Q&A: Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu talks Forget and his songbook

Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart started Xiu Xiu 15 years ago and has been going strong with the project ever since. Just last month, Xiu Xiu released new album Forget, which is gaining critical praise and is generally considered to be the band’s more accessible albums yet. Where before Stewart was not bound to a pop structure, instead extrapolating noise into sound collages, Forget is a noise pop record.

Xiu Xiu, Eugene S. Robinson, IMA
8 p.m., Sunday
The Chapel
Tickets: $20.

Xiu Xiu have been staying busy by consistently releasing albums since 2015, when Stewart collaborated with noise artist Merzbow to create MERZXIU, an album with, yes, a lot of noise, but also some drone. The following year Stewart released Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, where the band gave its interpretation on the legendary ambient dream lounge-jazz soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti.

Forget is an eclectic album, but consistently has noisy production alongside poppy songwriting. There are also clear influences of minimalistic and atmospheric synth punk, akin to ’70s band Suicide, and post-industrial electronic elements, such as Coil’s later albums. It all blends together to create a dark and surreal atmosphere, which transports listeners into Stewart’s depressive and existential lyricism. RIFF chatted with Stewart by email earlier this week, prior to his show at The Chapel. 

RIFF: I love the story behind the photo for album art for A Promise, where you pay to take pictures of a sex worker holding a weird baby doll you gave her. Is there a story or personal significance behind the album art for Forget?

Jamie Stewart: Only that we thought it looks beautiful. Sadly, I suppose that using Arabic calligraphy in the current climate of Amerikkkan ultra-bigotry may have come across as a political statement. But in hoping to depoliticize it, I suppose that it becomes political.

One lyric that stood out on Forget was from “Get Up:” “During the rape of everything decent, the flickering flames impressed me.” What’s the meaning behind it?

In no way does this need to be the meaning for anyone else; I am not trying impose my interpretation over anyone else’s. All Xiu Xiu songs are meant to be eaten in any way one wants. But for me, it is sheepishly admitting to being drawn and curious about darkness and wreckage.

Comparing your earlier works, such as Knife Play, A Promise, Chapel of the Chimes, or even Fag Patrol, your lyrical themes have stayed consistent, but your sound has been made more accessible. Is this change on purpose, or is it just how the band evolved as members cycled in and out?

We never think about it. At certain times we have been interested in [the] traditional/classic craft of songwriting, and other times being abrasive and experimental makes sense to us. For the last record we were deeply into the proto-rock and roll/teen melodrama producer Joe Meek. The way he took a simple song and turned up the romance and excessive production cranked up our hearts. For the next record, we … so far at least, super-moved by furious evil electronics and Haitian drumming. We will see where it goes.

Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks came out on Record Store Day last year. Do you guys have anything planned for Record Store Day this year? Do you guys plan to make another “Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of…” album?

I wish we did! I would feel like a music machine. No. This year we’re just touring like maniacs. As for another “Xiu Xiu plays the music of,” we already played the best soundtrack in history, that being Twin Peaks, of course. Why cover any thing else?

After creating the cathartic outlet—Xiu Xiu—15 years ago, how has your perspective on yourself and the world changed because of this band? Or do you just like being able to freely express your thoughts?

Oh, it has made it possible for me not to have shot myself in the head with a revolver, therefore [it] has kept my brain intact, therefore [it] has allowed me to have thoughts at all!

What’s your main motivation for creating music? Would you give the same answer to this question 15 years ago?

My dad was a musician and when I told him I wanted to be one he asked me why. I could not think of an answer. He told me the reason to play music is to try to give something to whomever might hear it. As corny as it is, that was and remains my motivation.

Follow reporter Michael Massaro at Twitter.com/michaelcmassaro.

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