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The xx is back in black and bigger than ever



Early on in life, Romy Madley Croft believed the conventional wisdom that you should never meet your idols, because it will only lead to disillusionment. So she contented herself with admiring the rock gods plastered across her bedroom, and began playing guitar and singing with childhood chums Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith in the group that eventually morphed into the mausoleum-hushed British outfit The xx.

But when The xx went on to win England's coveted Mercury Prize for its self-titled 2009 debut, Croft and company found themselves a part of some decidedly stellar circles. Hence, her recent change of heart.

"Now we've met a few people, and luckily they've all been really nice," the 23-year-old marvels. "We met Robert Smith at a festival in Germany this summer, and he was very, very nice, and really sweet and shy, which was a relief because you just never know. And I've met a few other people who I used to have up on my wall, like the Distillers, this punk band. They were my favorite band, and then I met the singer Brody Dalle. She came to our show in L.A., and I felt like I'd gone full circle at that point."

That said, The xx's music doesn't sound much like its frontwoman's idols. While the Cure and the Distillers are both led by extraordinarily animated performers, Croft is a whispery, wraithlike presence who trades tentative refrains with Sim and lets her skeletal guitar do most of the talking.

That's especially the case on the trio's new Coexist followup, and its angst-ridden dirges like ""Chained," "Reunion," "Missing" and the closing duet "Our Song," a sole glimmer of light penned about the bandmates' enduring friendship. The result is a true exercise in minimalist restraint. John Cage himself would have been pleased with the bare-bones notes that buttress the record — the huge amount of notes that it doesn't use, as well.

As the shy, soft-spoken Croft tells it, she never wanted to get onstage in the first place. "But for some reason, the music was always written to be played live, and that's what kind of shapes it," she explains. "And that's why it may be simple or minimal — it's not because we're trying to do that. It's just because we wanted to make something that we could re-create live. And to be honest, I couldn't play my guitar very well."

For their sophomore album, the musicians basically took an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. "That's why there's always just one guitar layer — not loops of different things overlapping each other — because we'd be like, 'Whoa! We can't do that live!' So we carried on with that way of working. Even though we probably could find a way to make the sound fuller or just have more things going on."

Another thing that hasn't changed is the band's penchant for wearing all ebony, albeit of a more expensive variety. They've now achieved such recognition that top-name designers are beginning to court them, even shipping them boxes of posh clothes, gratis. "Oliver's a big fan of Dior and Jil Sander – really minimal black stuff — because that's what we're into."

But that wasn't always the case. "I was actually quite a colorful child," insists the frontwoman at the risk of betraying her teenage heroes. "The photos of me and Oliver together as kids are definitely very colorful."

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