The Naked And Famous' Frontwoman Talks Chopping Off Her Hair, Her Musical Style Icons And Her Shopgirl Past
Senior Digital Editor
Even if you don't recognize the band by name, there's no doubt you've heard at least one song by New Zealand quintet The Naked and Famous. Their most popular single, "Young Blood," has popped up everywhere from movie trailers to an episode of Gossip Girl. You also might've heard their track "Punching in a Dream" in Pitch Perfect, or caught their song "No Way" in that really cool Mini Cooper ad.
Lead singer Alisa Xayalith, who also writes many of the group's lyrics, is the only female member of TNAF—but what she lacks in girl camaraderie, she more than makes up for in style and sound. Hot off the release of her band's excellent sophomore album In Rolling Waves, Alisa stopped by the Lucky offices for a chat (and some Instagram fun). Read on to learn why she recently decided to take the plunge on a pixie cut (hint: Patti Smith had a little something to do with it), what it was like to relocate from New Zealand to Los Angeles and which musicians she counts as her ultimate style icons.
Lucky: You recently moved from your native New Zealand all the way to Los Angeles—that's quite a transition! What's it been like so far?
Alisa Xayalith: We started living in L.A. at the end of our last tour, so it's been about a year and a half now. We just all shacked up together in this big house that's in between Laurel Canyon and Studio City—it looks like a '70s porno house. Velvet curtains, floral wallpaper, mustard walls! The bathroom has these golden cherubs on the taps. It's so ostentatious!
Does spending your time someplace like that affect your music at all?
It's funny, I get asked that question all the time. I understand that changing environments can affect you directly, but when it comes to my creative process, so much of it comes from within. Our first album [Passive Me, Aggressive You] doesn't really sound like it came out of my basement flat in Auckland City, and I guess you can say the same about In Rolling Waves. My music's just a consequence of what's going on in my head.
I'm sure the style in L.A. is nothing like how New Zealanders dress. Have you changed your own style since the big move?
I've stayed true to how I've always dressed. The fashion in New Zealand is actually very similar to what you'd see in New York, aesthetically. Lots of black, lots of simple silhouettes, and the clothing has to be trans-seasonal. But when I get dressed, I have to be prepared for anything, because I'm living out of a suitcase! The only thing that's really changed is my hair...
I know! You chopped it all off, and it looks incredible. How'd you decide to take the plunge?
It happened just after we finished recording. I just felt like...I'm young, I haven't experimented much with my hair and I'm at the right age to do it, so why not? There's a part in this book I just read, Patti Smith's Just Kids, where she gets inspired by Keith Richards and decides to cut her hair. And she says something like, "Change brings about a new energy." That was my catalyst, and so I just kept going shorter and shorter and shorter...
I feel like so many women are going for the pixie cut right now. Was your cut inspired by anyone in particular?
Mia Farrow's someone who's had a timeless, iconic pixie haircut. Jean Seberg, too—she's just beautiful. And more recently, Michelle Williams went for the most beautiful pixie crop. So yeah!
Are there any other women in music that you love style-wise?
I think that Ioanna from IO Echo is amazing—she has the most beautiful collection of kimonos. I have dreams about going to her house and raiding her closet. I bet that each of those kimonos has a really great story behind it, too. Lykke Li's another person I find so stylish. She wears a lot of black and white, and has the same sort of aesthetic I'm usually drawn to. And Alison Mosshart from The Kills has the most wonderful disheveled hair, and hits that balance of masculine and feminine perfectly. She's one of my earlier style icons.
Let's talk shopping. Do you do most of your buying online or in stores?
Shopping on the road is difficult—not only is there no room in my suitcase, but since I'm constantly traveling I can't order anything online since there's no place to send it! So days off, like today, are the best. I'm going straight to Barneys and Topshop after this interview!
How do your stage outfits differ from what you wear on your off-duty days?
They're pretty similar. When I'm onstage, clothing has to feel like a second skin. It has to be able to move with me, since I'm always running around—but the same thing applies to my everyday clothes. In fact, I've found that a great way to break in a new pair of boots is to just play a few shows in them! I'm really into wearing dresses at the moment. I love the feminine/masculine contrast of a really solid heeled boot with a silk dress—and short hair!
In terms of beauty, what products or items do you never leave home without?
I'm really obsessed with the Clarisonic right now. I'd read so much about it and was always like, "I bet you this thing doesn't even work!" But then I got a facial and they used one on me, and my face felt so smooth and so clean afterwards. Now I'm addicted! I wear makeup every time I'm onstage, so it's important to clean my face thoroughly afterwards—even if I'm out all night partying!
You're the only girl in The Naked and Famous. Do you ever feel weird about that, or get lonely?
I grew up with three brothers, so there's a comfort in traveling with four other guys. At the same time, though, as I've gotten older, I'm realized how important it is to have female companionship. It's a different kind of friendship—females have this great nurturing element and really understand where you're coming from emotionally. I'm quite an emotional person, and when I'm around the guys and in a state, they're like, "Do you want a glass of water?" And I'm like, "No, I want you to tell me that everything's going to be OK!" But what's great is that after our shows, we do meet-and-greets, and I basically just end up hanging out with the girls every time. It's cool that so many females connect with the music we make.
What's the coolest gift a fan has ever brought you?
At a recent show in Atlanta, a girl brought us a box of macarons—and on the box, she'd painted the artwork from our first album. So incredibly thoughtful, and so personal.
Macarons really are the way to a girl's heart, and other other girls get that! Let's end on a question about your new album, In Rolling Waves. There are so many strong tracks on it—but do you have a personal favorite?
There's one that's really heartbreaking—it's called "I Kill Giants," and I named it after a graphic novel of the same title. The song's a reconstructed memory of when I lost my mother. I was about seven at the time, and it was one of the biggest events of my childhood. It's always been something I wanted to write about, but I just couldn't finish it for our first album. I'm so happy it made it onto this one, though.
Click through above to shop some of Alisa's favorite things—and download In Rolling Waves on iTunes now!