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By Andy Argyrakis
The xx rises up from the underground
September 27, 2010
Thanks to the strength of its self-titled debut disc, the xx went from London's underground to Mercury Prize nominees in a mere year. Despite its indie stature, the synth-saturated alt-rockers managed to be among the most buzzed about bands at last year's CMJ Music Marathon and scored coveted slots at all five of America 's most prominent festivals (Coachella, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits).
"I really don't know other than to say I think we're pretty blessed and lucky," says singer Oliver Sim via a Transatlantic phone call when asked about the band's quick ascent. "But I will say it hasn't been quite as instant as it seems from the inside. We've been working with our record label since we were 17 and put a lot of thought and time into the album. We weren't just thrown into this. There was a lot of preparation."
The group's roots actually date back to meeting in Elliott School , which birthed already famous faces like Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet. It was there that Sim and company honed their craft within the context of their musical studies, finding the scholastic environment especially supportive of the xx's goals of turning a hobby into a full time living.
"I actually wasn't aware of Hot Chip until I left since the school's claim to fame was Pierce Bronson [who played James Bond] and he was the only person people talked about," Sim says with a laugh. "As for the school, I never know how much credit should be given since it's a huge school with about 2,000 students. But it gave us a lot of time alone [as a band]. During music lessons, we'd go into rooms and play around with instruments as opposed to book work. We really benefited from the space and time they gave us to be creative."
Because of those closed doors sessions, the players threw all their influences into a pool, which, despite technically falling under the "indie rock" sub genre, includes everyone from the Cure and the Pixies to Rihanna and Mariah Carey. As a result, the group's sound lands somewhere in between the brooding rock side of the dial, backed by the contagious beats often associated with R&B and Top 40 tunes.
"We've never gone out of the way trying to deliberately fuse the two," assures Sim of the group's arty and commercial connections. "There's some mid-'90s R&B, electro and new wave in our sound, but we make middle grounds of three people with different tastes as opposed to purposely making a fusion. I'm a huge Beyonce fan, but I've never considered her an influence. At the same time, I don't like to deny it because so much works into what we do whether we planned on it or not."
Additionally, many of the tunes are coming of age reflections. "It's definitely an album of love songs undeniably and the album has a strong theme of time," Sim says. "Some of the songs were written at 16 and some were written at 19 or 20. It may only be three or four years, but that's a huge leap as to who you are. I was still a kid during some of the songwriting, but not so much towards the end of the album. It talks a lot about growing up, perception on relationships and love, really."
Though the group's still supporting the first CD on this fall's American tour, a sophomore offering is inevitable. However, Sim admits it isn't quite on the group's radar just yet given the sheer insanity of everyone's schedule and endless time on the road.
"We haven't started too much songwriting really, because our main concentration is touring," he admits. "In the past year and a half, we've traveled the world and been introduced to different people and music. We're playing daily, so that makes us stronger musicians and it's gonna be different. I look up to bands like Portishead, who consistently put out incredible music and aren't afraid of taking their time. They only put out what they're really proud of, which sometimes takes three to five years, but that's something I really respect. If the next album takes six months, it takes six months, and if it takes six years, it takes six years."
The xx appears at the Chicago Theatre on Tuesday, September 28. For additional details, visit www.thechicagotheatre.com or www.ticketmaster.com.