In the early 2010s, when indietronica was still going strong, The Naked and Famous were one of New Zealand’s biggest musical exports.
Thanks to euphoric synth-pop anthems like “Punching in a Dream” and “Young Blood”, so reminiscent of MGMT, they found a wealth of listeners in the US and Europe (and, of course, at home), and the band even earned a nomination in the BBC’s prestigious Sound of 2011 poll.
A decade later, The Naked and Famous are still together – albeit with just two members now – and one of those members, Thomas Powers, is also exploring solo pursuits.
With the band on pause due to the onset of the pandemic, Powers seized his chance to work on his own material. Two years later, the result is “Li”, his debut single released under his own name, which finds him beautifully combining with fellow Kiwi singer-songwriter Chelsea Jade.
The ethereal song gently reduces the soaring euphoria of The Naked and Famous’ early music, the sign of a maturing sonic outlook. Powers’ hushed vocals are pushed the fore, the wispy electronic soundscape providing gentle backing to his whispered words. It’s a mellow offering, certainly, but there’s plenty of subtlety to enjoy in the understated surroundings of the song.
“”Li”, and the rest of my album, is the music I want to hear as much as it’s the music I want to be making,” Powers says. “It’s centred around domesticity, love, and becoming an adult. It’s about feeling desperate pathetic, and overburdening someone for emotional support. I’m begging them to make me feel confident, at the expense of their honesty… so I can show the world how put-together I am.”
Jade, one of Powers’ oldest friends, was very happy to jump on board for “Li”, and the pair worked on the song remotely during the earliest days of the pandemic.
“I showed Chelsea the lyric, “I’m a tyrant crying in private,” Powers recalls. “She connected with these lines and immediately gave the words a melody. I couldn’t work out how to compensate for the internet delay, which meant I heard her singing out of time, but decided to record her anyway – the timing fluctuation gave the section just the right amount of instability.”
You can watch the accompanying music video below, which Powers directed and edited himself. “Li” is the first taste of Powers’ debut solo album, which doesn’t have a release date yet.
Thomas Powers’ “Li” (ft. Chelsea Jade) is out now.