Japanese Artist Crystal Kay Is Ready For Her International Debut

 

Born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, to an African American military father and a third-generation ethnically Korean singer mother, Crystal Kay was constantly surrounded by music. She started singing commercial jingles at the tender age of 4 (“My mom’s friend who owned an advertisement production company would borrow me when they needed a child’s voice,” says Kay) and released her first single, “Eternal Memories,” at 13. Fifteen years and 11 albums later, Kay, 28, is looking forward to branching outside of her Japanese fanbase and introducing her unique sound to American audiences.


 

Audrey Magazine: What kind of music did your parents introduce you to when you were growing up?

Crystal Kay: My parents listened to all of the great music of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, from Earth, Wind & Fire, Maze and Luther [Vandross] to Celine Dion and Bon Jovi. My favorites were Michael and Janet Jackson. Watching their videos and shows really inspired me to become an entertainer. My parents’ eclectic taste in music definitely influenced mine in a great way because I love to incorporate different styles to make borderless music of my own.

 

AM: You started in the industry so young. What do you think of when you revisit songs, like “Eternal Memories,” that you performed when you were barely a teenager?

CK: I think, “Damn! I was such a baby!” [Laughs] But I love that song, and I think it captured my innocence and pureness, visually and musically, in a perfect way. It’s also fun to reflect on how much I’ve changed and grown both as an artist and a woman. I’m very proud of my earlier albums and videos.

 

AM: You are a cool and unique mix of cultures. Can you talk about what you’ve taken from growing up in Japan, in addition to the influences of an African American father and a Korean mother?

CK: Thanks! Growing up in Japan has helped me understand unique Japanese traditions and culture. It’s a culture that’s very polite and courteous — sometimes a little too courteous [laughs] — but it’s a nice trait to have, and it makes me different when I’m in a foreign country.

My African American influence is definitely in my sense of music and rhythm. I love to dance, and people always tell me my soulfulness and the way I feel the beat is definitely my black side. I never lived in Korea, but one thing I’ve learned is that Koreans are passionate people. They love to sing and dance, and I love how they are proud of their musical history. I feel I have the best of both worlds musically, and I’m very thankful for that.

 

AM: As a trailblazing mixed-race artist in Japan, has it ever been difficult to express or explain your identity in the public eye?

CK: Moving to New York, I’m finally starting to become more comfortable defining and explaining who I am. In Japan, I never had to really explain myself often, because it was rarely asked. I think that was probably because many people in Japan were just not used to multiracial people like they are in the U.S. And also, I was the first black and Korean singer in Japan, so I was a rare breed. [Laughs]

 

AM: How has the music landscape changed in the last 15 years since you first started?

CK: It’s definitely changing for the better. You can see the growth in number and popularity of mixed-raced artists in the entertainment industry throughout the years. It’s nice to see this change because it helps the youth to be open-minded and see people for who they are, whether they are mixed or not.

 

 

AM: What prompted your desire to debut in the U.S., and what can we look forward to?

CK: I’ve always wanted to share my music with the world. When I first debuted at 13, I thought, “Oh yay, I have a single out, so I’m automatically worldwide!” I always thought, naturally, that music is universal. When I realized I was a “Japanese singer,” my drive to become an international star became stronger, and it was always just a matter of when.

I have over 50 [songs] as of now, and I hope to release an EP very soon. Then I want to start performing so I can finally start spreading my music and create a following.

 

AM: One of your goals is to bring Japanese youth culture to an American audience. Can you elaborate on what Americans are missing out on that you want to share?

CK: Because I’m a multicultural Japanese girl, I want to show a side of Japanese girls that hasn’t really been shown to the world. Let’s reset that stereotype that is often misunderstood as bubblegum cute. There are a lot of sexy, powerful and real women and girls that take charge of their lives. They have their own powerful expression.

 

AM: What do you think about international artists like Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne who incorporate Japanese culture into their music? Is there a way to do it well versus a way that is questionable?

CK: I think it’s really cool how Gwen Stefani played with the Harajuku girl concept, because she really made it her own by creating her version of the Harajuku culture and paying tribute to it in her own way. I also think it’s cute that Katy wears a lot of Japan-themed costumes. You can see that they both adore the culture and appreciate its uniqueness and are not mocking it. Because of them, I’m sure a lot more people became interested in Japan and its pop culture.

It really bothers me when people overuse the neon signs, wrong kanji and geisha girls in white faces and incorrectly worn kimonos in their videos just to be “different.” I remember seeing something similar to that in this R&B singer’s video — I won’t mention any names. [Laughs]

But I want to introduce a cooler and more authentic side of Japan that, at the moment, only I can. I want to show a really unique Japanese subculture that the world doesn’t really know about.

 

AM: And lastly, since we’re talking about crossing cultures, which other international stars would you love to work with?

CK: I would love to work with Calvin Harris. I love his style of dance music, and he has great melodies. I think we can be a killer combo

 

 

To get a taste of Crystal Kay’s new music, click here

 

 

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All photos courtesy of Alli Nakamura
This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here

MC JIN Discusses Upcoming Album Release & His Role in “Revenge Of The Green Dragons”

 

His family and friends know him as Jin Au-Yeung, but you probably know him as MC Jin, former Ruff Ryder and Park Freestyle Friday legend.

Jin already has quite a number of accomplishments under his belt. He released his debut album The Rest is History back in 2004 and began his acting career in 2 Fast 2 Furious. The artist then took his talent to Asia where he captivated the music industry and starred in a number of Chinese films and television spots.

Well now Jin is back in the US and in a big way. His first full length album in the U.S. titled XIV:LIX will be released on October 19th (check out the first single off XIV:LIX titled “Chinese New Year” below) and Jin also has a role in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film Revenge Of The Green Dragons.

Luckily for us, MC Jin took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us and tell us more about what’s to come:


 


 

Audrey Magazine: So you began rapping in Middle school. Can you tell us more about that and what inspired you?
MC JIN: Initially, I was spending most of my time emulating the rappers I admired. Looking in the mirror, using a comb as a microphone rapping along line for line, I envisioned myself as LL Cool J. Then when I heard of two young guys named Kriss Kross, it dawned on me that kids could do this too. At that point, I started crafting my own lyrics and next thing you know I found myself engaging in rap cyphers at school.


AM: As a young rapper, what were the sort of things you discussed in your music?
MCJ: I would say the subject matter was pretty standard for the typical mind of a pre-teen. The lyrics didn’t stray too far from things like how boring I thought school was or the girl I had a crush on. For the most part, it mostly revolved around how great of a rapper I was, or thought I was.


AM:  What gave you the idea to include Cantonese words in your freestyle verses?
MCJ: That wasn’t something that happened until way later in my journey. When I did start doing it, it was more out of fun then to make a statement of any sort. It is interesting to note that from early on, it never crossed my mind what it would look like to actually write and perform in Cantonese. Who would’ve known that at some point down the line, I’d be doing both in Hong Kong on a scale beyond my imagination.

AM:  Did your family and friends always support your career choice?
MCJ: From the moment I made it know that this was my passion and career path choice, it was safe to say that no one was supportive. In the earliest stages, it did feel like I was the only one who believed in this dream. Eventually, both family and my circle of friends came around but to this day, it still feels like a dream. All I can say is, I’ve been extremely blessed to be able to do what I’m passionate about for a living this past decade plus.


AM:  What’s the difference between performing in the U.S and in Asia? Which do you prefer?
MCJ: I don’t really have a preference. Wherever I have an opportunity to share my story and do what I love on stage, I am grateful. As for differences, there are the obvious such as language and certain cultural elements. The more I think about it though, we are more similar than anything else.


AM:  Tell us how you got into acting.
MCJ: My first big screen experience that people would have knowledge of would probably be the second Fast & Furious film. This was over 10 years ago mind you. It’s encouraging to know people still remember that..
As for how that came about, you can say it was just being in the right place at the right time. The record label that I was signed with made a few calls and got me a casting audition with the director. I went and ended up getting the role. The few years that I spent in Hong Kong definitely opened my eyes to the craft and art of acting, through the tv and film projects that I had the opportunity to partake in.


AM:  Do you have a preference between acting or rapping?
MCJ: Both platforms allow me to express myself in unique ways and I find that I still have lots to learn and grow in regarding both.

AM:  Tell us about the single “Chinese New Year.” What’s the message and what inspired you to create this song?
MCJ: At the core of it, “Chinese New Year” is about acknowledging our cultural differences however celebrating together, in the fact that we are really all the same in the bigger picture. In that sense, everyday is Chinese New Year.

AM:  What’s the overall feel of XIV:LIX?
MCJ: It is definitely my most authentic, sincere and heartfelt album of all the projects I’ve released in the past decade. More than great music, what I hope listeners take away from the album is a true insight into the heart and soul of Jin Au-Yeung.

AM:  Can you tell us a bit more about your role in the Martin Scorsese film Revenge Of The Green Dragons?
MCJ: I play a young detective named Tang trying to take down the Green Dragons. It’s a minor role but I am super grateful for the opportunity, as it was an extreme learning experience. To be challenged and stretched is always a great thing.

AM:  What can we expect from you in the future?
MCJ: Depending on how the XIV:LIX album does, you might either see me making more music touring the world.. or I might be making you a soy latte at your local Starbucks.

 

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YouTube Artist Andrew Huang Creates Unbelievable Music With Random Objects

 

When you think of popular instruments, you probably think of the guitar, the piano or maybe even the violin. I’m going to go ahead and guess that you don’t think of rocks, balloons and scissors. Well, YouTube artist Andrew Huang is here to change your mind about that.

Huang’s YouTube channel has over 160,000 subscribers, and for good reason! His channel’s description says he makes “music in every genre” and he certainly isn’t kidding about that.

On his channel, you can find everything from hip hop and r&b to rock. Most interesting of all, there appears to be an unusual genre in which he takes random objects and creates incredible music with it. In one video, he creates music entirely out of the sound of water. He pours the water, splashes it around, and even uses the sound of water drops to create his impressive song.

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In another video, the beat is made exclusively using sounds from rocks, papers and scissors. The beat is so intricate that many people didn’t believe the melodic sounds could come from such random objects. Huang had to create a follow up video just to show that he was actually capable of creating the sounds.

Recently, Huang released a cover of the popular song 99 Red Balloons. Of course he decided to create the music using (you guessed it) red balloons. The video was only uploaded to YouTube yesterday, but it has already gathered over 200,000 views.

Check out his unbelievable music here:

 

 

Why Everyone is Falling in Love With This Talented Taiwanese Drummer

 

Step aside Ringo Starr and Travis Barker, we have a new favorite drummer in town. From the looks of things, she intends to keep her spot as a favorite.

Known to us by her English name, S. White, this Taiwanese jazz drummer and street performer has been turning heads and catching quite a bit of attention. In fact, her official Facebook fan page has nearly 200,000 likes. Now don’t let her youth and petite size fool you– White packs a punch in her performances.

She is often seeing laughing, singing along and bobbing her head while rocking out to everything from Crayon Pop to Lady Gaga. Many media sites have praised her on being such a “cute and pretty” drummer, but the reason she’s on our list of favorites is her undeniable talent and charm. Simply put, she has so much fun during her performances that we can’t help but smile along.

Check out some of our favorite S. White performances below.

 

MUST SEE: Filipino Girl Group Perform Breathtaking “Let it Go” Cover on Korean Show

 

I know, I know. You’re tired of “Let it Go” covers and I don’t blame you. In fact, when this video popped up on my newsfeed, I let out an exasperated sigh with an eye roll on the side. Again? 

But what stopped me from scrolling on was the incredible amount of attention this video was receiving. Koreaboo, a K-Pop entertainment website, posted the video on their Facebook and within 4 hours, the video gained a incredible 30,000 likes and nearly 20,000 shares.  Clearly, there was something different about this cover.

As it turns out, the video features four Pinays who were on Superstar K, a South Korean television talent show series. Trust me when I say this cover blew me away, and I’ve seen quite a handful of “Let it Go” covers.

Go ahead and check it out for yourself. I promise, it’s worth it.

 

Not tired of the Frozen mania? Check out some of our favorite Youtube Covers of “Let it Go” featuring Asian artists!


Add To Your Rotation: The Music of Japan-based R&B/Pop Musician Crystal Kay

 

Already a star in her native Japan, the super cool R&B/pop singer Crystal Kay, who is of Korean and African American descent, is mounting her international attack with a brand new video for her song “Dum Ditty Dumb.” Find out more about Kay and how she’s ready to bring a different side of Japanese pop culture to the world in our Fall 2014 issue, coming soon.
Here, check out her music while she tells us about the inspirations behind some of her recently released English-language songs (including a teaser video with her collaboration with Far East Movement!).

 

“Dum Ditty Dumb”
“That is a very fun and crazy song that was inspired by the dope track my producer Jon Jon made. The energy had all of us coming up with these mad ideas, like throwing in Japanese and tribal-like rhythms with Japanese shamisens in the background. The beat drop felt crazy but sexy at the same time, so I wanted to write and sing something that was aggressive but sexy in a confident way.
“[Music video director Tani Ikeda] got my concept of “Yokohama Ratchet Pop” and how I really wanted to introduce and rep my Yokohama culture. She was able to incorporate that in such a cool and playful way by mixing 2D and animation, which was something that hasn’t been done before.”

 

Check out the behind-the-scenes video, as well as the final result, below.

 

 

 

 

“Busy Doing Nothing”
“I wanted to turn it into a loser boyfriend anthem — something we can all relate to, in a fun and playful way. The melody is so catchy. People would be singing along to it after hearing it just once.”

 

 

“Rule Your World”
“I’ve never really done a very sexy and dominant song. I’m coming to that stage as an artist, exploring and experimenting with my new sound.”

 

 

Far East Movement “Where The Wild Things Are,” featuring Crystal Kay
“We are label mates in Japan in the Universal International label, and we wanted to see what would happen if we worked together. I was already a fan before I met them. After we met, we all just clicked! I love how we’re all Asian which made it feel even more like family.”

 

Check out the teaser video below.

 

 

Listen Up! Asian American Singer Z. Woods Talks Music And Identity

 

Take a cruise down an open street with your windows down, and turn up Z. Woods on your stereo. You’ll be slowly head-rocking to his smooth, silky vocals that float effortlessly over soulful beats and fluid piano riffs and melodies. You might even break a sweat listening to his passionate, sensual lyrics. And you’ll wonder which celestial planet sent such heavenly music to grace our earthly ears.

The man behind the music holds an air of mystery, too. Only known as Z. Woods, the singer (who identifies as Asian American) was born and raised in the city of Malmo, Sweden, and later made the move to Los Angeles by himself, leaving behind his life, family and friends to pursue music. Since then, the singer has collaborated with MC Jin, Paul Kim and David So, with Swedish Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Stor and has worked with Korean Jungle Entertainment’s hip-hop group, M.I.B.

Woods just released his first original EP, “Songs About You“, on Aug. 19, and the impressive debut features five soulful tunes written, mixed and produced by the singer himself. Audrey got the chance to ask Woods a few questions about his background, his biggest influences, and his vision for music in the Asian American community.

 

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Q: What was it like growing up in Malmo, Sweden?
A: Growing up in a small country like Sweden was challenging at times as there were frequent occasions where I didn’t feel like I’d quite fit in. The Asian population in Sweden is extremely small compared to other nationalities/ethnicities, and so I had to always find a balancing point to navigate between the various cultures that I’d be exposed to. Life wasn’t necessarily difficult, but figuring out who you are as an individual proved to be much harder that I thought it was, looking back at it now retroactively.

 

Q: When and what was your first exposure to music?
A: I was essentially spoon-fed music from the day I was born. Although musical talent is not a common trait in my family, my sister was always a big fan of music and since she had to take care of me for the majority of the time, I would have to listen to whatever she forced me to listen to. That ranged everything from the latest Madonna and Michael Jackson records of the day to traditional Asian music or Asian pop music. I remember my sister constantly trying to record my attempts at singing along on her cassette player.

The quality and general spirit of musicality [in Sweden] has definitely influenced me, but also the situation of balancing cultures above made me seek comfort in music. Music, specifically R&B/Soul music, made me feel as if I was a part of something, as if I could relate to some of the stories I would hear. … My interest for music eventually became passion, passion became love and now my love for it has become an extension of my existence.

Q: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
A: I listened to a lot of urban music. Anything hip-hop and R&B was (and still is) dominating my playlists. Some of my biggest influences from an artistic standpoint include Brandy, Musiq Soulchild, Marvin Gaye, Craig David, Joe and Donell Jones. As a producer/writer, some of my biggest influences are The Underdogs (a production team), Darkchild, Ryan Leslie and Kanye West.

 

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Q: Did you face any challenges in your experience as an Asian American singer?
A: The biggest challenges have been to get people to look beyond their stereotypes and not make any preconceived notions about the quality of my art prior to giving it a chance. I find that our — the Asian American community’s — output often gets quickly dismissed as irrelevant and uninfluential. More emphasis is put on our “weirdness” than our ability to excel and influence. We are and have been easily marginalized, but a change is coming and I intend to be a part of that change.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs?
A: Inspiration comes to me from circumstances. It could either be personal situations or me drawing elements from situations that my friends/family share with me. Regardless of what it is, I emphasize on capturing the emotion behind it all. I believe at the foundation of every story, feeling, situation, etc. lies emotion. And being creatively involved in the entire creation of a song enables me to do just that. The words, melodies and music are all just elements to this vessel that seeks to speak to your spirit, the center of your emotions and to make you feel.

 

 

Q: What kind of message, through your music, do you want to give to your listeners and fans?
A: I want my audience to be able to find comfort in my music. I want it to be a soundtrack to their lives. If they need a mental break from whatever they might be dealing with, or if they seek to know that they are not alone in how they feel, etc., whatever it may be, I want my music to serve them and help them either get through what they’re going through or enhance any joyful moment. In short, I want my music to emotionally engage with people.

Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I want to change the world! (Big statement, I know.) I want to make the world know that we, as an Asian American minority group, are MORE than capable and able to create art that is relevant, pertinent and does not cater to a certain demographic. I want the world to know that we are not weird, but that we are the same in that we have feelings and emotions too. I want the focus to be taken off “who” I am and instead be put on “what” it is I am doing. I want to be a part of that movement that will change this global perspective and allow more creative people (from all ethnic backgrounds) to have a voice.

 

Amen, brother. Now, play and repeat.

 

 

‘Yokohama Ratchet Pop': Crystal Kay Debuts New Sound

 

“Yokohama Ratchet Pop”? Sign me up.

That’s what Crystal Kay calls her new sound debuted in her latest single, “Dum Ditty Dumb,” and it’s the perfect jam to end your summer playlist.

Born to an African American father and a Korean mother in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, Kay is a multicultural artist who’s been performing since she was 13 years old. And with such a colorful background, it’s no wonder that her music features an energetic and nuanced sound, totally unique to itself.

 

 

“The reason why it’s called ‘Dum Ditty Dumb’ is because this girl is going crazy over this guy, and she wants him so badly that she feels the need to rap it in Japanese, too,” explains Kay, laughing, in the behind-the-scenes clip for the music video.

Sexy bass lines and rhythmic beats are juxtaposed with the traditional sounds of Japanese koto, and Kay’s sultry voice floats effortlessly between English and Japanese. Basically, the track is Beyoncé meets J-pop meets your favorite EDM staple. And the music video is equally riveting, combining 2D animation with live action for refreshing visual eye candy.

Aaaaand, replay.

 

[Photo via angryasianman]

 

TOKiMONSTA On Being A Female DJ In A Male-Dominated Industry

Just as she steps onto the red carpet to pose for a row of photographers, what had been a light sprinkle suddenly turns into a downpour. A member of the press rushes to grab an umbrella, but TOKiMONSTA, one of the four stars being celebrated that night for the premiere of the Mnet America reality show Alpha Girls, laughs and says, “Good thing I have this hat on.” A black fur-trimmed hat sits atop her shock of blond hair — she’s been known to experiment with color over the years, mixing blues and purples at one point — and though a pair of oversized black shades cover 50 percent of her face, TOKiMONSTA stands out. It’s a part of a life she’s become used to, especially now that she’s one of the few well-known Asian American female DJs in the music industry.

Jennifer Lee, better known by her aforementioned stage name, has risen to the forefront of the electronic dance music scene with two albums, a number of EPs and high-profile appearances at festivals like Coachella and SXSW. The Torrance, Calif., native, who is of Korean descent, was ranked by LA Weekly as L.A.’s top female DJ in 2010 and was a part of the Full Flex Express Tour in 2012 that had her performing alongside electronic music gods Skrillex and Diplo. Not too shabby for a girl who began producing music in her college dorm while studying business at the University of California, Irvine.

In a crowded L.A. beat scene, Lee’s music stands out, like the recently remastered “The World Is Ours,” with its softer, chiller beats (it’s the stuff midnight dreams are made of). But what also makes Lee unique is her success in an industry that has always been dominated by males, and non-Asian males at that. It’s what made her the perfect candidate for the Asian pop culture channel Mnet America’s new web reality series, Alpha Girls.

Alpha Girls, which premiered in February, follows Lee, Korean artist and illustrator Mina Kwon, Korean American supermodel Soo Joo Park and Filipina American fashion designer Lanie Alabanza-Barcena in a series documenting their journeys in the worlds of art, music and fashion. “I joined [the show] because I loved the idea behind it,” says Lee of her Alpha Girl status. “Alpha Girls shows the rest of America that, hey, Asians can choose careers outside of the medical field, and they can still be successful.”

TOKiMONSTA (Jennifer Lee)

Lee’s segment on Alpha Girls follows her as she takes South Korea by storm, performing in her motherland for the first time. She jets around the country in stylish streetwear and looks completely at ease performing in the middle of jam-packed, ear-numbing clubs. “It was scary because I didn’t know whether Korean audiences would be used to my music,” she says, “but I ended up having a blast. I hope girls can watch this show and see us all doing our thing and know that they can succeed at whatever they want to. I didn’t discover the underground scene until college, and now here I am in Korea playing my own music!”

Catch full webisodes of Alpha Girls on Mnet America’s YouTube channel or at alphagirlstv.com. 

 

–Story by Taylor Weik

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here

 

ALISA XAYALITH of The Naked and Famous On Stage Fright and Breaking Through

 

Just four years ago, Alisa Xayalith was a shy singer from Auckland, New Zealand, who had suddenly exploded onto the international indie music scene with her band The Naked and Famous and their surprise hit song “Young Blood.” Though it’s the power of her voice that drives the catchy electro-pop anthem, Xayalith didn’t have much experience performing live. She had stage fright, often hid behind her long black hair, and didn’t yet know how to act the part of a front woman.

“You have to look up this [2010] video on KCRW of us playing ‘Young Blood,’” she says. “I was so timid! When I look at that girl now, I think, ‘Who was that?’” She laughs. “Performing feels like second nature now, but it’s definitely been a process.”

Her hair newly cropped and dyed into a bleached blond pixie cut, Xayalith, 27, isn’t hiding anymore. There is no secret to becoming more confident in front of a crowd, she says. It’s all about practice. In the last few years, The Naked and Famous has performed all around the world, most recently touring with Imagine Dragons and performing at Coachella, before kicking off the European portion of their international tour in June.

As a child, Xayalith grew up listening to a lot of Laotian folk music because her dad was a singer in a local Laotian band in South Auckland. But she also remembers her father introducing her to English-language songs. “He used to sing me ‘Mona Lisa’ by Nat King Cole,” she remembers. “And then when I got older, I became obsessed with Mariah Carey for a long time.”

Her mother passed away from breast cancer when Xayalith was just 7 years old, a personal tragedy that she finally got the courage to write about in “I Kill Giants,” a track on The Naked and Famous’ second album, In Rolling Waves, released late 2013. The saddest of days, she sings. Why couldn’t we save you?

 

 

“I had written these lyrics and Thom [Powers, her The Naked and Famous bandmate] really loved them,” says Xayalith. “He said, ‘Don’t change them. I’m going to use them for something.’ It’s the most revealing that I’ve ever let myself get, lyrically, and I was really apprehensive about it. But he really pushed me.”

Xayalith, Powers and bandmate Aaron Short met at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2006. (David Beadle and Jesse Wood joined the band in 2009.) Xayalith always wanted to be a singer, but she says her songwriting skills weren’t fully realized until she met Powers and they started writing together. Soon they formed The Naked and Famous. The band name is taken from the song “Tricky Kid” by English trip-hop artist Tricky, which has the line “everybody wants to be naked and famous,” about being ambivalent to the idea of celebrity.

Their first collaboration was a trip-hop song that Xayalith says she’d be embarrassed if anyone heard now, but their second song, “Serenade,” which ended up on their debut EP, gave them their first taste of success when it reached number one in New Zealand’s college charts.

“I remember Aaron, Thom and I were sitting in the living room listening to the countdown, seeing if we’d be on it,” she says. “Aaron has a recording of it actually. All of our friends were there screaming, ‘You guys are number one!’

“But international success didn’t come until we released ‘Young Blood’ in 2010,” she continues. “That song changed our lives. It catapulted us out of New Zealand.”

 

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Xayalith still remembers fiddling with the melody that ended up turning into “Young Blood.” When she showed Powers what she was working on, he immediately recognized the potential behind those chords, and they came up with the music for the song together in two hours. “It was just a natural moment of inspiration that we harnessed,” says Xayalith. “Then I wrote the lyrics, and Thom said, ‘How about you sing it higher?’ And I was like, ‘Really? I don’t know about this!’ But I did it, and he said, ‘Alisa, we’ve got it.’”

At the time, the band members were still working day jobs — Xayalith was working at a record store and in fashion — and they were recording their first studio album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, on the side. When “Young Blood” blew up in New Zealand, they were suddenly wined and dined by record labels and eventually dominated the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards, winning everything from Single of the Year and Album of the Year to Best Group. American audiences eventually caught on after “Young Blood” was featured everywhere, from Chuck and Gossip Girl to American Idol and the 2013 film Carrie.

Soon after, the band moved to Los Angeles to pursue their music full time and recorded their entire second album in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Laurel Canyon. In addition to the vulnerable “I Kill Giants,” the songs on In Rolling Waves are moodier. The first single, “Hearts Like Ours,” is about being brave despite anxiety, while their second single, “A Stillness,” deals with rising above fear and learning to be calm. “What We Want” — their first collaborative effort with a singer-songwriter outside of their band, Max McElligott from Wolf Gang — is a melancholy duet. The somber tone throughout was inspired by the first song the band wrote for the album, “Grow Old.” “It’s one of those slow burn, sad, miserable songs,” says Xayalith. “It’s a Naked and Famous love song, so that means it’s not very happy.”

As Xayalith juggles an intense touring schedule, which means she’s only “home” in L.A. a few months of the year, she hopes that their sound continues to evolve. “Our early music had a punk attitude,” Xayalith explains. “We wanted to be pop, but also had a love for rock music, like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Queens of the Stone Age. If you look at our body of work, you can see that our music is multigenre and hard to pinpoint.

“But it’s important for us to develop and change,” she adds. “We don’t have to worry about consistency and continuity, because the music is always going to be written by us and sound like The Naked and Famous.”

– Story by Ada Tseng 

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here!