On Tuesday, Sept. 7, the three low-key 20-year-olds who make up Brit indie-electro outfit the xx took to the stage at one of London's poshest hotels and awkwardly accepted one of the most prestigious music awards in the world - the Mercury Prize – for their debut album, xx.
If the trio looked thoroughly bashful and uncomfortable during proceedings (and trust us — they did), it's because, well, they were.
"Standing on that stage was incredibly surreal," says Jamie Smith, the band's beatmaker, producer, and remixer extraordinaire, on the eve of its upcoming U.S. tour. "The whole thing was such a daze, I can't even remember what actually happened."
What happened is that the band's members became £20,000 (about $31,000) better off thanks to the prize money, will soon see an inevitable surge in record sales, and are officially — according, at least, to the British industry insiders who voted for them — the creators of the most important record of 2009. Which is nice.
"It was a surprise, yes," Smith says. "At the beginning, when we got nominated, we were the favorites to win, which made us think we definitely wouldn't because, with Mercury, they usually end up surprising everyone and picking the underdogs. Then towards the end of the process, Paul Weller was the favorite. So basically, when we were sitting there waiting, I don't think anybody had a clue what was going to happen, which was good. That made it much more exciting."
Smith is speaking to SF Weekly from his home in London. He's quiet, well-spoken, and very, very shy. When we ask about the whirlwind of excitement he and his bandmates — vocalist and guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist and vocalist Oliver Sim — must be dealing with right now, he says it's "not been too bad." And when we suggest they don't always seem terribly at ease in the limelight, he lets a laugh sneak out and says "Yeeeeah," in a manner that suggests we'll never know the half of it.
"This is not a natural state for us, but obviously it comes with the territory," he admits. "I guess we've got a bit better at it. Olly and Romy have got better, I think." There's a brief pause. "But, I feel, kind of, very uncomfortable."
The attention, at least, is positive — it's hard to find a negative review of the xx anywhere. Does Smith have any theories about why his band has been so universally praised?
"I think that maybe it's just kind of honest," he says, humbly. "We made it before we had a record contract and without thinking about what might happen with it, and I think people have picked up on that."
He is much more at ease talking about his plans. He's especially excited about the upcoming tour. "It's going to be amazing," he enthuses. "It's the last tour of the album, and we're playing 4,000-capacity venues and up, so I think it's going to be great. We're working on some new things and changing some of the songs up, and we may have some collaborations in the pipeline." He refuses to name any names, but goes on: "We thought that, being as it's the last tour, we should go all out — so we've hired a second tour bus so we can bring a bunch of our friends along. It'll be a proper party now."
And next month, when the three are all partied out and come home, they have some very pressing business to attend to. The first item on the agenda?
"Moving out of home!" Smith says. "We're all still living with our parents. We went straight from high school to gigging and making music, then touring. We didn't really have that bit in between where you move out and grow up, so we're all really just looking forward to doing that. We're using our Mercury money to put together a studio for recording our second album. It'll be in Brixton [southwest London]. So," he concludes, "once we finish setting up the studio, we can start making music again."
We can't wait.