An interview with Xylaroo

At first, Xylaroo’s carefree guitar melodies and high flying harmonies paint a sun-drenched scenery in the listener’s mind. An open sea. The wind in your hair. That type of thing. But there’s more than a sparkly surface to their songs. The London duo - consisting of sisters Coco and Holly Chant - write about being lost and lonely and drinking too much. And about the courage of carrying on, throwing your darkness aside for a moment and feeling unashamedly alive.

Born in Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong respectively and counting places like Sri Lanka and Maidstone their homes, the sisters seem to owe their music’s uneasy vibrancy to having braved the unknown time and time again. They’re now settled in London (at least for now) and have crafted their non-stop journey into songs from the heart.

Today we’re proud to premiere their new track Narwhal, the B-side of their new single On My Way. Over email, we spoke to Xylaroo about growing up on the road and their debut album Sweetooth, out in June.

What do you want to achieve with your music?

We just want to make good music and don't have many expectations beyond that. It would be nice if people found some kind of meaning in it and if our songs could touch people - make them feel something and maybe even make them think a little differently about things.

You contrast upbeat guitar melodies with confessional and sometimes rather dark lyrics - for example "the lake is big and I'm nothing at all" on Narwhal. What's the reason behind that?

It all started with Rilo Kiley. We always loved how sweet and innocent their melodies were when compared to the lyrics. If you’re talking about dark and gloomy things, it’s good to throw in a little happiness, sweetness and sunshine. We're just playing around with associations and expectations. Our music is confessional because writing is kind of therapeutic, so things we’re worried about, ideas we like and personal experiences all get thrown into the mix.

You've lived in a lot of places. How have the traveling and constant upheaval influenced your sound?

Moving around has had a great influence. We write about what's around us and every place we've lived in and traveled to has its own idiosyncrasies and distinctive overtones which evoke feelings and memories that colour our music and give it ‘Flava Flav’. Quite a few of the songs on Sweetooth were written in Sri Lanka and are about things that happened there or at university in London. We’re also half-Papua New Guinean, so there have always been a lot of singing and a love of music in our family - traditional and modern.

When and how did you first get interested in music?

Our parents always played music around the house and threw parties. Our dad's a civil engineer and we used to go on long car journeys, so we'd sing a lot in the car. One time when we were younger and living in the Philippines, we sang - or yelled - Christmas songs in the car and the army pulled us over because they thought our car was stolen and that we were kidnapped children screaming for help. Hopefully we don't sound like screaming, kidnapped children anymore!

What's it like making music together as sisters? How does working together creatively affect your relationship?

Coco: I fucking hate Holly. She's a bitch to work with, but she writes good songs so I can't really complain.

Holly: I think it brings us closer together.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Our last advance. Times are rough in London. No, but seriously… but seriously.

What's the idea behind Narwhal?

It’s about a breakup and feeling like a small narwhal in a big pond. It's kind of sad if the only shoulder you have to cry on is a narwhal's. They like to dance and are not good listeners. It's also just a song about being down in the dumps and drunk.

This interview was originally published on the Oh Comely blog.