Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart on art, human angst and naps

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Seth Tisue
  • Seth Tisue
California band Xiu Xiu makes awkward synth-pop with a tinge of goth. It's both danceable and brutal. The subject matter? Human angst, humiliation, and self-loathing, of course! All of the band's music is difficult to digest but distinctly Xiu Xiu.

Xiu Xiu recently released a new album, Always, and is now on tour. The group is at the Jackpot tonight, with Dirty Beaches. We recently spoke with member Jamie Stewart about how the recent tour is going, what he loves about tourmates Dirty Beaches, and how Stewart has worked political, rather than personal, angst into Always' songs.

The Pitch: You seem to really be enjoying touring with Dirty Beaches. What is it about the band that strikes your fancy?

Stewart: Basically, they combine a lot of the aesthetics that I'm really interested in, like '50s music, goth, Birthday Party, and noise music. To me, it's sort of a perfect combination, and the singer, Alex, has a really great voice, also.

The music you create is very real and full of human emotions and all that fun stuff. How do you maintain the energy it takes to write about these topics?

I take a lot of naps.

Ah-haha. Naps do make it all better.

Yeah.

You seem to be a very political person. It seems like this album reads and sounds a little bit more political than past ones. Did these topics come to be on the album because of the current political climate or just because you felt the need to write about it?

Oh, um, probably a combination of both. And the political climate, yeah, I'd say that, I think that as dark and miserable as it has been in years, and uh, it actually in some ways seems to me a little worse than it was during the Bush administration, which is unbelievable, actually. So, part of it is sparked by that. And then some of it is just topical, just the particular subject. I've kind of crossed my emotional threshold at this particular time, but I'm sure I'm more sensitive based on the political climate being so stressed.

After reading a post you wrote for the Huffington Post, I take that you started to indulge your musical tendencies when you were pretty young. Were you encouraged or did you just thrive by the fact that you got joy out of it?

It was really oddly both. My mother really did not want me to pursue music, and my dad was in the music business. I think that's why she didn't want me to pursue it. He would encourage me, but in sort of a round-the-way means. And he would make music equipment available to me, but he would just basically set a synthesizer on my bed with no explanation or no manual or anything like that. And if it was something that I was going to get into, I would have to figure it out myself. But then again, he would always answer any questions that I had, and it wasn't like he and I sat down every night and had a music lesson or anything like that, but he made the space available for me to pursue it if it was something that I had a need to do. And then as I got older and it was clear that I was going to be dedicated to it, he gave me a lot of encouragement.

Well, that's good because I know that doesn't always happen for people.

It was a really good situation for me.

I also read that your dad gave you the advice to touch people through your music, which is what you do. Is this a conscious thing or does it just happen because that's the kind of artist and musician you are?

I wouldn't say that's conscious, but it's certainly - it's difficult to put into words. The underlying, and point, and drive for me to do it in the first place is a sense to make music that someone can get something out of, but when I'm writing something, I don't write a line and think, 'Oh, this particular line will really get to somebody.' I try to write it honestly as possible, and hopefully by coming from an honest place, hopefully, because of that, rings true for somebody and that, because of that, could be something they get attached to. Hopefully.

You're involved in a ton of projects. Your 2011-12 T-shirt collection, the Chest project that's online, and you kind of promote the prisoner's literature project on your website as well. How have you come to be able to be so involved with an array of different music and artistic types of projects?

Oh, uh, I don't know what else to do. (Laughs.) You know, it's a real privilege to have enough time to work on different art projects, and I would be an idiot to not take advantage of that time.

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