Already firmly part of New Zealand music royalty with nearly 15 years of local and global success under her belt as part of The Naked and Famous, Alisa Xayalith has recently emerged as a solo artist under her own name. Felicity Farrell talked with Alisa about her debut solo EP, and brand new single High Fidelity. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.
Based in Silverlake, about 15 minutes from Hollywood (which she describes as like mashing Ponsonby with Grey Lynn), Alisa Xayalith describes her life in Los Angeles as mostly confined to her immediate bubble. Only leaving the house to walk her dog Ginger, or head down the road a few minutes to see ex-partner (and TNAF bandmate) Thom Powers, most of her time lately has been spent in the studio, writing and recording.
The Naked and Famous released their fourth studio album ‘Recover’ in July 2020. With no contractual obligation to record another, Alisa is candid about how hard the last album was to make, and how much they all needed a break once it was done.
“I wasn’t mentally well after the record. The two years took so much out of me. I was anxious, I had low-grade depression, and I wasn’t sure about music anymore.”
Now, some 18 months later, at the end of 2021, it’s very clear Alisa has gone through a monumental positive transition.
“1000%! I’ve fallen back in love with writing music, it’s fun again! This project has restored the joy, and has been a healing process.”
When Alisa first got into music, as a young woman back in Auckland, she wanted to be a solo artist. A massive fan then of Bic Runga and other singer-songwriters like Feist, Fiona Apple and Bjork, she thought that was her pathway. Then she met Powers and they started the band which she fronted. TNAF exploded surprisingly quickly from being local indie darlings to a bona fide international touring act, with all the complications that entails. Her new project sees her returning to realise that solo dream.
“It has always been something in me, but the pandemic was the perfect catalyst to explore that.”
She describes it as really digging in, and relishing taking complete control of working on her new own new releases. Coupled with extra motivation provided by the global Covid lockdown, Alisa took things a step further and started learning how to do her own production.
“You could just see who could thrive using Zoom, and being self-sufficient in the studio vs people who weren’t. I wanted to be on the right side of that fence!”
A 30-day course in songwriting and production left her confident enough to record her own demos.
“Basically, I hate relying on other people, I like to get things done – and if I can do it myself, I’ll do it myself. I just put myself back in school and used that time to learn to be more self-sufficient, and it’s really paid off.”
Exploring her own personal narrative, the latest single High Fidelity is a love song, and the new EP in its entirety an ode to the love song.
“I feel like The Naked and Famous have a lot of guard rails, just being in a band. Generally, there’s so much discussion around the sonic palette, production, writing, and lyrics. There were some things I couldn’t explore in the band. Creatively we have our own niche, but it’s been really liberating writing songs and building them in a different way.”
With a beautifully dreamy melody and glittery synths, the new track produced by Tyler Spry, Doug Schadt and Simon Oscroft captures the creative freedom she has been feeling.
“There are some times now where I’m able to let things be rougher around the edges, and it’s been fun calling all the shots. This project has really tested my character, and I’ve learned how to trust myself and follow my instinct. It’s almost like the feeling of moving out of home for the first time! The Naked and Famous has been my home for the last 10-15 years.”
Currently unsigned, Alisa has embraced the role of looking after her own affairs, doing everything, and generally learning to be her own champion.
“Entering the music industry 10 years ago, I could be ‘just’ the singer. I could turn up and sing, write songs and make videos. Now, I’m an entrepreneur, social media strategist, promoter, marketer, and artist! All these things that weren’t there before! Posting on TikTok, Instagram posts and stories and reels… being an artist today is not easy!
“If you’re not doing social media, no one cares. If you don’t give people a reason to care, no one is going to care. It’s a bit more transactional now. Music culture is about authenticity. No longer is there the mysterious, curated musician anymore. You have to tell your story. People want a sentimental investment into the art that they’re consuming. You’ve got to tell your story, or people don’t have a reason to listen to your music.”
With a lot to show from all of this growing and learning she has done, Alisa is already making her mark as a solo artist and navigating all of the new elements of being her own boss:
“I now have age and experience. I have power. I know myself in a way that I didn’t before. I’m able to walk in and able to throw it down for myself.”
Promising two solo EPs in 2022, Alisa speaks about spending the upcoming weekend finishing off the first, hoping to have it all done before Christmas. The EP’s second single is being mixed and will be dropping around February.
“This EP is a reflection of where I am in terms of my songwriting and life. I’ve found my peace and love and discovered my strengths outside of the band. When you leave home, it’s revealing of your strengths and weaknesses, and it’s been a couple of years of real growth.”
Having applied for funding for a solo tour, Alisa wants to come home to NZ to do some shows in 2022.
“I would love to see my family, do some writing sessions and work with some NZ producers and artists. It would be really great to insert myself back into the NZ music scene again.”
In terms of long-term plans and the future of the band, Alisa shows herself hopeful, if non-committal.
“The Naked and Famous has been my biggest teacher. My relationship with Thom [Powers] is one of my biggest learnings in life, and I’m so grateful for it. When we come back to recording another Naked and Famous record, we will be new people.”