record and changed it a lot in our live set. It became much more dancy and a bit more instant, and playing live definitely informed this record as well.
And what do you look for when you go to a gig? Do you like to go and dance or be a bit more chill?
I like both. One of my favourite bands ever is Metronomy. And also a good one is Solange; I’ve seen Solange play quite a few times this year and I think what she does has such a strong message, but at the same time it’s really fun and really stylish. It’s hard to marry those two but she does it really well. But yeah, I love to dance.
In terms of touring, do you have a favourite place in the world that you like to visit and perform in?
It’s always super intense when we play back home in London but I absolutely love it because our loved ones are there so playing in London is really special. And also just going to new places, we’ve hit quite a few new places on this run.
With technology changing so rapidly, how do you implement new sounds and methods into your music?
Production-wise and with technology, Jamie is in a different world that I don’t quite understand. For our live tour he’s basically got a city of equipment behind us that he’s running between. It’s amazing. Unfortunately I’m not wired in the way that he is, but it is amazing. I’m a lot more ‘pen and paper’ and it’s amazing to have someone in the band where you can just say, ‘I want this sound’ and he just makes it happen.
The xx has been quite honest in terms of your own sexualities. Australia has just had a referendum that voted in favour of gay marriage – how does that make you all feel?
All the way over here [in London], that was huge, beyond even social media. Everyone was talking about it and there was a real celebration here.
And finally, if you had a day off on tour, what would you do?
The best days are when all of us come together and just hang out outside of being a band, just go bowling or see a movie or get dinner. You gotta remember we’re not like colleagues, we’re best friends.
Catch The xx play in New Zealand for the first time in eight years at The Trusts Arena, Henderson, Thu 11 Jan 2018.