Alisa Xayalith


NameAlisa Xayalith (she/her)
Country of BirthAotearoa
Place of ResidenceLos Angeles
Decades Active2010s, 2020s


Alisa Xayalith is a musician who first rose to prominence as the lead vocalist in indie pop band, The Naked and Famous, and whose solo project is characterised by dreamy, warm melodies and gentle vocals.

Born in Aotearoa, Xayalith grew up in South Auckland as one of seven children. Her parents and older brother and sister had arrived in 1979 as refugees: her father had been studying to be a doctor in Laos when the CIA recruited him to work as a translator during the Vietnam War. Once the Pathet Lao took over, he knew he had to leave. “He would have been taken prisoner or killed for working with US intelligence.” In 1976, he swam across the Mekong River to a refugee camp in Nong Khai. Xayalith’s mother followed shortly after with their two children, walking through the jungle to join him in Thailand. “They travelled at night and slept during the day to avoid being caught by Pathet Lao soldiers.”

When Xayalith was seven, her mother died from breast cancer. “That kind of grief, that kind of absence is something I’m always going to be recovering from.” She has spoken about how music was her respite. She joined “school choirs, vocal groups, musical theatre, I learned to play the guitar at thirteen years old and begun writing my own songs.”

She cites Bic Runga as a major influence on her pursuing a career in music. “It just felt like because there was no representation of me, I thought it was impossible to pursue a career in music.” Runga resonated with her. “When I enrolled into music school, I had to audition for the contemporary music and composition course that I wanted to do. And I auditioned with ‘Sway’ by Bic Runga, and that was the song that got me accepted.” It was at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand that she met Thom Powers — whom she started dating — and Aaron Short. A year later, in 2007, they formed The Naked and Famous, releasing two EPs — This Machine (2008) and No Light (2008) — before producing their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You (2010). Characterised by “the intimate boy/girl interplay of the xx, the stompalong electropop of MGMT and the dissonance of Nine Inch Nails”, their “guitar-guilded electro-pop” single ‘Young Blood’ became an anthem for the 2010s, and the band were named Album of the Year, Single of the Year (for ‘Young Blood’), Best Group, Breakthrough Artist, Best Alternative Album, Best Producers and Best Engineers at The New Zealand Music Awards in 2011.

In 2012, the band relocated to Los Angeles, moving into a house in Laurel Canyon where they wrote their second album, In Rolling Waves (2013), described as having “vast sonic horizons, throbbing electronics and chugging guitars”. At the end of that album tour, in 2014, Xayalith and Powers broke up. “It was really difficult coming off the road and going our separate ways,” Powers has said. “It took a lot of energy, and a lot of positivity to rekindle the relationship. It was really hard work, I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy.” The band released their third album, Simple Forms, in 2016, followed by Recover in 2020. “It’s really cool to have an album that isn’t just about heartbreak, devastation, sadness and loneliness, which is basically the last two records that documented our mid-twenties,” Xayalith said in an interview with Billboard at the time. “It’s cool to be able to be in your thirties and have written an album that’s a lot more colourful and has a lot more hope and healing running through it.”

Xayalith started working on her own solo music in 2017. “I feel the need and desire to make my own project and to be the driver and author of my own vision and world.” She describes this process as rediscovering herself, and the resulting EP, Superpowers (2022), features a sonic palette that is “softer, raw and organic” with the titular track being described as “a gorgeous and gentle indie-folk leaning song, which builds to a swirling anthemic crescendo.”


Key works / presentations

As The Naked and Famous:

2020 — Recover
2016 — Simple Forms
2013 — In Rolling Waves
2010 — Passive Me, Aggressive You

As a solo artist:

2022 — Superpowers

Key awards

2014 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Best Group

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Album of the Year (Passive Me, Aggressive You)

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Best Alternative Album (Passive Me, Aggressive You)

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Best Producers (Passive Me, Aggressive You)

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Best Engineers (Passive Me, Aggressive You)

2011 — NME: Phillip Hall Radar Award

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Single of the Year ('Young Blood')

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Best Group

2011 — The New Zealand Music Awards: Breakthrough Artist

2010 — APRA Silver Scroll ('Young Blood')

Last updated: 29 February 2024 Suggest an Edit


A woman wearing white with a pink and blue mountainous sunset projected onto her

Alisa Xayalith, photoshoot for 'High Fidelity' single cover, 2021

A woman in an orange dress lies on a blue mat surrounded by a white brick wall

Alisa Xayalith, behind the scenes shooting 'Superpowers', 2022

A woman in an orange dress lies on a blue mat surrounded by a white brick wall

Alisa Xayalith, shooting music video 'Superpowers', 2022

Close-up of a woman standing in the desert listening to headphones

Alisa Xayalith, from 'High Fidelity' music video, 2021