Over the past few years, Xiu Xiu have been slowly but surely making great waves in the indie world with a unique sound that takes equal parts from Bauhaus, Gamelan, 80's New Wave, and early video game soundtracks while bringing it all together with a deadpan countenance that suggests Ian Curtis had he been a stand-up comedian. Combined with lead singer Jamie Stewart's often disturbing, often hilarious, often uncomfortable lyrics (sometimes all three at once) and a relentless work ethic have left audiences polarized the world over. I conducted an e-mail interview with Jamie who, despite being drunk and in Europe, was kind enough to respond to my questions.
Scene Point Blank: Tell me a bit about your background. Where are you from in the world? How long have you been making music? Do you remember at all what sparked your interest in music at all?
Jamie Stewart: When I was in junior high, I had a band called the Lime Green Leisure Suits. We made tapes of mean songs about all the kids in our class and then sold those tapes to them. We became amazingly unpopular. Nothing has changed.
Scene Point Blank: How did Xiu Xiu get started? I know you took the name from the Chinese film of the same name, but I haven't seen it. What about the movie made the name so compelling or what made it so appealing as a moniker? What's the band's history like? How did you hook up with 5RC?
Jamie: My brother, who has done a lot of our art, said we needed a short band name. The band's history is like a lot of friends getting mad at each other and not talking anymore. Greg from Deerhoof hooked us up with 5RC. I owe him and them my reason for living.
Scene Point Blank: I know you've collaborated with people in the past, but I just wasn't clear on this: is Xiu Xiu a pseudonym under which you, Jamie Stewart, record or is something more along the lines of a loose collective?
Jamie: It is more of a semi-tight collective, but used to be a regular band.
Scene Point Blank: A sticker on the cover of Knife Play read "When my mom died I listened to Henry Cowell, Joy Division, Detroit techno, the Smiths, Takemitsu, Sabbath, Gamelan, 'Black Angels' and Cecil Taylor." What made you decide to put something so bracing on your debut release? Would you say that this collection of artists is a fair facsimile of Xiu Xiu's sound?
Jamie: I think we did not know what we were doing and we were just trying to be ourselves- huge dorks that have had weird and hard lives. I do not know if that is a facsimile of our sound per se, but it is a facsimile of what is meaningful to us musically.
Scene Point Blank: In your music, you seem to have a knack for voicing some sentiments that a lot of people might consider embarrassing or a little personal. Why do you think people might consider these sentiments too personal? Why don't you seem to think so?
Jamie: There are a lot of ways to try and get through the day.
Scene Point Blank: What do you see as the foremost underlying progression with each Xiu Xiu release?
Jamie: Desperation and insecurity and trying hard to make music that might make something better out of that.
Scene Point Blank: Which song or record do you feel represents you most accurately as an artist and which one represents you most accurately as Jamie Stewart, the guy who lives in Apartment 2C? Is there even a dividing line between the two?
Jamie: My favorite is Fag Patrol- no dividing line, just progressions and time passing.
Scene Point Blank: 'Support Our Troops' on Fabulous Muscles really struck a nerve with me because it was one of the first overtly political songs that I've heard that dealt more with the inhumanity rather than the politics of war. Could you tell me what specifically motivated you to write this song? Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming election?
Jamie: If you join the army now, it is your job to be a murderer. It is cheap and gross to hide behind the defense of the homeland. Join Americore if you want to defend the homeland. Defend it from corporate bloodlust and sick greed instead of pretend WMDs. Main thought on upcoming election: FEAR.
Scene Point Blank: I understand there's an interesting story behind the cover of A Promise.
Jamie: Oh it is so long, but I am glad it happened. I think the best rendition is on Pitchfork Media (click here to read the interview) where I was able to speak it rather than type it. It could take 20 pages. Sorry I am a dick.
Scene Point Blank: Frank Zappa famously asked whether or not humor belonged in music. As someone who finds your music to be both disturbingly hilarious and hilariously disturbing, I was just curious as to what thoughts you had on this statement.
Jamie: I think that if you take humor seriously it does. Being a joke band is fucking the stupidist thing on earth but if you use humor from your heart and crotch rather than a way to avoid showing yourself it can be the best ever. The Smiths are one of the funniest bands of all time and the most touching.
Scene Point Blank: How was Xiu Xiu's recent trip to Europe? Any interesting stories to bring back home?
Jamie: Actually, I am there at this very moment. Tonight we played in a chapel. We are very lucky.
Scene Point Blank: I know last year when you were on tour, some equipment was stolen from your van. How did you deal with this?
Scene Point Blank: Zed, the sexual prince of Scene Point Blank, wants to know, "why did you choose to finish your live set with that really slow song the woman you play with sings?"
Jamie: Because she is a great a true singer.
Scene Point Blank: What are you working on these days?
Jamie: A new full length. It is about 60% done and I have no idea how it will turn out. I am very excited to not be on tour and finish it up with some good friends.
Scene Point Blank: Last question: what do you hope listeners get out of your music?
Jamie: Whatever they need. It is not our business to impose our hopes on anyone.
Artist Site: http://www.xiuxiu.org
Interview by Jon, Graphics/Layout by Matt.