The xx: Mercury Prize Winners At 21 The Barclay Mercury Prize is one of Britain's most prestigious music awards. It's given every year to what critics and industry insiders deem the best album of the year. This year, The xx -- a trio known for its dark, atmospheric songs -- beat out artists such as Paul Weller, Mumford and Sons and Corinne Bailey Rae.
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The xx: Mercury Prize Winners At 21

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The xx: Mercury Prize Winners At 21

The xx: Mercury Prize Winners At 21

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm David Greene.

And we end this hour with The xx.

(Soundbite of song, "Intro")

GREENE: They're a trio out of England on a meteoric rise since the release of their one and only album last year. The group begins their U.S. tour next week, but millions of Americans have actually heard The xx on television.

(Soundbite of song, "Intro")

GREENE: That is the first song on their self-titled album, and you may have heard it over and over again on an AT&T commercial that played during the Winter Olympics as U.S. speed skating star Apollo Ohno races around a cracking rink.

Earlier this week, I spoke with two of the three members of The xx - Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft. I asked Sim about that AT&T commercial.

Mr. OLIVER SIM (Vocals and Bass Guitar, The xx): It's a big thing for us, but I think we're a bit unaware just how giant AT&T were and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIM: ...kind of what we were kind of standing up to when we did it.

GREENE: For such a young band, The xx do have plenty of fans, including some established artists. This summer at the Glastonbury Music Festival, pop superstar Shakira covered one of the band's songs.

SHAKIRA (Singer): This next song is from one of my favorite bands out there -The xx. Here we go.

(Soundbite of song, "Islands")

SHAKIRA: (Singing) I don't have to leave anymore. What I have is right here.

(Soundbite of song, "Sky's The Limit")

NOTORIOUS B.I.G. (Rapper): (Rapping) I'm sewing tigers on my shirt and alligators. You want to see the inside, huh? I'll see you later.

GREENE: The xx have also become a favorite of DJs, who've been mashing up their music with that of other artists, like the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.

Last week, The xx won one of Britain's most prestigious awards - the Barclaycard Mercury Prize - given for what critics and industry leaders consider the best album of the year - not bad for a collection of love songs written when Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft were just a couple of shy teenagers, who even now seem a bit uncomfortable with all the attention.

(Soundbite of song, "Islands")

THE xx (Music Group): (Singing) I am yours now. Now, I don't ever have to leave. I've been found out. Now, I'll never explore. I am yours now.

GREENE: Romy, let me ask you, the two of you on a lot of your songs, you're both talking to each other, sometimes talking not necessarily to each other. I mean, what are the lyrics about? A lot of people have written about the relationship the two of you have on stage.

Ms. ROMY MADLEY CROFT (Vocals and Lead Guitar, The xx): Well, the lyrics, everything I sing, I've written. Everything Oliver sings, he's written. And then we're actually never addressing each other in the songs. It's two conversations basically happening in parallel because - I mean, Oliver, I've known since I was 3 years old, and he's like my brother. So to be singing love songs to each other would be quite strange for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CROFT: So we just use the songs as ways of getting our own separate feelings out, direct it out at other points, not to each other.

(Soundbite of song, "Islands")

THE xx: (Singing) Now, I'll never explore.

GREENE: So you're sort of avoiding the awkwardness of writing and singing love songs to one another?

Mr. SIM: Yeah, that's it.

Ms. CROFT: Yeah, that would be...

Mr. SIM: It's brother-sister relationship, not Sonny and Cher. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: And is it true you actually - you two write the lyrics on iChat, not even in the same room?

Ms. CROFT: Well, on this album, we did a lot of writing at night, and - unless we were having a pajama party. It's easier to just communicate over the Internet late at night. And it sort of came to be that we just send things back and forth.

(Soundbite of song, "Heart Skipped a Beat")

THE xx: (Singing) Make you feel like never before. Welcome, they said welcome to the floor.

Ms. CROFT: It's sort of also has that sort of slightly more removed feeling where you - we're not face to face and we don't have to explain everything to each other. So a lot of the lyrics - Oliver's lyrics, I don't know exactly the situation he's trying to talk about, but I interpret it in my way. And it's the same for him.

(Soundbite of song, "Heart Skipped a Beat")

THE xx: (Singing) Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you. Sometimes, I still need you.

GREENE: And so paint us a picture, if you can, the two of you are literally writing lyrics like this late at night in your own homes on iChat sort of going back and forth to come up with this song?

Ms. CROFT: Yeah.

Mr. SIM: I think we both - well, all of us enjoy - very much enjoy our own company, and I work best alone.

GREENE: I do - I want to ask you about one review I read. People seem to love digging into your personalities and trying to figure you out as you've grown more popular. The New Yorker did what was an overwhelmingly positive review of your music, but the beginning of the piece said that in concerts sometimes the two of you can seem lost in the folds of introversion and unable to see the people standing in front of you. Is that fair?

Ms. CROFT: It definitely has been fair - we're all very - I would say that we're all very shy, and none of us are actually born for the stage and really sort of revel in being on stage and being - participating with the crowd, but it's something we really have sort of worked on and really have grown into.

(Soundbite of song, "Crystalised")

Mr. SIM: If you said to me, I don't know, like three or four years ago, okay, you have to go up on stage in front of 40,000 people, like we did at Coachella early this year, I probably would have passed out. I don't know.

GREENE: And, Romy, how do you two get through the stage fright? Do you help each other on stage?

Ms. CROFT: I often think about solo artists - how terrifying it must be sometimes just having to do it all on their own. I'm so grateful because it's like having your family around, and it does support you.

(Soundbite of song, "Crystalised")

THE xx: (Singing) Go slow. Go slow. Oh, go slow.

GREENE: I want to ask you how becoming so popular so quickly has either changed your lives, your personality - or not, how much you've been able to sort of keep the same. I know one of your members left the band for personal reasons. I mean, how hard has this been on you to be playing these big shows and sort of brought out to the open so quickly?

Mr. SIM: It's been a haze. A lot has happened in this past year and kind of -Baria leaving was actually a choice the three of us made.

GREENE: Baria Qureshi?

Mr. SIM: Baria Qureshi, yeah. It's just - and I think we haven't had a moment to properly stop and stay in one place for long enough time to kind of let it all soak in and just realize all that's happened. So I think when we stop after this next tour and come home, it will all start to make a bit more sense.

(Soundbite of song, "Night Time")

THE xx: (Singing) I couldn't spill my heart. My eyes gleam looking in from the dark. I walk out in stormy weather. Hope my words keep us together. Steady walking but bound to trip.

GREENE: Remind us how old you two are.

Mr. SIM: All three of us are 21 now.

GREENE: So when you come to the U.S. for this tour coming up, you're of drinking age now?

Mr. SIM: Yeah.

Ms. CROFT: Finally.

Mr. SIM: It's exciting. It will be our first tour with us all being 21 - our first round of kind of shows in America. We were escorted on stage and off stage, just in case we kind of grabbed a beer.

GREENE: Got any bad ideas?

Mr. SIM: Yeah. I got new ideas, so it should be a fun tour.

GREENE: Don't go too crazy, obviously.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Night Time")

GREENE: Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, the two leads of the band The xx, and they just won one of Britain's most prestigious music awards - the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Thank you both for being with us and enjoy your travels across the U.S.

Mr. SIM: Thank you so much.

Ms. CROFT: Thank you very much.

GREENE: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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