Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu is a bit of a queer indie god, up there with the likes of Morrissey of The Smiths, Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields and Kele Okereke of Bloc Party. His album Fabulous Muscles developed a cult following in indie circuits around the globe, and since then he’s followed it up with challenging, intelligent albums like La Foret, The Air Force and Women as Lovers.
It’s not the kind of music that you are likely to hear out, but Xiu Xiu’s brand of existential horror and brutal honesty is something that is likely to touch you deeply, if you’ll let it.
Same Same spoke with Jamie about the band’s new album Dear God, I Hate Myself and their upcoming Australian tour…
Same Same: I think your song Fabulous Muscles from the album of the same name might have been the first openly queer indie song I ever heard, and it certainly left an impression on me. Does your sexuality play an important part in your song writing, or do you find it a distraction?
Jamie Stewart: Definitely. A central tenant of the band is to write about the lives of the people in the band and the things that matter to them without any kind of censorship so that subject will definitely come up in the creative process – that’s the whole point of what we do as Xiu Xiu I guess.
Knife Play and Fabulous Muscles definitely have a cult following here in Australia and when I play them I still get surprised to think that they were made almost a decade ago. Do you enjoy listening to these old records of yours or have you stopped listening to them altogether?
I’m certainly not sick of the albums and I’m still immensely proud of those records, but part of trying to focus on what we’re doing now is not looking back so much at what we’ve already done. We still play songs off of those albums at our gigs though so sometimes I go back and listen to the records to try and remember how to play them.
Your sensitive, heart-wrenching cover of Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car would have to be one of my all-time favourite songs. Are you a big fan of Chapman’s music?
To be honest I really only know that song, I guess I was amazed that such an extraordinarily bleak song made it as a top ten hit. I remember that it used to play on late night alternative music channels and somehow it just hit the mainstream. That’s something that I was really interested by.
Speaking of covers, Marissa Nadler’s rendition of your track Clowne Towne has also made it onto more than one of my mix tapes. How does it feel to hear your work reworked by other musicians?
Well, it’s extraordinary flattering for someone so talented to do our song. I guess in that period (before the making of the Xiu Xiu remixes album) I was going to dance clubs a whole lot, and heard plenty of interesting remixes. It was around the time of our fifth record, and I guess I just thought it might be time to do a remix record.
Your new album Dear God, I Hate Myself was created almost entirely on a Nintendo DS which is a feat in itself, and I know you’ve already received some great reviews in the music media. Have you toured this album already and if so, what kind of response has it got?
Yeah, we’ve been touring this album for about five months already, and we’ve played in China, Korea, Mexico and the US already. People have been pretty positive, I’d say that our song Chocolate Makes You Happy has had the best response so far.
I was touched by your rendition of the traditional folk song Cumberland Gap. What does this song mean to you?
I recently moved from the Bayside in California to North Carolina in the South of the States. I guess I wasn’t really prepared for what a dank culture shock that would actually be and how different the places really were. So I guess since Cumberland Gap is a Civil War song I thought it was an interesting song and one that kind of summed up how I was feeling about the South at the time. My father also comes from the South and was involved in the early ‘60s neo folk scene and that’s the kind of song he would play so that was very interesting for me to take a look at.
Now I have you pegged as somewhat more of a political musician than most of your contemporaries, with your critiques of Bush and the wars in the Middle East featured heavily on Fabulous Muscles. Is there any overt political content on Dear God, I Hate Myself?
Not in terms of electoral politics, but we certainly did delve into social politics, I guess you would call it that? One of the songs on the new record Falkland Road is about girls between the ages of 9 to 14 years being trafficked from Nepal to New Delhi.
And are you working on a new album?
I’ve actually just sat down at my desk to work on it. I’ve got no idea where it is going and we’ve really just started, we’re just trying to do something a little less complex I suppose.
What can we expect from a live Xiu Xiu performance?
I guess we just try to play as intensely as we can and showcase what the songs are all about. We don’t tour with a big audio visual display, we just don’t feel we need that kind of thing.
I can see that the Sydney gig starts off a pretty massive tour for you that will take you through Europe and parts of the States as well. Is there any particular show that you are excited about?
We’ll I don’t want to be too Pollyannaish but we really do look forward to every show. Australia of course is a destination we are looking forward to as we haven’t toured there in quite a few years.
Do you have a favourite Australian act?
I really love Nick Cave and his work in his first band The Birthday Party. I guess I don’t know many other Australian bands yet.
And what record is on high rotation in your collection at the moment?
I’ve just ordered the entire record collection of The Sublime Frequencies, which is a group that puts out records of music that are really just pop cassettes based he collected from around places like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The music is really wonderfully baffling and eclectic ranging from Thai pop songs, Cambodian folk songs, ambient street sounds to gangster music. It’s really baffling and enjoyable music.
Gray Death, the first single from Xiu Xiu’s new album Dear God, I Hate Myself, is below.
Check out Xiu Xiu at the following gigs around the country:
Thursday, September 2
SYDNEY – Oxford Art Factory
Tickets available from moshtix.com.au / 1300 GET TIX
Friday, September 3
MELBOURNE – East Brunswick Club
Tickets available from eastbrunswickclub.com / 03 9388 9794
Saturday, September 4
BRISBANE – Brisbane Powerhouse
As part of FRANKLY! It’s a pop festival
Sunday, September 5
HOBART – The Brisbane Hotel (not including High Places)