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A chat with Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu

WPCD Correspondent

Published: Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 13:09


Photo by Blaine Wright/Contributing Photographer

Performing at the Pygmalion Music Festival as part of Polyvinyl's 15 Year Anniversary show last Saturday at the Highdive was experimental rock group Xiu Xiu. Right before they took the stage, WPCD sat down with frontman Jamie Stewart to talk about the band, music, and their recent singing to Polyvinyl.

WPCD:How is the tour going so far?

JS: Not spectacularly, but some tours are great and some tours are mediocre. This one is mediocre, although I'm happy to play the show tonight as it seems like it's going to be good. And I'm not saying that to be pandering, it should be a good one.

WPCD:What is it that makes a tour spectacular?

JS: That the band is sounding real good and the audiences seem connected to it. The places you're playing are nice, the sound is good. I don't know, sometimes the sort of ephemeral aspects of live music come together and sometimes they don't.

WPCD:How did Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls and Sam Mickens of The Dead Science make their way to Xiu Xiu's lineup?

JS: Angela Seo, who had been touring in the band for the past year and a half, – we knew when she joined the band it would just be for that short of time - breaking my heart, is going back to school. I really enjoyed playing with her. And she is still recording, which is good. I knew that Sam's band and that Parenthetical Girls were not super busy, so I asked them if they'd be available to do it. And we'd known each other for years and years and years.

WPCD:Has this lineup change affected the process of songwriting?

JS: Yeah. A lot, as both Sam and Zac are also songwriters primarily. Angela actually started writing songs now too, she wrote a song on this next record, but primarily the people who had been in the band before were instrumentalists. Having four people in the most conventional sort of way be songwriters is really possible to broaden how the band was sounding. Before, I would come up with a small idea and we would finish it together, now everybody's coming in with small ideas and we're finishing them together. And everybody's writing lyrics now too which has never happened before. 

WPCD:Tell me a bit about the new single Daphny.

JS: The A-side Daphny is about a friend of mine who was arrested for shoplifting and was then raped by the police officer who arrested her. It's incredibly, incredibly dark.

WPCD:I'm sorry to hear about that. So she's ok with the song?

JS: She actually wrote a comic book about it and then showed it to me and that's how I found out about it. And then I asked her if it was ok if we did a song about it. She wants to make it as public as possible. It's an incredibly, incredibly brave response from her.

WPCD:Yeah, it is. On the B-side, Xiu Xiu covered Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)." As with all of the previous covers, it has a completely original Xiu Xiu twist to it. How do you go about transforming a song into your own creation?

JS: It's never really our motivation to make it our own. Our motivation is always to try to – there's no really non-silly way to say this –honor the song. The reason for us to do covers is because the song that we are covering has been important to us. It's never that we're trying to turn it into a Xiu Xiu song, we want it to say "thank you" to the song. As far as how we go about it, it's a matter of starting to play and then seeing how it turns out. It's been my experience generally that as one thinks too hard about what one is going to do or is doing in music that it takes away from it. Music is about emotion and the physicality of playing and not really about thinking.

WPCD:Have there been any songs you've seriously considered to cover but never did?

JS: We tried to do a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song a long time ago but the version we did was bad. It was a cool song, so I didn't want to sort of sh*t on what was a really good song. I think everything else we've just gone though and done.

WPCD:You recently signed to Polyvinyl Records shortly after releasing the split with Deerhoof on the label. Did Deerhoof have anything to do with the switch?

JS: Tangentially. Deerhoof had been responsible for us getting our first record deal with Kill Rock Stars (on sister label 5 Rue Christine), which I am forever indebted to them for. It quite literally changed and saved my life. We were on tour with Deerhoof and opening for them at a show and the people from Polyvinyl came to see Deerhoof play, they had already signed them, and they saw us play at the show and we got to know them and talked for a couple of months. Fortunately for us, they wanted to do something and we're very, very happy about it. They're an excellent label with an excellent staff.

WPCD:Polyvinyl recently released a 15 year anniversary sampler which features a new, acoustic Xiu Xiu song "Hi." Is this a preview of a future release?

JS: On our next record, it's going to be one of the singles and the record version is more fleshed out. It is a song essentially about trying to find something beautiful in what a wreck one's own life is. And trying to find some sort of community in the attempt to embrace the aesthetics of personal disaster.

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