By Madison Vain
January 13, 2017 at 06:30 AM EST
Alasdair McLellan

Since their 2009 debut, the xx, the famously shy trio of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie xx have gone from surprise high school breakouts to indie-pop stalwarts. With the release of their third LP, I See You (out now), they open up about their newfound confidence, Jamie’s Beyoncé moment, and an enlightening trip to the middle of nowhere.

Success gave them some swagger
When Madley Croft and Sim, both 27, first started writing together at their London high school, they were introverts who’d only converse about creative ideas via email. But after releasing two critically hailed albums and touring the world, they’re more at ease with each other. For I See You, the pair started writing together face-to-face. “It gives you a nice buzz,” says Madley Croft of their new process. “I really enjoyed it.” With a laugh, she adds, “And it’s so much faster than sending emails.” One thing that hasn’t changed: They still write gender-neutral lyrics. “It’s just how it’s been so far,” she says.

Jamie xx’s success with his 2015 solo LP only brought the trio closer
With his stellar debut album, In Colour, Jamie xx, 28, earned headliner spots at festivals and even a Grammy nom for Best Dance/Electronic Album. And while Sim jokingly compares that rise to “Beyoncé has left Destiny’s Child,” Jamie’s high profile only boosted the xx’s drive while making I See You. “I felt like a fire was lit underneath me,” says Sim. “It wasn’t jealousy. It wasn’t ‘Oh, I don’t want him to have this! It’s like, ‘Wow, I want us to have that success as well!’ ” Jamie also felt a shift, though he admits his realization came later. “I was a little bit oblivious about how what I was doing was affecting them,” he says. “It’s only been through finishing this record and coming together that I see what a difference that experience made.”

A trip to Texas was life-changing
In addition to Iceland and London treks, the trio ventured to Marfa, Tex., the remote artists’ enclave, to record. There, the laid-back pace of life was eye-opening. “The fact that there’s not a huge amount of business or things going on, it kept us pretty clear,” explains Madley Croft. Sim adds, “It’s an inspiring place to be. The beautiful skies, the earth… We were united.”