King Of Pain
By Noah Michelson
Describing the sound of the strange, often discordant, and yet regularly beautiful moments strung throughout Xiu Xiu's discography to the uninitiated is no easy task. Imagine the musical equivalent of a birthday cake, a haunted house, a kitten, and the worst year of your life run together through a wood chipper, and you'd kinda be on the right track.
The San Francisco Bay Area band, whose name (pronounced "shoo shoo") derives from the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, early on earned a reputation for fearlessly charting the simultaneous despair and wonder of everyday life with a mishmash of acoustic instruments, electronic beats, and a wild, shivery honesty absent from the lyrics of most of their musical peers. With Women As Lovers (now out on Kill Rock Stars), the band, which also includes Caralee McElroy, Ches Smith, and Devin Hoff, serves up classic Xiu Xiu fare with the unexpected added bonus of -- believe it or not -- a healthy dash of hope.
Jamie Stewart, the band's notoriously outspoken front man, chatted with Out to discuss the new album, Russian prison tattoos, backyard wrestling, and the possibility of RuPaul for President.
Out: If you were locked inside a refrigerator and you only had one breath of air left, how would you describe Women As Lovers?
Jamie Stewart: [Laughs] If I could only say one thing I'd probably just want to tell my niece that I loved her. I don't know that I'd waste my time describing it...
No, no. You already got that out of the way...
Oh, I've said goodbye to all my loved ones?
Exactly. Now you're just promoting the new album.
Attempting to cement my legacy in my death throes? [Laughs] I don't know -- I think band members are the last people on Earth who should try to describe their records. Two things happen: One, they're not far enough away from it to have a clear picture of it. Or they just say self-serving patsy crap to try to make someone like their record, which I think is also a terrible idea.
The press release reads "No other Xiu Xiu album has ever been more approachable or communicative on a basic human level." Did you write the album specifically with that in mind?
I think there's some sort of glimmer of hope on this one, on a couple of the songs. One or two songs I'd go so far as to say are sweet, which I've never used to describe any Xiu Xiu songs before. I think because it's not so violently off-putting for the entire record that it's a little bit more approachable. It's not as entirely dark -- although there are certainly some tremendously dark elements to it. But it doesn't make up the entire record, where in previous records I think it has.
The first single, "I Do What I Want When I Want," is practically a full-fledged ditty.
[Laughs] I couldn't disagree with that.
Is it a tongue-in-cheek response to the people who say that your music is too difficult, or too demanding, or too obtuse?
Well, there are two free-jazz solos in it! But no, I don't give a fuck what people say or what people think. We never approach anything in response to what somebody else has said -- not in any sort of heroic way, but I don't see any sort of constructive point to it. I think you dig yourself into a pretty deep hole if you're trying to make people who don't like you like you. It just turned out to be a sort of sweet -- and I don't mean this in a bad way -- a cute song. For me it's basically about not punking out. I had an opportunity to get into a relationship, and I fought it for two years with this particular person and then realized quite literally at a train station in Italy, when we almost accidentally crossed paths again, that I'd better not blow it. I was about to completely probably ruin the one chance I had at actually feeling good with another person.