01/14/2011 01:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Band on the Rise: The Naked and the Famous Break Out of NZ


Bret and Jemaine? Yeah. Hobbits? Of course. The Maori? Word. Buzzworthy band? Um, no. New Zealand is known for a lot of things, but inhabiting indie bands with a load of hype is not among them. That will all change when The Naked and the Famous release their full-length debut Passive Me Aggressive You in March. It already has.

For the first time, probably ever, a band from Kiwi country is poised for huge success in the states. The Naked and the Famous have already taken their homeland, and have already gone international. Case in point: the video for their infectious electro-stunner "Young Blood" has over a million hits on YouTube. It doesn't stop there. The industry is buzzing, and the band has already secured a touring gig opening for the British band Foals. I spoke with vocalist Thom Powers and asked him to weigh in on the buzz, discuss how the album came together, and share where he'd like to see the band in the not-too-distant future.

I mean no disrespect but New Zealand isn't exactly known for its music scene. Is there some indie rock scene I'm not aware of?
It's hard to explain. It's more of an industry than a scene. There's just not a plethora of any kind of genre or group of bands. We don't have many contemporaries. It's pretty bizarre. The one thing it does have is the Flying Nun. That's a New Zealand label with a long history, but it's a punk-noise rock heritage.

Do you think you'll help inspire other New Zealanders to break through to mainstream music success?
I'd like to hope so. It'd be great to inspire anyone to do anything. It's a very big dream to get out of the country. It's a large accident it happened to us.

Did Young Blood taking off come out of the blue for you guys?
Yeah, we had no idea. We knew we had a special song but we didn't think it'd be big. You know, you mentioned inspiring people from New Zealand, and it's hard. I feel no matter how great you get in New Zealand - we have such small dreams. It's so hard to get out of the country. I don't know why. It's just so cut off from the rest of the world geographically - not culturally but it's the furthest away.

Has your success been a gradual thing? I know you put out to EPs in 2008.
Yeah, it's been a gradual thing. When we did the first track "Young Blood" off this album, we knew we were onto something. The song just grew. It has really taken us pretty far. Personally, I can't wait until the album comes out. It's really the pinnacle of what we've done and what going to do.

You guys have a distinct sound but I bet you get compared to other acts all the time..
I think we have a stronger rooting in alt-80's music or darker music. I mean I'm still listening to bands like Massive Attack. In terms of comparison, comparisons are always flattering. We've played a lot with Holy Fuck and Fuck Buttons - electronic bands but I'm not sure some of the bands we're compared to are kind of the same interest as us. It's nice to know how people are able to receive music.

Still, I bet you've been compared to some acts and been like "WTF," right?
All the time, but I find that quite fun. In talking with older journalists who have twenty or forty years on us, it's funny to get compare to bands they might love that we have very little to do with. Still, it's nice they compare us to other stuff they love.

The odd thing about your sound, especially in "Young Blood," is how familiar yet new the song feels. Does that make sense?
Yes. We're trying to figure out what it is. I think maybe it's the immediacy. The rhythmic elements so quickly suck you in. It doesn't take a long listen. You just hear it straight away.

Your videos have their own style to it, too.
We've been working with this team - Special Problems out of Oakland. From early on, we've had a cool relationship. I'm always kind of adamant that [musicians] should not be visual artists. People spend their whole lives trying to be visual artists. It brings more depth when others are onboard. It bugs me when bands make their own art decisions.

I'm burying a question I'm sure you're asked first, but how did you come up with your band name?
Oh, it's a line in a Tricky song. It's just a great lyric and I kind of liked the shout out. It seemed over the top. We were trying to find something ironic. When we first started, it was really good. Now it's becoming less relevant.

Do you get the sense that the name may prove true - at least the 'famous' part?
Sesnse it?
Talking to people about it... yeah. Like you were saying before that we seem to be about to break out - that indication is really nice. I don't feel any different. I'm a little worried. My concern is anything becoming ridiculous. It would be wonderful if everything blew up, and we could function as a band the way we like to function as a band.