The last time the xx gathered at their small rehearsal room – behind garage doors on a side street in south London – they were teenagers living with their parents, writing songs between shifts in coffee shops and clothing stores. They were figuring out how to record their debut album, playing gigs for handfuls of people.
On a Thursday earlier this year the room looked the same – a black-painted, soundproofed bunker with a mirrored wall, about the size of a tennis court, littered with so many instruments – samplers, keyboards, guitars, pedals, even steel drums – that the band described it as "a little village of musical equipment." But the circumstances were very different.
That debut album went platinum and won Britain’s coveted Mercury Music Prize. The band's music was used by NBC, Chanel and Rihanna. Their producer and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Smith worked with both Gil-Scott Heron and Drake. Their audiences went from hundreds to thousands and then tens of thousands.
"The things that were coming up were so absurd," said Oliver Sim, one of the band’s two singers, quiffed and handsome, who was wearing all black, padding around the rehearsal room in his socks. "OK, you're going to play Coachella in front of 30,000 people," he recalled, pausing to consider the memory. It was impossible to take in, as Sim, singing partner Romy Madley Croft and Smith all agreed, until they returned to their lives in London, moved out of their homes, reconnected with friends and went to Ikea.
"I just wanted to do laundry and sit down alone and watch TV," Madley Croft confessed.
"It was a coping mechanism, I guess," Sim added, "just being a bit unaware."
Their new album, Coexist, due out in early September, came out of that break. The three wrote individually, recording snippets of songs on Garageband or their phones and emailing them back and forth, piecing them together in a space in east London, recording them in a photography studio in north London and learning to play them live at the rehearsal space.
Their website, filled earlier this year with music they were listening to while writing and recording, revealed everything from British pop-reggae band UB40 to the house-folk of White Hinterland and the neo-soul of Van Hunt. The recording was also informed by the trio’s DJ gigs, learning how to move a crowd. The production, added Smith, is "just better."
The sound marks a continuation of what one critic described as "arrestingly melancholy" – the Eno-meets-808 aural tone that is hardwired to introspection. Smith has been listening, he said, to a lot more dark Chicago house music, an influence which shows in the heady thumps of his percussion.
"It just sort of carries it on," said Madley Croft of the new album, a few tracks of which have been aired live and on YouTube. "It's developed, but it doesn't seem like completely a world away. I hope people will just enjoy it as a development of where we were before."