Originally published in Plan B magazine, April 2009 – http://www.planbmag.com/shop
I think I’m going to go about this backwards, bare bones first, meat after, then skin, like it feels, like it works, backwards. You’ll see, have seen, the XX on tour with Micachu, will be awaiting their album – their album, as yet unnamed, they finished a matter of days ago, now. Already, you’ll know, might love, their unreleased single, ‘Crystallised’, sweet, dark and dusty, one-note like a chocolate drop. You’ll have read, maybe blogged even, how it recalls Hercules and Love Affair, Coco Rosie and Tracy And The Plastics – all are namechecked as influences in the scantlings available to me, now, beforehand. The photos of them that I can’t find, their faces I can’t picture, you’ll know all that. It’s all folded in, the way it feels by the time you know.
For a band so clearly about to break, the XX are pretty much still invisible, still unformed, hard to pin an intention to, tough to locate with words alone, Schrodinger’s band. I spent a day or so taking readings, grokking on their single, the demos on their myspace. I thought of hopping on a train to London and spending a couple of hours with them. In the end, waylaid by illness and impossibility, I stayed in bed, and I spoke to them one by one, awkwardly handing the phone around, sweet to make up for it, stepping out of their Saturday afternoon cafe shade into fickle March sunshine and street noise.
“Amazing, amazing,” singsongs Ollie, singer/bassist, like he knows it’s going to be. “I’m so excited. We’ve been basically in the studio for four months and now we’re come out and are starting to do a few interviews, photos…”
“Um, no. No stylist. Wear black, it’s not hard.”
Watch things on VCRs, drink tea and talk about making love. I think we’re superstars. And you, you just know, you just do. – VCR
“In music lessons the teacher would just send us off into our own little room, because we were the ones who were actually interested in music, instead of playing the same thing over and over on a keyboard,” says programmer/producerJamie. “We were all at school together.”
“We learned to talk together, let along sing together,” says Ollie of singer/guitarist Romy. “We went to school together, learned music together – she’s my sister. We’ve known each other since we were two.”
She’s not his sister. They don’t sing like brother and sister. They sing like they’re sad they’re not in love; they sing in unison, perfectly, facing away, dreaming in opposite directions. There’s romance, of a kind, in unison, in the shared attack, sustain, and decay.
“I mean, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Ollie,” says Romy. “He’s my best friend. But the songs, they mean different things to each of us, I think. Even though there’s generally a vocal duet happening, we’re never singing to each other about anything. I like that – that we each have our mind on someone else completely. ”
Like there’s more people in the song than should fit.
“Amazing,” she says, and I can’t help laughing.
You can’t resist.. and kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss and, kiss. – ‘Hot Like Fire’, Amerie cover
They’re natural successors to the Knife, The XX. Populist, humid and sinister, dreamy and clever at the same time, oddly uncomfortable, despite the familiarity of their idioms. What they have that the titanic Knife don’t have is an axiomatic understatement.
“We’ve always said from the beginning that everything we record, we want to be able to play live,” says Romy. “So when we’re recording there are no overdubs. No extra bits.”
“We never really think about it in terms of recording,” explains Jamie. “We always just use what we have, we don’t use loops, we always want to do stuff in real time.”
“I once read an interview with the Sugababes that really impressed me,” Romy elucidates. “Someone asked them a question about whether they wrote their own songs, and they said that each of them wrote their own verses, each of them wrote what each of them would sing. We sort of made that into a principle.”
Is that true?
“Well.. no. Later on we met someone who wrote all the Sugababes songs. But I still like the idea. It’s more of a romantic image I think about when I’m writing.”
Stories don’t have to be true to be important. They just have to be perfect, so. So that’s the real secret of romance – that it doesn’t have to be real.