For the Record with Thom Powers of The Naked & Famous

Krista Connor

“For the Record” is a periodic feature in which musicians discuss powerful influences and what they’ve been listening to lately.

Auckland, New Zealand’s electro-pop natives The Naked & Famous are known for their synth-heavy catalog, with albums like Passive Me, Aggressive You (2010) and In Rolling Waves (2013). So a compilation of stripped-down, acoustic renditions of their favorite tracks in a new album, A Still Heart, may have come as a surprise to some. But after more than a decade of performing, the band decided to offer audiences a more intimate, lyrical look at their music in the March release.

The album came on the heels of the departure of two original members, Aaron Short (keyboards) and Jesse Wood (drums), leaving behind the now-trio of Alisa Xayalith (vocals, keyboards), Thom Powers (vocals, guitars) and David Beadle (bass). Shortly after the transition, they launched A Still Heart Stripped Tour, an international journey that will stop at The Queen in Wilmington on Friday, June 29, at 7 p.m.

Out & About caught up with Powers via email to get a take on his most influential albums, all of which, he says, “hold a place in my heart.”

Nine Inch Nails  The Downward Spiral

Before TNAF, I was a Hot Topic teenage suburban goth tragedy. Fashionably late to the mid-2000s, I missed Emo and was instead stuck in the mid-1990s, although I think mesh-gloves made their way into both eras. At the time, my friends and I had limited “dial-up” internet access so I don’t take full responsibility either way—times were tough. The light at the end of my dark puberty tunnel was Trent Reznor scream-singing, “I wanna f*** you like an animal.” The Downward Spiral is a dynamic, compelling, and challenging listen. Nothing about it is intended to make one feel comfortable. It stood out against the rising tide of aimlessly angry bro-rock that dominated the ‘90s. Despite not knowing much about him, Trent Reznor was the first tangible musical character that sent me on a path. He’s still a hero to me today. 

The Mint Chicks  — Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!

The Mint Chicks were the band. This is around the time Alisa and I were cultivating what would become The Naked And Famous’ first two EPs, This Machine and No Light. All the Auckland bands wanted to open for them. They were edgy and DIY yet were being played on both pop and alternative radio. And as far as anyone could tell, they hadn’t compromised. Their sound was both totally unstable and tight. While they definitely influenced TNAF sonically, their attitude and self-sufficiency was what inspired us the most. You can find our cover of their hit “Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!” online.

Bon Iver — Blood Bank EP

A blend of “organic” (this word makes me cringe 50 percent of the time) and studio-manipulated, or “unnatural,” instruments is something I look for in music. I love it both as a listener and a musician. When you consider that at one point in history, an acoustic guitar was a marvel of technological progress, the word “organic” starts to seem a little misleading. My assumption is that Justin Vernon agrees, in part, with this sentiment . . .

It’s probably not too obvious, but this EP had a huge impact on me in production decisions on Passive Me, Aggressive You. My introduction to double-tracked vocals came from TV On The Radio, but Bon Iver is what compelled me to use it in my own music. And while my introduction to the “harmonizer” came from Imogen Heap, “The Woods” was the final straw. I have to get in on this! I thought to myself.

Alt-J — An Awesome Wave

I spent many happy hours procrastinating to this record. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. The band had finished our first world tour and were working on our sophomore album. I needed something to obsess over. This ticked all kinds of boxes that I didn’t even know were on the checklist. I’m not often one for “quirky,” but An Awesome Wave had a constant emotive tug. Its bittiness was heartfelt. A curious album —a grower, but immediate all at once.

Luna Shadows/The Chain Gang Of 1974

I was trying to think of a pivotal album that fueled me while Simple Forms was coming together, but if I’m honest, the richest musical experience I had was working with two other artists: Luna Shadows and The Chain Gang Of 1974.

Luna put out her first EP, Hallelujah California, in 2016. It was my first foray into something more traditionally “pop.” The whole experience was eye-opening and creatively challenging. We’d listen to other pop acts and scrutinize what went into the recordings. By the time the EP was finished the lines between genres had blurred a little more for me—at least from a studio perspective.

Simultaneously, I was working with The Chain Gang Of 1974. Kamtin [Mohager] was already an acquaintance because we’d previously toured together. We were at similar places in life when we began working on his albumboth a little lost and needing something to believe in. We became fast friends. I’ve always been ambitious to be seen as a producer outside of my own band and this was a safe environment to do it. I trusted Kam’s taste and he was in no short supply of ideas and energy in our sessions. He was also patient with me. Switching between artist and producer was a role I had to practice.

The Naked & Famous will perform at The Queen in Wilmington on Friday, June 29. For tickets, go to thequeenwilmington.com.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.