But the assumption that this band came out of nowhere—as the Pitchfork review put it, “fully formed and thoughtful”—is a misconception.
A couple days after the Webster Hall show in December, the band prepped for a photo shoot at the XL Recordings office in Soho.
Jamie Smith, the band’s percussionist and all-around tech-head, is shaggy-haired and clad from baseball cap to boots in the band’s signature black. He’s soft-spoken and thoughtful, and when handed a grease-flecked bag—”burger, fries, ketchup”—he’s just an ordinary kid. But his lunch might be the only ordinary part of his life now.
He tries to keep things in perspective.
“We didn’t have any expectations,” says Mr. Smith, noting that much of the hype came after the record was released.
The xx began as collaboration between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, who have been inseparable their entire lives. They added the now departed Baria Qureshi, and then Mr. Smith, during their time at the Elliott School in South London, which roughly corresponds to America’s middle school.
But the school was not, despite alumni like Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet, predominantly a place of musical genius.
“The kids who picked music were the kids who didn’t want to learn,” Mr. Smith says. It wasn’t the quality of the classes, but rather the open environment that allowed the xx to develop—they were free to tinker with instruments while most of the students goofed around.
An early track, “Blood Red Moon,” was posted on MySpace and caught the attention of the band’s label, Young Turks, an imprint of XL Recordings, which offered them rehearsal space, gigs and, most importantly, no pressure.
A couple years later, the xx recorded their debut album in a garage studio, with many of the songs written years before. Since they were near major intersections, they waited until nighttime to record, embracing the urban hush.
“Everything about London influenced us,” says Mr. Smith, who also produced the album.
Although Ms. Madley Croft and Mr. Sim’s yearning, double vocals inevitably characterize the band, the skeletal, spacious instrumentals also distinguish the xx from most contemporaries.
Mr. Smith decided to use samples, crate-digging for the perfect beats to supplement the sultry lyrics. He said he was influenced by the 1960s group Jazz Crusaders and RJDJ, a chameleon producer who is also signed to XL. British library labels, including KPM Music and Conroy Recorded Music Library, were also a big influence.
The xx have covered Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire” and Womack and Womack’s “Teadrops.” Their music has also been used in commercials for Cold Case and Law & Order, as well as in an episode of the show Lie to Me. The band recently finished a new track, which it submitted for inclusion in the third installment of the Twilight series. Mr. Smith admits that they’re fans, citing the similar appreciate for nighttime and the “hotness” of the main characters.
But unlike Hollywood’s vampires, the rest of the xx’s story is unwritten.