Exclusive: The Naked and Famous

This Kiwi quintet from Auckland have set the Internet ablaze and continue to rise in popularity. DA MAN speaks with band member Aaron Short in this exclusive interview with Obed Napitupulu.

Hot Kiwis

The Naked and Famous (aka, TNAF) are on the rise. This Kiwi band from Auckland was formed in 2008 with founding members Thom Powers, singer Alisa Xayalith and Aaron Short. Alisa and Thom met in college and formed a songwriting partnership that would later become the creative driving force of TNAF.

Aaron was a friend of Thom from high school who also attended the same college and soon became the man behind production. The trio went on to toy with songs and recording ideas after hours in the college studio, eventually producing the band’s first releases, the twin EPs, No Light and This Machine. Initially, for Thom and Lisa, forming a live band was secondary to the studio work. After tentative steps using backing musicians, they managed to coax Aaron out of his role as live sound engineer to assume the knob-turning duties onstage.

In 2009, the three college buddies teamed up with Jesse Wood on drums and David Beadle on bass, completing the five-piece band. Together, the band produces an ‘Alternative Pop’ sound with touches of synth rock and a dash of shoegazing. They worked long and hard hours developing their live set and dozens of demos, and together they experimented with the epic turns and cinematic moods that define them today.

Now, you can watch their eye-catching music videos on the Web, which have garnered international attention and millions of views. You can also catch them on the road. While TNAF have been busy playing gigs and touring, Aaron Short was kind enough to take some time for an exclusive one-on-one interview with DA MAN.

DA MAN: The Naked and Famous, what’s the origin of that name?
Aaron Short:
It came about after our first EP was created in 2008. We’d signed to a label, had all our tracks completed and formed the live band … all that was left was to pick a name, and play our first show. The name itself was pulled from a song by Tricky, who we were all big fans of at the time. We agreed it was very fitting for how we felt about the current music culture, and the name stuck!

DA MAN: What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
Aaron Short:
Alternative Pop, in its broadest sense. Pick a track on the album and class it how you wish.

DA MAN: Who are your major influences?
Aaron Short:
We draw on a lot of different influences, with each of us in the band having our own style that we’re passionate about. I came from a background largely influenced by electronic music and the production associated with it, which plays a large role in the electronic influence brought into the band. During the creation of Passive Me, Aggressive You, some artists we were all listening to a lot were Bon Iver, M83, Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack, Holy Fuck, The Kills, Crystal Castles, LCD Soundsystem.

DA MAN: How long have you all known each other?
Aaron Short:
We’re from New Zealand. I thought everyone knew everyone?

DA MAN: When did you first form your band?
Aaron Short:
In 2008, Thom and Alisa met and began writing demos, along with me producing. In 2009, we then teamed up with our bassist and drummer [David and Jesse, respectively], which is the full five-piece band that makes TNAF.

DA MAN: What inspired you to make music together?
Aaron Short:
Thom liked Nine Inch Nails, Alisa was hot, Jesse was a nerd like me, and David was great at reciting lines from TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was meant to be.

DA MAN: You guys debuted at No. 1 on the New Zealand charts, and you guys are the first New Zealand band to do that in three years. How does that feel?
Aaron Short:
Makes me say ‘Pfffttttttt what’s going on,’ and pull strange overwhelmed faces. It’s those kinds of moments that continually catch us by surprise, and although they’re not what the band are all about; they’re never ever taken for granted.

DA MAN: Where have you performed and what are you favorite or least favorite venues?
Aaron Short:
Well … we’ve just completed an amazing summer tour in Australia for the Big Day Out festival, which at one point had us playing at 11:30 a.m. in 43°C heat. We went from that extreme to just finishing our UK tour and experiencing quite the opposite in terms of climate. Favorite people so far, for me, have been in Ireland. They really know how to have a good time and I think I’m a little hooked on girls with Irish accents.

DA MAN: If you could cover any song to play during your set what would it be?
Aaron Short:
Massive Attack’s “Angel.” It’s on the to-do list.

DA MAN: What is your songwriting process like?
Aaron Short:
Though it’s never the same every time, Thom and Alisa usually start out a basic demo, which Thom and I then work on producing and introduce all its electronic production. Then, as the full band, we’ll work on it and rehearse it until it feels like a completed track and we’re ready to say, ‘Let’s make a final recording.’

DA MAN: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
Aaron Short:
Well … we’ve all gotten a lot better at our instruments, how’s that to start with? Along with that, there was a really drastic jump between the first two EPs and the album. During the EP stages, things were kept quite stripped back and minimal, whereas with the album, we really got to go all out with the production and add so many more layers to what we were working with. This was partly to do with the fact that we’d converted the band from a four-piece to a five-piece outfit and then being capable of doing so much more live.

DA MAN: What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Has it been overcome? If so, how?
Aaron Short:
[The biggest challenge was] making the big orb on the front of the album a perfect circle. We think we achieved it, but maybe go grab a copy and see if you agree.

DA MAN: You’ve made quite a splash on the Internet with over a million views on some of your videos. What advice do you have for bands that are starting out or people who want to form their own band?
Aaron Short:
Don’t underestimate the power of the Internet. If the music you’re making is quality, people will always start to notice it, and the Internet plays a huge part in it. Our single “Young Blood” did most of the work itself without us even giving it any international push. It was overwhelming to log in every morning and see how many blogs across the world it had just been featured on. All by getting it in the charts in little New Zealand. Of course, all that only happens once you’ve got the songs there. It can be a long game; persistence is key with this industry and with your own work as well.

DA MAN: What is your ultimate goal as a band?
Aaron Short:
We don’t really like sport that much.

DA MAN: Who are your muses and greatest support people?
Aaron Short:
We all turn to David in the band for insightful thoughts that often make no sense.

DA MAN: Passive Me, Aggressive You is the name of your debut album. Where’d that name come from?
Aaron Short:
A line taken from the opening track “All of This.” It was very fitting in relation to the themes and contrasts throughout the album.

DA MAN: Your sound has been compared to the bands Passion Pit and M.G.M.T. on more than one occasion. What do you think about that?
Aaron Short:
It can’t be taken as anything but a compliment. But seriously, listen to the rest of the album first, then decide if you still think the same.

DA MAN: The online community says you guys are going far and going big. Response?
Aaron Short:
I miss my bed at home.

Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack


The Naked And Famous – The Sun from The Naked And Famous on Vimeo.

Clothing and Accessories:
American Apparel

For the full feature, pick up the April/May 2011 issue of DA MAN.