Photo taken by Jamie Stewart for Evening of Light
EOL: It's been over a year since 'Dear God I Hate Myself' was released. I see on the Xiu Xiu site that a new album is in the works. What can we expect from this record?
Jamie: It's too early to give it away! It won't be out until next year so. A little winking first, a little kiss on the ear...
EOL: Xiu Xiu, for the majority of its existence, has been largely a two piece outfit. How has the recent addition of Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls) and Sam Mickens (The Dead Science) been changing things? They're both very interesting songwriters in their own rights and have really individual approaches to song-craft. I'm curious if their visions have been interweaving with yours and, if so, how they're blending, or if they're primarily helping to flesh out the live sound and arrangements of your newest stuff?
Jamie: We are all writing songs, as is Angela Seo. It's really exciting for me to be able to add to something they have come up with and of course to have them add to something I have written. For the first time in Xiu Xiu there are 4 lyricists. We all have known each other for such a long time though that we have, I think, a clear grasp of what works for us to write about for each other. We are also all singing.
EOL: You have said before that your records are hugely informed emotionally by the recent happenings in your life, that: "If it is a year that is entirely filled with hilarious things, then it will just be hilarious. I hope the next record will be hilarious, but if it is a year that’s entirely filled with doom, then it will be doom-filled." If it's still too early to answer my first question regarding the new Xiu Xiu record, do you have any sort of internal psychological barometer reading that points toward a 'hilarious' record or 'doomy' record yet?
Jamie: This year has been so mixed. The songs are about reflecting on a truly horrible time when Zac, Sam and I lived together in a house in Seattle called "Clowne Towne", about the sport murder of Gul Mudin by the US military, incest, pro wrestling, embracing and trying to find some company in the dark side of one's existence. The factory labor of asian women in China, Haiti and the idea of suffering, suicide attempts, divorce, abortion, being beaten up by jocks and the aforementioned loneliness. Oh, i guess that is not so mixed really.
EOL: In my mind, part of what makes your work in Xiu Xiu so distinct is the way you so freely combine noise and melody. I've always wondered where this inclination in your music comes from. You're a fan of Morrissey, Bauhaus, and Queen, and you've covered Nick Cave's 'Jack The Ripper' before, but who or what inspires you to work with jarring textures and noise?
Jamie: Are you asking what noise and experimental people I like? Prurient, Blind Cave Salamander, Merzbow, Burning Star Core, Yellow Swans, White House, Infinite Body are my favorites. Modern classical composers like Penderecki and George Crumb make more dissonance with acoustic instruments than anything possible with electronics. Certain South East Asian vocal oriented musics sound, to someone who has grown up listening to western music, incredibly dissonant and harsh, but they still are only voice and maybe very minimal percussion. But probably more than anything would be animal sounds, frogs, red deer, hyena, certain bird songs like the Capuchin bird, insect sounds. These are the most noisy and beautiful to me.
EOL: I've read that you have a lot of background in experimenting with sound, outside of songwriting...
Before I was a songwriter I was mostly an engineer. I spent much more time making odd sounds and experimenting with early digital recording than I did working on trying to say something narrative. Early on I played around a lot with slowing sounds down and stacking sounds to make something I had not heard before. Not saying it had not been done, but just new to my ears. I love this about music. Making new sounds is incredibly fulfilling and meaningful to my little musical heart.
EOL: When you say 'I was mostly an engineer', do you mean it in the traditional sense where you would have been working in studios as a producer's assistant or do you mean it more in an informal sense ('Sonic' engineer, sound-tinkerer?.)
Jamie: Probably somewhere in between. I recorded a bunch a bands and had a little home studio and worked at a college radio station recording live bands for on air broadcast, but I spent as much time by myself plugging the wrong box on the wrong box and turning the knobs all the way up. Since I started I have generally been inspired by a sound first and then by harmony and melody.
EOL: Do you have any early and secret noise recordings locked away in the Jamie Stewart vault?
Jamie: We have something like 50 releases. Does it seem like I keep anything secret?
EOL: In further exploration of the tonality/atonality issue, are you naturally inclined towards establishing some beautiful functional structure and then sonically destroying/eroding it OR is this something you arrive at incidentally out of multiple interests? Songs like 'Sad Pony Guerilla Girl', for instance, seem to destroy themselves even as you listen to them. Still other songs have very subtle infusions of noise that seem to corrode or wear away at the edges of the tracks themselves (something I've always loved very much.)
Thank you. There is no separation between the two. It is not as if we write a pop song and then go about wrecking it just on principle. Noise and beauty are both equally wonderful to me and they both elicit emotion in different but, I think, complimentary ways.
EOL: How does it feel to have nearly ten years of work in Xiu Xiu under your belt? Are you beginning to feel even remotely accomplished/legendary/majestic or does your self-loathing cancel all that out?
Jamie: When I am standing on the edge of a granite precipice, wearing an orange velvet cape, a scepter and orb in my hands, looking over the horizon flinging thousands of copies of the Xiu Xiu catalogue into the misty abyss below, only then do I feel majestic. Otherwise, I feel like a loser and am constantly worried I have no idea what the fuck I am doing.