Stateside Presents




Sun, February 17, 2013

7:00 pm

Rialto Theatre - Tucson

Tucson, Arizona


Sold Out

This event is all ages

The xx exist in a time and space of their own making. In 2009 the south London trio’s debut album ‘xx’, quietly made at night over the course of two years, bled steadily into the public consciousness to become shorthand for newly refined ideas of teenage desire and anxiety. Articulated with a maturity beyond their years, its hallmarks were restraint and ambiguity. In the age of the over-share, ‘xx’ was pop with its privacy settings on max.

Three years on, Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith are back with a new album, ‘Coexist’, and a new perspective. Where ‘xx’ lent in close to whisper in your ear, ‘Coexist’ gazes warmly in your eyes. Much has happened to lead to this point: most pertinently, they’ve grown up.

Following the release of ‘xx’, the trio spent the lion’s share of 2010 far from home, taking their gentle shaping of a new London sound to ears and hearts in America, Japan, Australia and mainland Europe. Critical acclaim was matched by commercial success around the world, before The xx won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize. With all the successes and new experiences of that intense year and a half, a period away from the stage and studio was inevitable. In late October 2010 The xx returned from tour for some time apart, and normality.

“All of our friends had been to university and left home,” says Romy. “We really wanted to do that natural thing that you do when you go to uni or grow up.” All three moved out of their family homes within two weeks of being back. They made up for lost time with friends, hung out and embraced a summer of festivals and shows that Jamie was booked to DJ. “We were his groupies,” laughs Romy.

Previously cast as the quietest of the three, Jamie became the public face of The xx in 2011. In-between DJ gigs, he focused on growing his production skills, developing a distinct sound and presence. His remix of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep, re-imagining of Gil Scott-Heron’s final album on ‘We’re New Here’ with its defining single I’ll Take Care Of U, and his debut solo single Far Nearer set him apart as a highly regarded producer in his own right. That position was cemented when Drake asked Jamie to produce the title track of his album ‘Take Care’, inspired by I’ll Take Care Of U.

Behind the scenes, there was evolution too. Romy and Oliver’s writing process on ‘xx’ had been to exchange lyrics over the internet and only sing what they each had written. Having begun to write again quite soon after returning from tour – “Much sooner than I expected,” says Romy – they discovered that their initial reticence to bare so much of themselves in person had faded.

“The newest thing that we’ve done on this record is that me and Romy wrote in a room together,” explains Oliver. “We went into a room with nothing and talked through early ideas together, which was fun but bizarre because we’ve never done that before. I also sang one of Romy’s lyrics for the first time, which felt really nice.”

Where dreams and expectation had largely coloured Oliver’s lyrics on ‘xx’, on ‘Coexist’ he draws on his own experiences: “Which I’m surprised I’ve done because I knew people were going to hear them; I’m surprised I was able to put it out there confidently.” Conversely, Romy wrote quite openly from experience on their debut: “It felt very much like a direct diary – although obviously we’ve always written quite cryptically. I think my lyrics have become more from observation and expectation, which is a complete swap.”

That realignment extends to Jamie’s role. When he originally joined the band they’d been writing and gigging for a year. This time around it was the three of them working together from the start. Following a short spell in a Dalston practice room, Jamie found a space in Angel that would become their studio. Essentially a couple of rooms in an ordinary office block, they turned the once mundane space into a nocturnal hub of creativity among the nine-to-five surroundings, hanging black velvet on the walls as soundproofing and fitting it out with a set-up that now included piano, drums and steel pan. Back together again, separate from both their label in west London and east London’s music scene, Romy, Oliver and Jamie wrote ‘Coexist’.

“We just ended up playing new stuff to each other to try and write which was a fun way to do it,” explains Jamie. It wasn’t always plain sailing: “The idea I had at the beginning when we started wasn’t the right idea because I’d been in a place where I was making music for Drake and other people, and myself, and I’d kind of forgotten about working with these two, which is very different because we’re so close.” Jamie continues: “Learning to work together as grownups was the biggest thing – it’s the thing that influenced the album the most. We just needed to find a balance.”

Understanding that balance became the heart and soul of ‘Coexist’. “Jamie has done his solo stuff and Oliver and I have done separate things but The xx is only when we’re together. That’s when it’s really us,” explains Romy. “I was reading up on oil on water – when you see a puddle on the floor and it’s a rainbow. Oil and water don’t mix, they agree to peacefully coexist. I really liked that – these two simple things, oil and water, that together make something beautiful.”

“To coexist doesn’t paint the rosiest picture but I think it represents the realness,” continues Romy. “Learning to live together, learning to work together again, learning to live with the person you’re with, or your ex. It’s all connected.” Through that learning process, the anxious night time of ‘xx’ has made way for sunrise on ‘Coexist’.

While the fingerprints of R&B remain, ‘Coexist’s dawn realisations flicker into life under house music’s gaze, most resonant on Reunion, Sunset and Swept Away. It also echoes in Romy’s guitar riffs and Oliver’s bass lines, which circle and build like loops. “That’s something I love about dance music, how something insignificant can somehow become profound after the fifth repetition,” says Oliver.

Above all, though, ‘Coexist’ is an album of confident adult reflection. Angels, sung by Romy, is a perfectly distilled love song. Its counter is Fiction led by Oliver, a bittersweet ballad that’s strength lies in naming its fear. What has changed for The xx? Nothing, and everything. Older and wiser, surer yet still so tender, ‘Coexist’ finds itself on the other side of heartbreak, when the light returns.
“I don’t think it’s possible for me to write in a major key,” says Katie Stelmanis, co-founder and lead singer of Toronto trio Austra. “I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem to factor in my brain.”

It’s not like the longtime vocalist and producer makes Anton LaVey references or has an austere demeanor. Quite the opposite. But on Feel it Break, Stelmanis, drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf have crafted a dark, danceable masterpiece suitable for both ritual incantations and clubs; an album hearkening back to the sleazier side of New Wave but still deeply rooted in Stelmanis’s classical and operatic upbringing.

This confluence of classical and electronic has been at the heart of Stelmanis’s career before there even was a career. At the age of 10, Stelmanis joined the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, where she sang regularly for the prestigious Canadian Opera Company. While simultaneously learning viola and piano, Stelmanis pursued a career in opera, studying privately for four years while making plans to study the genre further in college.

A week before school started, with her calling seemingly mapped out, the singer made a decision that would affect her subsequent musical career. “I wanted to stay in Toronto and didn’t want to live in Montreal," recalls Stelmanis. "So I decided to just not go to college, get a job, save up for five years and go on my first tour.”

Spurred on by her production work for soundtracks for local plays, Stelmanis began immerging herself in electronic music. “I wanted to be able to write music for orchestras and with MIDI, you could just press 'Record' and bring up any instrument you wanted,” says Stelmanis. “It took me years to not think of MIDI as a substitute for real instruments and as an actual electronic instrument.” With new obsessions Bjork, P J Harvey and Nine Inch Nails weaving their influence, Stelmanis’s goal was clear: “I wanted to make classical music with really fucked up, distorted crazy shit on there.”

In 2008, after playing with Galaxy for three years, Stelmanis appeared on Fucked Up's The Chemistry of Common Life and released her debut solo album Join Us. Pinned as goth by everyone in Canada who didn’t entirely know what goth was, the album, written and recorded entirely by Stelmanis, combined dark, yet poppy, synth melodies with the singer's operatic voice for what Chart Attack called "oddly beautiful and enchanting."

Through it all, Stelmanis remained fiercely independent, managing every creative, technical and business aspect of her career herself – she embarked on six self-organized tours in the past three years including an opening slot for CocoRosie – all while trying to thrive in a country not exactly receptive to her brand of music. "A lot of people didn't understand my first album," she says, laughing. "So I booked my own tour of Europe, where they seemed to be more open. But we were the most DIY you could possibly be. I just figured everything out by myself the whole time. That's always been my mentality. I was watching bands in Toronto that reached some level of success and they were booking their own tours, so I just thought, obviously I should book my own tours."

Three years later, Stelmanis’s innate do-it-yourself ethos hasn’t changed, yet with the addition of former Galaxy member Postepski (Princess Century, Trust) on drums and programming and former Spiral Beach bassist Wolf, the singer has created her best work to date. Written primarily by Stelmanis – "Most of the songs are finished in my bedroom," says the songwriter – and mixed by Damian Taylor (Bjork, The Prodigy, UNKLE), the album rests nicely with your Kate Bush, Bat For Lashes and The Knife albums, but also conjures up the seedier sides of early 1980s British New Wave (think the dirty alleys and after-hours clubs dreamed up by Japan and Soft Cell.) On their first single "Beat and The Pulse," Austra have created the warmest cold track of the year, a pulsating, synth-driven attack laced by Stelmanis's gorgeous, towering vocals.

"For me, music should be a release," says Stelmanis. "I used to write songs with the intention that people would listen to it in their headphones when they needed to escape. Now I keep the same mentality, but also want people to be able to dance and completely lose themselves in a more physical way. If I can emotionally stimulate the mind and the body through music, I'll feel like I've accomplished something significant."
Venue Information:
Rialto Theatre - Tucson
318 E. Congress St.
Tucson, Arizona, 85701