After a steady build in their native Auckland through the latter half of the 2000s, The Naked & Famous came bolting out of the gates at the dawn of the new decade. With the release of their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You, the synth-wielding indie darlings were propelled to stardom – not least of all thanks to their quintessential double-up of hits, “Young Blood” and “Punching in a Dream.”
Needless to say, a decade removed from their breakthrough, the band themselves had no idea what was in store for them when they hit the mainstream. “We were not prepared for how big things were going to get,” says Thom Powers, who plays guitar and sings in the band. “We were excited, for sure, and we thought we'd done something special. I think we're only fully able to appreciate that time in our lives now, though – hindsight, getting older and plenty of life lessons have followed.”
“I feel like we've been competing against ourselves for ten years,” adds Alisa Xayalith, the band's vocalist and keyboardist. “We set such a high standard for our writing and our sound back then, and songwriting is still such a mystery to us. When you're putting the pieces together and you make something that you like, though, you're still really excited by it. No matter how puzzling things can get, there's always something so rewarding about that.”
This process has lead Powers and Xayalith to Recover, the first Naked & Famous record in nearly four years and their fourth overall. In between the release of 2016's Simple Forms and now, the group has gone through a considerable overhaul and reboot – once five members strong, TNAF has reverted to a duo. This shift within the fold of the group, however, has not hindered their artistic vision. If anything, it's helped to re-calibrate it and come at their new LP with a newfound sense of focus.
“There's a point as a songwriter where it crosses over,” says Powers. “You're writing something, and it goes from being exciting because you're a writer to being exciting because you love music. When you hit on that reaction in the process of making songs, it's very obvious. That happened a lot when we were making this record – there's a little video we posted to our Instagram a little while ago, and it's of us writing the track 'Sunseeker.' You can see how excited we are in the room, and it felt really fresh to us. You never want to assume you've written a hit or anything like that, but you do get those kind of moments that are really special.”
Recover is less bombastic and forthright as an album like Passive Me, Aggressive You – but, in a way, that's kind of the point. It's an album of peaks and valleys, of subtleties and delicacy. You could even perceive it as The Naked & Famous growing up. For Xayalith, it was simultaneously about meeting expectations of quality while also subverting expectations of sound.
“The main thing I was asking myself is what do people want out of The Naked & Famous in 2020,” she said. “What do we want out of it? I was really trying to lead us to a place where we could evolve musically and creatively. We're very different people to the ones we were when Thom and I started this band. We're still interested in challenging the status quo, but we're still aware of what we've created for ourselves over the years.
“There were months of harrowing self-doubt in there, with lots of argument and debate. We had to pause and take a break, but when we came back to it we wrote the title track to Recover. It made the whole album really feel like a sort of restoration process. We thought maybe we weren't going to do this anymore, and here we are.”