Call it a creative compulsion. But since her quiet combo The xx began its ascent four years ago — leading to a 2010 Mercury Prize for its debut, “xx” — guitarist-vocalist Romy Madley-Croft has been busy preserving the journey in photos, via camera and cellphone.
“I like documenting what we do, and I like taking pictures, because that’s what I was into in art college, just before the band formed,” she says. “Now we’ve started touring with a photographer, and I like to talk to him and be quite involved in that, as well. I really like being involved in all sides of the music, like the artwork, music videos and all of the merchandise.”
Although The xx — who headline the Treasure Island Music Festival on Sunday — often dress in black and, especially on the new sophomore disc “Coexist,” proffer an ethereal sound that pares pop down to a skeleton, soft-spoken Madley-Croft, 23, isn’t into spooky modern shutterbugs like Joel-Peter Witkin.
“I’m actually really nervous about creepy photographers and not at all as gothic as that,” she says. “I love all that Man Ray stuff, and all of the beautiful, stylistic photographs from the 1920s. I just like collecting memories, I suppose.”
The Brit won’t be sharing her shots on Instagram, but she hopes to anthologize several of them in a book one day.
Her strangest images? A small-town karaoke night in the American Midwest she filmed on her phone. “We had a day off, and we wound up in this bar, and there was no one else there but this old lady singing karaoke,” she says. “I can’t remember what she was singing, but it was just incredible, so I just caught it on camera.”
Ironically, Madley-Croft has never tried karaoke — she just doesn’t have the courage. But when she takes the stage alongside her bandmates and childhood chums — bassist-co-vocalist Oliver Sim and keyboardist Jamie Smith — she has no trouble commanding the mic.
“I know it’s weird,” she says. “But for some reason, our music was always written to be played live, and that’s kind of what shapes it. And now, just from playing live so much and getting used to it, I really enjoy it. But it’s definitely taken some time.”
On “Coexist” dirges like “Chained,” “Missing” and “Reunion,” Sim and Madley-Croft whisper anguished, heartbroken refrains. Only the closing duet “Our Song,” about their longtime friendship, hints at happiness.
“But we’re all fine — we’re not crying when we come offstage,” Madley-Croft says, reassuringly. “We’re actually quite well-rounded, happy people, even though the music might not suggest that!”