The PV Q&A: the xx's Romy Madley Croft On Matching Tattoos and Tragic, Failed Romances

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Interview by Tom Lanham

Since their Young Turks/XL bow xx was released three years ago, it’s been a vertigo-inducing ascent for English childhood chums the xx. They were stunned when their hushed, minimalist music made a big noise, earning them three 2011 Brit Award nominations, soundtrack placement in countless TV series [“Hung,” “Suits,” “Mercy,” “Cold Case,” “Person of Interest,” to name a few], and even the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize. So what did Oliver Sim, Jamie Smith and Romy Madley-Croft do for a debut-topping encore? Simply got quieter, on the chapel-reverent new sophomore set Coexist, and its heart-wrenching meditations “Chained,” “Missing,” and the closing dirge of a duet “Our Song," where the echoey space between notes is almost as important as the notes themselves. It was never a carefully-planned exercise in restraint, though, clarifies shy guitarist/vocalist Madley-Croft, 23. “We never really talked about our sound too much in the beginning — it was just what we could do live. That’s why there’s just one guitar layer, not loops of different things over each other, because we’d be like ‘Whoa! We can’t do that live!’ But on this album — sort of knowing that and having that in mind — we just carried on with that way of working. Even though we probably could have found a way to make the sound fuller or have more things going on, we just wanted to maintain that style.”

PureVolume: So you actually all got ‘XX’ tattoos on your wrists at the same time recently?
Romly Madley-Croft: Ha! Yes, yes. We just got it done to mark finishing the second album, and I guess it was our first joint thing to do. But it was quite fun, and all-inclusive. They’ve got theirs both on one wrist, and I’ve got mine, one on each wrist. So it’s spread out a little bit.
PV: For that perfect Frankenstein look. Or possibly a gang initiation?
RMC: Kind of. I guess just after a long time of knowing each other and a lot of things happening, it seemed appropriate. So it’s maybe a bit of a backwards gang initiation, because I’ve known Oliver since we were three, and we’ve known Jamie since we were 11. So we definitely know a lot about each other.
PV: Does it feel like you’re a gang on tour?
RMC: I guess most bands must feel a little bit like a gang. But to me, I’ve never really felt like much of a gang — it’s just like I’m with my friends, just playing music. And I forget that that’s not how it is for everyone in bands. Some people just meet through an advert in the paper or online or something. So we’re really lucky. And after shows, we always hang out together, because we’re very used to being in each other’s company. You know, I’ve been going to school every single day with both of them for so much of my life, so it doesn’t feel that weird to be spending every day with them now.
PV: Has it been great to travel the world as the xx, taking in all the sights?
RMC: It is great. And I’m really grateful that I can do that with them, and we’ve seen so much. But at the same time, you don’t get to see very much on tour — in the end, you kind of see the venue, the hotel room, and then you leave again. So it’s actually quite frustrating sometimes, and that’s my only problem — I’d just want to spend more time in the places we’re in, to actually get a feel for them. But it never really works out like that.
PV: How did you ever get enough guts to get onstage in the first place?
RMC: I don’t know. It’s weird, because even back when we first started doing it, when we were 15 or 16, we were all super-shy. I don’t think we’re too bad now. But for some reason, the music was always written to be played live, and that’s kind of what shapes it. That’s why it may be simple or minimal — it’s not because we’re trying to do that. It’s just because we wanted to make something that we could recreate live. And to be honest, I couldn’t play my guitar very well, so it was simple. So even though I didn’t like the idea of going onstage, the music had to be playable. So I must have — for some reason, somehow — secretly wanted to be playing it live. And that’s kind of worked in a roundabout way, and now — just from playing so much and being onstage and getting used to it — I really enjoy it. But it’s definitely taken some time.
PV: So no more dry-ice fog banks on this tour?
RMC: Ha! Well, there’s still quite a lot of dry ice onstage. We’ve even played some daytime shows, but it just feels very wrong for us. We did a tour in Australia, where you travel with two other bands, and we’d go on at 4:00 in the afternoon, in the glaring heat, and it just felt sooo wrong. But I guess we had to just get what we were given, I suppose.
PV: Every song on Coexist, whether you or Oliver are singing it, seems to concern some tragic, failed romance. Are you guys alright?
RMC: Well, I think we’ve had some ups and downs, collectively, as a band, with relationships. But we’re all fine — we’re not crying when we come offstage, and I think that we’re actually quite well-rounded, happy people. I mean, the music may not suggest that, because there are a lot of sad songs. But when I listen to sad songs, they make me happy. And I am writing from personal experience, but I don’t feel too upset right now.
PV: Are you single or settled down now?
RMC: Umm . . .  I dunno, really. But I don’t really like to talk about that.
PV: The album closes with you and Oliver’s duet “Our Song.” And it almost feels like a happy ending. Is it?
RMC: Yeah. That’s the first song that Oliver and I actually explain and say, "Yeah — this is about our friendship." Because you know, we share the song — we’re never actually singing to each other. And you know, there are all different types of love sung about on the album. But that’s just about the friendship and love between the three of us, I guess.
PV: Your wardrobe is minimal, too — you’re never photographed in anything but black. Have you ever walked out of the house all in white, just to shock folks?
RMC: Yeah, actually! And I didn’t always wear black — just from when I was about 16. From then on, I’ve kind of always worn black and never really thought about it too much. But I was actually quite a colorful child. There are photos of me and Oliver together as kids, and they’re definitely very colorful!

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