The xx's Oliver Sim, in case you haven't noticed from the British band's minimalist and seductive electronica, is not a bassist who's easily excited and neither are his bandmates, Romy Madley Croft or Jamie Smith. Not once within the xx's two albums of spartan indie-pop, 2009's self-titled debut and September's "Coexist," does Sim's singing ever rise above his inside voice.
So it was with a shared ironic amusement, perhaps, that the trio, driving through Texas by tour bus three years ago, reacted to their first dance with American comfort food — greasy chicken and waffles at a truck stop owned by Willie Nelson — with bursts of laughter.
"It was a heart attack on a plate," Sim recalls by phone with a chuckle, raising his voice a shade above a low monotone for the first and only time during the interview. "It was the most-exciting thing for us. We started jumping up and down. Our driver, who was about 300 pounds, didn't quite get why we were so excited. We felt like we were in the movies, in the desert, so far from home."
If Sim sounds wistful, it's probably because American excess brings it out of the 24-year-old London vocalist, as does the still-unnerving thought of overnight celebrity, which ripped the singer from the childhood bedroom where he composed lyrics with Croft and Smith and vaulted the trio and their debut album to 87 weeks on the U.K. charts. Sim, who swapped Pixies, Wham! and Portishead mix tapes with Croft, his longtime friend since the sandbox (they met Jamie in sixth grade), landing on the cover of NME came in direct contradiction to the band's restrained lifestyle.
"We didn't think of us having minimalist music until people complimented us on it," Sim says from a London rehearsal studio on the eve of the xx's U.S. tour. "Me and Romy don't have very loud voices, so it wouldn't make sense to make a huge sound that we couldn't contend with vocally. We're not particularly loud, brash people, and we don't make aggressive, very loud music, because it would seem out of character."
And "Coexist" is hardly out of character for the xx, with its stripped-down landscape of percussive samples, atmospheric blurs and the occasional steel drum sounding like pop-punk on muscle relaxants. "They would be as in love with you as I am," goes Croft's softly sung refrain in the album-opening "Angels," a precursor to heartbreak in "Tides," where she sings, "You leave with the tide/And I can't stop you leaving/I can see it in your eyes/Some things have lost their meaning." In both tracks, the xx's melancholy is stamped with suggestions of romance, left distant.
"I'm kind of venting in these songs, like, it's cathartic," Sim admits. "When my mum read the first record, she took me to the side and asked me if this was something she should be worried about. I said, 'No. I'm a happy person who's very shy.' This band started as a joke, really, because me and Romy couldn't just sit in front of each other writing music and take ourselves seriously. We didn't have any huge intentions."
When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5
Where: The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave.
Cost: Sold out, but tickets are available via StubHub
Contact: 305-673-7300 or FillmoreMB.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun