the xx get intimate

Taking time out from their busy schedule of dreaming, brooding and making magic, last week saw The XX launch their series of 25 super-intimate concerts at New York's iconic Armory.

by Jeremy Abbott
Mar 25 2014, 6:55pm

The XX by Alasdair McLellan. Collages by Patrick Waugh.

Like the annual gathering of an outer space cult, we witnessed 45 people silently file into the cavernous, blue-tinged Park Avenue venue and surrounded the band. Reminiscent of an art installation yet somehow deeply personal, the show broke all of the rules and did so brilliantly. To celebrate such an unique experience, we look back to where it all began with Romy Croft...

The XX by Alasdair McLellan. Collages by Patrick Waugh.

Exactly how long have you known each other?
I've known Oliver since I was 3. We were at nursery school together. We've just grown up together really. Went to primary school and secondary school and sixth form, and now we're doing this. Seventeen years. We met Jamie and Baria aged 11 at school. So we're old, old friends. Around 14/15 we started going to gigs and getting into music. I started teaching myself guitar. Oliver started playing bass.

And what was the first gig you went to?
The first gig I went to see was The Distillers at Brixton Academy. With Pretty Girls Make Grave, Peaches and Eagles of Death Metal supporting. I was at the front, thinking this is the best thing ever.

Then how did it progress?
From there we all did GCSE music classes together. Jamie started getting into production and listening to hip hop quite separately. I was sitting on my guitar playing heavy distortion. Then Oliver and I used this multi-tracker and started messing around. We just played covers of Wham and The Pixies. I had drum lessons for a while, but I never really wanted to be a drummer.

The XX by Alasdair McLellan. Collages by Patrick Waugh.

Jamie hammering away with his fingers on the drum pads is a real focal point of The xx live experience.
Jamie had an MPC for his eighteenth birthday and just came along to play in a rehearsal with us. He started playing along, and I was like, 'that was really good, will you please like join us?' We'd all been friends but we'd never been together as a band. From there we just kind've gigged.

So what were you like at school? All running as a pack?
I've always been best friends with Oliver, so we were always together. Baria became friends through music and me and Jamie
used go skateboarding together.

Were you any good at skating?
Yeah, I was alright. I was more into bowl skating. I could never really do steps. I found out about a lot of music through skate videos, bands like The Cure and Mazzy Star.

The XX by Alasdair McLellan. Collages by Patrick Waugh.

Were you always called The xx?
The name was the first thing we came up with before making music. Playing around with words that we liked. And we liked X's. It doesn't really have a meaning, it's a symbol. What does it mean?

Did you and Oliver always play around with the concept of forming a band?
It all came out of a summer of boredom, and music was my obsession at the time. I was quite late to the Internet, so I used to record music off the radio, mainly Xfm and John Kennedy's new music thing. I don't think I was born to perform or anything like that. We're pretty reserved as people. I was teaching myself guitar and sang along with the chords, recorded it and sent it along to one of my friends on the Internet, and she was like: 'I like that, can you do more?' We definitely weren't those children who were on stage from a young age.

Are your families into music?
My Dad was always playing records at dinner. Things like Nick Drake, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground and Brian Eno, but he went through a Madonna phase. At one point I was eating breakfast and he'd be playing Hung Up - at that point he had gone a bit far!

The XX by Alasdair McLellan. Collages by Patrick Waugh.

Has your music always been as controlled and minimal?
We didn't have loads of complicated equipment and we didn't want to layer the guitars and produce a sound we knew we wouldn't be able to play live. It was partly because we were lacking skills, so it came out quite accidentally. People commented on it being simple and stripped back we quite liked that. We were just like, this is how it sounds, because this is all we've got!

At what point did your sound form into what it is now?
I don't really know. My guitar sound is like that because my amp had reverb on it. At school, we studied minimalism and Phillip Glass, and repeated, picked guitar, which I preferred to strumming. And it cuts through Oliver's bass sound, which is quite thick. Nothing was really pre-meditated.


Text Jeremy Abbott
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Collage Patrick Waugh