First of all, i would like to apologize to Jamie Stewart; the problem is that Jamie sent me the answers to this interview back in December 2005 and i have finished transcribing, spell checking and writing an intro until now. So, i hope you're not too mad at me.
A ripping despaired sound from the bottom of a wounded soul, an art stundent's soul or a soul of an artist studying his enviroment or his past, of ancestral sounds from other cultures or from other generations or other genres, of pop and noise, of ambiguity or direct stuff, of simple or complicated, of acoustic guitars or computer compositions; all of these is Xiu Xiu (named after a chinese movie many people considered the most depressing film ever made) who, even though it seems they wouldn't have any structure or sense, make some of the most well thought out and memorable songs from this last couple of years while defying conventional everything all the time. Formed from the ashes of IBOPA and Ten In The Swear Jar (who inherited "I Luv The Valley Oh!" and "Helsabot" to Xiu2), Jamie remains as the only original member, but it would be completely unfair to call the band a "solo project" since every person present in any of their release contributes to the final sound of each one ; that's why their albums and EPs (Knife Play, Chapel Of Chimes EP, A Promise, Fag Patrol EP, Fabulous Muscles, La Forêt, Life And Live, Tu Mi Piaci EP and their most recent The Air Force, among others) manage to sound different from each other yet retain the same feeling the music of XX produces for the legions of ultra-passionate fans they have. Some of the characteristic elements that make their music are pop, electronica, noise, post punk (especially The Smiths, The Cure and Joy Division), folk, modern avant garde classical, gamelan (typical Indonesian music), Black Sabbath, pain, broken hearts, suicide, politics.
Xiu Xiu have played twice in Mexico (once in the City and once in Guadalajara, i've missed both times) and i hope they play here soon. Here, Stewart talked to Oscillator about their modus operandi, their influences and more.
Marcos Hassan (Oscillator): Introduce yourself
Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu): Jamie Cyrus Stewart
What are the main difference between your past work and La Forêt?
The title is the main thing, and there are different songs on this record than on the other records.
Were you surprised that Fabulous Muscles earned so much praise? Do you think people now are expecting your records to be Fabulous Muscles II?
Yes and yes, but Fabulous Muscles II would be pointless calculation and anti art. We do make records to recieve praise, we make them to try and add something to life for better or worse.
Was there a model you thought about when starting Xiu Xiu? What was the plan for the project?
Sort of, we did know that we wanted to always write about real life, ours and those around us in clear ways and we knew what genres we wanted to take from, 80's pop goth, dance, asian percussion music, modern classical and noise music.
How do you write and arrange sounds? is it more traditional like a band or is it more like studio collages?
It is a bit of both. We do alot of improvisations built around very very basic rhythms or chords and then shape the improvisations into songs on the computer. On the sparser songs, they are written in more traditional ways like sitting with a guitar and note book looking out the window feeling anxious.
Was the lo-fi movement of the early-90's and artists like Lou Barlow with his projects Sebadoh and Sentridoh big influences to you?
No, not so much. Any lo-finess we have comes from lack of money, which i think it came from for Lou as well.
What's so special to you about sharing your secrets and fears and vulnerabilities with a 4 track recorder or similar devices? Is the hiss of the tape something warm for you to open up?
We actually use a computer. i do not know why sharing these things is special to me or if it is even special, it just seems right for us, i am not sure why.
Is it easy for you to pour your emotions out thru music?
No but it is essential, does that make me sound like a dick?
Of course not, i actually agree. Do you think that by (almost) eliminating traditional notes and timbres and focusing more on textures, you are closer to deliver a more accurate representation of what you want to express in your songs?
We do without too much thinking about it, try to make sounds that reflect the subject matter of the songs, but sometimes traditional sounds are perfect too. We do put alot of time and effort into sounds for their own expressive sake for certain.
Is the acoutic guitar side of the music a way to balance things out with the more atonal expressions, or does it serve the same porpuse in a different way?
As i said above, some songs seem to need particular sounds.
How does noise fit into your whole sound? what's so appealing about it to you and your compositions?
That it is both violent and non specific but also intense and uncontrolable.
Do you think you're playing pop music?
Yes, very much so. The songs have words you usually can hear clearly and most of them have verses and choruses.
Do you think your music is filled with a sense of "death"?
At the risk of being too cheesy, what is not filled with a sense of death?
Do you think that your music is a collision of intellect and emotion?
All music is a collision of intellect and emotion, more purely than any other way of making art
How does it make you feel that you inspire such an extreme response in people?
Mostly i have to ignore responses or i get too self conscious and freaked out but it is certainly better than being considered boring.
Why is it so important to address politics in your music?
It is impossible to ignore, it is important to address politics to in everything right now
How do you do to reproduce all the experimentation you do on record live? Do you resort to improvisation in concert at all? do you pull a Queen and rearrange the songs for stage performance?
Maybe somewhere in the middle, we do play to a drum machine so we have practice somethings to a tee but other things we do differently every night or parts of songs are devoted to improvisation.
So what's the craziest or funniest thing that ever happened to you onstage? How about the best?
Craziest was AGHHHHHHH!!!!!! So dumb, not in this band but in a previous band getting the classic and retarded blow job on stage, but it was from a drag queen i had been obsessed with since i was 18. the best? i think playing to kind and supportive audiences and doing the best we can that night is the best.
What was your experience of playing Mexico like?
Insane and the most fun 24 hours i ever had in my life.
What do you think about the musical climate these days?
Don't ask, i 'll just start talking shit. Ugh.
Where and why does the fascination with Black Sabbath come from?
Have you ever heard them? If so you would not need to ask.
Ouch!! Checkmate. If someone wanted to get into gamelan, what you would say to them and what would you recommend them to listen to?
Any records by the Smithsonian Institute recorded in the 1950's but there are not bad gamelan records, it is an inherently flawless music. Just make sure it is not played by white hippie college students.
What have you been listening to lately?
Weirdly the Blue Album by Weezer, i have no good explanation for this.
What’s next for you?
More touring and we are half done with our next record that i think will be called Boy Soprano(ED: It will be called The Air Force). We have a few split 7" coming out soon as well with Paper Chase, Kill Me Tomorrow and Dead Science, as well as music for a film by Robert Reis and a play by Ken Urban.