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The xx Learn to ‘Coexist’: How a Songwriting Shift Shaped Their New Album

The xx / Photo by Jamie-James Medina

Much has changed for the xx since they released their self-titled debut in 2009. The moody, moonlit English trio has graduated to bigger venues and won both critical and popular acclaim, but on the upcoming Coexist, due out September 11, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft, singer-bassist Oliver Sim, and DJ-producer Jamie Smith have achieved the seemingly impossible. They sound even more intimate. “Oliver and I used to write lyrics by exchanging ideas over e-mail,” says the soft-spoken Madley Croft. “This time we actually worked together live in a room. I think that means there’s more of an openness and vulnerability on the new album.”

As evidenced by (extremely relatively) upbeat house-influenced new tracks like “Swept Away,” Smith’s role has changed, too. “He was much more involved earlier on with the songs,” explains Madley Croft. “On the first album there were songs that we’d written before he was really part of the band. For the new songs, Jamie was able to take things in a different way rhythmically than he had before. Our level of collaboration really grew.”

The singer also cites the new album’s “Chained” as a particularly ripe fruit of the band’s new approach. “Oliver and I just wrote together in a room,” she recalls. “I playing keyboard in the basement and we just wrote, it just kind of happened. And we discussed the song, and it grew in interesting ways that never have existed if we’d written solely through e-mail. When we came to Jamie and played it to him live, he started playing along and brought a rhythmic twist that I would have never have thought of. It really happened very organically.”

The band has also had to make another, less pleasant, adjustment. “The demands on our time are so much greater now,” says Madley Croft, thinking ahead to an impending three months of tour dates. “We really love making new music, but it can be hard to do that while you’re touring. We need silence and time along to do it, and we’re going to try and find a way to make that happen.”

It’s going to be tough. “Our lives are mapped out for at least the next year,” says Madley Croft. “I know I’ll be singing till Christmas.”

Hear their latest Coexist track, “Chained” here: