New Zealand's The Naked and Famous have a winning formula 

He wasn’t as temperamental as Orson Welles, but New Zealander Thom Powers, the singer-guitarist of The Naked and Famous, did have a singular artistic vision his Auckland peers apparently could not comprehend.

“I had a real difficulty working with others, simply because I felt like I had some good ideas, but a lot of the musicians I knew wanted this Three Musketeers idea of creative input, where everyone gets a say,” Powers says. “So I just didn’t really click with anyone. I guess I had a more adult idea of how a band should work.”

Through trial and error, he finally settled on co-vocalist and keyboardist Alisa Xayalith and the other three members who comprise his poppy techno-punk quintet, which plays The City tonight.

After quitting countless unsatisfactory outfits, out of frustration he enrolled in music college to study audio engineering. Or, as Powers puts it, “I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to record my own songs.”

Powers, 23, already felt like the odd man out. Raised on heavy metal, he graduated to Bristol-sound stalwarts Tricky and Massive Attack.

“I wound up in bands where I had a lot more experience recording all kinds of instruments,” the electronica fan says. “Which didn’t matter, because the drummer just wanted to play his own beats, or guitarists wanted to walk onstage and play long solos. I just couldn’t stand that.”

When Powers first spied exotic beauty Xayalith at his university in 2008, he was actively seeking a vocalist to give form to his compositions.

“I instantly thought, ‘Cool! She looks pretty damn hot. I sure hope she has a good voice!’” he says. “But she was the best singer at the college.”

They began cutting style-exploring demos, met synth player Aaron Short — who was majoring in production — and, as a trio, arrived at their first definitive song, “Serenade.”

“The chemistry was perfect,” Powers says of the fledgling The Naked and Famous (a name taken from an old Tricky track). “There were no stupid conflicts — no one wanted to jump into someone else’s role — and there was quite a logic to what we did and how we did it.”

A No. 1 kiwi single, “Young Blood,” led to the propulsive new full-length recording “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” putting indie music in New Zealand back on the post-Flying Nun Records map. Powers is pleased with his winning formula.

“Although one member may be doing the lead songwriting,” he says, “as a recording unit, everyone’s still an innate, crucial part of the process, of how that band sounds.”


The Naked and Famous

Opening for the Foals and Freelance Whales

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $20
Contact: (415) 885-0750,

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Tom Lanham

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