Breaking Down Ashley Greene: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About the ‘Twilight’ Star

I wanted to write an article entitled “Go Ask Alice,” a play on that druggy confessional book from the seventies and the character that 24-year-old actor Ashley Greene is best known for portraying: Alice Cullen of the lusty vampire saga Twilight. I wanted to write about Hollywood DUIs with La Lohan, TMZ tussles, and coke-fueled orgies with the cast of Gossip Girl. I wanted to write the tragic untold story about the sorry life of the beautiful young starlet who got sucked into the vortex of a hyper-popular teen franchise—a $1.7 billion box office bonanza and counting. Being at the center of a storm like that must surely come with a dark side, right?

Apparently not.

In person, Greene comes across as anything but a Hollywood monster. She’s more like a Girl Next Door, maybe one of the Joey Potter variety—only real, and rich, and available for dissection in the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. My hopes were dashed. Delivered from modeling classes in Florida to Hollywood at 17, and then to Twilight at 21, Greene appears to be well adjusted, deeply engaged in her career, and keenly aware of her good fortune. She’s close with her family, stays out of the tabloids (no small challenge given her relationship with onetime beau Joe Jonas), and seems every inch the PR fantasy.

The image Greene projects is one of a young woman so focused, private, and seemingly straight-laced as to be almost boring. (What good is a celebrity if there’s nothing salacious at which to wag our collective finger?) Except the Girl Next Door is never boring. Here’s why:

She’s a Bikini Babe Take a look at Sports Illustrated’s 2010 Swimsuit issue. That’s Ms. Greene inside, wearing nothing at all, her body a marvel in the ’90s-era supermodel mold. “My team asked them to go easy on the Photoshop,” she says. “I’m not perfect, I have flaws.” Perhaps they lie beneath the pink, scaly bikini that was painted onto her muscular form. “I painted it on myself,” she jokes. “Actually, it took 12 hours, and the artists are amazing. I was debating whether or not to do it, but I talked to my dad. I thought it was very beautiful and artistic.” She readily admits to harboring ulterior motives, though: “It had a really good response. I think it was actually a good thing in that it made my audience more broad.”

She Has a Dad Who Can Kill You How much heat did the old man take after his little girl turned up in her birthday suit on billboards and in magazines all over the world? “My dad used to be in the Marines, so no one is going to give him flack,” Greene says. She and her brother were raised with SEAL Team Six strictness in Middleburg and Jacksonville, Florida. (Her father now owns a concrete business, and her mother works in insurance.) “At 14, I was being a little brat. I thought I knew everything, and my dad was like, ‘I own your bed, your TV, everything.’ At the time I was annoyed, but I’m very thankful because he worked really hard to provide for us. There was a lot of discipline, and with what I’m doing now, I’m glad for it.

She Can Kick Your Ass at Sports It’s no coincidence that so many paparazzi shots show her exiting the gym. Her physique is so, well, exemplary that Greene has twice graced the cover of Women’s Health. “Growing up I was very competitive with my brother,” she says. “He did martial arts, and I was a tomboy. I got into martial arts and won medals.” Odds are good that one of them was a Purple Heart. “Once on the trampoline, I hit my leg and it just snapped,” the former cheerleader says. “They put pins in it.” Restrained in what nearly amounted to a full-body cast, Greene managed to re-break the bone soon thereafter when her brother, off balance on roller skates, sent her wheelchair careening into a concrete wall. “I broke my arm twice, I broke my femur twice, I split my head open twice,” Greene says. In other words, she is not afraid of you. image

She Has a Crazy Work Ethic Greene joined the labor force at age 14. “I worked at the dry cleaner across from my school, I worked accounts payable for a company, I did hosting, I worked at a bowling alley, I worked at a boutique,” she says, ticking through her resume. After arriving in LA with a manager and an agent in hand, she earned spots on Mad TV and Punk’d (she tricked Justin Long into thinking she was underage after he bought her a cocktail), but continued to work Average Joe jobs to make ends meet. “I worked at a hotel, I worked at a restaurant, I did modeling, I worked everywhere. And I didn’t get fired!” That hotel she worked at? The Hollywood Roosevelt in LA, home of Teddy’s, the site of many a debauched evening for young Hollywood. Does she care to share any stories? “Absolutely not.”

She Knows How to Be Naughty Yes, she’s discreet, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be seduced. Before there was Sports Illustrated, there was the cover of Maxim. “I wouldn’t have done anything too crazy,” she says. “The thing I tell myself is, My father’s going to see this.” She knows that teen girls make up the vast majority of her fan club, too. And yet, she understands what brings home the bacon. “It’s important to have a male audience.”

She’s Probably Seeing Someone Else It’s a wonder the aforementioned teens didn’t abandon her in droves in 2010 when she started dating Joe Jonas. (Whatever did happen to that promise ring?) Since their breakup last March, her love life has been the source of endless speculation—she’s been paired with everyone from onscreen afterlife-mate Jackson Rathbone to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane. “I’m not an actress, I’m a professional dater,” she jokes. “I’m dating everyone! My brother lives in LA and won’t even walk outside a restaurant with me. He’s like, ‘I do not want to be romantically linked to you.’” But she’s quick to add: “I’m not dating anyone. I’m very focused on what I’m going to do next.”

She Will Always Be 17 in Your Mind Her future projects, other than Twilight: Breaking Dawn (parts I and II), include Butter, a dark comedy about butter-carving, a colloquial art form popular at state fairs (she plays Jennifer Garner’s stepdaughter), and LOL, a teen flick with Miley Cyrus. There’s also an Oliver Twist-like project, wherein Dickens’ famous tale of orphandom gets re-imagined for a female lead. Truth be told, Greene is entering a tricky age in Hollywood: too old to play the daughter, not old enough to play the wife. Not many actors negotiate the transition gracefully. “I think Rachel McAdams has done a great job,” Greene says. “Going from Mean Girls to Midnight in Paris. She’s had really diverse roles and separates herself.”

She Has a Clue Greene knows that people see her as Alice from Twilight. But she also realizes how limiting that can be. “Everyone sees Alice as a best friend. A teen idol is an untouchable, unapproachable, amazing thing. The cool thing about Alice is that anyone that comes up to me is like, ‘I just want to hug you.’” Is that not also, well, a little creepy? “No, they’re not asking for a lock of my hair. They just relate to that character and relate to me, but I don’t consider myself a teen idol. Justin Bieber is a teen idol.”

She’s Down to Earth Bieber and the Jonas brothers and dozens of other stadium-filling teen idols can’t go five minutes without name-checking God for their success. To what does Greene attribute her good fortune? “The first year I was in LA, I worked my butt off. I was in acting classes every day. I would rather pay money for a class than have nice clothes. If I hadn’t worked as hard as I did, I wouldn’t be with the manager and the agent I have and they wouldn’t have sent me out for this Twilight thing. There are roles I didn’t get and I was really devastated, but because I didn’t get them, I was able to do Twilight … If you end up unsuccessful, on the street with no friends, it’s probably because you’re a jerk. It’s not necessarily divine intervention. Your actions predict what happens.”

But just like any good Girl Next Door, Greene counters all that talk about forging her own destiny with some good-old fashioned humility: “You can’t control if the casting director thinks you look like his ex-girlfriend.”

ASHLEY LIKES Madeo.

Breaking in Brooklyn: Milly Beau

I happened on Milly Beau, the residents at Pete’s Candy Store every Monday this month, by an accident of Lasagnetta. Marybeth Doran, the group’s lead singer was waiting tables at Inoteca while my friend Sarah and I gorged on that restaurant’s veggie lasagna specialty. A few months later I finally made it to Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg where, in the romantic dining car that is their back room, Milly Beau’s acoustic set entranced a dozen lucky listeners, and made converts of us all.

Milly Beau feels very much like a startup group, a collection of talented young musicians, looking to find their feet. But their journey is to the viewers benefit, as we have the chance to experience something tremendous while still trivial. The main attraction is Doran, 24, and her buttery, mysterious voice. From note one, you ask yourself, Where did this kid come from?

“I moved around a bunch growing up,” she says. “Chi town, Iowa, Madison, Boulder, Twin Cities. I’ve always have done creative stuff in some shape or form. I did my fair share of musical theater, choirs. I didn’t really get my band on until college. At George Washington U I did a capella, and sang on friend’s hip hop tracks in dorm rooms. My senior year I started gigging and writing songs with Aaron Leeder (co-writer/guitar player in Milly Beau). We called our project Don’t Be Glib, after that Matt Lauer/Tom Cruise interview.” Ouch.

Once they made it to NYC, Doran and Leeder recorded an album, “Party Glitter”, with Greenhouse Records. They hooked up with bassist Ben Zwerin and keys man Dave Cohen started looking for gigs, working Joe jobs to pay the rent, doing the poor NYC artist thing, which naturally leads the 24 year old to question the point of it all.

“Music is a way to communicate, I guess. In a vast way. I am writing the words, sure, but they take on a certain energy when they are embedded in tones and notes. The environment for the melodies creates the vibe. And then the words as notes themselves say something… they can be jarring, soothing, bitchy, saucy. I find the regular practice of writing music a form of reflection,” she says. If there’s some loftiness in Doran’s purpose, it’s not without the self-awareness that the work, and the group, have much to learn, and much to grow on. “The current stage of performance in its toddler yrs,” she admits, adding, “Personally I plan on performing my whole life. Which I hope is long. And the people we have together at the moment all love performing together. As long as that stays the same we will probably keep playing together. At our most recent show it was clear that we’ve reached a point where people are listening. Maybe even captivated.”

And if the crowds start coming, and then the labels, and the managers and Honda commercial people, does the direction change? “The point is to create attention, in myself and others hopefully,” Doran decides. “Being a purposeful human takes observation and then action. The more people make portraits, the more we are all aware of what the hell we are. And what the hell we are all doing here.”

“And, of course to eventually get an interview with Matt Lauer, So I can tell him not to be glib.”

Milly Beau is Marybeth Doran, Ben Zwerin, Dave Cohen and Aaron Leeder. You can see them tonight, and the remaining Mondays in May at Pete’s Candy Store, 10:30pm.

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Sleigh Bells Ring It On With Their Debut Album ‘Treats’

Following last October’s CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival in New York, there were, as expected, a number of previously unknown bands from Brooklyn being raved about on music blogs. Sleigh Bells, a duo whose tender vocals are ripped apart by pounding guitars, blown-out beats, distortion and a whole lot of dancing, led the pack. (Pitchfork hilariously labeled them “the best beat-based boy-girl duo going in New York City.”)

Perhaps the positive reaction should have been predicted: M.I.A. doesn’t just bike over to every new band’s house to discuss the possibility of producing their record. But the “Paper Planes” firebrand did that very thing after listening to a few songs by composer, guitarist and percussionist Derek Miller and lead vocalist Alexis Krauss, riding over to Miller’s place to put together a deal. “A friend of hers played our music, after which she wrote to us out of the blue,” says the 28-year-old Miller, who grew up in Pahokee, Florida. “She said she loved our music and wanted to work with us. She wasn’t even halfway about it, which was inspiring.”

Expectations are high for Treats, the band’s debut album (out this month on Mom + Pop in collaboration with M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. label), thanks in large part to the storm they created on the music festival circuit, most recently at SXSW. “The first few shows after CMJ, there were lots of crossed arms and pens out,” says Miller. “Honestly, that’s fine. It’s not fun to play to journalists, but they create opportunities for us by writing all this shit.”

Miller comes from hardcore—he was a guitarist for Florida-based outfit Poison the Well—a genre that tends to attract an angry or alienated crowd, but “Derek is a happy-go-lucky guy,” says his former bandmate, drummer Chris Hornbrook. “He’s also very intense. He always wanted to do something percussive. His grandfather was a drummer.”

Krauss, too, has music in her blood. “My father is a full-time musician, so music has been a part of my life since I was very young,” says the 24-year-old New Jersey native and former schoolteacher, who also did time in RubyBlue, a teenybop quartet. “I worked my ass off between the ages of 13 and 16. And as packaged as it was, there was definitely a lot of creativity in RubyBlue. But I had no intention of returning to music until I met Derek.”

The pair found each other two years ago at a Brazilian restaurant in Brooklyn called Miss Favela. Krauss was getting drunk with her mom; Derek, who had come to New York in search of a female vocalist, was their waiter. “I wasn’t working in music at the time, but my mom was like, ‘Alexis is a singer!’ We started talking about a project, and then I heard what he was working on and absolutely loved it.”

If Treats lives up to its hype, how do Miller and Krauss intend to spend their earnings? “Underwear. Toothpaste. Beer,” says Miller. “I imagine Alexis would buy a box of pencils and some yogurt.”

Photo by Phil Knott.

Becky Ferreira on Sexy Ducks & Admiral Ackbar

I’ve heard about the Sunday-night blues, and while I’ve ever been affected, should you find yourself down in the dumps on this coming Sabbath, there’s a a cure in the LES at the Parkside Lounge. This week, The Most Fun Show Ever, hosted by Danny Jolles, features one of my favorite young comics on the scene: Becky Ferreira. Here, Becky talks about mallard ducks, Japanese anime and, you know, suicide.

So, you’re pretty. I’m glad you received the press release sent to you directly from my ego.

We don’t need to get into the whole Alessandra Stanley women have to be hot to be successful in comedy thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning. So tell me about growing up — when did you develop this incessant need for validation and attention (aka, when did you decide you liked being funny)? I am the youngest in my family, so I spent my fetal months planning a really spectacular debut only to find out two other chumps had already beat me to it, one of whom ended up being a professional fucking figure skater. So, I’ve always been pretty frantic to have something more interesting than a triple axel up my sleeve. Have I accomplished that? I think my impressive collection of fart jokes speaks for itself. Also, I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, a city whose residents can follow only one of two life paths: looking for ways to laugh or looking for ways to kill themselves. What makes you laugh? What makes you want to kill yourself? I have an extremely primitive sense of humor paired with a really snooty one, with pretty much no middle ground. I think Voltaire and poops are equally hilarious. I love science and history jokes, but I will also laugh really hard at like, a cloud shaped like a dick. My favorite show of all time is the UK Office but probably my favorite Youtube video is the one that combines “Standing Cat” (his professional name) with that song “Cats on Mars” from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack. I am a nation divided. As for what makes me want to kill myself, the idea that I have to die one day. Did I just meta your face off?

Wow — Cowboy Bebop — does that mean you’re also a nerd? Well, hey, if I’m a nerd just because I like cartoons and space and hackers and … oh.

So what can people expect to see on Sunday? I am really obsessed with the sexual behavior of mallard ducks: they are disgusting, perverted deviants. I anticipate at least half of my set will be about that. Other subjects covered: the friendship between Marty McFly and Doc Brown, my take on Douglas Adams’ take on the USA and Canada, mythological mysteries solved and of course, my always faithful stalwart: fart jokes.

Cool. Now tell me an embarrassing sexual or coming-of-age experience. For the interview or for your own lecherous purposes?

Can’t it be both? The possibility that my mother and/or any of my exes might happen upon this is going to prohibit … but as a teaser, I can say that these humiliations have run the gamut from having to share the only attractive guy in New Zealand with a Hungarian girl to frequently having to use Admiral Ackbar’s quote “It’s a trap.” Also, when I was a kid, I thought sex was the act of a man lying on top of a woman, and then both of them just staring at each other. No motion, no penetration. Just staring, and then like, the man would just get off at some point and it’d be done. Super creepy. And yet, incidentally, that’s the way I now prefer to make love.

Catch Becky before SNL does: The Most Fun Show Ever—9pm, Sunday, May 9 at Parkside Lounge.

Benetton on the 18th Floor

The most exceptional thing about the 18th floor of the Standard, formerly the Boom Boom Room, is that the place looks as gorgeous in the day as it does at night. I can think of few bars, even those in immaculate hotel lobbies, that don’t hold the stench, grime and absence of the night before. But Andre Balazs molten cream couches, muted woods and gentle, reflective surfaces were as welcoming before sunset—when the winners of Benetton’s international “It’s My Time” tiptoed around the press and fashion honchos—as they were long after (when those same models, helped by some Moet champagne, jumped into group shots, hugs, and dancing).

Soroya is the winner from the UK. “I’m from London, but originally Ghanaian-Jamaican. My mum’s Ghanaian, my dad’s Jamaican,” she says. Her story seemed just too good to be true: she got involved when she went online to vote for a friend—entered herself, and ended up winning. And what has she found most surprising since she began her career as an official model? “The perception of models. Today, we were just having a meal in pizza hut and one of the guys asked ‘What do you do’? And I said, ‘I’m a finance student’. And he went ‘Oh my god! You’re a finance student! So that means you’re smart’. And I was like, ‘Well….yeah. It is possible’.”

Well if she’s so smart, why was she eating at Pizza Hut? “Oh, well…food. I love food. I’ll eat anything when I’m hungry.”

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Benetton has never been one to shy away from the changing times, or controversy. Their “It’s My Time” campaign was the first ever global online casting cast, wherein 20 winners, who will appear in Benetton’s 2010/2011 campaign, were selected from 65,000 entries from nearly every country on the globe. The result was 20 kids (the oldest is 30, the youngest is “Prague Girl” and she’s 15.) who have real lives and looks and none of the hangups or training of professional models. Hopefully, for Benetton, the result will be a campaign with a very real, very contemporary feel.

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“A lot of people thought the new technology would be a challenge for us,” says Alessandro Benetton, the company’s president, “closing the gap between old technology and new technology, old media and new media, younger generation and older generation. The basic conceit of new technology for most people is coldness, instead, these twenty friends you see tonight [the winners were brought together this week in New York] were already friends through the internet. It was refreshing to see that the attitude does not depend on the technology. The younger generation can dialogue much more than we think through these new technologies.”

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With fashion and luxury’s snail-pace acceptance of the changing media, it’s refreshing to see a company like Benetton, with the help of some first class advertising, embrace the power of the Interweb. While a modeling contest isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, “It’s My Time” puts Benetton leagues ahead of its mega-brand competitors (speaking of which, does GAP still exist?).

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While I interviewed Benetton, the DJ switched to a Michael Jackson track, and I found myself in one of those symbolic moments, speaking to a man whose brand came to embody the brightness, flare, and marketing successes of the 80s (Brunello Cuccinelli recently revealed that he started his company by producing cashmere sweaters in the 80s by copying, Benettons outrageously bright colors), while the 80’s ultimate figurehead, maybe its Godhead, played all around us. “He was a breakthrough, in many respects,” says Benetton. “Unique.” When Benetton reflects on the 80s, he thinks of MJ, of “Studio 54, the music, but mostly when I think of the late eighties, I think of the end of the cold war.”

Ah yes, the good old days, back when you could put up a billboard of an African American man kissing a white woman and it was considered groundbreaking.

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The Professional and Private Lives of Paul Dano

I’d like to try to do something helpful. I’d like to figure out what I want and then accomplish that,” says actor Paul Dano on a frigid Wednesday in March. “I’d like to be happy.” The 25-year-old actor’s life is at once as big as a blockbuster film and as intimate as a dusty studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he just finished posing for this photo shoot. To exist—let alone thrive—in both worlds is a rarity, but with a caginess befitting a more seasoned actor, Dano has been weaving his way through the two, dazzling directors, critics and colleagues with his fancy footwork.

Dano has mastered the art of choosing quality projects, a talent he’s had ever since his breakout turn as a lost and sexually confused young teen in L.I.E., a role that won him the award for best debut performance at the Independent Spirit Awards when he was 16. His lucky, prescient film choices—or perhaps their choice of him—bear the mark of an actor uninterested in the perks of celebrity.

He played Dwayne, the mute Nietzsche apostle in Little Miss Sunshine; embodied the slaphappy preacher to Daniel Day-Lewis’ oil tycoon in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood; and voiced a character in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. He recently shot Knight and Day, this summer’s Tom Cruise-and-Cameron Diaz action vehicle, as well as The Extra Man, alongside John C. Reilly and Katie Holmes, and another indie, Meek’s Cutoff, with Michelle Williams. He also stars in Icelandic director Dagur Kári’s The Good Heart,a very strange little film about a bar in New York City, shot mostly in Iceland.

The Good Heart reunites Dano with his L.I.E. co-star Brian Cox. “Brian was a father-like figure not only to my character in that film, but also to me, since it was my first time working on a movie set,” Dano says. I remember having a conversation with him about sex when I was like 16, and thinking, I guess I’m an adult now. Nine years later, we’re much more like pals.”

While neither meandering nor disengaged, Dano talks slowly, measuring each word and phrase, considering the weight with which they’ll land. There’s a knowing wit in him, too, a dry sense of humor one might expect from the bartender at the local pub—not, say, one’s pomegranate martini- making mixologist—which is fitting considering his latest film. A Good Heart tells the story of an old loner, played by Cox, who adopts Dano, a homeless young loner, and then trains him to take over his beloved dive bar. Things go awry when Dano’s character encourages a young French woman to join the twosome (which, technically, is already a foursome, if one considers their loyal dog and a duck named Estragon).

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A Good Heart feels foreign and incredibly odd, though still touching and unique. In other words, it’s not the romantic comedy we’d expect from an indie star breaking into the mainstream. “I got the script and I read it and said, Shit, Kári is talented,” Dano says, explaining his choice. “And so we talked. And I liked him a lot. And I’m a sucker for a good bar. And I liked the duck. And the dog.”

But even when he takes on larger studio projects, he doesn’t sacrifice any of his obvious passion for the craft. Says his recent co-star Cameron Diaz, “The part that Paul plays in Knight and Day was a smaller role that he made into so much more than any of us could have imagined. He truly makes the most of every moment as an actor. He managed to find the humor as well as the humanity in the character.” Plus, she adds, “He’s dead sexy.”

Dano, who began acting in the theater long before he landed his first film role, last took to the stage in 2007’s Things We Want, an off- Broadway play directed by Ethan Hawke that paired Dano with his then co-star and now-girlfriend Zoe Kazan. “I love and trust her. I talk about everything with her, including my career, and not just because she’s an actress. She’s super-talented and makes me want to be better.” Kazan, who has appeared in films such as Revolutionary Road and It’s Complicated, shares the sentiment. “It’s nice to find common ground,” she says. “And that’s something I didn’t know, because I had never dated an actor before Paul. It’s lovely to come home and be able to say, I had a really tough time with this scene.”

Dano and Kazan call Carroll Gardens home, and count among their neighbors Michelle Williams. (“She’s good friends with Zoe,” he says. “We do the Brooklyn thang.”) Far from the bottom lines and overheads of Hollywood, Dano seems to have found his niche. There, he relaxes with his girlfriend, plays guitar with his pals and gorges on dumplings at a local spot called Eton.

Still, he’s always looking forward. Dano has just written and will be directing a short film. “It’ll be six to eight minutes,” he says. “It’s a love story. One thing about acting is that I wish I had more control over the final product. It’s probably best, when I’m acting, not to—but I’d like to be in an edit room. Everybody has a perspective on love, death or samurais.”

As he trudges past the warehouses that line this particular part of Greenpoint, hands in the pockets of his hooded army coat, Dano looks like any other man making his way home from work—or in his case, to a donut shop called Peter Pan where he’ll pick up snacks for Kazan’s parents, who are visiting from Los Angeles. But then he ducks into an awaiting Lincoln Town Car, and, just like that, Paul Dano reminds us he isn’t all that normal.

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Photography by Billy Kidd. Styling by Anna Katsanis.

An Interview with the Kissaway Trail

You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but an hour after this photo was taken, the one on the right, the cute, quiet-looking guy in the Yankees hat, was jumping around the stage and ranting like a goddamn lunatic. He’s Thomas, lead singer of the Kissaway Trail (the guy on the left is Daniel, one of the band’s many guitarists). Touting their first album, Sleep Mountain, on their first American tour, the group is making some of the most interesting noises of 2010, and gathering a very dedicated following (see the photograph of the tattoo below; the proud owner—and two of her had friends—had it done in Austin, and managed to convince the band’s publicist to pay for them).

There’s no doubt the six youngsters will be labeled Denmark’s answer to Arcade Fire, but so be it. Their show Thursday night at Mercury Lounge was full of cascading melodies, crashing tambourines (so many tambourines), and the irrepressible energy of a band playing their hearts out through every single note. The six crazy Danes were something to see. A Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale made real. Their big harmonies exploding like bouquets of flowers.

But before all this, I had a chance to sit with Thomas and Daniel, and to talk about their first American tour, Danish complacency, and Home Alone 2. Kissaway Trail will open for The Temper Trap tonight at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

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This is your first time in New York as a band? Thomas: Yes. And the first time as a human…The first time I saw New York was in Home Alone 2. And after that I always wanted to go to New York. Daniel: It’s the same with the United States. We have this romantic idea of the States, New York, LA, because of the movies we saw during our childhood….we just came from Toronto. We played the Mod Club.

I’m from there. What did you think of Canada. Thomas: It’s a great country. It’s very European. Daniel: Especially in Montreal.

Did you meet any girls in Montreal? Thomas: The girls were crazy in Toronto. They really wanted to talk.

Isn’t that good? Daniel: It’s fine. We have girlfriends, so we’re not going the whole way, just saying hi and having a drink.

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I used to work for a guy who would say: Just because you’re chained to the fence, doesn’t mean you can’t bark a little. Does that translate? Daniel: Yes. Go out and be hungry, but eat at home.

That’s good. Daniel: The States has always been the dream, as a big band.

Do you see yourselves as a big band? Daniel: No no, not a big band like that; a serious band. Thomas: In Denmark it’s not that common to move out and try things, so it’s a huge thing for us to be here and play, because it’s not part of the Danish thing.

Why do you think that is for people in Denmark? Thomas: I think they are afraid, because they are safe and it’s a controlled country and they don’t want to spend their money on touring, and they are just happy with… Daniel: If you do well as a Danish band in Denmark you earn pretty good money, and for some reason it’s just enough for a lot of the bands in Denmark… Thomas: But not for us. Daniel: Definitely not for us. We’d rather be on tour in the US than be huge in Denmark and earn lots of money. That doesn’t matter. This is what we do. This is our calling.

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The xx: Minimal Songs, Minimal Members

Before we get into the xx’s dynamite show at Webster Hall last night, the politics of the band, what they’re listening to, and what they make of all their sudden fame, there’s the news we’ve all been waiting for, straight from singer/bassist Oliver Sim: “There is no new album at the moment. There is no big master plan either. I enjoy touring, but I don’t find it being particular creative at all.”

Sorry kiddies, wish I were delivering better tidings. There is hope though: “We pace through our sound checks when we get them, just so we have that extra time with our instruments, to work on new stuff,” he says. “We have a few new songs, one recorded, but I think we’re looking forward to going home towards the end of the year and just mellowing, and starting again.”

Sim is tall and lanky, cockney-voiced and calm. Clad in all black (The xx’s uniform) he has the frame of a Burton character, sexual ambiguity, or asexuality, included. You’d never guess that he’s in the middle of of a regional dining tour that’s included cheese steaks in Philly, chilly dogs in Washington, and osyters and cheeseburgers in the East Village’s impeccable new Black Market.

It’s been a hell of year for the young group from Wandsworth (percussionist Jamie Smith, vocalist and guitarist Romy Madley Croft and Sim are all around 21; they’ve been playing together since age 16). As they garnered more fans, dollars, and buzz than any other credible group of youngsters the industry has to offer—their self-titled album was #9 on Rolling Stone’s best of of 2009, and in the top ten on every other critic’s list—they lost a bandmember, Baria Qureshi, who was reported to have left the group, a notion Sim rejects.

“That was actually a decision that me Romy and Jamie made, to become a three-piece. I really do believe it has been a change for the better. As a band, we’re so open and honest with one another. There is no sort of tip-toeing or anything like that, and that was kind of being lost.”

“Baria wasn’t so much a big part of the songwriting, but more the live act. When we were a 4-piece, we were playing the record exactly as you hear it, note for note. That’s what we wanted to do. But when she left we were kind of forced to change things up a bit more. Now the songs have been stripped back or extended in a way that maybe didn’t work so well in a record, but work better live. I feel our live set is as strong as it’s ever been at the moment.”

If The xx’s live performances have become more free-flowing, as Sim suggests, you’d need better eyes and ears than mine to notice. While certainly less timid than in their CMJ shows, last night the band stuck mostly to the album’s script, and yet left their audience riveted. Their solemn, minimalist tracks, comforted by Romy’s angelic vocals, are poignant in their gut-wrenching simplicity. One is reminded of Morrissey, John Barryman, and Richard Serra.

It’s hard to say whether the number three 3 the group better than 4, or where this path will take them. Right now, The xx’s place in the world may be best symbolized by last night’s introduction. While the kids played the album’s intro, their individual shadows were projected on to a massive white curtain covering the stage, before falling to reveal the band in all their dark glory. A sophisticated use of lighting and timing, the moment was also remnant of fort-building, shadow puppets, and the other games children play. And it was difficult to forget, even as the set that followed swept us away.

It was a good start.

VV Brown at Mercury Lounge

If I haven’t said it before here (I know I’ve said it pretty much everywhere else), Mercury Lounge is the best place in NYC to see live music. It’s stupid to prejudice music according to a venue (it’s the chef who matters, not the kitchen), but all but a few of the best shows I’ve seen since in New York have taken place there. It could also just say something about my taste in music—Arcade Fire, The Virgins, The Rural Alberta Advantage are among the aforementioned “best”—but there’s something about the intimacy and informality of that room that turns a show into an experience.

It was for this reason, and others, that I was especially excited to see VV Brown perform her album (and a cover of Drake’s Best I Ever Had, with my favorite line of 2009: “I can make that pussy whistle/Like the Andy Griffith theme song.”) on Saturday, and she didn’t disappoint.

VV’s got real pipes, presence (including a 5’11 frame and that’s without the pompadour) a major record deal, and the drive to become a big star no matter what. I would be shocked if Brown was not on the edge of something huge. With her mixed-genre, do-wop influenced sound, I’m waiting for someone to dub her “The Black Lily Allen,” but she seems so much smarter, more interesting, and grounded than that.

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The 25 year old comes from super humble beginnings—one of six kids from a poor Caribbean immigrant family in Northampton—but you wouldn’t know it from her biography. She turned down a spot at Oxford, and then Puff Daddy, to pursue her own music career in LA. She ended up having to sell her keyboard to buy a flight back to the UK at 22, but she’s making a second go of it and looks poised to break out as a consciously perfect pop animal: she dresses in vintage threads which she redesigns and also sells on a website, VV Vintage; she has a modeling contract; she has a graphic novel in production; she writes her own music and helps produce it; TV and film cannot be far off.

The worst thing I can say about her set at Mercury was that the thirty-odd minutes came off a tad contrived and business-as-usual, with little to no banter as well as backing tracks on at least one song. But this was a real performance; her voice on its own was worth the price of admission. I’m willing to bet that this will be the last time I’ll have the chance to catch Brown at a venue that doesn’t have the word Nokia somewhere in its name.

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