[MUSIC: Interview] Xiu Xiu
Jamie Stewart is not your average guy. In 2010, the San Jose native donated a cup of his own urine to raffle off as a fundraiser for the flood-damaged Chicago label Graveface Records (Octopus Project, Black Moth Super Rainbow) – other bands signed screen-printed tour posters or CDs. With a reputation derived from such antics, as well as his electric live performances, it seems surprising when the frontman of experimental pop group Xiu Xiu tells me, “I basically get discouraged really easily.”
The singer-songwriter is articulating his vulnerabilities when writing, but the statement also reveals the darkness that he readily admits is enveloping him at the moment. Rarely are artists as forthcoming, bordering on confessional, when engaging with the music press as Stewart is when we speak, and it’s a forthrightness that extends to his fans: just two weeks before our conversation, Stewart – an open sufferer of depression – posted on the band’s website an excruciatingly long and complex missive explaining to the public that he was at one of his lowest points.
This openness is unsurprising. Since the band’s debut EP Chapel Of The Chimes in 2002, Xiu Xiu have enjoyed the support of a particularly ardent fan base. “In many ways, we’ve always been a touring band, and for as long as we’ve existed there’s been this constant interaction with people around our music,” Stewart says. “After eight or nine years you become friends with the people who’ve supported you all the way through; you become close, and it forms a real sense of community.” Does that mean that Stewart feels most comfortable on the road? “I’m not sure that I feel comfortable anywhere,” he answers. “I mean, there’s always the chance that something bad might happen. But we have good people with us and around us, and it’s nice to be able to trust people and form that bond.”
The band has achieved significant critical acclaim over a diverse decade of music. Amongst a host of online awards, this year’s ninth studio album Always was awarded five stars by British staple The Independent. But it’s the approval of the band’s highly skilled peers, like Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier who produced Always, which inspires Stewart the most. “We’ve done four records with Greg now, and I’m still blown away by the guy. He’s unbelievably creative and insanely hardworking, plus he has this incredible amount of technical knowledge when it comes to the actual engineering of the record,” Stewart says. “I think the most important thing for us is that he has known the band since the beginning, and knows our songs and understands the context.
“It’s tremendously comforting to have that confidence in Greg,” he continues. “He can say ‘This part isn’t working – let’s get rid of it’, and I’ll do a sneaky listen back and know that the right call has been made. A year and a half working on a record is so incredibly stressful, so it’s great to have another person to bounce ideas off, and to do all that external stuff with. Like I said before, it’s nice to be able to trust people. I live in absolutely no fear of anyone fucking up our music. The only reason our music could be ruined is if it was due to a shortcoming on our part, when it came to the aesthetics.”
When asked what he’s expecting of Xiu Xiu’s upcoming Australian spring tour, Stewart says he’ll be spending a lot of it indoors. “It’s great touring with Angela [Seo, bandmate] because she’s a super aggresive player. I play a lot harder than I would otherwise, but that also means that I have to spend ages practicing. Still,” he says, “it’s incredibly fun.”
What: Always is out now
With: Rites Wild and Absolute Boys
Where: Goodgod Small Club
When: Wednesday October 17