A few months back, a link was circulating around the internet as links are wont to do.
It was a data-map of the U.S. that used streaming data from Spotify to assess which musicians had the most unique listeners in each state — its “favorite band.”
Some listings were obvious based on regional origins. Phish took Vermont. Springsteen ruled New Jersey. Folk wunderkinds The Head and the Heart took their home state of Washington. And in a comedic twist, Alabama’s favorite act was The Civil Wars.
But in Colorado, the results were less predictable. Instead of any of the Americana, jam or EDM acts that thrive in the region, the most uniquely streamed band was New Zealand synthpop act The Naked and Famous.
“We had no idea. That was just out of the blue,” says The Naked and Famous singer and guitarist Thom Powers. “It’s not like we go to Colorado and have exponentially large shows, so it’s pretty crazy.”
Powers isn’t just being modest.
When the band swings through the region for its only in-state show this week, it will play not at Red Rocks or the Pepsi Center or any of the other mega-venues you’d expect “Colorado’s favorite band” to fill, but at the much more modestly sized Boulder Theater.
But that’s probably better for a band like The Naked and the Famous anyhow. While similar-sounding uptempo, synthbased
and dance-rock acts are making heavier use of backing tracks and computer synchronization, the sort of technology that is now almost requisite to coordinate performances at a venue larger than a club, The Naked and the Famous insist on doing their shows old school: by actually performing the music live.
“Nowadays, it’s just a given that there’s backing tracks,” says Powers. “I think there’s laziness on behalf of the musicians or the people producing the live show on figuring out how to perform. I sympathize, because it’s difficult to figure out how to do it.”
It only takes a few minutes of watching One Temporary Escape, The Naked and the Famous’ live concert film on YouTube, to see what Powers means when he says it’s difficult. The film is a sonic and visual assault, with a complex dance of lights and video projections to highlight the indietronica vibe of songs that take the sonic palettes of Radiohead’s Kid A and infuse them with a punch of punk energy.
Powers says that in many ways, the insistence on playing live is not a good decision. In addition to the increased difficulty of precisely performing all that technical electronic minutiae onstage, even in smaller venues like The Boulder Theater, the audience is too far away to know what chords he’s playing on the guitar, or to be able to see just what tiny little buttons the band’s resident synth-wizard, Aaron Short, is pressing. But Powers says that at the end of the day, the fully-live execution isn’t really for the audience.
“That whole side of things is really for our mental satisfaction,” he says. “To know we’re mastering our craft.”
“At no point are we ever trying to half-ass anything,” he adds.
And that work ethic is something Powers credits to the band’s formative years in New Zealand.
“It wasn’t an easy place to leave.
And it wasn’t an easy place to succeed in,” he says.
Powers says with the exception of government sponsored arts programs, New Zealand’s music scene is only financially viable for those doing corporate gigs, a system that becomes a trap for bands focused on the local industry, as it’s a shock for them once they reach abroad and discover how small their world is and how unprepared they are to navigate outside it.
Until earlier this month, the band hadn’t been back to New Zealand since 2010, doing hundreds of dates on the road and settling in Los Angeles to work on an album. After that absense, Powers didn’t know what to expect.
“That’s an indication of how small it is,” Powers says. “The moment you leave it, you don’t know what’s going on there anymore.”
But not knowing what New Zealand, or the future in general, holds, is something Powers and company are growing more comfortable with.
“It’s really hard to see where you’re going to end up,” he says. “I think I’ve given up on trying to predict. I think I used to, because I was young and stupid and arrogant. Each year, I’m more uncertain about what the future is and I’m learning to be more momentary.”
That means he doesn’t know what The Naked and Famous will sound like in a decade, or even what it’s next album will sound like.
But if there is one thing to be sure of, it’s that the band won’t hold anything back when it plays at the Boulder Theater. After all, The Naked and the Famous are “Colorado’s favorite band.”