In an era of music where everyone sounds likes someone else, Xiu Xiu is a surprising breath of fresh air. Not many bands can make the sound of broken glass and wind chimes more palatable. Their music is at the same time jarring and poppy, but no matter what it is unique. This hasn’t changed on the band’s latest album, January’s Women as Lovers, an album that could be considered a little more accessible (well as accessible as the band can be) but is still the same Xiu Xiu we’ve come to know and love.
Anthem recently had a chance to sit down in Xiu Xiu’s tour van with founder and front man Jaime Stewart while the band was in Los Angeles for a concert.
Your newest album, Women as Lovers, sounds very different in comparison to Xiu Xiu’s other albums. The album feels richer and less sparse than previous efforts. Was there any particular reason for this?
I think I feel the same way I feel about every record. Every record we make is not the best music we can conceivably make, but it’s the best that we could do at that time. We put as much effort into each record as we humanly can. There are certain records that we have done that in retrospect I think turned out better, but I know we’ve tried as hard on this one as we have on any other. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel any emotional or aesthetic lineation from this versus any other record to any other. The idea behind this record is the same as the idea behind others, the point is the same I suppose; it’s about a different time, covering different subject matters, approaching it in a different way.
I mean, it’s really impossible for me to have any distance from it either. I listened to the record ten million times, when we were making it and the live versions—obviously—all the time. I don’t feel any separation from it at all, so it’s really difficult for me to analyze it.
Is there a thesis or theme to the album?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but every record is a documentation of the year in which it was made. There’s not an overarching theme aside from it being reflective of that year, that’s the same for every record, but obviously different things happen every year. There will never be a Xiu Xiu concept record beyond the concept of writing about what’s happening in the lives of people in the band and our families. And politics.
Women as Lovers was released with a DVD containing music videos and tour diaries. What was the reason for the deluxe packaging and why now?
Well you know it’s our sixth record, and over time we’ve accumulated a big number of videos. A lot of them no one had ever seen before. Probably a third of them were just people I didn’t know who did them for fun and sent them in. It was just a way to codify that and in addition David—who is our buddy, photographer, and sometime tour manager—had done a number of tour films. Over the two and a half years he’d toured with us, he’d taken a bunch of photos too. There was just no centralized place for a lot of things that had accumulated and it just seemed like a good time to put them together. Maybe we’ll do it again after another six years.
Xiu Xiu now has four permanent members. Is the band’s current set up and the music it produces what you always envisioned the band doing? Or is the band’s early material more representative of what you were hoping for?
I think one of the reasons I wanted to add Ches and Devon to the band is that their musical tastes, while there is an overlap, are maybe only 30% to what mine is and even less to what Caralee’s is, so I was hoping they would bring things to the band which I would’ve never thought of before. Which they have clearly. I think the only thing I really want the band to do is to be honest about the subject matter and be open in that way and to hopefully always evolve aesthetically. It adds a lot of—like I said—things I would have never thought of. I haven’t asked them to join because they play exactly the same way that I play or because they like the same records that I do. It’s completely separate from that. I’m a big fan of other bands they’ve been in and a big fan of their playing. I was hoping the things that I liked about them would—because they’re both super geniuses—would really make this band better, which I think they have done.
Xiu Xiu has gained a reputation as being a very intense live act. How does the band manage to translate its complex sound, one that’s both angular and abrasive, from the studio to the stage? How does the shift affect you, in particular how does it affect your guitar playing? Because Xiu Xiu still manages to sound great live, virtuosic even.
That’s hilarious to me but thank you! I think I’m a really rotten guitar player, but thanks. But as for the band’s sound as a whole, some things technically we just can’t play live because of the number of people. When that’s the case we just at look it as a creative opportunity to do a completely different arrangement of it. Doing arrangements is a part of music I really enjoy, so it’s not a drag if we can’t make it sound like the record. I mean it may be a drag for the audience, but if we can’t make it sound the same, we can’t, so we might as well attempt to come from a completely different place and make it work, hopefully even better than what’s on the record.
That said, if we can do something that sounds like the record, it can be equally challenging, insofar as that if it sounds like the record, people will have a familiarity with it and we don’t want them to be bored. What the fuck am I trying to say…
It actually sounds very well thought out.
It did for one second and then it totally stopped.
I think we are just hoping that in either case, we want whatever person who happens to be at the show to hopefully get as much from it whether it sounds unfamiliar or familiar. I guess that’s kind of what the goal is. And as far as the guitar playing goes, I think the primary thing is that I am not very good so I have to be able to figure out parts that I can sing and play at the same time. And then at the same time again if it’s a familiar thing, have it hopefully mean something to someone who is hearing it, and if it’s unfamiliar, also mean something. I have a lot of technical weakness that I have to overcome and I don’t think that’s a bad thing for a musician necessarily. I think it can occasionally lead to having to come up with some interesting-not-stock solution because I suck. There’ll be happy accidents if something actually sounds good.
Xiu Xiu has covered a lot of songs, quite a few of which no one would have expected you to. At this point how does the band choose these songs, is it just what someone in the band likes?
It’s not anything deeper than that, just something that we’ve been really huge fans of.
How do you feel about Women as Lover’s cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure?”
Well mostly because Michael Gira is a huge inspiration/hero of mine, I feel insanely excited about it. It’s hard for me to even listen to it as a piece of music because I’m like, “OH MY GOD I’M SINGING A SONG WITH MICHAEL GIRA, I’M GOING TO DIE!” That’s mostly how I feel about it, so I’m the wrong person in the band to ask.
Earlier you were talking about there being a cohesiveness to each album, that it’s influenced by everything that happened in the past year. So why did you choose “Under Pressure,” what about the song spoke to you?
It’s hard to say. I mean just in a really base, non intellectual way, I just love that song. With no depth, I love that song.
It seems like a more hopeful cover than what we’re used to from Xiu Xiu?
One of the things I was doing this year [and] was coming to terms with was that I’ve been a horrible boyfriend my whole life and finally met someone who I felt I could be a good boyfriend to. My interpretation of the song is that it’s a lot about overcoming the fear and misery that is inherent in love a whole lot and just realizing that that is an aspect of it and going for it anyway. That was just something that was really difficult for me to contend with, come to terms with, and then realize that it is possible to surmount it even though the idea of love is almost inherently fucked. I don’t know because just as a listener, musically, I think it is really wonderful and at the time it was relating really specifically to something I was dealing with. It was easy to attach myself to.